Ervin Chartrand, at St. Mary's Powwow, on "Walk for Nations" (Tracie Louttit)
I read that last sentence on Ervin Chartrand's Facebook page a few days ago and it still stands out in my mind. The words come from a man who is currently walking across the country trying to steer Aboriginal youth towards a life of spirituality and community service. It stands out to me because a little more than a decade ago, Ervin was probably more likely to be the cause of violence than a solution for it, and more likely to inspire the youth around him to bleak outcomes rather than brighter tomorrows.
Throughout the 90s, Chartrand was a gangster, rising to the rank of Vice President of the Manitoba Warriors. He was picked up by police as part of Operation Snow and ended up serving time at Stony Mountain Penitentiary. That's where his personal transformation began.
Hanging out and partying with Ervin over the year's he's told me that during that era he first sobered up for the longest time since his teenage years and began to see his situation for what it was. At the same time he was being exposed to the traditional spirituality of the Anishinaabe people. Combined with some personal issues, those factors lead him to leave the gang life behind.
In the years since, he's become an accomplished filmmaker with numerous short films, documentaries and music videos (including one of my own) to his name. He's also talked to tons of kids in both formal and informal settings about his past in the streets. He doesn't pull any punches and he doesn't glamorize that life. He may come off raw, but I sense that young people appreciate his candor. Through out the past few years I know that Ervin has faced his own struggles, and sometimes I've wondered whether he will be able to reach the potential that I see in him.
In May, he started on the "Walk For Nations" along with his friends in the 7 Generations Healing Network. I've been following their progress online. To be honest, in the beginning I wasn't sure what they were doing. However, as their walk progressed, I've sensed more focus in their message and I've seen tons of pictures posted with them speaking to young people and carrying their positive message across Eastern Canada.
Fast-forward to last week when the "Walk For Nations" entered Winnipeg. I caught up with Ervin as the group travelled down main street. He seemed to be a man on a mission, sure of the steps he was taking and looking every bit like a real warrior with his newly grown out hair. I hope that he can keep it up.
In an article in the New York Times Wednesday I read that Texas Governor Rick Perry said that "God uses broken people to reach a broken world". I don't necessarily ascribe to Mr. Perry's politics or even his religious view, but I do think there's an ounce of truth in his words.
At times a perfect role model beyond reproach is helpful and of course, we can all aspire to be better. However, at other times it's all the more powerful when we see someone who is imperfect do something extraordinary. Seeing someone who has flaws (like the rest of us) reach beyond the everyday, toward his dreams can inspire the rest of us to do the same.
Someone like Ervin Chartrand.
Wab Kinew, CBC reporter