Crisis helpline for Indigenous women to expand across province

Crisis helpline for Indigenous women to expand across province
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A support helpline run by Indigenous women for Indigenous women will be expanded from northern Ontario to the entire province to help those in distress.

Talk4Healing has served more than 20,000 Indigenous women since 2012, when it started as a pilot program after a provincial study identified gaps in support, particularly in small and remote communities up north.

Robin Haliuk is a supervisor of the helpline, run by the Anishinabe Women’s Crisis Home & Family Healing Agency in Thunder Bay.  (SUPPLIED PHOTO)

With today’s announcement in Toronto, the program will also broaden to include 14 Indigenous languages, up from four, and will see a doubling of its annual government funding to $1 million from $500,000.

The 24-hour, multilingual service — by phone, live chat and text — provides supportive counselling, handles crisis calls, offers suicide intervention and makes referrals to programs offering help with housing, security, addiction and mental health problems.

“It’s not just domestic violence. Residential schools and colonialism have impacted the community as a whole. It impacts our ability to parent and to maintain healthy relationships,” said Robin Haliuk, a supervisor of the helpline, run by the in Thunder Bay.

“These impacts contribute to a lot of trauma. These women call so they can tell their stories without being judged and be validated.”

The program’s geographical expansion acknowledges that almost 60 per cent of Indigenous people live in urban settings, including more than 46,000 in Greater Toronto. Originally, the helpline was available only from Muskoka to Ontario’s northern border.

“The helpline is critical for many Indigenous women in the small communities. It’s their only lifeline,” said Dr. Dawn Lavell-Harvard of the Ontario Native Women’s Association , a partner of the initiative.

“It’s really a positive step forward, an upstream investment … to help them hold their families together so they can thrive and not just survive.”

Indigenous women can be afraid to seek help due to social stigma, said Lavell-Harvard, and many are hesitant to come forward because of a long-standing distrust of mainstream institutions.

Sixty-two per cent of the callers were between 26 and 55 years old, while women older than 55 accounted for 21 per cent of the helpline users. The rest were between 16 and 25.

Dionne Beardy, a counsellor-turned-trainer at the helpline, said it is important to provide linguistically and culturally sensitive services to callers so they share common grounds and feel comfortable to speak about traditional Indigenous healing, teachings from the land, consultation with elders and ceremonies.

“You listen to these women in emotional crisis. Some calls are difficult and heartbreaking,” said Beardy, who speaks Oji-Cree, one of the Indigenous languages spoken at the helpline.

“It’s different to be able to use your own language when you try to describe your emotions. There is so much more meaning behind the language if you have that cultural understanding and can know where the caller might be at emotionally.”
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