More than 200 people gathered at Plaza 88 on Tuesday for the first day of “Reshaping our Perspectives,” a gathering and experts, advocates and community leaders hoping to protect Indigenous communities from human trafficking.
More than a dozen speakers from various backgrounds will make presentations over the three-day event, with the focus on education and awareness for norther community members.
“It’s very encouraging,” North Sask. Victim Services executive director Bonnie Rosteski said when asked about the turnout. “It’s great to see so many people coming out who are willing to take part and learn. The education piece of it is imperative to our northern communities, so we’re very excited to see all the people out today.”
Tuesday’s slate of speakers focused on several topics. The session opened with Canadian Centre to End Human Trafficking executive director Julia Drydyk speaking on key research data that showed some of the risk factors and misconceptions about human trafficking. Members of the RCMP and Saskatoon Police Service made presentations on human trafficking and gang activity from a law enforcement perspective, and Jess Fischer and Jordy Ironstar spoke on how gender-based violence and colonialism contributes to the human trafficking of 2SLGBTQ Indigenous peoples.
University of Saskatchewan researchers Priscilla Settee and Manuela Valle-Castro ended the day with a talk on responses to domestic human trafficking on the prairies.
“The amount of speakers who are hear speaks to the amount of resources and commitment that we have out there,” Rosteski said. “(It speaks to the ability) to educate and bring forth some of the important knowledge that’s required for us to be able to do our job daily.”
Rosteski said it’s important for northern communities to buildup their educational capacity so they have the tools needed to fight human trafficking. She’s hopeful this conference will be a launching pad for those efforts.
“For the people from the north to be able to come and learn about what’s going on in our province, in our communities, right in front of our faces, is very important,” she said. “I think by hosting an event like this, it allows people the opportunity to become educated, and take that back to their communities.”
Several representatives from the RCMP or municipal police departments are on the speakers list, but they said it will take more than policing to end human trafficking.
Maryah Walker, a community program officer with the Saskatchewan RCMP’s F Division said leaders from all levels of government need to work with local residents to make find solutions and make them work. That’s true of the entire province, she added, not just the north.
““Often times, people assume the RCMP are the be-all and end-all for fixing and addressing crime in our communities,” she explained. “In reality, we are only a piece of a very big puzzle that needs to work together in order to address the root causes of crime and work at making our communities a safer place for everyone.”
Walker said human trafficking is something that often goes unmentioned in Saskatchewan. She said a conference like this will give residents the tools to identify it, and talk about it. Both, she said, are necessary to protect those who are in danger.
“If you were to go into a number of the communities that I’ve worked in and ask them if there’s human trafficking, they would likely say no,” said Walker, who has worked in northern communities her entire RCMP career. “That’s just because that’s not the language that we use in our northern communities to identify what human trafficking is.”
Both Rosteski and Walker said northerners have what it takes to protect their communities from human traffickers. However, they can’t do the job by themselves.
A big part of that involves building trust. That’s something they say this conference can help with.
““Are we doing the best we can? Absolutely,” Rosteski said. “And, I think this is one more step in the right direction.”
“Reshaping our Perspectives” continues Wednesday and Thursday at Plaza 88.