By Chelsea Kemp
Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
The Ohitika/Ogichidaa (Warrior) Wellness Men’s Group is celebrating a year of activities encouraging resiliency, mental wellness and pride in culture among Indigenous men.
The Ohitika/Ogichidaa liaison team held a special meeting on Friday and Saturday at the Victoria Inn, said co-ordinator Jason Gobeil. The days served as a time for critical conversations around what it means to be a warrior and community helper while encouraging the program to grow in participating communities.
The concept of the Ohitika/Ogichidaa is based on the philosophy of promoting the courage and compassion that needs to be embodied in the spirits of Indigenous men. Together, the liaison team ensures Indigenous men are heard, acknowledged and valued in society.
“Being able to connect in person, there’s a different exchange of energy,” Gobeil said. “We’re making sure that we’re not only looking at our relationship with our spirit but our relationship with the land.”
Ohitika/Ogichidaa is continuing to grow and includes nine different active communities, Brandon, Roseau River First Nation, Winnipeg, Long Plain First Nation, Dakota Tipi First Nation, Dakota Plains Wahpeton First Nation, Sioux Valley Dakota Nation, Birdtail Sioux First Nation and Canupawakpa Dakota First Nation.
The Ohitika/Ogichidaa liaison team was created to establish leaders in communities to help facilitate activities for men. Gobeil said they have created a strong team that can deliver initiatives while supporting each other.
It remains pivotal to foster meaningful relationships between men and these communities, Gobeil said, because it solidifies the energy that exists within the First Nations.
“Right now and over the last few years when we talk about reconciliation, it’s not just about reconciliation with non-Indigenous peoples. It’s reconciling with histories that we weren’t told or raised with as well,” Gobeil said. “This has been a revival of culture, a revival of history, a revival of our knowledge, and really essentially making sure we understand who we are and what our roles are.”
Ohitika/Ogichidaa members are not only warriors, but helpers for their families and communities and take pride in growing these roles, Gobeil said. These actions are in turn reaffirming the value and pride members take in their identity as Indigenous men.
“We all carry skills and we all carry knowledge whether you’re
99 years old or 18 years old,” Gobeil said. “That’s the beauty of taking out the hierarchy and sitting in a circle. We are all looked at as equals. We all have an ability to respond or that responsibility to respond to ourselves. But at the same time, we don’t look at one person as being the keeper of all knowledge, we all feed into that.”
Together members are reviving the long-sleeping warrior society in communities, Gobeil said, while reawakening, reconnecting and reclaiming their Indigenous identities.
“We’re not going anywhere,” Gobeil said. “You’re going to see men walking with pride. You’re going to see men walking with their braids showing and understanding the importance of our cultural teachings and our connections with spirit.”
Roseau River First Nation community liaison Neil Alexander joined the Ohitika/Ogichidaa program after being encouraged to by his mentors and community elders. Roseau River now offers multiple initiatives and has had three in place that have been running for more than a year.
Alexander began helping to facilitate Ohitika/Ogichidaa in Roseau River, where they are known as the Guardians of Southwest Manitoba, hosting men’s night covering a variety of different topics, including inter-generational trauma, while promoting healing in those who participate.
“We’ve come a long way in the last year,” Alexander said. “I think everybody walked away feeling pretty good.”
He appreciates the vibe and the community they have been able to grow through the connections Ohitika/Ogichidaa has built.
Alexander said he could feel the bonds of brotherhood growing in the room as they discussed a variety of different topics. He especially appreciated getting the community updates because it offered an opportunity to learn and bounce ideas off each other.
Sioux Valley Dakota Nation community liaison Wakpa McKay was intrigued by Ohitika/Ogichidaa and the unique activities included in the programming for men. He knew immediately he wanted to get involved with the program because he returned home to learn traditional knowledge and teachings featured in the program.
“I thought this would be such a great way for me to learn my culture, but at the same time help my community,” McKay said.
McKay added the team meeting marked an important opportunity for camaraderie with other men while having conversations about different communities learning about their struggles and accomplishments.
“I could learn from them, and vice versa. That was a great opportunity,” McKay said. “We got really used to each other right away.”
He left the conference feeling more confident in his ability to share what he learned in Sioux Valley and to help Ohitika/Ogichidaa grow and increase participation in men’s night.
McKay added he is looking forward to the future with Ohitika/Ogichidaa including the Father’s Day Walk in June, a special community event celebrating the first anniversary of the program and the individual events and programs coming to different communities.
Chelsea Kemp is a Local Journalism Initiative reporter who works out of the BRANDON SUN . The Local Journalism Initiative (LJI) is funded by the Government of Canada. Turtle Island News does not receive LJI government funding.