By Dr. Julie George, a member of Kettle & Stony Point First Nation (KSPFN), Project Scientist in CAMH’s Institute for Mental Health Policy Research, and the Mental Health, Addiction and Violence Support Program Manager at the Health Services Department in her home community
On June 1, 2016, Kettle & Stony Point First Nation hosted representatives from Movember Canada and Movember Australia. They came to witness the outcomes of a Movember-funded research project entitled Acting Locally to Address a National Problem: A Participatory Action Approach to Addressing First Nations Boys and Men’s Mental Health, which I’ve described in a previous blog.
Representatives from Movember were welcomed by the Healing Drum, Elder Marg Pepper, who offered blessings upon the day’s activities, and Ronald George, who offered a testimony on his personal experience with mental health challenges. Then, as a means of articulating the early aspirations for this project, I offered the definition of a Warrior Caregiver, as provided by Bill Mussell in a report prepared for the Aboriginal Healing Foundation:
The Warrior Caregiver “…takes pride in being responsible and accountable. In family and community, he provides well, enjoys his work, volunteers to assist others and is pleased to discuss needs and challenges when occasions present themselves. He has clear beliefs, stands on principle and is alert and prepared to resolve conflict when in the presence of injustice, unfairness and violence. He knows humility, genuine pride and believes in the ability of people to modify themselves. A ‘good’ upbringing is not a necessary background to become a Warrior Caregiver. You do have to learn along your life’s path to take responsibility for, and to regulate, your own internal emotional life so that you respond to challenges, setbacks and threats. You do this not out of rage, pain or helplessness, but from acceptance, love and compassion.”
Participatory Action Research and Photovoice
I was then joined by Shirley Fowler, Project Coordinator, in explaining the project and its methodology. The project uses Participatory Action Research (PAR) and Photovoice Methodology to actively and meaningfully engage men from Kettle & Stony Point First Nation. With Photovoice, participants take pictures of places and objects that represent their overall health and have impacted their mental health, positively or negatively. Photovoice offers the potential to explore life experiences adequately and appropriately, engage participants in critical reflection and advocate for community-level change. Its ability to effectively balance power and create a sense of ownership may be one reason for its success: participants determine what they are photographing and the meanings of their images. As photos are then collaboratively interpreted, it also increases dialogue on these issues, with the goal of positively influencing program and policy development.
This approach is critically important because First Nations men are confronted with significant mental health challenges over the life course, and those who have mental health problems are often unable, reluctant and/or unwilling to seek care. When they do reach out for help, the care that they receive is often underdeveloped, inappropriate and ineffective. For these reasons, there is an urgent need for effective programming in First Nations communities across Canada. Acting Locally addresses that need by working with men from the community to build a support system based on the community’s own resources and sources of resilience. The importance of that support and resilience are captured in the following quote by one of the project’s participants:
“People die inside because they give up hope. People can sometimes give up because they have no hope and they do things that affect them badly – emotionally, mentally and spiritually. There have been times in my life when I gave up on hope and didn’t try my best to live a good life. I didn’t look for a support system to help me in my healing. I know now that healing is continuous – when you need healing from a scarred past and abused memories. It is easier to work on it and go through the pain with faith in a power higher than myself, and it is easier to have healing when you are not so alone”
In addition to Photovoice, as part of the Boys and Men’s Healing and Wellness Program, the project offers a range of wrap-around programs and services, such as Trauma Counselling, Addiction Counselling, the Red Path Living Without Violence and Addictions Treatment programs, a Stress and Anxiety Support Group, an Art Drop-In and a Healing Drum Circle. In collaboration with Big Brothers of Sarnia Lambton, we are also in the process of formalizing a program, called the Mishoomsiinaang (Place of Grandfathers) Group Mentorship Program.
Developing culturally-appropriate services
Importantly, this event offered the opportunity to highlight participant’s stories and celebrate the important work that men are doing to help develop and implement a culturally-appropriate program of services in Kettle & Stony Point First Nation. Listening to the men involved in the study provided a deeper insight into the extent of unmet needs among men, and also the effectiveness of the programming currently offered through the project. Although the project’s participants come from differing paths, each is a survivor who at a young age turned to negative coping strategies, which persisted into adulthood. Through involvement in the Acting Locally project, these men have displayed incredible resiliency and now stand as mentors for others, both inside and outside of the community. Collectively, their contributions to this special occasion and to the project resonate with hope for the future.
By participating in the Acting Locally project, men are engaging in a healing journey to reach what’s known as The Good Life. For Anishinabe people, the good life does not mean making money, buying things or winning awards. Rather, it has to do with taking care of yourself, your family and your community. In setting out on healing paths, they are facing their wounds and breaking the silence about their painful personal histories. They are picking up the tools of Photovoice, art, counselling and group work, for example. They are telling us what they need! And perhaps most importantly, they are paying it forward in our community, by reaching out to their family and friends and offering their skills and assistance to youth and our Elders. Through the project, men are coming forward… some cautiously… but all in their own way, trying to figure out how to take the help offered, heal from a complex array of traumas and take up their roles as First Nations men.