Submitted by Evelyn von Almassy-On July 17, from 1 pm until 4 pm, the Haida Gwaii Society for Community Peace is hosting an exciting seventh Year Anniversary Celebration for the Islands' Transition House. Tlaa Juuh Ldaa Naay (the Place of Change) officially opened in August 1998.
But before that opening, there were many people and years of activities that went into the creation of this space for women and children to find refuge in, safe from the realities of violence and oppression.
Laurie Aldred was the energetic person who spearheaded the group. Brenda Byberg, Sergeant David Day, Linda Grant, Joanne Green, Astrid Greene, Jennifer Pelletier, and Hope Setso are some of the others who came together with good will and energy.
Meetings were weekly and it was agreed amongst the group from the outset that this should be an empowering situation for all involved. They worked by consensusÂ… they always left the meeting on a good note. It was a very female way of doing things: take an issue and go around the table and talk. One hunred percent consensus had to be achieved. Laurie was the leader and she knew what she was doing. She set a great tone for things, was gentle and laid back. There was always lots of laughter.
A year was spent forming a society and writing proposals. Ms Aldred received a $20,000 grant to do surveys, apply for society status and establish a need for the facility. For that time, they were under the umbrella of the Islands Women's Society.
Feasibility studies were created, island residents were polled, and Band Councils were invited for their input. Both the Masset and Queen Charlotte City RCMP were supportive and their statistics on violence were used in the decisions. Health care professionals, the Masset Resource Centre and the military police all thought it was a good idea whose time had come!
One story was told about a woman and her children who were at Skidegate Landing one Friday night, fleeing from a violent partner. She had no way of leaving the islands to get to the Prince Rupert Transition House. The ferry would not leave until three days later. She returned to her partner.
Astrid Egger was hired to do the feasibility study. Though this was a very diverse group of women and men, everyone was committed to creating a safe place and things began to happen. As Ms Egger states: "We were so hopeful and our hope kept us going. We certainly all grew in this process."
"It got a life of its own," says Linda Grant.
Real estate all around the island was looked at for possible locationsÂ… PMQs in Masset were selling at good pricesÂ… meetings were held in TlellÂ… Skidegate Landing was a serious contender.
Naturally, there was some denial and opposition, even from feminists in the various communities. Some said that we should focus on prevention of violence and not build band-aids. The belief that women and children should not have to leave their homes, but rather have the perpetrator leave, was noted. Others protested that: "We don't need one of those here!" Still others said that we needed a house for men too!
It was not a forgone conclusion that the House would be built in Masset, but based on the questionnaires, statistics and belief that the greatest need was there, that is where it was built.
This working group received input and support from the Smithers and Prince Rupert Transition Houses. Some staff stayed at other Transition Houses, to see how a house worked. Ideas for setting up and running a house, and also using different philosophies were collected from these stays.
Most Transition house locations are kept highly secret; because of the impossibility to do that in our small communities, it was decided to make our Transition House a very visible place. It would be a safer place for everyone to know where it was: everyone could keep an eye on it. It would be one block from a RCMP station and not that much further from the hospital: both are needed near a Transition House. An airport close by comes in handy as well!
Today it is a very healthy and safe place to find refuge and to work as an employee. Of course, it is unfortunate that it is such a busy place, but everyone is glad that it exists for the people that it serves. We would rather these houses were not necessary, but we are thrilled that we can be of help to the people who need them.
Now another house is being created - the Safe House in Skidegate, K'aa Laa Lla Naay, and we applaud that! More places where women and children can be safe are a wonderful thing!
We have a variety of services: to contact the house or the childcare worker, please call 1-877-626-4677 or 626-4666. The outreach worker and the administration office can be reached at 626-4664.
We invite you to Masset the afternoon of July 17. We shall have a Fashion Show by Kuung Glun Nay (Moonlight House) displaying garments by Joyce Bennett. Musicians Wendy and Tammy will entertain us, and there will be a loonie toonie auction, speakers, an interactive art project, refreshments and much more. Come on out to the Transition House grounds and give peace a chance! We'll see you there!