Łı́ı́dlı̨ı̨ Kų́ę́ First Nation facing roadblocks in attempt to open a women's shelter in Fort Simpson

Łı́ı́dlı̨ı̨ Kų́ę́ First Nation in Fort Simpson, N.W.T., has been trying to open a women's shelter that will serve the entire Dehcho region. (Submitted by Jon Antoine - image credit)
Łı́ı́dlı̨ı̨ Kų́ę́ First Nation in Fort Simpson, N.W.T., has been trying to open a women's shelter that will serve the entire Dehcho region. (Submitted by Jon Antoine - image credit)

Łı́ı́dlı̨ı̨ Kų́ę́ First Nation (LKFN) has been trying to open a full-time emergency shelter for women and children in Fort Simpson, N.W.T. It would also serve the surrounding communities.

Although there is a clear need for the shelter, the First Nation has been running into one roadblock after another trying to find funding and secure a building.

Amy Fraser, the regional victim services coordinator at LKFN, said there is a tremendous need in the community for daytime programming and an emergency shelter for women and their children.

"My vision was to open a home that would allow for both," said Fraser. "I didn't realize how hard that vision was."

She is currently running a sewing circle out of LKFN's old band office.

Fraser wants to eventually also offer women's programs, women support groups as well as the sharing/sewing circles.

"We could work on hide," Fraser said. "And then have a shelter/safe space for women and children."

She said she tried to access funding through the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation (CMHC) but they were not approved.

For the building, Fraser said there are several federal houses in the community that are now sitting empty, some for years. She is hoping to utilize these houses for the women's shelter and hopefully a transitional house for men when they return to the community after incarceration or treatment.

Chief also frustrated with slow process

LKFN Chief Kele Antoine said several years ago they found out that the federal houses can be available to them to use for social programming at a minimal cost to the nation. He said they immediately identified uses for multiple buildings but they haven't been able to secure the buildings from the federal government.

Submitted by Kele Antoine
Submitted by Kele Antoine

He said he has been reaching out to Crown-Indigenous Relations and Northern Affairs but hasn't heard anything back.

"We're just left waiting for answers from federal officials," he said. "But nobody seems to think it's that urgent."

Antoine said he spoke several times with Michael McLeod, N.W.T.'s Member of Parliament. Antoine said McLeod has done all he can to expedite the request. Antoine said he is disappointed with how slow the process has been.

Antoine also stressed that the shelter and programming will also serve surrounding communities. This includes Wrigley, Jean Marie River, Sambaa K'e, Nahanni Butte, and Fort Liard.

Antoine also said there is a strong need in the Dehcho region for a women's shelter. The only option available at the moment for the long term is to go to Yellowknife but their hope is to avoid women and children having to leave their only support systems in the community.

"They're kinda thrust into a totally different situation with no friends and family when they need that the most," he said.

CBC News reached out to the Department of Crown-Indigenous Relations and Northern Affairs but has not yet heard back.

Only temporary options for women in the community

Fort Simpson currently has a warming centre that opened up in December 2020. It acts as a daytime warming centre for men and women and they are hoping to add daytime programming soon.

Although the warming centre does have temporary emergency shelter options for women, the overnight shelter is currently only available to men.

Submitted Jon Antoine
Submitted Jon Antoine

Pamela Horesay, the program co-ordinator and manager at the warming centre, said that there is a dedicated room available at the Nahanni Inn for women seeking temporary shelter. But that only helps women short term.

"It's definitely needed," said Horesay. "If a woman is escaping from a domestic violence situation, we don't want them housed in a building with men."

LKFN also offers the same temporary solution for emergency shelter. If women are seeking shelter they can reach out to Horesay at the warming centre or Fraser at LKFN and arrangements will be made to get them into the hotel room.

Hoping for progress soon

Meanwhile, Fraser said they have met with the YWCA and other grassroots organizations that have been willing to offer some financial support, whether it's paying rent, buying furniture or paying the salary of a staff member. But it still requires the shelter to have a space.

She has heard from other community members who are willing to help her move the process along, inviting her to meetings and helping advocate for her during this process.

Fraser has also collected support letters hoping to speed up the process and send a clear message to the government that the community and region need this service.