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Lodge provides holistic approach to healing
Since changing its mission four years ago, officials with Calgary’s Awo Taan Healing Lodge have discovered its services are required as much as ever.
The facility, which opened in 1993, used to serve as a shelter for Native women. But in 2007 it became a healing lodge providing services and programs for all cultures.
Though it is open to all, Josie Nepinak, who is Awo Taan’s executive director, said about 90 per cent of those who do seek services from the lodge are Aboriginal.
“Family violence is a very, very serious issue for Aboriginal communities,” Nepinak said.
Facilities such as Awo Taan are especially highlighted each November. Since 1986 November has been Family Violence Prevention Month in Alberta.
Awo Taan is aptly named. In the Blackfoot language it means “shield.”
Awo Taan is a 27-bed facility. The lodge has been at its current location since 1995.
Unfortunately, Nepinak said, services are required in greater frequency.
“The numbers (of family violence cases) are not going down,” she said. “We’ve had an increase the last two years. They are still going up in terms of women requesting space here.”
Nepinak added, however, that it is difficult to actually gauge whether the number of family violence cases is on the upswing or whether more people are seeking assistance than ever before. There is no way to actually count the number of cases as not all are reported.
Awo Taan is the only Aboriginal shelter in an urban centre in Alberta.
Besides Calgary, Nepinak said women and their children from across the province also frequently use services provided at Awo Taan.
And because of its solid reputation, Awo Taan has also attracted numerous women and their children from both Saskatchewan and Manitoba as well.
Women and children can stay at the facility for a maximum of three weeks. Extended stays could be arranged if required or other agencies are contacted for assistance.
Awo Taan officials are currently brainstorming ideas and are in the preliminary stages of developing a task force to better deal with Aboriginal family violence.
“We collaborate with other shelters in Calgary as well as regionally and provincially,” said Nepinak.
Awo Taan programs are also run somewhat differently than other shelters as there is more of a holistic approach at the facility.
Staff members include Elders, who often take on the role of grandmothers.
“We believe all children coming into the shelter need to have a grandmother,” Nepinak said. “So they are there to provide hugs and kisses.”
The Elders also provide plenty of guidance to mothers. “It is more of a storytelling conversation,” Nepinak added.
This approach has proven to be invaluable. It has also given Awo Taan officials some assurance they made the right move when they became less of a shelter and more of a healing lodge.
“We felt it would be more conducive to nurturing peace and calmness to the women and children coming here,” Nepinak said.
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