According to Joni Conlon, community projects manager for Carrier Sekani Family Services, Aboriginal communities have been conditioned not to talk about sexual violence for decades.
“I was raised by Aboriginal parents, and when I was a kid, there was this unwritten rule that we shouldn’t talk about sexual violence; you don’t talk about sexual abuse,” she said.
Colon said the best thing about the two-day forum about sexual violence held in Burns Lake earlier this month was that local First Nations leaders said, “We are not going to do this anymore, we are not going to remain silent.”
Conlon said the forum took place as a response to “anecdotal evidence and common call” by community members telling of the increase in sexual violence in the Burns Lake area.
“Our communities and have been so impacted by violence, intergenerational violence, and our communities know that.”
Held on Oct. 12 and 13 at the Burns Lake Band’s Gathering Place, the forum included the signing of a declaration to end violence against women in the Lakes District area and surrounding First Nations.
“This is the start of the action plan,” explained Conlon. “We’re going to continue to build upon this action plan to address sexual violence.”
The declaration was signed by the six local First Nations, Elizabeth Fry Society, School District No. 91 and Carrier Sekani Family Services.
“One of the challenges is providing a safe enough space to talk about the complex issue regarding sexual violence,” said Conlon. “This starts with creating a safe space for our traditional governance and leadership and our community stakeholders to begin the discussion.”
Conlon said the action plan that is being developed involves more than creating safe spaces and increasing awareness.
“It’s a commitment that we are not going to sweep it [these issues] under the rug.”
The Burns Lake detachment of the RCMP was invited to the forum, but was not in attendance. The Village of Burns Lake was also invited; one village councillor attended the forum briefly.
Also attending the forum were representatives from the Ministry of Children and Family Development, Ministry of Aboriginal Relations and Reconciliation and the Ministry of Public Safety and Attorney General.
Conlon said that in order for this action plan to work, it will require the support of the entire community.
“We are not going to be able to address this in isolation,” she said. “It is only by coming together and using our collective voices that we can build a stronger community.”
“We need to start here; we need to start where the communities are,” she added.
The next step in the action plan will be a visit from B.C. Lion’s J.R. LaRose. LaRose will come to Burns Lake on Nov. 7 to talk about his campaign that addresses violence against women. The location still hasn’t been determined.