Officials held a groundbreaking ceremony for a safe house at Lake Babine Nation’s Woyenne reserve. Pictured left to right are Rod Hill of the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation, Cheslatta Carrier Nation chief Corrina Leween — who is also president of Carrier Sekani Family Services — Chief Wilf Adam of Lake Babine Nation and Burns Lake Mayor Chris Beach.

Refuge to house Indigenous women fleeing abuse on Highway of Tears

Safe house being constructed at Lake Babine Nation reserve in Burns Lake

Indigenous women and children fleeing violence on the Highway of Tears are expected to have access to a new shelter by early next year.

On May 25, a ceremony featuring traditional drummers took place at the planned construction site, on Lake Babine Nation’s (LBN) Woyenne reserve in Burns Lake, where dignitaries placed shovels in the ground to mark the beginning of the project.

The planned facility is meant to serve as temporary housing, with seven units housing up to 23 women and children who identify as First Nations.

Mabel Louie, director of health services for Carrier Sekani Family Services (CSFS) — the Prince George-based organization that’s partnering with LBN to build the shelter — recalled how a shelter became indispensable for a loved one fleeing violence.

“They made sure she was safe, made sure the children were safe,” said Louie. The safe house, which also provided counselling and other services, probably saved that woman’s life, she said.

Addictions services, counselling

“Our goal is the safety of the victims and their families,” said LBN Chief Wilf Adam.

Adam noted that treatment will be available for people with addictions, along with preventative services to keep people from falling into cycles of drug or alcohol abuse.

CSFS said the facility will feature programming specific to the Carrier people. “Services will empower women to live healthy lives and build healthy relationships and circles of support,” according to the CSFS.

Safe houses stigmatized

Adam told the Lakes District News that stigma around people who may occupy safe houses resulted in some resistance to hosting the shelter locally.

But he said those concerns aren’t warranted, and that similar facilities are “the safest places around” and often impossible to distinguish from the surrounding homes. He added that the facility will have 24-hour security.

CSFS said in a statement that the facility will have an unlisted address and phone number and will be ringed by fencing with secured access, along with security cameras.

Indigenous-owned and operated

CSFS obtained $1.89 million in federal money from the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation (CMHC) for the safe house. LBN will hold the mortgage, which will be gradually paid for by CSFS, said Adam.

Ultimately, LBN will hold the assets, making it a First Nations owned and operated facility. The building is expected to open next spring.

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