PRINCE ALBERT -- The Prince Albert Grand Council (PAGC) is hoping a future emergency shelter will fill a need in the north for women and girls fleeing domestic violence.

Last week, the PAGC announced its plans to build a women’s shelter on Montreal Lake Cree Nation, located about 100 kilometres north of Prince Albert.

The PAGC Women’s Commission will be overseeing the shelter. Chair Shirley Henderson said they’ve been wanting to build a women’s shelter for about 20 years.

“We just about had tears in our eyes knowing that we were one of the 10 shelters approved,” she said.

The PAGC received funding through the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation’s Shelter Enhancement Program and Indigenous Services Canada.

“The demand is very high and every time you phone a shelter, it’s always full,” she said.

It will include 10 rooms and 25 beds. Henderson said there will be two family rooms and a cultural space, which, for many, is an important part of healing.

Henderson said they’ll bring in elders to lead prayers and talk about traditional ways of life.

“I think it gives them a sense of hope, that there is hope there, that there is a better life and with help, they can change that life and go on to something better.”

For the PAGC’s executive director Al Ducharme, shelters help prevent other issues Indigenous peoples tend to face at a higher rate, such as poverty and suicide.

The National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls (MMIWG) and the calls to action from the Truth and Reconciliation Commission showed that need, he said.

“There were all kinds of indications that something needed to happen, but nothing was happening,” said Ducharme.

He said he’s been working with Henderson since the idea of building a women’s shelter came about decades ago. The PAGC is working on projects to address other issues, he said, but they’re prioritizing helping those facing domestic violence.

“Often, the families and women and children in the north have a double-edged sword to deal with. They may definitely be facing a problem or a challenge because of domestic violence and poverty and things of that nature, but not only that, you can’t escape,” he said.

“If you’re a fly-in community or an isolated community, where do you go?”

Henderson said there are only two other women’s shelters in northern Saskatchewan, one in La Ronge and another in Black Lake. The Prince Albert Safe Shelter for Women also serves people coming from northern communities.

The PAGC plans to start construction on the women’s shelter in spring of 2022. It anticipates construction will be complete about a year later, in spring of 2023.