COMMUNITY: Celebrating the Wabasca Community

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DSC_1018by: Meaghan Trewin, Communications Strategy Coordinator and Barb Milne, Project Manager

As an organization that has been around for over a decade, Safe and Caring has had the pleasure of working with many Alberta communities. One of our longest standing relationships has been with the small northern community of Wabasca, home of the Bigstone Cree Nation and many hardworking people in a strongly oil, gas and forestry-based economy.

Safe and Caring has been working in partnership with the Wabasca community since 2006 and, in 2009, we were awarded the opportunity to deliver Stop Now And Plan (SNAP) training to help local students build skills to form positive relationships within their school and broader communities.

Located 300 km north of Edmonton, and with limited access to valuable government services, Wabasca residents face many of the challenges common amongst remote Alberta communities: poverty, housing scarcity, unemployment and a prevalence of family violence. Within Alberta as a whole, the impact of violence against women and their families is dramatic, representing more than a quarter of all reported violent crimes (StatsCanada, 2013).

Despite the challenges that they face, Wabasca residents and leaders are passionate about their community, and passionate about the safety of their women, children and elders. Thanks to the generous ongoing support of Status of Women Canada, as well as from corporate sponsors Cavalier Energy, Inc. and Koch Oil Sands, Safe and Caring has experienced first-hand how this community can come together to support the well-being of their people.

Each community has unique needs and priorities. When Safe and Caring first came to Wabasca, we connected with those who knew best what the young students in the community needed to thrive: the people of Wabasca itself! We engaged community stakeholders from start to end, beginning our research with a community-driven needs assessment and consultation to identify the specific needs of Wabasca. Using findings from this preliminary research, we developed a Steering Committee of local leaders, educators, businesses and support services to help interpret findings and oversee program implementation.

Overall, this evidence-based and collaborative approach has not only ensured that the work we do is relevant and contributing to lasting change – this approach has also helped empower the Wabasca community to build their own long-term capacity. Through the Steering Committee, Safe and Caring has witnessed the people of Wabasca work together to identify the issues that are most important to them, and to pursue a strong shared commitment to end the pervasiveness of cyclical violence, to strengthen connections within and across their community and to support collective action to impact change.

Safe and Caring has continued to work closely with the Wabasca Steering Committee, finding ways to adapt SNAP program delivery to better meet the needs of their community.

This has included using interactive classroom instruction that emphasizes role-modelling, role-playing and in-school mentorship, with the goals of strengthening positive relationships and developing trust amongst students, families and the community as a whole. Further, with a high First Nations population in the schools involved, the Steering Committee and Safe and Caring have integrated culturally appropriate games and activities, in order to give students the chance to engage with their heritage while gaining confidence and learning valuable life skills.

Overall, the program has helped students develop an awareness and common language for dealing with violence, and empowered them to build healthy relationships for the rest of their lives. As one student commented: “I was a bully and didn’t realize I was being a bully. I thought I was just sticking up for my friends, but I learned that I was being a bully too. Now I know how to be a friend without hurting others.”

Going forward, the Steering Committee has expressed strong ongoing support for continuing and expanding this important work, and for continuing to work together to strengthen and empower the Wabasca community!

This article appeared in our June 2015 News Bulletin. Click here to read the rest of the bulletin!


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