Go to main menu Go to main content Go to footer

Community ᐄᐦᑖᐧᐃᓐ

New men’s association and Manchadauu project help members adjust to new realities

BY Patrick Quinn Apr 19, 2024

A first meeting of the Regional Cree Men’s Association laid a foundation for “strengthening community bonds, supporting individual and collective growth and preserving the rich cultural heritage of the Cree people,” according to association President Brian Wadden.

Held March 11-13 in Gatineau, members adopted resolutions and heard talks about lateral kindness by George Diamond and rites of passage by Abraham Bearskin.

The goals? “To open up eventually about what’s bothering them, underlying issues and their personal life,” explained Wadden. “It takes longer for men to open up emotionally for trusting issues. Ego and pride get in the way. You don’t want to be labelled. You just leave it bottled in.”

With many programs available for women and children, Wadden believes the men’s association has been a long time coming. Cree society has changed significantly since the James Bay hydroelectric project and intergenerational trauma from residential schools.

The Cree Women of Eeyou Istchee Association helped the group start after it organized a men’s healing retreat in 2022. 

“We thought we were just there for healing, then we were told there was going to be nominations and elections the following day,” recalled Wadden. “It was kind of a surprise. They thought it was time for men to start up as well.”

Alongside vice-president Albert St-Pierre and secretary-treasurer Silas Blackned, Wadden helped establish local groups in Chisasibi, Eastmain and Wemindji. Whapmagoostui already had a group for nearly a decade and provided guidance for projects and funding sources.

Programming ideas include cooking, craft-making and reintegration processes for those who have criminal issues or struggle with homelessness. Canoe expeditions and snowshoe walks were also suggested.  

Traditionally the family provider, Wadden said men now often work seasonal jobs while women increasingly have stable employment. Some men feel pushed aside as issues about children are routinely decided by mothers.

“They’ve kind of lost their place in their household and maybe turned to booze and drugs,” Wadden noted. “In the last month there’s been so many overdoses in different communities we don’t hear about. Everybody seems to be afraid of talking about social issues.”

The snowshoes prominent at the organization’s first meeting symbolized “starting a new trail for the betterment of our people.” With one north and one south, they signify a journey to fresh ideas and the way home to traditional values.

The association plans to work with CWEIA to develop policies and family-oriented programs. At least two regional activities are expected each year, which could begin with a land-based program in Nemaska featuring storytelling and cultural workshops.

CWEIA is also behind the Manchadauu program, which was started last year to address domestic violence through the teachings of Elders and the construction of traditional shelters. While last summer’s forest fires delayed progress, a winter lodge or Waashaaukimikw was opened March 28 near adjacent to the Elders camp outside Chisasibi. 

“One of the intentions was for participants to have that relationship with the Elders, for people affected by family violence to be comfortable to talk with them whenever they want,” said Manchadauu coordinator Adrian Rabbitskin-Bullfrog. 

After a planning session with Elders March 22, participants gathered wood to build the lodge. It was finished six days later, and a community feast was held with donated beaver, fish and ptarmigan. Waashaaukimikw is a partnership between Manchadauu and the Cree Youth Council, which celebrated their cabin opening the same evening. 

Wisdom about domestic family violence and addictions accompanied talks about building, food preparation and canvas making. Elders, including Eddie Pash, Raymond and Mariam Sam, Roy and Bertha Chiskamish, and Clarence and Lillian Lameboy, guided the dwelling’s creation and counselled more than 60 participants during the week.

In 2012, Pash developed the first land-based program in Eeyou Istchee to promote personal, family and community wellness rooted in iiyiyiu pimaatisiiwin (Cree way of life).

This spirit of healing will continue at the winter lodge, which is free for community members to use and will likely host programs from the health board and justice department. With funding from Société du Plan Nord, Rabbitskin-Bullfrog is promoting Manchadauu to inland communities and plans similar projects in Waswanipi and Nemaska. 

“Even if it’s just across the highway, it still feels like we’re in the bush,” Rabbitskin-Bullfrog said. “There’s healing even in the smell of the boughs. Come and listen. Just listening to the Elders while they’re talking, there’s still healing there.”

by Patrick Quinn, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

LATEST ᒫᐦᒡ ᑎᐹᒋᒧᐧᐃᓐ

Patrick Quinn lives in Montreal with his wife and two small children. With a passion for words and social justice, he enjoys sharing Eeyou Istchee's stories and playing music.