Alaskan wellness program introduced to North Shore First Nation communities

THE NORTH SHORE––N’Mninoeyaa Aboriginal Health Access Centre in collaboration with the Southcentral Foundation, an Alaska Native healthcare organization, hosted the Beauty for Ashes conference last week at the Anishnaabe Spiritual Centre in Espanola.

The purpose of the conference was to share and train individuals on the Southcentral Foundation’s ‘Family Wellness Warrior Initiative’ (FWWI), a program developed to addresses domestic violence, child abuse and child neglect.

“Its purpose is to equip organizations and individuals to effectively address the spiritual, emotional, mental and physical effects of domestic violence, abuse and neglect and encourage wellness in each of these areas in the individual, the family, the community and the world in which we live,” explains the Southcentral Foundation on its website regarding FWWI.

The opening day of the conference started with a pipe ceremony and drumming from Shadaki Drum, followed by Whitefish River First Nation (WRFN) Chief Shining Turtle welcoming the individuals in attendance to WRFN traditional territory.

Co-emcees Rodney Elie and Southcentral Foundation CEO Katherine Gottlieb introduced several of the Seven First Nations chiefs who make up the North Shore Tribal Council who were present including Chief Lyle Sayers of Garden River First Nation, Chief Paul Eshkawkogan of Sagamok First Nation and Chief Albert Bisaillon of Thessalon First Nation. Each chief was also presented with gifts from the Southcentral Foundation of traditional chiefs necklaces from Alaska and traditional drums.

N’Mninoeyaa Aboriginal Health Access Centre Health Director Gloria Daybutch spoke next, explaining the background of the program.

Ms. Daybutch said that in 2012 the N’Mninoeyaa Aboriginal Health Access Centre began looking at various models of client centres and health delivery and a consultant provided them with several models including Nuka in Alaska.

A delegation from the health program’s administration and community leadership visited the Southcentral Foundation and learned about the FWWI program.

“We observed a lot and learned so much,” shared Ms. Daybutch. “We observed a type of leadership that was not just measured by what you do, but who you are. They listened with and open heart, suspending the voice of judgment.”

Upon the delegates return, Ms. Daybutch approached the North Shore Tribal Council about bringing the WWFI program to the area.

She commended the council on their support and investment in the training of the program, as well as the Aboriginal Wellness Healing Strategy through the Ministry of Community and Social Services and the North East Local Health Integration Network.

“This support has enabled us to take part in this training,” added Ms. Daybutch. The N’Mninoeyaa Aboriginal Health Access Centre began working with the Southcentral Foundation to train 10 members from the North Shore in the FWWI; two N’Mninoeyaa Aboriginal Health Access Centre employees and one representative from each of the seven First Nations and a representative from off reserve in Sault Ste. Marie.

They further partnered for the steering committee and care team through collaborations with one external agency, Nog-da-win-da-min (Child and Family Services) and an internal program of the North Shore Tribal Council, Niiganiin, which is the on-reserve Ontario Works, to make up the 15 FWWI trainees.

The purpose of the Beauty for Ashes conference was for the North Shore trainees to work with and learn from the Southcentral Foundation FWWI delegates.

“It is such an honour to have so many chiefs here and the drums,” said Ms. Gottlieb in her address. “We are all here to end abuse, child abuse and child neglect. We can’t do this without you opening the door to your community. Our heart is so swollen being here with you. I have been doing this for 15 plus years, it’s not easy work, but I believe we have turned the tide. My children will have a voice and it is because our men are warriors, standing up and fighting for us; laying down their lives for us to end domestic violence, child sexual assault and child neglect.”

During the morning break The Expositor spoke with Ms. Gottlieb and learned more about the FWWI program and its origins.

“We surveyed our Native community and asked what the biggest issues for them were and that they wanted addressed,” said Ms. Gottlieb. “They said domestic violence, child abuse and child neglect. In the early 1980s we established a steering committee and looked at designing a program to address these issues. Since its development the FWWI program has been spread across Alaska and supported through tribal leadership. It has really opened doors and broke silence. Now we are sharing this program with other communities and teaching the tools to help break the silence (of domestic abuse, child abuse and child neglect).”

Throughout the conference individuals participated in modules on ‘breaking the silence,’ ‘the heart of responding,’ ‘longing for mom,’ ‘longing for dad’ and ‘when innocence is stolen.’ After each module individuals broke up into smaller learning circles as well.

Though the FWWI is only being introduced in the seven First Nations of the North Shore presently, the program could make its way to Manitoulin in the future.