Local fundraising campaign reinstates annual Indigenous women’s support group retreat

Baseline Dairy Queen presented a check for $22,000 to the Wahkotowin Society in September. (Hazel McKennitt/Wahkotowin Corporation)

The event provides space for Indigenous women survivors of the residential school system and cancer.

A nonprofit supporting Indigenous women who have survived cancer or the residential school system has announced the return of its signature event.

The Wahkotowin Society is known for its annual Voice of Hope Retreat, which key volunteer Hazel McKennitt says creates a culturally safe and supportive experience to facilitate healing.

“When someone tells you the doctor says you have cancer, you don’t hear anything else,” she said.

“That’s why you should have someone with you. To tell you rank and height and everything else, and you have to have that lived experience to be able to do that… It’s hard when you’re a single mom and you’re diagnosed with cancer. Your children must be guarded. Some of us have really good support, and most of us haven’t had such good support.

Due to public health concerns, the rally was postponed for the past two years until public health restrictions were lifted a few months ago.

McKennitt added financial factors with groups that previously funded the event, temporarily casting doubt on the retirement’s near future.

“We couldn’t get funding for some reason, they didn’t say,” she explained.

“We applied, and eventually we were able to have this retreat because Dairy Queen was really supportive of us.”

Baseline Dairy Queen in Edmonton held a fundraiser where $1 from the purchase of each ice cream cone was donated to the Wahkotowin Society.

The event raised more than $22,000, which McKennitt says will fund the company’s next two trips.

She added that the financial support comes at a time when retirement is increasingly in demand.

“They’ve told their friends, people are looking forward to it and we have a full house. We don’t want to turn anyone away, but we’re at full capacity now.

As the retreat scheduled for later this month has reached full capacity, registrations and inquiries for the second in October can be submitted online through the organization’s new website.

Listen to the radio story below:

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Virginia S. Braud