By Chelsea Kemp, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

Published Nov 09, 2021

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.

Jason Gobeil speaks to Ohitika/Ogichidaa Warrior Men’s Program members during the Movember Brotherland Honouring the Warrior Within Saturday at the Brandon Friendship Centre Mahkaday Ginew Memorial Centre Saturday. (Chelsea Kemp/The Brandon Sun)

“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.”

This item is reprinted with permission from Brandon Sun. See article HERE.

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