Strengthening culture and identity at heart of southwestern Manitoba Indigenous men's group
A Warrior's Red Road at Brandon University documents links between mental health, cultural identity
An Indigenous men's group in southwestern Manitoba is promoting health and healing by strengthening cultural traditions and teachings.
Conan Beardy was dealing with mental health struggles and addictions when he moved to Brandon from Long Plain First Nation. He says that all changed about a year and a half ago when he went for his first sweat with Akicita Cante Waste, which translates as "good-hearted warriors."
"It was just life-changing," Beardy said. "It cleanses your body. It cleanses your mind and then once you get cleansed it balanced out your day-to-day life … it helps a lot."
The work and journeys of Akicita Cante Waste members are now on display at Brandon University's Glen P. Sutherland Gallery. For about two years, researchers have been working with Indigenous men documenting how mental wellness and cultural identity are tied together.
The research project debuted to the public Tuesday under the title A Warrior's Red Road.
The exhibit features the photos and voices of Akicita Cante Waste members talking about different teachings like drumming or hunting.
Beardy says he has enjoyed the cultural teachings because they helped reawaken his identity and pride.
"I found that my talent was sewing, everything just came to me naturally and I just started making ribbon shirts," Beardy said. "It felt really good."
Mental health tied to culture
The exhibit's opening was bittersweet for members, as it was recently announced funding for the Akicita Cante Waste program had been cut.
It is a critical time in Brandon, Manitoba and Canada, said member Jason Gobeil, as society decides how to care for men.
"In taking care of our men, we're taking care of our woman, we're taking care of our children and we're taking care of the next generations that are walking behind us," Gobeil said.
The Brandon University study documented these journeys and speaks to the true value and connection between tradition, culture and the well-being of Indigenous men, he said.
"We get to share that story with our community ... so they can understand and see the importance and the value," Gobeil said. "One of the things we don't see enough in our society or our communities is safe spaces for men to be able to reconnect, reclaim a little bit of who they are and re-educate and reawaken that spirit."
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Brandon University associate professor Candice Waddell-Henowitch began working with Gobeil about five years ago through a study looking at different men's masculinity and mental wellness in the community.
"While we were talking to the Indigenous men one of the first things that they said is culture helps them to heal, and ceremony helps them to heal," she said.
As a second portion of the project, they wanted to explore what that means — this led to the title A Warrior's Red Road.
"We learned that men's cultural groups are very important for Indigenous men and Indigenous families," Waddell-Henowitch said. "They gained knowledge. They gained purpose. They gained pride. Their relationships were strengthened and they had healing within the group and within the group with the men."
Mental health and culture cannot be separate, she said, and colonization hurt Indigenous communities and families because their culture was stripped away.
"There's very little funding for men's mental health, especially Indigenous men's mental health," Waddell-Henowitch said. "The only way you can improve families is by improving men's mental health."
At Akicita Cante Waste, Indigenous traditions and ceremonies have been able to build connections and safe spaces for men, Gobeil said, providing healing and creating "family out of strangers.
"Three years ago these men were all strangers to each other and now they walk around calling each other brother, that says something," he said.
Breaking cycles through community
Spiritual leader Frank Tacan works with Akicita Cante Waste members to teach them how to be positive role models in the community by strengthening cultural practices like prayer.
"We need to do this because there's a lot of men out there suffering. They don't know their identity," Tacan said.
The group is helping create role models in the community making tangible positive changes and breaking cycles of trauma, Tacan said. It has incredible to see how men are transformed by the positive energy they create together.
"Our funding got cut, but life must go on and we'll keep going," he said. "It's going to continue we're not going to stop."
Seeing their journeys on display at the university gives Akicita Cante Waste members pride and purpose in being warriors with loving hearts in the community, Beardy said.
He said they remained committed to sharing what they have learned community.
"People in this group they're really, really good-hearted people and no matter what happens you don't give up," Beardy said.
- We initially reported the exhibit is called A Warrior's Red Path. In fact, it's called A Warrior's Red Road.Mar 22, 2023 8:17 AM CT