Watercolour portrait of a women looking forward, with half her hair brow and grey sprayed to the left side and half shade of blue and sprayed to the right.. Her face is shades of blue and purple

Hold Space for Untold Stories

By Kiana Sky and Angela Lavallee

Content Warning: The following contains references to grooming, gender-based violence, violence against Indigenous Women, Girls and Two-Spirit people. If you require support, please contact one of the following: Crisis Response Centre (18+) at 204-940-1781, Kids Help Phone (under 18) at 1-800-668-6868 or text 686868, Rural & Northern Support Services 1-866-367-3276 or the Klinic Crisis Line at 204-786-8686.

“Do not worry; I am safe” are words that should have eased my anxiety when my Indigenous teenage daughters were out experiencing the world.  Unfortunately for my girls, “safe” does not mean they were not exposed to danger because the realities of gender-based violence (GBV) put my girls at risk of being harmed. The untold stories embedded in each of their journeys are not mine to share. However, their sufferings are part of my regrets, heartaches, sleepless nights, tears and the driving force that keeps me advocating against GBV.  I honour my daughters by ensuring I hold space for their untold stories, and it is essential for me to fill this blank page with one of my daughters, Kiana Sky Lavallee. She is a warrior who has overcome many forms of violence and still leads with empathy, love and kindness. 

Kiana: They say that 1 in 3 women experience gender-based violence at least once in their lifetime. However, for my sisters, nieces, mom and me, it’s 6 out of 7 women and girls. This violence even took my niece, Zaylynn, life. Statistics can only go so far. Numbers are there to measure the amount of gender-based violence, but you cannot fully capture the truth when there is a sea of untold stories. Sharing the untold stories can truly help bring the dark to light. Me, along with many women and girls in my life who are family, friends, coworkers and strangers I pass on the street, all hold stories within us that will never be measured or counted in statistics. I will share part of my untold story.

I was 13 years old when I met him in the music room at school. It was my safe place to be every day at lunch because art was my place to go. Predators can have the friendliest smiles, and it was that smile that allowed me to trust him. I trusted him; he decided to use my own innocence against me and lured me to a place he said was a beautiful winter garden hidden in the woods on the river line. My curiosity followed him, but only to find there was no beautiful winter garden. Instead there was a fallen tree near a frozen river and a 20-year-old man that would not take no for an answer. I never went back to the music room, and no one ever asked why. I was left to lay awake all night with his hands moulded into my skin while my chest sunk into itself. 

Even years after we are violated, many of us will lay awake and live with those heavy feelings. Violence is more than just physical incidents. They are more than a report or an allegation. They are discomforts lived and a reality that impacts your entire existence. I walk this life knowing that if I ever have daughters of my own, I won’t be able to fully protect them from the dangers that lie in spaces that are supposed to keep them safe. Gender-based violence is everywhere you think it would not be. We always have to be ready to have those conversations, even if you believe one is not needed, it always is. We have to wonder why the artistic girl who was passionate about her talent is no longer spending time in the art class, or singing in the music room. We need to ask why does her body tremble and her light dim when a certain man walks into the same room as her. Sometimes we must listen with more than our ears because gender-based violence is not always loud enough for us to hear. Sometimes it’s stuck in hidden river lines or lost under fallen trees. – Kiana Sky Lavallee

“Do not worry, I am safe” is never enough to ease my concern and is not the fault of any of my daughters or trans-boy grandchild; it’s the trauma. Ensuring that all women, girls and gender-diverse people know they are safe, valued, loved and supported should be a critical part of society. However, we are still an afterthought in many spaces, or up against patriarchal systems that further perpetuate violence onto our spirit and bodies. There are several intersections embedded in gender-based violence. Unfortunately, for my family and I, some of us were faced with violence in many of those intersections and some of us did not survive. The truths of our stories protect us like a sacred blanket, including the ones untold. A critical part of supporting women, girls and gender-diverse people is to know there are many untold stories and we must hold space for them.

Article features artwork created by Kiana Sky Lavallee for Angela Lavallee named Water Warrior Woman; shared with permission.

Kiana Sky Lavallee (left) with Angela Lavallee (right)

Kiana Sky Lavallee is a young Cree Indigenous woman who resides in Winnipeg, Manitoba. She graduated from Argyle High School and completed one year of University. She has a passion for writing and is a self-taught artist who draws and paints for healing. Her heart is involved in supporting friends and community members who are fleeing all forms of violence. She volunteers her time in a variety of capacities. Its her way to honour and give back to her community.

Angela Lavallee is a First Nations woman, mother, grandmother, sundancer and graduate of the University of Winnipeg Bachelor of Arts program majoring in Conflict Resolution and Criminal Justice. Currently, she is a full-time student in the Masters in Social Work – Indigenous Trauma and Resilience through the University of Toronto. She is a woman who has survived many forms of violence and has taken a journey that led her to healing from painful experiences. Angela is an active community member currently residing in Winnipeg. She holds space for people who need healing and trauma support. She incorporates the Indigenous ways of knowing into implication exploration. The heart work she is involved in is spent supporting women, girls and gender-diverse folks who are faced with battling all forms of violence, inequality, addictions, systematic injustices and who need a safe space to be acknowledged, loved, empowered and valued.