ATLOHSA Family Healing Services

Indigenous women and girls are the most “at-risk” population to be sex-trafficked.

Many of these (some incredibly young) women, find it exceptionally difficult to recognize the situation they are in, and even more difficult to exit the cycle of exploitation and abuse.

Atlohsa Family Healing Services created the Anti-Human Trafficking program in response to the needs of Indigenous women who have experienced violence and trauma from being trafficked in their own communities. The Okaadenige Survivors Circle of Support is a support group that provides Indigenous women who have experienced human trafficking, access to traditional knowledge and teachings to promote a safe space. “Okaadenige” is an Ojibwe word that means, “he/she braids things” and describes the three-strand approach of prevention, awareness and support concerning human trafficking.

I had the honour to support the first healing retreat for the women of Okaadenige since the Anti-Human Trafficking program was developed. The purpose of the retreat was for Indigenous women to come together to talk about trauma, learn strategies to keep safe, and to connect with Elders from their communities to learn cultural teachings. Most of these women are very young, under the age of 20, so the opportunity to be in a safe and supportive environment had a tremendous impact on them. Because they are Indigenous, and because they are women, they comprise the most vulnerable population in our community.

For many of these young women, it was the very first time they were treated with dignity, care and compassion.

Indigenous women face additional challenges than what might be considered “typical”. They carry with them the trauma of their ancestors that must be addressed before all else. Many of these young women are detached from their language and cultures because there are entire generations that are lost. The opportunity to associate with women a generation before them is tremendously beneficial as they navigate their lives. They have connected with mentors, teachers and knowledge keepers. They have also had the invaluable opportunity to connect with each other; and these relationships are instrumental in their healing journey.

As a professor, my initial focus in supporting the retreat was to have greater student success for Indigenous college students. However, this event has fundamentally changed who I am as a mother, educator and advocate and my genuine hope is for Atlohsa to continue to be able to provide this type of healing environment to Indigenous women. As a mother of young daughters, I am keenly aware of the struggle between encouraging their independence and the desire to keep them safe from harm. Holding the shared stories of trauma sacredly, I realize that it is mine, and our community’s, responsibility to realize that the Okaadenige women are someone’s daughters and what they have experienced, and continue to experience, belongs to all of us. Atlohsa’s Okaadenige Anti-Human Trafficking program has had an enormous impact in our community and provides the support that is so profoundly vital to healing.

We are stronger because of this.

- Cori

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