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No other population group in Canada’s history has endured such a deliberate, comprehensive and prolonged assault on the family and on their human rights. Yet many Canadians including those in the human service sector remain unaware of the full scope of these injustices or their impacts. In fact, the question we hear most often is ‘Why can’t you just get over it and move on?”

Marlene Brant Castellano’s description of colonization helps answer this question. She says, “Confidence in the ethical order of the universe is instilled by experience in the family and reinforced by the larger community, by ceremonies that generate shared awareness, and by language, the signs and symbols by which we define and share our perceptions of reality. This concept of an ethical universe stabilized by family, community, ceremony, and language is not unique to Aboriginal society. What is distinctive about our experience as Aboriginal peoples is the history of having each of those stabilizers systematically undermined by the colonial experience, leaving individuals isolated and vulnerable in a universe that appears chaotic and is definitely threatening (2009:232-233).”

Disproportionately higher rates of addiction and mental health problems are repeatedly linked with intergenerational trauma unique to the experience of Indigenous people in Canada. The response from our social institutions is at best, a persistent systemic indifference to the pain and is at worst, judgmental and punitive, blaming those with addictions for ‘poor lifestyle choices’, ‘attitude problems’, ‘character deficiencies’ and being “uncooperative”, ‘hard to serve’ or ‘resistant to treatment’.

Not all Survivors of residential schooling or their descendants struggle with mental health problems or addictions. Many illustrate, through their writing, art, and work in political and social arenas, the enduring wisdom, vitality, adaptability and life-sustaining value of their cultural teachings.

Services run by and for Inuit, Métis and First Nation communities are grounded in the knowledge that history, culture and worldview matter profoundly; that the health of individuals, families, communities and nations are inextricably connected; and that well-being throughout the lifespan from birth to old age has four inter-related, inter-dependent aspects: the mental, emotional, physical and spiritual.

Presentation to the Select Committee on Mental Health and Addictions Deborah Chansonneuve, September 9th, 2009


Minwaashin Lodge – The Aboriginal Women’s Support Centre
The Annual Women’s Gathering – Our Songs Are Our Prayers

Every summer for the last seven years Minwaashin Lodge has hosted a Gathering for all women. Women spend the weekend camping, eating, laughing, and experiencing various teachings from different cultures.   Over the years the Gathering has achieved such an excellent reputation that registration is capped at 150.  Women start anticipating the Gathering in the winter months and often begin asking when registration will open while the snow is still on the ground.

All women are welcome to attend the Gathering and take part in workshops from different traditions and cultures such as how to make quill earrings, learn how to meditate, perform playback theatre, participate in a Sweat Lodge Ceremony, or create their own self-care package.  “All walks of women come to the Gathering and this reflects the teachings of the Medicine Wheel.  We practice unity, inclusivity by honouring all women,” says Mary Daoust, Manager of Minwaashin’s Counselling Team.

The Gathering provides a unique opportunity for all participants, regardless of ancestry, to take part in traditional ceremonies such as Sweat Lodge, Medicine Walks, Talking Circles, Sunrise Ceremony, Two-Spirit Circles and Drumming Circles.  For many women this can be a very powerful experience as they make that connection to their spirit.  “It is awesome to witness that spiritual door being opened.  There is such a fear of the unknown.  It takes a lot of courage for women to take that first step and attend the Gathering.”  Mary explains, “The Gathering is the perfect place to be, surrounded by 150 empathetic women.” The Gathering is truly a space where women are in complete control to participate as much or as little as they like. 

Food is another feature of the Gathering that all women enjoy.  From the delicious ‘Indian’ tacos to the decadent bannock with strawberries and ice cream, women enjoy nutritious and tasty food lovingly prepared by Minwaashin staff and Gathering volunteers. 

Asked for her final thoughts about the Gathering Mary says, “the heart is so light, no worries for that 48 hours, women are simply free to be.”

For more information on the Women’s Gathering please visit our website, and visit our Annual Women’s Gathering page. 

Emily Troy

Flickr Photos