Healing Fund benefits poor, abused

Published March 1, 2002

Experts in life skills, anger management and health address members of the Stardale Women’s Group.

GENERAL SYNOD’S healing fund for residential schools has given $19,000 to a women’s program in rural Saskatchewan that promotes self-sufficiency through combining healing work with artistic form and life skills teaching.

The Stardale Women’s Group Inc. Foundation of rural Melfort, Sask. runs projects exclusively for women who are living in poverty and abusive situations in the northeast sector of the province. Its newest program, funded by the Anglican church’s residential schools healing fund, will use weaving to move participants toward financial independence and a new sense of dignity.

“We want people who are in recovery,” said coordinator Helen McPhaden, who started the first program in 1997 after doing a needs assessment within the local native community.

Since then, Stardale has run many healing activities and programs. Among them were the Honouring Ourselves program, which emphasized literacy and day-care training, Renewal of the Spirit which used community kitchens to address poverty and hunger, Illuminations from Within which concluded with a certificate as a computerized office worker, and Transcendence to the Future and Rediscovery of Self, both specifically focused on healing.

Stardale’s funding proposal states that 80 per cent of the women in the programs are native, all are poor and living on social assistance, most have less than a Grade 10 education, all have experienced abuse and 26 per cent have fetal alcohol syndrome.

One of the project’s goals is to communicate the impacts of residential schools both through weaving and talking circles. Along with learning how to weave, the 10 or 12 women in the program will learn communication skills and anger management.

“The whole program is based on behavioral change,” Ms. McPhaden said. “The weaving gets the creative self out. These women have lost their culture and when they start to weave, we can see that this starts to heal and their culture comes out in their work.” She refers to this as “cultural memory.”

Eventually the women will sell their weaving as part of a new artistic cooperative, Ms. McPhaden said. The potential for careers for the women is limited, she added, both by racism and by the poor economic base in the area.

The 16-week program runs five days a week from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. After the women become comfortable in the program and a level of trust has been built up, Ms. McPhaden brings in outside instructors to lead classes on parenting, sexuality, AIDS, and heart disease. A public health nurse comes in for a half day. There are also classes on business planning and marketing.

“I only hire the best – these women get the best of the best,” Ms. McPhaden said. Others have asked her to put her model of combining artistry such as sculpture and weaving with healing work into a manual so they can emulate the programs, she said.

The Anglican church’s healing fund was established 10 years ago to help native people address personal and social problems that are the legacy of native residential schools. The fund has dispensed almost a million dollars in that time.


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