'Changing the narrative': Men focus on wellness

·5 min read

The Ohitika/Ogichidaa Warrior Men’s Program and Movember recently came togeter Saturday to encourage resiliency and mental wellness among Indigenous men

Ohitika/Ogichidaa co-ordinator Jason Gobeil said the Movember Brotherland Honouring the Warrior Within health and wellness event was an opportunity for men to hit pause and take a moment for themselves to focus on self-care.

“When we can start taking a look inside ourselves we can start taking care of the outside of ourselves,” Gobeil said. “In the world of working with Indigenous men it’s the reminder of the warrior spirit within you, but at the same time talking about the warrior that you are in today’s modern world.”

During the health and wellness day men were able to engage in cooking classes, traditional leatherworking classes, traditional teachings, drumming and receive services including massages and hair cuts at the Brandon Friendship Centre Mahkaday Ginew Memorial Centre Saturday.

The program is organized by Dakota Ojibway Child Family Services and receives funding from the Movember foundation. While the group talks about what it means to be a warrior, Gobeil said, the story surrounding this concept is centred on understanding the courage and compassion that needs to be embodied in the spirits of Indigenous men.

“We were able to come together and evaluate the success of our engagement with men, but we were able to also come together and highlight the fact that as men we don’t take a break to do some of the activities we did today,” Gobeil said. “We need to take that break for ourselves to re-evaluate where we’re at. When we take care of this we’re able to take care of others.”

He added the health and wellness day was an important opportunity for members to take a break and focus on what they can do as a man, father, uncle or brother in their communities and families.

“We’re changing the narrative … we’re changing the dialogue in what we need to do as a society in making sure that we’re not just putting support and resources in place for moms and children, but the men and the fathers out there as well.”

It has been a critical conversation to foster, he said, because for many years Indigenous men have faced a stereotype of “being a hard shell.” But, behind this façade is often a young boy looking to be heard, acknowledged and valued in society.

The group is creating a space in the community where men can gather, share stories, laugh and talk with other dads. The ultimate hope is to foster brotherly love between members, Gobeil said.

Through Ohitika Ogichidaa, Gobeil has met men who were eager to share, learn, connect and be vulnerable — all they needed was the opportunity to speak with peers in a space they would not face judgment and share their stories of who they are and their experiences.

“What we’re doing is talking about opening up yourself, becoming vulnerable and putting yourself in a position where you’re comfortable being uncomfortable,” Gobeil said. “We often build walls, we often come with that shell, that tough guy syndrome and we forget what’s behind that tough guy is just somebody who’s never been home.”

The Ohitika/Ogichidaa program has found success in the delivery of programs and now serves Indigenous men in nine communities. The Brotherland wellness day included members from Winnipeg, Birdtail Sioux Dakota Nation, Long Plain First Nation, Roseau River First Nation and Brandon.

“You’re going to see change over time, but you’re already seeing change right now. Men are looking at how we support each other and the community. Men are looking at how they are the helpers in the community and how we engage,” Gobeil said. “We’re there at the forefront looking at how we can help.”

Movember has three streams of programming for Indigenous men: Bro’s group, designed to support social inclusion by bringing men together weekly and helping them redefine who they are as Indigenous men; land-based programming that includes learning skills and culture; and Work to Give in prisons where men can create items for communities in need.

In Brandon, the Bro’s Group and land-based learning are centred on working with fathers and supporting positive mental health and wellness.

“People show up here intending to be great parents,” said Sonia Prevost-Derbecke, director of global Indigenous programs at Movember.

“It’s an opportunity to bring people together to learn from each other and treat each other well and affirm that there are lots of good things that happen when being good dads.”

These conversations are critical, she said, because they support positive mental health and wellness.

Mental health and suicide prevention support is an ongoing need, she said. While it is not isolated to Indigenous men, these communities are disproportionally affected.

“Coming together around social inclusion isn’t just about feeling good; it’s about having friends that support you from the same place, same culture and same world you’re living in. But also about really supporting each other from a wellness perspective,” Prevost-Derbecker said.

The Brandon Bro’s Group is focused on the experience of fatherhood, bringing in elders and teachers to offer knowledge on what it means to be a good dad.

“For many of us, we weren’t parented, or our parenting systems were disrupted through a variety of things … and through colonization the idea that we are lesser then,” Prevost-Derbecker said. “It’s meant to be a treat and recognize that we all deserve to be treated well.”

Part of these programs is de-constructing colonial ideas, reaffirming Indigenous identity and acknowledging that when mistakes happen it doesn’t make someone a bad person.

“It’s a really big deal. Without knowing who you are, it’s really hard to feel good in your own skin. It’s such a challenge even for our youth, let alone our dads,” Prevost-Derbecker said. “My hope is that this is a good stepping stone for these guys to continue to foster momentum in their programing … They are challenged to be the best man they can be and honoured for giving that an honest try.”

» ckemp@brandonsun.com

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Chelsea Kemp, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Brandon Sun

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