A quarter century of serving local needs was celebrated by Sucker Creek Women’s Emergency Shelter at a gala Feb. 18 in High Prairie.
Leaders and partners gathered at Edmo Peyre Hall to thank the shelter, which has helped more than 1,000 women since it opened Feb. 14, 1992.
“We continue to advocate for the rights of women and children,” board chair Joyce Badger says.
“In 1992, the chief and council and band manager Fred F. Willier had a vision of a service that would be open to any women in need of safety, regardless of status, race or place of origin.”
She also expressed thanks for the donations of various types the shelter received to support the women and children.
Sucker Creek Women’s Emergency Shelter is one of the first on-reserve shelters in Alberta and possibly even in Canada, says Bruce Pickett, Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada (INAC), social programs and development officer for Treaty 8.
“We are thankful that First Nations women and children in Alberta have such responsible, dedicated, and compassionate staff working for their well being, like Sucker Creek Women’s Emergency Shelter,” Pickett says.
“Women and children have a right to live without violence, fear and oppression, and the Sucker Creek Women’s Emergency Shelter board and staff work together to accomplish this.”
He lauded the shelter’s life of success to provide services to the region through working together with various partners to make a difference in the lives of people who have been impacted by family violence.
INAC also donated 80 stuffed animals for children at the shelter.
Several shelter and community leaders expressed thanks and the value of the shelter.
“Thank you for helping us and supporting us,” says director Beryl Willier.
“We want to make sure we have partnerships.
“We celebrate our commitment to change the lives of people.”
She says the road may be rough, but the results are rewarding.
“It really is hard work to see women and children move on in life,” Willier says.
“We want to end family violence.”
Words were expressed on behalf of the band council.
“We have come a long way; it means a lot to us,” Chief Jim Badger says.
“We do our best to accommodate our community needs and, in this case, women of the region.”
As the incidents often involve police, local authorities lauded the shelter.
“The work you people do is very worthwhile and necessary,” says Dale Cox, chief of police for Lakeshore Regional Police Service.
“We want victims to be safe and secure.”
However, he says family violence is not going away.
“We have to find some ways to stop the cycle,” Cox says.
A veteran police officer, he says it’s a very serious problem that people in the communities express.
“The highest risk in those communities is domestic violence,” Cox says.
To close his remarks, he presented a donation of $1,000 from the police force to the shelter.
Alberta Council of Women’s Shelters also expressed the valuable role of the shelter.
“Today is a celebration of lives saved and transformed, a celebration of survival, persistence, and perseverance,” says Jan Reimer, executive director for 15 years.
She acknowledged the shelter’s leaders that have impacted lives beyond its home base.
“Thank you that you contribute so much to your own community, as well as to collaborative provincial efforts, even in the face of funding gaps,” Reimer says.
“It speaks to your integrity and resiliency and it reminds us that there is more we can do to make sure that Indigenous women have a voice in the province.”
She lauded the board for serving the community, despite financial restraints.
“The reality of operating at capacity is all too familiar to Sucker Creek, a shelter that has persevered despite a lack of funding for vital services you provide,” Reimer says.
In a 2015 workforce survey, ACWS found close to a 60 per cent difference between operating budgets of off-reserve shelters to similarly-sized on-reserve shelters.
“So, we recognize that you face unique challenges, often with fewer resources than your colleagues,” says Reimer, the first female mayor of Edmonton, who served from 1989-1995.
“Although we look forward to the future where women’s shelters aren’t needed, to a future free from violence and abuse, today we know that shelters continue to provide a vital service to women in the province.”
She recognized the local women’s shelter among leaders in the province.
“Sucker Creek Women’s Emergency Shelter has been a strong ally and support of ACWS over the years,” Reimer says.
“We’ve had two board members from Sucker Creek, Edna Willier and Fred Badger, both of whom were strong advocates for shelters and domestic violence prevention efforts in Alberta over the years.”
Sucker Creek was also integral to the recent project “Walking the Path Together”, an innovative crime-prevention approach in which Eagle Feather workers in five on-reserve women’s shelters provided one-on-one support to First Nations children and families who lived with violence, she says.
“It was an amazing program which demonstrated that if you invest in basic needs, provide support to children, that you can not only save lives and improve quality of life, but also save money,” Reimer says.
Locally, words of thanks were also stated by Town of High Prairie Mayor Linda Cox.
Domestic violence is overwhelming in a very traumatic and emotional time.
“That is when the staff of Sucker Creek Women’s Emergency Shelter proves their worth,” Cox says.
“They step forward, wrap this family in comfort, support, and understanding and help put back the pieces of the family unit.”