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The Mi’kmaw Legal Support Network: “This is not really a joyful time”

“Their day to day life is a struggle, and now they’re supposed to be happy and joyful because it’s Christmas” 

KJIPUKTUK (Halifax) – We all know Christmas can be a very hard time. At the Mi’kmaw Legal Support Network (MLSN), a community organization which works to ensure fair and equitable service for Indigenous people who encounter the criminal justice system, this hardship is witnessed every day. 

MLSN, together with the Mi’kmaw Native Friendship Centre, the Association of Black Social Workers and the Elizabeth Fry Society of Mainland Nova Scotia are partners in “Creating Communities of Care”, a government-funded project launched in 2018 to support African Nova Scotian and Indigenous women experiencing violence in urban Halifax. 

The challenges facing these organizations, and their clients, are significant, and have only become exacerbated under the conditions imposed in response to the COVID pandemic. 

MLSN still supports clients, through regular phone calls and virtual and distanced programming as best as they can. But many of the networking activities and cross-organizational programming they relied had to be modified or came to a standstill. “The worst is when I have to call clients to tell them court has been delayed. That’s the worst,” remarks an MLSN staff-member. Living under constant engagement with court, which has now become even lengthier, more drawn-out and complicated, creates deep misery and suffering. “That’s the hardest thing. They have no control over their life at court”. 

“Many of my clients don’t have their children with them- they’re taken away. So, this is not really a joyful time, you know? It’s actually heart-breaking.” The risk of violence and abuse doesn’t go away because of the holidays either, with some clients being at high risk of violence and requiring additional support. 

MLSN provides services across our province. But they are very much aware that the urban and rural landscape in Nova Scotia is different. “The funding is different- so it’s challenging to make sure clients in urban and rural areas are treated fairly. And then, in the rural communities, our colleagues know everybody, they can reach out to people. But here, in Halifax, people don’t want to self-identify as Indigenous. There is still so much prejudice and stigma.” 

Another challenge is that many non-Mi’kmaw Indigenous people, for example Inuit and Cree, live in urban Halifax. “They’re not even sure if we serve them. After all we are called Mi’kmaw Legal Support Network. So I have to reassure them no, we serve all Indigenous people, despite our name. Please reach out!” 

Witnessing so much trauma affects the staff of community organizations. Being a member of a partnership helps to share and support each other. “Creating Communities of Care” organizations communicate regularly, to brainstorm and share solutions, plan shared programming for vulnerable clients and lean on each other. 

“How can we move forward in this COVID world? This sums up our conversations most the time.” 

This writing was prepared with the assistance of Transition House Association of Nova Scotia, a knowledge mobilization partner for the Creating Communities of Care project. For more information about this project, please visit: Creating Communities of Care.

If you are concerned that someone you know may be experiencing violence, please call or text 1-855-225-0220, toll-free and open 24/7, for safe and confidential information on how to best support them.

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