Photovoice Exhibit tackles intimate violence with positive images displayed at Architecture School

SUDBURY—Violence in the home has tended to be a taboo subject across most cultural cleavages in Canada and, despite the best efforts of health, social and law enforcement workers to draw back the veil, dealing with the issue effectively still remains an issue. In First Nations communities the issue of intimate partner violence is fraught with challenges, but an innovative project spearheaded on the front lines by Mnaamodzawin Health Services in collaboration with the Northern Ontario School of Medicine has been tackling the issues from an indigenous approach.

For the past year and a half, Northern Ontario School of Medicine associate professor of medical anthropology, Dr. Marion Maar, and graduate student Beaudin Bennett have been working with Island health agencies in a process known as photovoice. A tangible by-product of that endeavour has resulted in the Noojamadaa (let’s heal) Project.

In mainstream society, with its vestiges of puritanical punishment reaction to violence, attempts to counteract intimate partner violence has focussed on punishment and a negative reaction rooted in crime and punishment.

But the research team led by Dr. Maar has collaborated with Manitoulin First Nations communities and organizations on a photovoice project to support healthy relationships and counteract intimate partner violence that takes a more positive tack.

“In Photovoice methodology, participants are invited to take photographs and share their narratives to stimulate community action,” noted Dr. Maar. As part of the methodology Dr. Maar and Mr. Bennett, who is in the third year of his Masters of Indigenous Relations program at Laurentian University, invited participants to take photographs and share their stories over a period of several months, but they did it with a twist.

In discussing the process and the photographs the participants would bring in, participants in the program indicated that they wanted to take a positive approach to the issue—focussing on pictures that relay positive family interactions and healthy relationships rather than the negative.

By using an experiential learning approach to foster and promote healing and reconciliation, the project has been enjoying considerable success, noted Dr. Maar. The participants in the Photovoice project are now set to take part in the knowledge translation aspect of the project, she said. “That involves gallery installation and film footage in collaboration with the indigenous theatre group Debajehmujig Storytellers and the Laurentian University School of Architecture.”

Born is the Noojamadaa Exhibit. Noojamadaa means “let’s heal” and the exhibit provides a safe space for indigenous and non‐indigenous peoples “to reflect on our shared journey towards wellness, through contemplation of our relationships with one another and our surroundings.”

“This project is a new opportunity to raise awareness about the characteristics of intimate partner violence and to help inform community health strategies that can then begin to address this important issue,” said Dr. Maar. “In undertaking this project Manitoulin First Nation communities have taken new steps toward community-based solutions to intimate partner violence. The project is guided by an indigenous community advisory committee, to ensure that the work continues to reflect the needs of communities.”

“Debajehmujig will be creating a new production on the same topic that will accompany the exhibition at the Debajehmujig Creation Centre and shown twice once on April 5 and once on April 6,” noted Debaj artistic director Joe Osawabine who, along with videographer Matthew Manitowabi, are spearheading the theatre group’s collaboration. “It’s our first time at Debajehmujig hearing of their process called photovoice but I was amazed at the transformative power of the process. It is using technology, cell phone cameras and such, as a way of capturing the strength of your community and the photos become a jumping off point for dynamic group discussions.”

Funding for the Noojamadaa Exhibit was provided by the Women’s Xchange.

Women’s Xchange is a women’s health knowledge translation and exchange centre based at Women’s College Hospital in Toronto designed to promote the development of women’s health research across the province. 

The Noojamadaa Exhibit grand opening will take place at 6 pm on Thursday, March 23 (doors open at 5 pm) at the McEwen School of Architecture, 83 Elm Street, in Sudbury. The exhibit will run from March 23 to April 1 and admission is free. The Debajehmujig Storytellers’ production will take place twice, once on April 5 and once on April 6.