Raven Lacerte is the co-founder of the Moose Hide Campaign, a national movement of Indigenous and non-Indigenous Canadians speaking up against gender-based and domestic violence

“We can change the way that people think and feel about women, and especially Indigenous women.”

In 2011, when Raven Lacerte was 16, she and her father were hunting in their traditional territory in British Columbia, on land that is a stone’s throw from the Highway of Tears, where dozens of Indigenous women have gone missing or been killed since the 1970s.

They talked about their shared distress at the violence inflicted on Indigenous women and girls in Canada. They talked, too, about the fact that few men and boys joined in efforts to end the violence.

Then they caught sight of a moose at the side of the road — “a gift” on this day when they were practising their Carrier culture and dreaming up ways to end the epidemic of abuse, Lacerte says. A woman or girl is killed every two and a half days in Canada, and Indigenous women are killed at six times the rate of non-Indigenous women.

The animal’s appearance sparked an idea. They could distribute pieces of its hide in an appeal to men and boys, and eventually all Canadians, to end violence against women.

“We thought that it could help to honour the healthy warrior spirit of our men, honour the healthy masculinities,” Lacerte says.

That day, she and her father, Paul, laid the groundwork for the Moose Hide Campaign, which is now a national movement of Indigenous and non-Indigenous Canadians speaking up against gender-based and domestic violence. Today, nearly 6 million Canadians own a small square of moose hide that they can pin to their clothing to symbolize their support.

Murray Sinclair, the former chair of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, has singled out the Moose Hide Campaign as a way for all Canadians to engage in reconciliation. The final report of the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls named the Moose Hide Campaign as an example of Canadians taking action to stop violence against women.

“We can change the way that people think and feel about women, and especially Indigenous women,” Lacerte says.

It started with that first moose, which Raven and Paul brought back to their home in Victoria. There, in their backyard, they began the long process of tanning the hide. A bylaw officer showed up at their door after a neighbour complained about the smell. Paul showed the officer a copy of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples and pointed out their right to practise their culture. The pair pressed on.

Using kitchen scissors, they cut out little squares from the hide. They pinned the pieces to index cards on which they hand-wrote a plea for people to take on the challenge of ending violence.

Lacerte took the pins to school and handed them out to her classmates. With her father, she shared the pins among their extended family. Word spread as people saw these brown squares on jackets and shirts. The Lacertes started taking requests, sending out pins in the hundreds, and soon, thousands.

They hired Indigenous women to help tan the hides and cut patches. They set up a website for online orders, which they mail out for free, with the cost covered by government and private-sector sponsorship. The hides are a form of Indigenous medicine for a social illness, Lacerte says, and the broader Moose Hide Campaign to talk about violence is a way of spreading that medicine. As such, she says, the hides will always be available without a fee: “We’re not allowed to charge for medicine; it’s part of the cultural ways.”

Research from the campaign indicates that every pin generates five conversations about what the small brown square means.

Lacerte is a member of the Lake Babine First Nation and belongs to the Bear Clan. She and her four sisters grew up aware of the risk of violence to Indigenous women and girls — her community is situated around the midpoint of the Highway of Tears.

“Some of (the victims) are our family members and their loved ones,” she says. “We wanted to help make sure that their lives are honoured, and make sure that their family members and our Nation know that we’re doing something to make sure that doesn’t happen anymore.”

Lacerte’s mother was a residential school survivor who passed away from cancer in 2013. Her father spent 20 years as CEO for the BC Association of Aboriginal Friendship Centres. They instilled in her a belief that she could — and should — help her community.

As the Moose Hide Campaign grew, Lacerte took on a role as an ambassador and leader in conversations, opening up spaces for people to tell her about violence they’ve suffered, or inflicted on others. Violence thrives in the shadows, she points out. Her willingness to listen without blame helps take the veil of secrecy off horrible things.

“My message is, take the pain, the trauma and the hard parts out, and put love back into those spaces,” she says.

She’s been listening to people’s stories for a dozen years. She tries to build a bubble around herself emotionally, but sometimes feels “full of vicarious trauma.”

She finds her own medicine in Moose Hide’s annual campaign day, which takes place on May 16 this year. Canadians are asked to join in activities to learn about violence against Indigenous women and girls, and the day brings together Indigenous and non-Indigenous Canadians. They’re also invited to spend a day fasting — an act intended to bring home a small sense of pain and suffering.

“It is a space of hope and lifts up my spirit and fuels me to keep going in this space because it is a harsh, sad place to work in every day,” she says.

Lacerte graduated from the Indigenous Studies program at Camosun College and sits on the Minister’s Advisory Council on Indigenous Women for the Ministry of Indigenous Relations and Reconciliation in B.C.

She lives with her husband, Dominic Paul, and their two daughters, Cedar Sus and Chas Yaz, on the territories of the Lekwungen Peoples — the Songhees Nation and the Esquimalt Nation.

Like her father once did for her, she is driven to make a safer world for her daughters. “I’ll knock on every door and have this conversation over and over again if that is going to increase their chance of not having to experience violence.”

Profile by Christina Frangou

Photo by Taylor Roades

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