Through January the Red Deer Express is publishing a series involving several community groups and how the inquiry into missing and murdered Aboriginal women affects them moving forward. Interviews with local Elders, community supports and City staff will be included to also help examine what the inquiry means for Red Deer as a whole.
When addressing the issue of missing and murdered Aboriginal women, one must remember that men are affected by this violence and loss as well.
During Walking With Our Sisters, there were several community groups that came together to support each other. One of those groups was a men’s circle that addressed the losses of men in our community and how the missing and murdered women affect their lives. That men’s circle eventually led to the official community launch of I Am A Kind Man (IAAKM) in November 2015.
Through the I Am A Kind Man process, program facilitators like Leslie Stonechild are looking to create a change in our community with attitudes of men towards themselves, each other and the women in their lives.
“I feel very honoured to be a part of this. It’s very sacred and it’s very important,” Stonechild said.
“I feel a great load of responsibility simply because the teaching to be a kind man is an old teaching. It’s something that is being brought back from the way we used to live a long time ago.”
Stonechild is passionate about the cause of changing attitudes in the community. In early 2015, he attended meetings with members of Friendship Centres across the province to learn about the IAAKM program. The information he received was based in Ontario, so he and the other Friendship Centre representatives worked to adjust the curriculum to fit Alberta cultural practices. He explained that Alberta has more ties to Cree culture, whereas the Ontario program was based more on Ojibwe culture.
There are several main objectives for Stonechild and the other administrators to demonstrate through the program.
“One of the things that I’ll do as part of my goals is to deliver the I Am A Kind Man workshop, which will be between six to 10 weeks. I’m also going to do some work with engaging the youth. We have a pretty vibrant youth program here – the Aboriginal Youth Program for Success. I want to present the program to the youth and hopefully get them interested in it,” he said.
“The third portion will be some sort of community engagement, either through a campaign or another project. We are currently working on ideas for that. I’ve had some relations with domestic violence committees in the community. A lot of those representatives came out to the campaign launch. There’s been quite a bit of interest in the program from correctional centres and the general public, as well.”
Stonechild described the teachings and practices of the program as a way to wake up the community. He referred to a general awakening in perspectives and against ignorance. He said this will continue to be a vivid theme as the program grows.
”I like to use the term awakening when I talk about the program so people will realize what it’s really about. We’re waking up the spirit of individuals so that they can start recognizing the healing that needs to take place. That’s an important part of waking up,” Stonechild explained.
“It starts with process of education and knowledge. Once you get those, you start making healthier choices – you start having a different attitude and different perspective. That’s what this is really all about.
“There is an awakening to the change that is happening with our people. People are willing to come and listen and to hear. The program incorporates all of that. It means waking up these young men and helping them break the cycle of violence and trauma and abuse. At the end of the program, hopefully these men will be more educated and encouraged enough to speak up and take some action.”
During Walking With Our Sisters (WWOS) in the summer of 2015, several community groups formed to support each other through the process of hosting the installation.
Stonechild said members of the group were looking for ways to continue the education, support and change that was being developed in the men’s circle. He said he hopes carrying on this work will affect change in the community going forward.
He added the IAAKM program is not only for Aboriginal or Indigenous men, but for all men of the community.
“We recognize the violence doesn’t just come from our people – it comes from all people,” he said.
“However, hopefully our people will get some energy from this. It’s about waking up, renewing, reclaiming, going back, taking it back – all of these adjectives and verbs of actually doing something to stop the cycle of violence. That’s what I’ve heard the Elders say – they want us to do something. They want us to make something happen.”
He added the end goal of the workshop and youth programs is to educate community members, and encourage them to continue to develop change in their community.
“This City for some reason used to have a huge reputation for being intolerant. You fastforward over the 30 years that I’ve been here and there is still some prejudice and ignorance and intolerance, but there is beauty in what’s happened with our community,” Stonechild said.
“Look at Walking With Our Sisters – that proves this change is happening. We have to keep hope that things will keep moving forward.”
He said the group is powerful and can bring up some pain, but he hopes it is worth it in the end. The group meets at the Red Deer Native Friendship Centre and can be contacted via the centre reception and web site.