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This year’s Atlohsa Peace Award recipients. (Submitted photo) Often it’s the little things that make all of the difference in life – a warm shower, a cozy pair of pyjamas, a hot meal, and a sense of safety.

But many in our city don’t have these simple needs met. The reasons are complicated – perhaps it’s unemployment or the high cost of rent, maybe it’s low vacancy rates (Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation says London is sitting at 1.8 per cent) – or a combination of all of the above. For those who have experienced domestic violence, the numbers skyrocket.

Now take all of those stats and focus on the indigenous population and those digits becoming even more alarming.

“Over 30 per cent of the homeless population in London is made up of indigenous people, yet only two per cent of the overall population is indigenous,” says Mandi Fields.

Fields is the organizing committee chair of the first annual Atlohsa Peace Awards, an initiative aimed at honouring peace and creating change.

“The spirit of the event is the coming together of the indigenous and non-indigenous communities, walking side-by-side, for a better tomorrow,” says Fields.

The event also embraces a significant giving back component; one that will positively affect the lives of countless women and children, offering them access to a touchstone – shelter from the cold and a safe respite from domestic violence.

The awards gala takes place on Oct. 11, 2018 at the London Convention Centre, where seven London area residents will be recognized for their efforts and their commitment to peace and reconciliation with Canada’s indigenous communities.

The awards are based on the characteristics of the seven sacred grandfather teachings and reflect wisdom, love, respect, bravery, honesty, humility and truth.

“The awards are a vehicle for people to participate – in whatever way they want – in the spirit of moving forward,” says Fields, adding that the focus and approach is strength-based rather than trauma-based.

It’s a celebration of all of the positives, if you will.

The recipients were chosen from over 23 nominations.

The initiative’s fundraising goal is $50,000 for the 16-bed, 24-hour emergency Zhaawanong Shelter for at-risk indigenous (Metis, First Nations, Inuit, status or non) women and their children.

“Zhaawanong stands for south in Ojibwa, a direction that represents warmth, change, nurturance, and renewal,” says Kimberly Haycock, shelter coordinator. “And those are all of the qualities that we support for the folks that come through our doors. Many of these women have fled with nothing but the clothes that they are wearing. They don’t have a toothbrush or even pyjamas. Those little things are a really big deal.”

Since its inception in 1992, Zhaawanong has supported close to 1,500 women and children (over 200 of those in 2017 alone) with warm meals and a safe and secure home-like environment from which to take stock and rebuild their lives.

The majority of the women are fleeing domestic violence, but some are experiencing homelessness. The shelter is open to non-indigenous women as well.Women and their children are invited to stay free-of-charge for 42 days. During that time, the shelter provides all of their basic needs, along with support workers. The goal is to have the families secure permanent housing, but if transitional housing is required after the 42-day period, women and their children can rent, at low cost, an apartment at Atlohsa’s St. George facility for up to one year.The core of Atlohsa’s mandate is the understanding that family violence is not traditional in First Nations cultures, but rather it’s a result of many factors, including intergenerational trauma and colonialism. Indigenous women in Canada are 2.5 times as likely to be victims […]

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