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A march to support survivors

(Callie Giaccone The Eastern Door)

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Last Thursday (August 6), survivors, volunteers and family members marched proudly from the tunnel to Karonhianónhnha School, with a strong message of support.

The Survivor Solidarity Walk was a reaction to demonstrate support for the many people who shared their experiences on Twitter anonymously last week.

With the powerful slogan “Our Voice Has Power,” written on T-shirts that volunteers and others wore throughout the event – with many dressed in teal, the colour of sexual assault awareness – the evening created a safe and open space for women to feel heard and listened to.

Volunteers handed out water bottles, took people’s temperature and made sure participants were properly socially-distanced.

What better way to show your support for the resilient women of Kahnawake, then to come together and walk in solidarity with the sexual harassment and assault survivors of the community?

The evening was finished with a gathering at Karonhianónhnha School, where over 100 people congregated in the grass to listen to moving speeches shared by survivors that followed a tobacco burning.

“A few people have mentioned to me this is the first time that something has been done like this in Kahnawake,” said a baffled Kwanatawi Cook, one of the volunteers.

Cook explained that events like these are important in the community, because they help direct the conversation in a positive direction, rather than gossip and misinformation.

“We have to keep the topic at bay, because if not, how are we supposed to have this topic come up in our family conversation or at school?” said Cook.

(Callie Giaccone The Eastern Door)

During the event, volunteers handed out pamphlets with information on how to support friends and loved ones affected. The pamphlet guides supporters to use helpful language as well as other tools to support survivors.

Oftentimes family members don’t know what to say when they find out someone close to them is a victim of sexual harassment, so this handbook helped give them the tools to be there for their loved ones.

Lindsay Thomas, another volunteer and one of the women who shared her story at the event, explained that she got involved for personal reasons. “I’m personally a sexual assault survivor; I’ve been assaulted from the time I was five up until October of 2019.” said Thomas.

Thomas said knows how difficult this can be for people and although she doesn’t think people ever completely heal, she is in a much better place now.

“When I started delving into therapy I found out that all the symptoms I was experiencing was as a result from the sexual assault that I experienced throughout my life.” said Thomas.

For Thomas, coming to events like these and supporting each other is a huge step toward a solution. “Nobody should have to go through those things alone,” said Thomas. “It’s hard enough to say, yes, I was abused, nobody wants to have to admit to that.”

She hopes that the solidarity walk will help instigate a much-needed discussion within the community. “To me, I hope it’s going to get people talking and know that they are not alone. If they are going through things as a result of the sexual abuse, then they’ll know that there are others out there like me.”

The repercussions of assault are not always tangible. Thomas explained that her trauma leaked into many different areas of her life. “I’ve struggled with relationships, sexual identity, and so many different things,” said Thomas.

Although she thinks that it’s beneficial to be open about your experience, not everybody is at that stage of their healing. “I think it’s important to honour that and make sure that people feel safe while they’re on their healing journey.”

She said many women have spoken to her about their experience with sexual assault and it has been “mind-blowing and disturbing.” Thomas said this conversation needs to continue in order for that to change. “We cannot stop this from being a problem unless we start bringing the issue to light,” she said.

For Thomas and many others, Kahnawake Shakotiia’takehnhas Community Services (KSCS) has been an extremely helpful service over the years.

“I’ve been going to therapy through them for the past 13 years now. They are absolutely phenomenal. Anytime I have experienced any sort of issue, whether it was being a mother, or basically anything, they have been there with me every step of the way,” said Thomas.

Healing can happen in many different ways. Using the free services of KSCS can be a very effective tool for sexual assault survivors. “It’s my hope that people start taking those steps to take back their power from what has been taken from them, from being a sexual assault survivor,” said Thomas.

(Callie Giaccone The Eastern Door)

Cook said she hopes this solidarity walk is a catalyst for more outreach programs and support for survivors in the community. Right now, she explained that to find help you have to take initiative, and some people are not able to take that leap for themselves.

“Survivors need to know that they are not the only one and they should not feel guilt or shame,” said Cook.

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