Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
The deadline to put someone’s name forward for the Atlohsa Peace Awards is fast approaching. Ontario residents have until 11:59 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 25 to apply.
“The Peace Awards are designed to celebrate eight incredible community members who through their accomplishments have made an outstanding contribution inspiring social change in the spirit of truth and reconciliation,” said Alana Lees, director of development at Atlohsa Family Healing Services.
“We’re uplifting these community members and shining a light on them to talk about their accomplishments in the community,” Lees said.
The awards honour Indigenous and non-Indigenous residents of Ontario who have made a difference though their work. An awards event is planned for Dec. 10, which will be held online this year because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The awards are also an opportunity to raise funds through sponsorships and donations for the Zhaawanong 24-hr Emergency Women's Shelter that provides safety for women and children at risk of violence, abuse and homelessness.
The shelter has seen demand for its services almost double because of an increase in intimate partner violence during the pandemic. The shelter is struggling to provide its most basic services.
“Domestic violence has been on the rise for so many women and children mainly because they’ve been isolated with their abusers during this time of COVID especially,” Lees said.
Lees said when the pandemic first hit, emergency phone lines went “eerily quiet.”
That mirrors reports from shelters around the country that saw lower call rates because women were either afraid to go into a shelter and risk contracting the virus, or were unable to find a safe place to call from for help.
“It got quiet with regards to the calls that we would typically be getting. People were afraid to go out or people were also confined in a space where they can’t reach out. They don’t have a moment where their abuser has left so that they can make that phone call or make that escape. They’re also in those situations where they can’t get out,” Lees said.
This was followed by a drastic increase in calls when restrictions began to ease.
“When the restrictions got lifted a little bit we actually saw an increase in people reaching out to us needing support and we’ve almost doubled at times our occupancy than what we’ve had typically this time of year,” Lees said.
Lees said COVID-19 has had a significant impact on her community and the shelter’s ability to serve an increasingly desperate clientele.
In March the shelter put a halt on many of their group programs and have had to work on reimagining how to deliver essential services, work that is not yet completed.
“We’ve had upwards of 28 women and children in our shelter. These are ever changing times so we need to continue to be able to adapt our programming. We need to look at ways that we can renovate the shelter and the living space for the families so that they’re safe.”
Atlohsa Peace Awards winners are presented with a piece of work done by an Indigenous artist and there is potentially some funding for a young “rising star” to do a youth-inspired project of their choice within their own community.
“Anything could come out of it,” Lees said.
“We have had authors, we've had advocates, we had a young hoop dancer last year... We’ve had such a broad range of people. When we say ‘in the spirit of truth and reconciliation’ we are saying ‘in the spirit of social change to support the Indigenous community to inspire and help uplift and to feature the work that is being done right now’.”
She said last year’s event was sold out, with more than 450 people in attendance.
Among last year’s award winners was bestselling Métis-Cree author Jesse Thistle.
“His book From the Ashes: My Story of Being Métis, Homeless, and Finding My Way has really brought new understanding and awareness to Indigenous homelessness… He’s redefined Indigenous homelessness. Knowledge and information that we have learned from his past has informed the work that we do,” Lees said.
This year, the awards ceremony will feature live performances. Senator Murray Sinclair, former chair of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, will deliver the keynote address.
“Of course we’re going to miss our packed house, but this platform actually opens it up to a whole new world of opportunities which gives us untapped viewership,” Lees said.
“These awards represent the heart of social change. It is especially important to recognize these efforts during these most challenging times by coming together as a community to celebrate the accomplishments of those who work so hard for the greater good. On this day, we will step back and reflect on the great work and honour friends, old and new."
Ontario residents can nominate themselves or someone they know by visiting AtlohsaPeaceAwards.com.
Local Journalism Initiative Reporters are supported by a financial contribution made by the Government of Canada.