Last year was all about learning from the land. I walked daily - down the beach, through the woods, across the ice-bound bay - Bella leaping along with me, my camera in hand. I wrote letters, I meditated, I worked on various writing projects, I cooked. I slowed down and let the land teach me what it could. I missed my family and friends but I dove in as deep as I could. My relationship with Ron grew stronger. My only organized social contact was my weekly volunteering with the children's program at the library.
This year my self-directed course is the people of Labrador. I learned a fair bit about the settler culture last year - the women who run the town from church to library to dances. I learned about the up-alongs and the down-alongs. (the folk who settled originally on different parts of the river). This year I'm learning about the original people - the Innu, the Inuit and the Metis. I meet them in the treatment program where I work and I meet them in the outreach counselling that I do in Sheshatshui.
I want to use this blog to record some of my impressions - they are like the patterns left by birds flying across the sky - only memories. Yesterday was a typical (which is to say completely mixed!) day at work. Here's how it went.
I got to work at the treatment centre and opened up (first person there most days). The clients are all on the land (Nutshimit) this week - they are here for the clinical program for seven days and then out at the cabin for seven - for a total of six weeks. Wednesday - regardless of whether it is a Nutshimit or Clinical week is always hectic. This morning I got a lift over to a house on the reserve to visit a family. They are in the last bit of transition of having their family back. I am to go and give them a bit of parenting counsel. They are doing super and I love visiting there - seeing the happy kids and the happy parents. So far a real success story. Then I came back to my office where I did some research on a new way of thinking about addictions by a fellow that I was turned onto from a friend. He believes that addictions are not a disease of the brain but a refined adaptation and I like what his model looks like. Right now I'm not sure how it might affect what we do here or what I do in my outreach counseling but it speaks to the bigger view of addiction that I am after.
Bruce Alexander is a professor of Psychology in Vancouver. You could follow the link if you are interested or read about it in the Huffington Post here : Addiction is Not What You Think.
All of that was whirling around in my brain pan along with Housing First which is a model that has been successful at eliminating homelessness in communities like my home town of Medicine Hat, Alberta. I am stewing an idea with the working title 'Families First' . It keeps me awake at night pondering the possibilities.
I'm an avowed magpie - I love to find models that work and adapt them for what I'm seeing. I will always give credit, though in this age of hyper-certification, I won't always fly off to Singapore or wherever to take a course. Many of the models I'm finding do not suit an aboriginal community so need a fair bit of jigging around but I will try!
After my little foray into learning I spent some time assembling materials for the Buffalo Riders Group I help run at the Sheshatshui school. Myself and a woman from another agency spend every Wednesday lunch hour with a group of kids doing crafts and exercises. We are (we hope!) helping build competencies in self-esteem, awareness and helping youth defend against the effects of traumatization so rampant in the community. I got together some games provided by Six Seconds on emotional literacy, individual copies of a book to draw and write in called You're Great! and some animal masks to cut out and colour (owls and foxes). I like to have lots as we never know who is going to be there and what the mood will be.
I got to the school at noon and my co-facilitator was already there eating lunch with two kids. Attendance is down because the school buses are being repaired. Truancy is a huge issue at the school and is for the younger kids as much as the junior high and high school age children. Sometimes we get one kid and sometimes ten. We decided to work on the book pages I had brought and had lots of good conversation about why we liked our best friends and so forth.
After lunch I set up myself for the Place2Be part of my day. That is a model I've poached from the Brits. I set up in the cafeteria and see anyone the principal, vice, guidance counselor or teachers think I should see. Also the kids are learning that all they have to say to a teacher is "I want to go see Jan" and they will be allowed to leave class. I saw two kids yesterday (1:15 to 3 pm) and drew with them and talked. I have a big sketchbook - they draw on one side and I on the other. While we draw we chat. I find getting them to draw (which is easy) allows them to get to what is going on in an indirect and safe feeling way.
As school got out a bunch of kids came into the cafeteria as they were selling ice cream. I started arm wrestling a few of them - maybe grade five students. I teased them that they were letting a white-haired old lady beat them. We all laughed quite a bit. It was extremely pleasant. After that I packed up my stuff and went to sit outside the cafeteria on the benches that line the entrance way. I always do that so I can talk to curious students leaving the school. That is where the real magic happens for me! I decided when I created this way of doing things that I needed to think about how one feeds squirrels. It takes a lot of time to build up trust and have the children believe that it is a good thing to talk to me. The kids at this school are a very friendly bunch but they don't believe that white people have their best interests at heart. I'm in for the long haul here so will wait and magnetize with drawing and being silly. A group of teenage girls sat beside me and asked me if I was the counselor. We had some good joshing about and now they know I'm friendly, confident and have a good sense of humour.
After most everyone had left I walked from the school to the group home. On the way I stopped to talk to some kids who were surprised that I was walking and curious as to where I was going. When I said the group home they got it. Everyone knows the group home.
Inside the group home I saw two of the kids of the four that are living there. With one of them I drew and with the other I didn't. We talked about how it was going for them - what they were having a hard time with and what was working well. I like the group home - the people who work there are easy-going and nice with the kids. One of them drove me home after. I hadn't met her before and we talked easily about what some of the issues were in working there. One of the staff had called me a social worker and so I made sure to tell her that I wasn't. Social workers are not a good thing to be in an aboriginal community. You are considered (fairly I think) to be child snatchers - not something I want to be thought of as.
So there is a day in my life at work. In the evening I thought about the kids laughing when we played arm-wrestling. I thought about the open curiosity and the wonderful drawings that we'd made. I thought about families first and third-world communities in the first world. I slept well.
Here is a photo I took last year of Elizabeth Penashue with family and friends setting out on her yearly walk.