Manitoulin home to Ontario’s first community-based sexual, domestic violence service clinic

AUNDECK OMNI KANING – Noojmowin Teg inaugurated its new Sexual and Domestic Violence Services (SDVS) clinic at a virtual grand opening ceremony last Thursday, January 21, an event that featured dignitaries from across the province who came to celebrate the first community-based sexual assault and domestic violence treatment centre in Ontario—one that also provides culturally appropriate services for its Anishinaabe clients.

The new program, called Ka Naad Maa Go (We Will Help You) in Anishinaabemowin, aims to revolutionize the care process for victims of sexual and domestic violence on Manitoulin, should they choose to access the program.

Its services are available to individuals aged 12 and older from all backgrounds. The clinic is privacy-centric and the staffers work with individuals to determine a unique healing path that addresses the victim’s needs.

The clinic hosts crisis intervention and emotional support, physical examinations including forensic evidence gathering, sexually transmitted infection testing and treatment, pregnancy tests and emergency contraceptive options, risk assessment and safety planning as well as offering referrals to other nearby care providers.

Care providers stress that victims can stop accessing the program’s services at any time if they wish to withdraw.

“(SDVS is) a service we provide with humility and partially regret, knowing that in an ideal and utopian world, we would not have to provide these services,” said Noojmowin Teg executive director Danielle Wilson, who served as emcee for the proceedings. The virtual event’s live viewer count peaked at 111.

Elder Gordon Waindubence of Sheguiandah First Nation offered opening remarks on the significance of the day.

He reflected on how Indigenous peoples in Canada have long suffered from the intergenerational impacts of inadequate health and social services, which has contributed to the missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls (MMIWG) epidemic alongside the opioid and homelessness crises in Indigenous populations.

“You really have to put things down so our kids, our grandkids, so they understand what we left for them,” he said, adding that this generation must work for the children who are not yet born.

M’Chigeeng Women’s Hand Drum Group performed a song to open the four doorways, followed by remarks from Aundeck Omni Kaning Ogimaa-kwe Patsy Corbiere, who is also a Noojmowin Teg board representative. 

She said sexual violence is a massive problem within First Nations that is hidden and under-reported, and that many individuals have turned to alcohol and drugs as unhealthy coping mechanisms.

“The trauma is destroying our people and families regardless of age and gender as the impact of sexual violence goes far beyond any physical injuries,” said Ogimaa-kwe Corbiere. “This clinic will (ensure) there is help from the start that will lead to other services offered within Noojmowin Teg Health Centre as part of the victim’s healing journey.”

Anishinabek Nation Grand Council Chief Glen Hare spoke next, stressing the progress that has been made over the years in Indigenous communities and urging for First Nation jurisdiction to write and enforce their own laws.

“All you people that have been involved in what we’re witnessing today, I want to congratulate you. We’re going in the right direction here; there’s no one that can tell us otherwise,” he said.

Next was a video presentation that highlighted the features of the new clinic. It is embedded into the online version of this story at manitoulin.com.

This new centre is rooted in a community setting, as opposed to the 36 existing services based in hospitals across Ontario. Previously, anyone who chose to get forensic testing after a sexual assault on Manitoulin would have to travel to Health Sciences North in Sudbury for a rape kit.

Having to travel that farther distance and spending much more time without disturbing any evidence can have further traumatizing effects on victims; having responsive services (especially services that are culturally appropriate) closer to home can have a profound positive impact on a victim’s journey.

Former Noojmowin Teg executive director Pam Williamson, who had a major role in bringing the SDVS clinic into existence and advocating for its importance, offered a recap of the years-long process from the idea’s inception to its grand opening. She cited the implications of Manitoulin getting its own forensic clinic and local victim support services.

“Vulnerable individuals now have access to new and responsive services locally and Island victim services and partners can now include another service partner into their circle of care,” she said.

Noojmowin Teg nurse practitioner and clinical liaison Tammy Maguire spoke next, highlighting the fusion of western and traditional healing approaches to provide relevant care for all clients.

“It is essentially a made-on-Manitoulin model of integrated and co-ordinated, holistic, wrap-around care, designed to address and support the needs of victims and survivors of sexual and/or domestic violence,” Ms. Maguire said.

Ontario Ministry of Health senior policy advisor Umeshaa Pararajasingham represented the deputy minister of health’s office.

“This is an incredible accomplishment and you deserve all of the credit. We recognize your unique ability to provide culturally safe and highly specialized medical care and we look forward to the many survivors who will be able to receive support closer to home,” she said.

Ontario Attorney General Doug Downey said this first-of-its-kind service was a glimpse of future trends in health care.

“It’s really an important marker for where we need to be going,” he said.

Sheila Macdonald, provincial co-ordinator of Ontario Network of Sexual Assault/Domestic Violence Treatment Centres, said this was the only service (of the now 37 in Ontario) that is not strictly hospital-based (though the Noojmowin Teg clinic runs in partnership with Manitoulin Health Centre [MHC]).

“(The program is) community-based, culturally specific and has a broader inclusion of criteria for access to services which is appropriate to the needs on Manitoulin, and it has multiple funding sources which is different from other programs,” Ms. Macdonald said.

MHC vice-president of clinical services and chief nursing officer Paula Fields said she has seen many victims navigate the system through her years as a registered nurse on Manitoulin. She has been involved in the push for this clinic for the past six years.

“It is essential to have appropriately trained and skilled clinicians providing this service to our community,” she said.

Finally, Manitoulin Family Resources executive director Marnie Hall, who also serves as the co-chair of the Mnidoo Mnising Coalition Against Domestic Violence, spoke at length about the history of the project and its significance to Island communities.

“There is a balance that must always be maintained in providing these essential services to victims. Specializations are needed and beneficial; that has never been in question. Access, however, is also needed. Timely, trauma-informed, victim-centred access is more than beneficial—it is imperative,” she said.

Wiikwemkoong’s Jesse and Adam Kaboni offered a closing song, followed by concluding remarks from Mr. Waindubence and a closing of the four doorways by the M’Chigeeng Women’s Hand Drum Group.

Anyone who wishes to access the service can call 705-368-1369, but if a victim requires urgent medical attention they should first visit a MHC hospital site for immediate care. The hospital can further refer patients to SDVS.