Accessing help as a survivor of domestic abuse can be difficult – both emotionally and bureaucratically – as individuals are left to figure out which organizations provide the types of resources they need during vulnerable times. Now, a coalition of six organizations have come together to form the Kahnawake Family Violence Action Group, aiming to provide more streamlined services for those in need.
“The idea was to bring all the organizations in the community that work together in the community with anything to do with family violence,” said Iris Montour, who is a victims advocacy worker at the newly launched Ionkwatahónhsate Victims Services unit within the Mohawk Council of Kahnawake (MCK). “There are all kinds of different organizations that do very similar things, but maybe from different angles, or serving different populations, or having different specialities.”
Ionkwatahónhsate Victims Services is one of the six organizations in the Kahnawake Family Violence Action Group, along with Kahnawake Shakotiia’takehnhas Community Services (KSCS), the Kahnawake Mohawk Peacekeepers, Skén:nen Aonsón:ton, Quebec Native Women (QNW), and the Centre d’aide et de lutte contre les agressions à caractère sexuel (CALACS) in Chateauguay. The group is in its beginning stages and hopes to have more actionable paths to access their services in the new year.
“We wanted to pool our resources, and be more aware of what each other is doing. We thought, let’s try to be a collaborative force that could have a larger impact,” Montour said. “It can confuse people that there’s many places doing the same thing, but we’ve maybe not been working together and doing as much as we can.”
The Kahnawake Family Violence Action Group’s first move has been an awareness campaign to help community members understand the extent of family violence in Kahnawake.
What started as a 12-day campaign from November 25 to December 6 has grown into a much larger project with the help of local photographer Angel Horn, who was commissioned by the action group. Horn has photographed survivors of violence as well as “helpers” – those who have provided support for individuals facing violence.
She had initially planned to take 12 portraits, one for each day of the campaign, but was overwhelmed by the amount of interest in the initiative.
“It’s gotten so big that we’re going to continue into January. We have 75 participants, both survivors and helpers, and it’s still open to participate, so any survivors or helpers can reach out to me and I’ll still share their stories,” she said. “It’s just snowballed bigger and bigger.”
One of Horn’s subjects is Tina McComber, who shared her story, which can be found on KSCS’s Facebook page. She described how intergenerational trauma and abuse affected her and her family, and talked about how support from community organizations have helped her heal.
She said she benefited from traditional healing programs at the Kateri Memorial Hospital Centre (KMHC) and hopes that other survivors will access those kinds of supports to address the ongoing and intergenerational effects of trauma.
“They’re all about traditional ways and learning our ways, and I feel that that’s been lost, and people need to get that basic understanding back, because you also get lost in your identity,” she said. “You don’t realize what’s been taken from you until you actually go, and see how much you don’t know, and why you don’t know, is because it’s taken from you.”
McComber has participated in countless healing programs and credits them with helping her heal from her childhood trauma. She said it’s been particularly helpful to realize that she needs to heal her adult self, but also her inner child that is still processing trauma experienced at a very young age. Losing her father at four years old, for instance, was a trauma she didn’t fully process at the time and has worked on dealing with it now.
“I’ll be in my therapy session, and I’ll realize that I’m four years old again. But I’m able to recognize and help that four-year-old child, to fix that little girl,” she said. “I cry like a four-year-old girl when I talk about my dad, but listen to me now; I’m okay. And that’s only in recent months. It’s all about safety.”
Horn photographed her subjects in areas where they felt comfortable and safe. Some chose to be photographed at their kitchen table, others by the water or with the trees. Another was photographed at the fire station, because that’s where she had found her healing.
“It’s so people can see, ‘I’m not the only one that went through this.’ We need to make it normal to break the cycle, especially in this town, where there’s so much intergenerational trauma and so much that people deal with. We need to make it normal to get help,” Horn said. “There’s still people in this community and parts of families that need to be healed. Also for the abusers, something happened to make people this way. They need help too. The whole point of this is to heal.”
Horn, as well as the Kahnawake Family Violence Action Group, hope that extending the photo campaign can raise more awareness surrounding domestic violence in the community.
Rebecca D’Amico, clinical supervisor of secondary prevention at KSCS, said it has been particularly meaningful to share survivors’ healing journeys, to help show others in the community that there is a way out.
“We wanted to focus on their stories of resilience and strength, of how they were able to get through that period of time and show that there’s another side of it,” D’Amico said. “We also wanted to highlight helpers in the community so that if people are looking to start this journey, they’re familiar with who can help.”
As part of the campaign, KSCS is also facilitating a discussion at the Royal Canadian Legion Mohawk Branch 219 on December 6, starting at 6:30 p.m., titled “Ending the Cycle of Violence: A powerful testimonial of strength and resilience.” A traditional meal will also be served to the first 50 people who register with Kawennenha:wi McComber at 450-632-6880.
“We knew this could potentially be triggering for community members, so we wanted to offer a safe space where they could come and talk about what they’re experiencing if it’s retraumatizing,” D’Amico said. “It’s really just a space to come in, talk, and support each other.”
Talking circles will also be operating at the Family and Wellness Center on December 8 and 14 from 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. for individuals to speak more about the campaign, listen to others, or speak about what may be affecting them.
“It’s okay to heal. It’s okay to change the narrative surrounding getting help,” Horn said. “It needs to be talked about.”
This article was originally published in print on Friday, December 1, in issue 32.48 of The Eastern Door.