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They Stole my Thunder-Warriors Who Were Behind the Walls: Experiential Storytelling with Criminalized Indian Women



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Abstract This thesis is an exploration of the meaning of reintegration as understood through the lives of four criminalized Indian women, myself included, using life history methodology. These women’s stories were told through a series of Sharing Circles, which I organized and ran. During these circles, we shared and discussed at length the factors that we felt made us end up behind bars. We then went on to construct Medicine Wheels, which are a traditional way of directing our paths towards lifelong healing. Finally, I interviewed each of the women individually and also recounted my own life story. Through sharing our stories, the women and I became remarkably stronger, and together we found peace of mind and purpose in life. Many clear patterns emerged from this research. Each woman grew up and lived in extreme violence, suffered childhood sexual abuse, and became involved in street life at one point or another. Drugs and alcohol also became detriments to the women’s physical, emotional, spiritual, and mental well-being. The lack of positive influences or resources that could show them another way of life, whether through family, school, or friends, was equally striking. During the research, the women were asked to answer three questions about how they understand their own reintegration. The resulting consensus is that in order for criminalized Indian women to successfully live prison-free, they must first begin by healing from the pain they have experienced throughout their lives. Only then will they be able to build happier, healthier lives for themselves. I conclude this thesis with several policy recommendations for Correctional Services Canada (CSC). I recommend that CSC develop and consistently deliver culturally appropriate programs that not only place criminalized Indian women’s experiences at their center but that also address the specific needs of these women. I also propose that Sharing Circles like the one conducted for this research be implemented behind prison walls, and that such Circles continue once women are released. Finally, I suggest that ceremony and tradition can contribute greatly to criminalized Indian women’s healing and reintegration, and that further research into this area is sorely needed.



Criminalized Indian Women



Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)


Community Health and Epidemiology


Community and Population Health Science



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