With a cleansing smudge of herbs and sweetgrass, passing of the pipe and traditional First Nations prayers, a women's shelter in Morley solemnly and quietly opened its doors Wednesday.
It won't be ready to accept clients until May 8 but after two years of work to renovate the facility and bring it up to standard, an official ceremony was held to note the hard work of many in the community.
"This is an important day for Morley and for the women who come. They're on a journey, a journey of healing and this is one step," said Kathryn Williams, acting director of Eagles Nest Stoney Family Shelter.
The shelter, which opened in 1992 and closed in 2015 for major repairs and safety improvements, can accommodate up to 21 women and children escaping domestic violence. On the outside, it's all business with a high chain-link fence topped with barbed wire, a gate and security cameras. But inside, it's homey: sunshine pours in through large windows and a skylight and there are personal touches everywhere, from cozy blankets to indigenous wall hangings. Five bedrooms sport an assortment of bunks, beds and cribs. There's a kitchen and living space and downstairs includes a large children's toy room and outside play structure.
Along with emergency relief, Eagles Nest will provide safety planning, parenting support, community outreach — all with a First Nations perspective.
"Recognizing the unique culture and history of our indigenous clients is central to understanding their stories and building lasting safety together," said Williams.
While it serves the three bands on the Stoney Nation — Bearspaw, Chiniki and Wesley — it can also take in women from other city shelters when they are overflowing. The YWCA Sheriff King has transported clients out to Morley on occasion.
Touring the house Wednesday along with RCMP officers, Stoney chiefs and a number of Calgary shelter and social service advocates was one local resident who understands well the significance of having a shelter on the reserve.
Chiniki band councillor Jordie Mark's late wife had once been an administrative assistant at the shelter and he said it gave her peace of mind to know she was helping people.
"This is a safe place for our women. It's a safe house for our mothers, our daughters, our sisters, our aunties. It's a sense of security, a peace of mind."
He and two other chiefs who spoke at the ceremony acknowledged the need for the shelter and the work that needs to be done.
"I know family violence is not a very good thing. It happens in all communities, not just First Nations. In order to move forward and give respect back to the caregivers, women and children who are the future, I think this is the right step," said Bearspaw chief Darcy Dixon.
"Over the years, this shelter has played an important role in helping our community and I hope it continues to do so."
Eagles Nest is one of five on-reserve shelters in Alberta.