The Ontario Native Women’s Association (ONWA) released its Journey to Safe SPACES: Indigenous Anti-Human Trafficking Engagement Report at the Italian Cultural Centre in Thunder Bay.
“Together, we have been able to look deeply at what is needed to safely exit Indigenous women and girls from human traffickers and gangs,” says Cora-Lee McGuire-Cyrete, executive director of ONWA.
The report includes input gathered from people who were most directly impacted by human trafficking and survivors who were willing to share their stories.
“This report is actually one of the first of its kind — this entire report is based off of the experiences and shared stories of those women that have experienced exploitation,” says Collin Graham, program manager for the community development project at ONWA. “It’s not just a collection of stories, because what came out of the stories is the women even gave recommendations as to what they need to help narrow gaps when it comes to service delivery. They spoke to the need for a strengthening of the relationship with all first responders. They talk about what they need to help women exit, but more importantly again as the prevention piece as to how we keep young people safe.”
Graham says ONWA recognized that the report was more than a road map.
“It was also an opportunity to build capacity with women to live up to their leadership roles,” Graham says. “Because the women who have experienced exploitation or that of the experience of human trafficking are now leaders when it comes to community safety and safety planning within communities to ensure we narrow the gaps so that traffickers don’t have the opportunity to take advantage of young vulnerable people.”
ONWA was selected in 2017 to deliver the Indigenous Anti-Human Trafficking Liaisons project under Ontario’s Strategy to End Human Trafficking. Through the project, ONWA listened to and engaged with survivors, who shared their lived experiences to ensure that other women and girls could be protected.
“I just want to express my gratitude to ONWA for this report,” says Jessica Wilson, special projects coordinator with Fort Frances Tribal Area Health Services, southern Treaty 3 liaison funded by ONWA and a survivor of human trafficking. “I absolutely think this is an incredible piece in order to move forward. This is coming from a survivor-led perspective and this is exactly what we need in order to move forward.”
Wilson says she was trafficked when she was 17-years-old.
“That is why I think it is so important for this piece because I didn’t have a voice back then,” Wilson says. “People weren’t talking about human trafficking so there were limited resources. We didn’t know where to go to exit and we didn’t have the support to exit. Now that we have this and now that there is an actual report, we can use this and we can help the individuals who are in that (situation). Individuals will know where the resources are, where to go to get help.”
Fort William Chief Peter Collins says the report is “very important,” noting the current situation that is happening on the streets with young Indigenous women.
“Hopefully we can get them back home where they belong in their safe household,” Collins says. “When I look at the women on the street, they are very young. They are somebody’s daughter, they are somebody’s granddaughter, they are somebody’s sister or niece, so I think this report will help go in a long way in changing the landscape and hopefully help the young women that are consumed by the industry that is very harmful to them.”
The report is posted online at: www.onwa.ca/upload/documents/onwa-iaht-liaisons-project-report-2017-2.pdf.