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Kaska women lead the charge

Ann Maje Raider wasn't surprised when two RCMP officers in Watson Lake were charged with sexual assault.

Ann Maje Raider wasn’t surprised when two RCMP officers in Watson Lake were charged with sexual assault.

Officer Graham Belak and Shawn McLaughlin’s testimonies in the rape case sounded all too familiar to the Liard Aboriginal Women’s Society member.

The officers told the court about the woman’s flirty demeanor, making her out to be the seductress.

McLaughlin even described the woman’s sexual advances as “aggressive”.

While that may have been true, the tradition of the system, when talking about violence against women, is to blame the victim, said Raider.

“And then we’re wondering why women aren’t reporting violence,” she said. “We need to look at how they’re treated and how they’re blamed.”

Even before this case, Kaska women in Watson Lake did not trust the police, said Raider.

“Definitely we need a women’s advocate in our community because there’s a lot of women that are afraid to talk to the RCMP,” she said. “They are intimidated by them, they don’t have trust and so if there is somebody - a women’s advocate - that would be so helpful for individuals that are facing violence to know that there’s somebody there that they can trust, that can help them.”

An advocate would be useful for all stages of the process: filing police reports, talking to the RCMP and even going through the court system, she said.

When she learned Whitehorse has two women’s advocates, Raider’s frustration was palpable.

“We don’t have nothing,” she said. “We’re a community - we always get left out.”

The aboriginal women’s society has stopped waiting for the government to help them.

Watson Lake’s aboriginal women have had the most publicly volatile relationship with police in the territory. Now, they are taking it upon themselves to make things better.

The women’s society is putting on Together for Justice on Language, Violence and Responsibility, a series of workshops predominately geared for police officers and government employees who provide services to Kaska women.

“It will provide strong networks,” said Raider. “And hopefully it will have a ripple effect and make changes in the way they provide services. It’s important they learn about colonization and about the prison camps called residential schools.

“All of the agencies, 100 per cent, provide services to First Nations but probably have very little knowledge of the history.”

The society started to look for funding for these workshops last summer, before the government-run, territory-wide police review even began.

It has already put on a two-day workshop in Whitehorse at the beginning of March and another in Watson Lake last week.

With funding from women’s organizations, police and government, the society has been able to secure Dr. Allan Wade and Dr. Cathy Richardson from BC to conduct these workshops over the next two years.

The pair specializes in social response to violence against women, particularly the language used to talk about it.

Both doctors have a long history of work with the Liard Aboriginal Women’s Society.

Raider stresses that these workshops are progressive, meaning that people should continue to show up because they will not all be the same.

All community members are encouraged to attend, including the men, she said.

Raider knows many women who live in abusive relationships.

Many of them tell her all they want is for their spouses to get help.

“Jail is not help,” she said. “But what options are there right now? We have no traditional treatment programs.”

The aboriginal women’s society drafted a treatment program for the Liard First Nation chief and council, she added. “But it’s just sitting there. No one’s moving on it.”

The new funding cannot be used for treatment programs, either. The workshops must focus exclusively on responding to violence, not necessarily looking at the cause.

“It is so important that the RCMP commit to these workshops,” said Raider. “At the end of the day, we want to have a relationship with them and develop a protocol, something to come out with at the end - ways that we can address the epidemic of violence against women.”

Yukon RCMP superintendent Peter Clark attended segments of the two workshops that were held this month and expressed his support, said co-organizer Lois Moorcroft.

“We intend on holding him to that,” she said.

“This is just an example of a community initiative not waiting for government,” she said. The issues “have to be addressed right now.”

“Rather than governments telling us how it should be done, (the women’s society) is saying this is the way we think it should be done,” said Raider. “There just needs to be something done rather than just saying, ‘There’s a problem, there’s a problem.’ Let’s look at some solutions.”

The society is one of six aboriginal women’s organizations throughout the territory to share $200,000 over the next two years.

Contact Roxanne Stasyszyn at