Working with Aboriginal Victims of Crime
by Connie Gould
In 2008, the Nova Scotia Department of Justice received funding from the federal Department of Justice Victims Fund to undertake a four-year project to better meet the needs of Aboriginal victims of crime. The goal of the project was to strive to reduce the risk of Aboriginal victims being re-traumatized by the court process and to facilitate the healing process for the victim and the community. As part of the project, culturally-sensitive promotional materials were developed for distribution: medals, posters and pamphlets.
The following testimonial was written by Connie Gould, who was responsible for delivering services and distributing promotional material to the Eskasoni First Nation. Eskasoni is the largest Mi'kmaq Community East of Montreal, with a population of over 3,800 residents.
When working with Aboriginal victims of crime as an Aboriginal Victim Services Officer, I have the honour and privilege to give the medal to my clients who are testifying or going through court. I believe the medal represents our Aboriginal way of life, our Native spirituality and belief system, and who we are as Aboriginal people. When I present this medal to a victim of crime that I am working with, I feel excited to share the story and history of the medal. I tell my clients that I believe this medal has a special purpose in their journey, as they move through the court process. I tell them the medal hold special powers, if one believes in it. The medal gives strength, courage, honour and healing. It holds the teachings of our ancestors, our world view and leaves you with a sense of tranquility in your soul.
The design of the medal is two-fold. On one side, the following words are inscribed:
- Truth (ketlowoqn)
- Courage (melkita'mk)
- Honour (kepmitetaqn)
- Healing (nepisimk)
The medal was designed by Kathy Denny, a well-known Mi'kmaq artist from Eskasoni. After consultations with several victims of crime in the community, they requested that these words be inscribed on the medal. She then thought about animals that would represent these words and went back to the victims who liked the idea of animals representing the words. Kathy felt it was part of being Mi'kmaq and how we view the world.
And so, the other side of the medal has faces of animals that represent the four sacred colors, the four directions, the four races, the four stages of life and the four seasons. In the East, where the sun rises, a promise of a new beginning, new life emerges and spring has sprung. The spirit guide is the Eagle and the color is white. In the South, the second stage of life is early adulthood/ teenager. Summer is here and the color is yellow. The spirit guide is the cougar. In the West, the season is autumn and the color is red. It is the life stage of the older adult and the spirit guide is the buffalo. In the North, the season is winter and the life stage is the elder. The color is blue and the spirit guide is the bear. The images of the animals represent our connection to Mother Earth and her creations that help guide us in our journey as we go through life. The Eight Pointed Star is a symbol of the sun and our connection to our spirituality. The sun gives us light and rises in the East and sets in the West. The Eight Pointed Star on this medal is purple and represents the color for victims of crime.
The words Truth, Courage, Honour and Healing were chosen as a way to express our recognition of the courage of victims, letting them know that people have heard the truth of their words, a way to let them know that someone recognizes that they have conducted themselves with honour and also our hope that they find healing from what they have gone through. However, the main reason for the medal is simply the idea that each and every victim who testifies deserves a medal for the courage it takes to come forward and go through the court process.
What some clients have said about the medal:
" This medal showed me that I was cared about, it gave me courage to stand up and say something, it felt like a friend to me. When I looked at it, I knew it made me happy, not sad and I felt at peace. I knew it wasn't my fault and it made me focus on what I had to say and think about during the trial. It was there for me and it helped me a lot. If I didn't have this medal, I don't think I could have said anything."
"I was holding on to the medal the entire time I was up there (testifying) and it really helped me. I carry it in my pocket for protection and to remind me of the strength that I have because of it. Thank you very much."
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