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Tea with the Editor: Learning about Sudbury’s response to the missing and murdered Indigenous women issue

Designed and delivered by Lisa Osawamick and Const. Shannon Agowissa, the Looking Ahead program is a unique partnership between the city police service and the local Friendship Centre

Some 1,800 missing or murdered Indigenous women. They represent maybe 4 per cent of the Canadian population, but Aboriginal women account for 16 per cent of all female homicides. It’s a chilling statistic. 

Aboriginal women suffer violence at a rate that’s 3.5 times higher than average. They are five times more likely to die by violence. 

The National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls was launched a year ago. There are complaints about the inquiry, that’s true, but it remains the first national effort to look specifically at the root causes of violence against Indigenous women and girls.

Greater Sudbury has made its own efforts in that regard. In March 2016, N’Swakamok Native Friendship Centre partnered with Greater Sudbury Police Service on a two-year pilot project. The pilot does a number of things: outreach and education, raise awareness, it’s a strategy to help loved ones better interact with police when a woman or girl is assaulted.

Heading up that project — which has the very long title of Looking Ahead to Build the Spirit of Our Women Learning to Live Free From Violence — is Lisa Osawamick, the Friendship Centre’s Aboriginal Women’s Violence Prevention Coordinator, and Const. Shannon Agowissa, Aboriginal Liaison Officer for Greater Sudbury Police Service. editor Mark Gentili sat down with Osawamick and Agowissa over tea to talk about the pilot program. In his column, On the Level, this week, Gentili urged the city, the Friendship Centre and the police to make the pilot project permanent.

“Looking Ahead is unique because it works both with the police service and with Indigenous people. With police, one goal is to sensitize officers to the distrust of uniformed authority figures that is common among First Nations people,” Gentili writes.

“The pilot project also aims to work with Indigenous people to change their perception of police, to make interactions with police less traumatic. Families shouldn’t be reticent to go to the authorities when a loved one has been assaulted; they should feel that they can trust the police are there to help. That many Indigenous people are reluctant speaks (sadly) to the need for a program like Looking Ahead.”

This episode of Tea with the Editor was filmed at Salute Coffee Company at 2195 Armstrong Street in the South End. Check them out online here.