In May, a 27-year-old Whitehorse woman was beaten up by her partner.
The man pummeled the woman unconscious, breaking a blood vessel in her head and making a mess of her face.
At first, the woman didn’t report the incident.
“She didn’t go anywhere,” said Viola Brass, whose daughter was the victim of the assault.
“She was in a state of shock and fear.
“You wake up and you’re beaten up, and the person who does it to you is right there — what are you going to do?”
Eventually, she did go to the RCMP and her swollen face was documented.
However, the charges wouldn’t go anywhere, Brass’s daughter was told.
“The officer told her, ‘It’s your word against his,’” said Brass.
And he asked her why she hadn’t come to the police right away, Brass added.
The man was charged, and served three months.
Now he’s out, and Brass’s daughter is living with him again.
“This is something a lot of us don’t understand,” said Brass, who is studying sexualized violence against aboriginal women.
It’s hard to understand why people go back to the person who abused them, she said.
“And it’s something we need to educate ourselves about, as a larger community.
“Because as a community, we’re responsible as well.”
It’s a cycle, said Brass.
And that cycle keeps getting bigger.
“First it’s just you and him,” she said.
“Then it’s you, him and the kids who see the abuse.
“Then she stays at Kaushee’s (Place) with the kids and is safe for a while. But she forgets and misses him. Then Kaushee’s becomes part of that cycle.”
The community needs more support and more resources for those suffering abuse, said Brass.
“But if there’s going to be a change, we have to be honest about what is happening in the community today.”
Earlier this month, Statistics Canada issued a 97-page report called Measuring Violence Against Women.
In it, for the first time, there’s a chapter devoted to the territories and a chapter devoted to aboriginal women.
It found that in the territories, spousal violence is at 12 per cent; in the provinces it’s seven per cent.
And aboriginal women are twice as likely to be assaulted, stalked or killed by a spouse than non-aboriginal women, according to the report.
“When it’s so clearly black and white, it’s quite horrifying,” said Yukon women’s directorate director Margot Simonot.
“I’m pretty numb about it.”
Over the past two years, the territorial government has funneled $80,000 into a long-term public education campaign aimed to raise awareness about violence against women.
But Statistics Canada reports no change since 1999.
It takes a long time to see any changes, said Simonot.
“It’s really hard to accuse a person you love of thumping on you,” she added.
“If you live in a little community with only 30 families, what are you going to do? Shut up and put on more make-up.”
Not only do aboriginal women experience higher rates of violence, many also experience the most severe forms of violence, including being beaten or choked, having a gun or knife used against them or being sexually assaulted, states the report.
“Looking at those statistics, it’s scary,” said Brass.
“It’s like the same old thing. We know what happens, but nobody says anything about it.
“We see the woman beat up, but we don’t say anything. I guess it’s a pretty sensitive topic.
“Nobody wants to say, ‘Yah, I’m getting punched out by my husband or boyfriend.’”
As a little girl, Brass remembers coming home from residential school to lots of fighting and drinking.
When kids see this violence and experience it, they carry it with them, she said.
And as they grow up, it will be the same old thing all over again, they will perpetuate this violence, said Brass.
“What you see and experience when you’re younger, you carry this anger and resentment with you,” she said.
“And there’s probably not one of us who hasn’t seen violence in homes or in the community.
“Lots of people are carrying their own hurts and pain, and often they take it out on the person closest to them.
“To heal, we have to go back to the source of this anger and pain.”
Violence against aboriginal women is one of the most limiting issues facing First Nations people in Canada, said Simonot.
“How can you think about being affective at your job, or at school (for the kids who witness it), when you’re terrified all the time?” she said.
It’s hard for Brass to see her daughter return to the man who beat her.
But, she’s not blaming anyone.
“To me, it goes right back to the individual — the women not having a sense of who they are and that they have a right to be respected, honoured and loved,” said Brass.
“If I can’t appreciate myself and value my worth, then you can’t expect it from someone else — nobody is going to give that to us, we have to do that for ourselves.”
The residential schools took away a great deal of self-respect and spirit, said Brass.
“When we went to residential school, we may have had that intact, but when we came out of there, we didn’t have that any longer.”
Brass is hoping to develop programming to help aboriginals heal.
It’s programming that is still sorely lacking in the territory.
“We have a lot of crisis, put-out-the-fire programming,” said Kaushee’s acting assistant director Tiffanie Tasane.
Kaushee’s offers women transitional housing, some second-stage housing, part-time outreach workers who address women’s needs in the community, including the needs of older women, and a childcare worker.
But most programming doesn’t look at the big picture.
Issues around violence aren’t isolated, said Tasane.
“There’s often mental health issues and substance abuse issues involved, and these aren’t always all addressed,” she said.
“We have to look at the whole person to do healing,” said Brass.
“We have to recognize the emotional, the mental and the spiritual.
“You can’t just sit down on a chair with a psychiatrist, we need to create forums for the whole family — we have to have healing for the whole family.”
Brass plans to sit down with her daughter, her daughter’s spouse and their kids and have a healing circle.
“There might be some yelling and crying,” she said.
“And that’s what we need — we need to get in touch with these emotions and let them go.
“Because our spirit doesn’t want to walk around unhappy anymore.”