For the past 25 years, the Native Women’s Resource Centre of Toronto (NWRCT) has provided a safe meeting place where First Nations women in the city could come together to gain much-needed support and celebrate their heritage.
Now, with a much wider-reaching mandate, the downtown organization has earned some recognition from the City of Toronto, earning the 2012 City of Toronto Aboriginal Affairs Award.
The centre, on Gerrard Street East in the downtown core, caters to the needs of Aboriginal women, offering emergency services such as help for women seeking temporary shelter or looking to secure permanent housing.
It also offers cultural resources, life skills training and youth programming. “We have programs to help women leave the streets or get out of domestic violence situations,” said Crystal Melin, NWRCT executive director. “We also have life-enhancing programs teaching basic literacy, math and computer skills.”
The centre offers parenting programs dealing with pre-natal and post-natal care, healthy eating and group support, employment and educational assistance and more.
As the organization’s presence has grown in the community, so too has the demand for the services it provides.
“There’s a growing need, especially with our housing program,” Melin said. Because the centre caters specifically to the needs of First Nations women, the staff is all-female, adding a level of comfort, particularly to those who are fleeing violence.
“A lot of Aboriginal women escape domestic violence only to go to a mixed Aboriginal resource centre and run into their in-laws or run into other people who might make them feel threatened,” Melin said. “Our job is to provide a safe space.”
From a cultural standpoint, the centre offers Ojibway language classes, Aboriginal storytelling, full moon ceremonies, traditional beading classes, knowledge on traditional healing, hand-drumming classes and more.
Every year the centre also holds the Sisters in Spirit vigil in Allan Gardens. The vigil honours Aboriginal women who have gone missing or been killed across Canada.
Melin noted larger charitable organizations are often top-of-mind when it comes time for people to donate, but smaller organizations such as the NWRCT tend to slip under the radar. While the City of Toronto Aboriginal Affairs Award does not come with any money attached, it has already helped the NWRCT come up with funding for these programs.
“Our cultural programming isn’t funded,” Melin said. “We got the award at a really nice ceremony on Dec. 5 and we got a few online donations the very next morning.”
For more information on the centre and the services it provides, visit www.nwrct.ca