This article was first published by APTN News Canada. It has been republished with permission.
The plan to build Toronto’s first Indigenous women’s healing lodge for women who are in trouble with the law is underway.
The shelter was approved by Toronto city council in August but money must be raised to buy the property.
Kelly Potvin, a member of the Thunder Woman Healing Lodge Society, says fundraising is in full swing.
“We’re at the very last hurdle, which is the last little bit of money that we need to purchase the land,” said Potvin.
“So we’re talking to lenders, we’re talking to donors, and we’re on our last push to get that. We have so much money secured, but its back-end dollars.”
In spite of objections from members of the local community, the proposed lodge was approved last month by the Scarborough Committee of Adjustment.
The 24-bed healing lodge will be the first of its kind in Ontario, and only the fourth in the country.
It’s a vision of Patti Pettigrew.
“In my work as a Gladue writer, I work with a lot of women who are incarcerated and I’ve written their life stories – and they are horrendous. And so, with the right therapy, the right healing, they’ll gain their strength and their identity,” she said.
If all goes well, the six-story facility will be built on the corner of Kingston Road and Cliffside Drive in Scarborough.
“Toronto has a very large Indigenous population, a lot of the women, when they leave – like Grand Valley Institute – are dropped off in Toronto so the area that we would have the lodge has the largest indigenous population,” Pettigrew said.
She said the shelter will have around-the-clock supports, with access to Elders, cultural space and counselling.
Potvin said it’s a much needed-facility for Indigenous women.
“We know that women are disproportionately incarcerated even though the Office of the Correctional Investigator has called time and time again, year after year, for the de-carceration of Indigenous women, and Indigenous women should be moved into community and not behind bars and put into prisons,” said Potvin.
Independent Ontario Senator Kim Pate agrees.
“The reality is that we need some much more robust effort to get people into communities, but I think it’s great that this group of women is doing all they can to get women out of prison and into a healing lodge,” said Pate.
“The challenges they’re seeing is the resources aren’t being put in place in the community, so they’re left to have to raise their own funds instead of resources being available that are otherwise being spent to keep people in prison.”
The closing date for the sale of the property is Nov. 15.
According to Potvin, if the fundraising campaign is successful, shovels will be in the ground the next day.