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Bassili, Monica

Project Kotawe: In Support of Indigeneity | Monica Bassili

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Please note the following article contains information on mental, physical, and sexual abuse and violence.

See the Healing Journey’s resource list here


In Plains Cree, Kotawe means “start a fire.”

Its symbolism reflects the anger and frustration that results from centuries of Canada’s settler-colonial repression. From intruding in complex kinship relationships to forced attendance at Residential Schools, Indigenous women have experienced profound cruelty and recklessness from the Canadian government. Edmonton is not immune to the intergenerational trauma perpetuated by centuries of settler-colonialism.


This July, Project Kotawe, a martial arts course for Indigenous women 15 and up, was established by the Bent Arrow Traditional Healing Society. The rates of domestic violence and sexual assault against Indigenous women and girls remain four times higher than non-Indigenous women. 


In addition, Alberta’s rates of violence against Indigenous women and girls are some of the highest in Canada. According to Statistics Canada’s 2018 data, more than three in five Indigenous people in Alberta had self-reported being physically or sexually assaulted since they were 15.


Benefits of Education


The program runs through the Chimo Youth Retreat Centre and Ludas Martial Arts Academy and is facilitated by volunteers. Building up confidence, self-esteem, and self-respect requires educating young women on their worth and value in their communities. Therefore, project Kotawe is an essential community resource to support Indigenous women and youth seeking education and knowledge on protecting themselves in dangerous situations.


A dangerous situation is not a monolith; school, home, and friends can be difficult when you do not have the self-respect to protect yourself. Often, self-esteem and self-worth issues manifest themselves through the mental, physical, and sexual abuse of women and girls. In this situation, it is simple to excuse the perpetrator’s actions by convincing yourself that you deserve what is happening to you and that it is normal.


It is not. Expressing boundaries, protecting yourself, and knowing when to say no is critical to an upbringing that avoids abuse, trauma, and life-long struggles that last a lifetime. Although you can emerge from these traumatic situations without scars, the mental toll may be devastating to live to handle. It is easy to say “forgive and forget” and to move on from traumatic experiences, but in reality, living with these experiences is a lifetime of work and requires continuous efforts to take care of yourself and grow into a stronger person.


Indigenous Empowerment 

With this in mind, uplifting Indigenous nations’ expertise, knowledge, and traditions across Alberta can support the new generation of Indigenous women and girls. Rather than having various levels of the Canadian government “act” in the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls crisis, local grassroots organizations provide significantly more support to Indigenous nations. 

By putting the onus on the government to protect Indigenous women and girls, there is a risk of the government co-opting Indigenous knowledge and branding it as a “Canadian” solution. For instance, the government can undertake notions of relational thinking and holistic healing and neglect the centuries of Indigenous practices and knowledge from which these concepts emerged. 


Having Indigeneity at the center of the grassroots, the local organization serves to empower Indigenous thought from within communities. This way, organizations reach more people and build trust with allies across the province. 

Unfortunately, sexism, settler colonialism, and misogyny continue to harm Indigenous women and girls disproportionately. But having Project Kotawe, Indigenous women have the power to connect with their communities in a way that proactively supports their personal and professional growth. Building a better Edmonton, a better Alberta, requires work from within. Building programs that empower Indigenous peoples authentically enriches people’s lives and supports the restoration of kinship relations and communities of care. 

Learn how to volunteer and help people in need through local programs through Bent Arrow here.



Read more here:


The Healing Journey: Indigenous Women and Girls

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