As the Northwest Territories deals with the second-highest rate of family violence in Canada, women who experienced it themselves marched through Yellowknife’s streets.
Addressing more than 40 women, Caroline Cochrane – the newly elected premier and a former social worker – told them: “This is not a record we want to be known for. It’s not a record I want to be known for as the Premier of the Northwest Territories.”
Cochrane, who said she had grown up amid family violence and experienced it as a woman, spoke early on Wednesday afternoon at the climax of the first solidarity march organized by the Status of Women Council of the NWT.
“I do know that it takes courage. It takes courage to step forward and disclose violence. It takes courage to talk about it in public spaces,” she said, adding those who perpetrate violence or witness it must also have the courage to step forward.
For Maggie Alanak, even getting to the march was emotional.
After years of physical and verbal violence, Alanak said one day she “walked out and never returned.”
“It really makes you strong in the long run,” she said. “Like, I thought I’d never do this my whole life. I’ve always run back and lived that abuse, and it’s finally come to a stop – where I can stop this within my family, within myself.”
After that moment for Alanak came the hard work: counselling, attending the urban healing camp, crying, loneliness, and worry about her children.
“They were upset at me for a while – that I left – but they’re happy now that the violence stopped,” she said. “They see me around town and they say, ‘Mom, you look so happy. We’ve never seen you this happy before.’ So I’m thankful for where I am today.”
Women marched in solidarity in a territory with one of Canada’s highest rates of family violence. Emelie Peacock/Cabin Radio
Alanak urged women and families experiencing violence not to give up.
“You can make it stop if you’re willing to do that,” she said. “There are so many of us out there that live in silence and it took me so many years to stop the violence. It’s hard to find the help you need. But you’re never alone.”
Premier Cochrane reaffirmed her government’s intent to tackle family violence, in partnership with communities and their leaders, despite the issue not featuring on an initial priority list published by the 19 MLAs of the 19th Legislative Assembly.
The premier was not alone in doing so. Katrina Nokleby, newly named the Minister of Infrastructure and Industry, Tourism, and Investment, marched on Wednesday, as did MLAs Caitlin Cleveland, Julie Green, and Kevin O’Reilly.
“It’s definitely on the focus and radar of the assembly with as many women as we have, and people that have been touched themselves by family violence,” Nokleby said, disclosing she herself had some experience of the issue.
“It is something that spans socio-economic lines. And it doesn’t matter what your level of education, it doesn’t matter where you grew up, it doesn’t matter who your family is, it can touch all of us,” she said. “That’s a really unifying thing, in a way, because women can identify with each other regardless of where we come from.”
Premier Caroline Cochrane at Wednesday’s march. Emelie Peacock/Cabin Radio
Though industry and infrastructure are not ordinarily considered social-issues portfolios, Nokleby said her departments could lead a conversation around shelters, city infrastructure, and roads to communities.
“Having all-weather roads so that women, if they’re in communities, don’t have to spend the $2,000 to leave,” offered Nokleby as an example, referencing a key plank of her platform in October’s election – more all-season highways.
“I understand there would still be costs around gasoline and things like that, but there’s a freedom in being able to leave a situation,” she said.
Mayor Rebecca Alty said the City of Yellowknife could look to help by training staff who run programming at community facilities to spot signs of family violence and know what to do, especially when children are involved. Alty said the municipality remained committed to working with other orders of government.
Mayor Rebecca Alty with MLAs Julie Green, middle, and Kevin O’Reilly, right. Emelie Peacock/Cabin Radio
The march began and ended at Yellowknife’s downtown Somba K’e Park with stops along Franklin Avenue. Speakers gathered to share their messages via loudspeaker.
Yellowknife RCMP detachment commander Alex Laporte, among other officers present, said police – who know they will often be the first outsiders to respond – try to provide the best support they could during times of crisis.
“These types of calls are always a priority,” Laporte said. “Those investigations are always a priority.”
Work is ongoing, Laporte added, to ensure RCMP officers understand the trauma and challenges faced by people in northern communities – and to partner with other agencies in improving how they jointly respond, and care for people.