Paul LaCerte knows the heartbreak and injustice that still ripple through the aboriginal population from years spent in B.C.’s residential school system.
He remembers the constant fear living under an alcoholic father, the stigma from more than a whisper of domestic violence in the community.
To break that silence, LaCerte is fostering a grassroots campaign of aboriginal men who want to end the cycle of abuse.
“It’s always been in our culture to protect our families, not hurt them,” said LaCerte, executive director of the B.C. Association of Native Friendship Centres.
Aboriginal women are three times more likely to be the victims of domestic violence in Canada than other women, according to Assembly of First Nations statistics. And a scathing Human Rights Watch report released last week shed light on a fractured police-aboriginal relationship in B.C., with allegations of underreported abuse.
On Friday, LaCerte joined more than 200 other aboriginal men at a morning-long conference aimed at finding ways to help reduce domestic violence, at the Harbour Towers hotel. Attendees later marched to the legislature where they committed to stand up to fight violence against women and children in their communities.
“We’re challenging men to stand up, speak out, change their behaviour, and support others to change their behaviour as well,” he said.
The men showed their support by wearing a small square of moose hide, not unlike the many movements that use ribbons and wristbands.
The movement is spreading across Canada, to aboriginal men in Matsqui and Kent penitentiaries and even to the Sarnia, Ont. police service, whose officers made pledges never to hit aboriginal women.
“That’s a pretty significant rock in the pond, and one we expect to ripple across the country,” LaCerte said.
Domestic violence is more prevalent in the Capital Region than many people think, said Tracy Lubick, development director at the Victoria Women’s Transition House.
Last year, the society received more than 2,000 calls to its 24-hour crisis line and sheltered 158 women and 62 children. A further 1,400 women were referred to the society’s victim support program.
“It’s really important we’re talking about working with men as allies,” Lubick said. “They need to be looking at their role in terms of ending violence, how they’re modelling their own behaviours.”
She hopes initiatives such as the moose hide campaign will continue to galvanize men and stop violence against women and children.
“We need a tectonic shift here at a community level, not just for native people,” LaCerte said. “It’s a lie that what happens in the home is nobody else’s business.”
To learn more about how to take action against domestic violence, visit transitionhouse.net or call 250-385-6611.