By Kelly Anne Smith
NORTH BAY— Healing, teachings, and connecting were meaningful to participants at the Feeding the Home Fire Men’s Gathering, hosted by the North Bay Indigenous Hub/Giiwedno Mshkikiiwgamig.
The three-day men’s gathering held on Feb. 24-26, offered inspirational speakers, teachings, Elder support, professional development, and important workshops.
Workshops were facilitated on the morning of the first day by Perry McLeod-Shabogesic of Nipissing First Nation, Godfrey Shawanda of Wiikwemkoong Unceded Territory, Anthony Johnson of the Diné (Navajo), and Dr. James Makokis of Onihcikiskapowinihk (Saddle Creek First Nation) and Cody Coyote (Purcell) of Matachewan First Nation.
Cody Coyote, an Ottawa-based Hip-Hop artist, speaker, and writer, talks about how his experience and personal work has him helping others find their voice.
“My dad is a Sixties Scoop survivor. I didn’t grow up with the privilege of knowing my family. I’m 30 now. It took me 25 years to reconnect. In the reconnecting aspect, I learned a little bit more truth. My grandmother went to the Spanish Indian Residential School/St. Joseph’s Indian Residential School for girls. I had gone to those grounds several times, just to look that evil in the face. And be like, ‘Hey you’re not going to have power over myself or my family anymore’. So, a lot of the work I’ve done, I’ve sat down with Survivors, coast-to-coast. I’ve been to over a hundred communities in my career so far.”
Cody Coyote says he has an important tool for others to use.
“Here’s this tool – find the power in your voice. An Indigenous person has their voice silenced time and time again, whether it be in a classroom by an authoritative figure who thinks they have power over me or a government official speaks to me in a certain way, thinking they have power over me. Nobody is going to have enough power to silence our voices as Indigenous people. That’s the reminder I’m trying to give people, is to let them know to speak your truth. They have been trying to keep us quiet but we’re still here. That’s from the Indigenous lens in perspective,” Coyote explains. “I’ve done the same exercises that I have done with non-Indigenous folks. I reflect on this all the time. I worked in care for two years as a child and youth care worker. I work as a youth worker back home, working with these young people. I see what they are going through and they communicate what they are going through to me. You’re peeling away the layers to get to the core of what is going on. Sometimes they don’t want to talk about it. That’s ok. If you could put it somewhere, and if you could release it on your own, then you are taking a step into the realm of growing – that healing is growth for yourself.”
Listening to the presentations by Dr. James Makokis and Anthony Johnson, Alex Gagnon was there to share stories and learn. Gagnon is Taykwa Tagamou First Nation Fire Chief and Emergency Management Officer, talking about the importance of the Feeding the Home Fire Men’s Gathering.
“My father is a spiritual man. I’m trying to learn more about it. I want to get into it because it’s just something I’ve always wanted to do. I’m ready now at my age. I’m 41 now, so I feel like I’m ready to put away some other things that are unhealthy and to move on to a better world and a healing world for myself,” Gagnon says. “It’s about healing and it’s also about learning your culture and listening to everybody’s stories. That’s what inspires me the most. And knowing that you are not the only person out there that’s going through stuff – the struggles and the ups and downs. It’s coming to listen and to learn and to meet new people, meet Elders and spiritual people. That’s my whole goal for coming.”
With a roaring fire in the back of the room, Connor LaFortune of Dokis First Nation, a Nipissing University student, was taking notes while listening to first Dr. Makokis on Understanding the Indigenous Health Care System, then Johnson. LaFortune says there are not a lot of men’s gatherings in the community.
“With drumming, with pow wow, with ceremony, anything that is specific to gender is usually with women, which is beautiful and wonderful but sometimes our men are lacking behind when it comes to gathering and just understanding practices and sharing ceremony but also sharing stories,” he said.
LaFortune wanted to gather again after three years of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“It’s been nice to sit down and have those ceremonies with like-minded people. I specifically came to this workshop as a queer Indigenous person myself, knowing that that is not a representation that we often get. It’s really nice to see that people like me exist on the broader screen but also just how powerful it is to teach non-queer men how to be men, by queer men. It’s really impactful to go back to our traditional ways of being and operating in our communities.”
It’s the ability to gather as men that is important says LaFortune.
“We often have space for women, because women want to make those spaces for themselves. Often as men, we don’t prioritize gathering in that intimate way. And I think that’s it’s so important to have those real conversations and to really understand why we are the way that we are. And what influences what the context is, that makes us into the people that we are. Which teachings are we taking along the way? Are we taking teachings that men are supposed to be protectors and we have to be forceful? Do we have to be strong in those ways or are we taking those teachings that are telling us to be also sensitive and caring and to be loving and respectful? So, just questioning where we’re getting our knowledge from.”
Anthony Johnson of Amazing Race fame, winning Season 7 with husband Dr. James Makokis, calls himself a changing spirit. The Harvard graduate also pointed to questions of context on people’s journeys.
“What does the context that you were born into tell you about who you are? Depending on when you were born, the decade you were born in, where you are born, what kind of environment that you are born into, a little house or if you are born into a teepee community. If you were born into a large urban centre in the sixties, that’s going to mean something different than if you are born into a Residential School. What factor does time have in your life? What does it tell you about who you are? What does it tell you about who you can be? What does it tell you about where you can go?”
Dr. James Makokis explained Indigenous laws representing Cree natural law. He also spoke of the red road and the sweet grass path and how he and Johnson travelled to Petroglyph Park with his grandfather to learn from him.
“[My grandfather] talked to us about those petroglyphs and what they mean as they are tied to different sacred spaces across the country. He hadn’t been there is forty years. He went with his dad. We had brought this map that we blew up so he could study it, because he hadn’t been there in forty years. He spent about three hours and our brains were just full. We asked him how long he stayed and he said six months.”
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