POLITICS

Ottawa, Alberta spend more on program to reduce family violence on reserves

08/10/2012 02:24 EDT | Updated 10/10/2012 05:12 EDT
EDMONTON - A program that helps aboriginal children in Alberta who have witnessed family violence has been given more money to continue for another 21 months.

The Walking the Path Together Program is run by the Alberta Council of Women's Shelters and operates on five reserves.

The federal and Alberta governments announced a pilot project in 2009 to reduce family violence on First Nations and say it has been so successful it will get more money to continue its work.

"This project has been life-changing for everyone involved," Jan Reimer, the council's executive director, said Friday. "It has created new ways of doing shelter work and it has created hope."

The $3.5-million program involves using specially trained staff called Eagle Feather Workers who intervene when there is abuse and counsel children and families.

The idea is to help youngsters to develop coping behaviours so they don't become violent themselves.

The council says children who live with abuse may also abuse drugs and alcohol, drop out of school, face sexual exploitation or get involved in gangs.

Reimer said the program has so far helped more than 300 people, including 193 children.

The reserves include the Bigstone Cree, Stoney, Ermineskin, Mikisew Cree and Sucker Creek First Nations.

"We had a boy who was afraid to go to school because of what his dad might do to his mom while he was away. Now he is going to school and he is thriving," Reimer said.

"We have a girl who is now safe from sexual abuse and she is getting the help that she needs."

Conservative MP Laurie Hawn praised the council for making a difference. The federal government has contributed $2.3 million to the initiative. Alberta's share is about $1.2 million.

Reimer said the challenge now is to ensure the program becomes a permanent part of the services offered at women's shelters on reserves.

She said the shelters are badly needed but are generally poorly funded.