The Miywasin Friendship Centre self describes itself as a “an Aboriginal service delivery centre serving Medicine Hat and area.” Their vision to “Celebrate our Aboriginal Cultures; Gather together and share; Respect our diversity and Build our future” is done extremely well with a wide variety of programs and services.
However, like all of Alberta and the rest of the country, the pandemic and serious social issues have affected the Indigenous community.
JoLynn Parenteau, Indigenous Coordinated Access Program Manager of the Miywasin Friendship Centre, says they are addressing the issues in the Indigenous community.
“The Medicine Hat community is facing a staggering addiction and overdose epidemic this year, and the Indigenous community is struggling along with the general population. Stressors such as the COVID-19 pandemic and its impact on work and health are compounded by the retraumatizing recoveries of the children at unmarked gravesites across Turtle Island (a traditional name for North America from an Indigenous creation story),” explains Parentau. “Miywasin has brought on Cultural Addictions Counselor to our team, Ken Turner, who is Métis and whose spirit name Nîpawiw Asicayî means “Stands Beside”, to support our community members who are ‘walking the Black Road’ to turn their path around. Counselor Chasity Cairns, Misko Bineshe Ikwe “Red Hawk Woman” offers the Mending Broken Hearts circle for grief and trauma healing.”
Parenteau says the Brooks McMan Youth Family and Community Services occasionally refers clients to the Friendship Centre for supports, and regional hospitals will connect with Miywasin if a patient is transferring to the Medicine Hat region and will be looking for cultural connection.
There are so many facets to the Miywasin Centre in regards to programming including counselling, housing, youth development, caregiving/parent education and elders’ program not to mention all of the specific events the Healing and Reconciliation week, the Hills are Alive annual Music and Dance Cultural Fest in the Cypress Hills and days trip and other camps. Under each of those are multi faceted specific programs.
They also assist in Metis genealogy resource and help with Métis and and First Nations status.
There are limited resources and staff in contrast to all they offer, yet they expert and fully address a lot of needs in the Métis and Indigenous communities. Parenteau says there is a lot of attention to detail and those who are there have diverse backgrounds.
“Each Miywasin staff member heads their own program, and brings their own set of experiences and skills, as we come from different places across the country and have differing educations, ages, heritages and family makeups,” explains Parenteau. “We are well-connected in community to partner agencies and Elders alike, and have a strong network to draw from when looking for guest speakers. For example, this summer Miywasin hosted four language camps in Ojibwe, Blackfoot, Cree and Michif, and was able to bring in Elders to teach some basics in each language,” explains Parenteau.
“Programs are developed in response to demand. For example, the combined crises of a viral pandemic, economic loss and surging addictions means that more and more individuals and families are at risk of unstable housing. I joined Miywasin late last year in a COVID-19 Support role, and I am now supporting clients with Coordinated Access – a housing and community resources navigator role, assisting with often time-sensitive housing placements.”
Parenteau adds the pandemic has hindered a lot of the efforts with specific programs. COVID-19 restrictions have hindered Elders’ programming over 2020-2021, for example, Pam Goodine’s popular yoga class has been on hold, with dates for December TBA. Volunteering continues to be restricted. An Elders’ Hot Lunch is provided Fridays in a takeaway brown bag program, though pre-pandemic this was a sit-down shared meal. She says that the Miywasin Elders look forward to sharing this time of fellowship again when it is safe to do so.
Spending time together and sharing experiences are very important to the Indigenous community. It was a challenging traumatic and difficult year for the Indigenous community. They leaned on their spiritual faith to get them through. It is diverse and the Miywasin Centre is diverse enough to address all question and needs.
The importance is for all to learn and grow together. No judgments, it is all a spiritual and healing journey for all. With the diversity they have with Miywasin .
“Whether our seniors and Elders have a relationship with the Creator varies; spirituality and religion is a very personal aspect of a life. Many Métis were raised Catholic; many First Nations peoples are carrying trauma from lived experience and intergenerational trauma from residential and day schools and reject religion and God altogether,” explains Parenteau. “Many from all Indigenous backgrounds were not raised in their culture or did not have the opportunity to receive traditional teachings, including some Miywasin staff. But even the Elders say, ‘we are still learning’. Miywasin’s Cultural Coordinator Brenda Mercer, Wakanga Wishtay-win “Good Sweetgrass Woman” together with Cairns and special guest Elders offer workshops to make ribbon skirts, moccasins, beaded jewelry, arts and crafts, and in this way provides a connection to culture that goes deeper than simply making dreamcatchers. Immersion in the traditions of our ancestors is fulfilling in spirit, builds community, and provides a place of belonging – something we all need after nearly two years of disconnection from community.”
Newcomers to Miywasin have surged in the last 18 months with the introduction of the COVID-19 Support program, which provides access to traditional wild meat (bison from Deerview Meats), food security in the form of grocery store gift cards, and assistance with rent and utility arrears. Parenteau adds Miywasin’s lead counselor Marlene Cadotte guides new clients through an intake, then makes a warm introduction to Rae-Ann Godfrey who connects these resources with families and individuals requesting assistance, many of whom are seniors on a tight income, some are raising grandchildren. Godfrey has made countless warm connections since joining the team in July, making referrals for clients to additional Miywasin programs, and was recently awarded the Canadian Alliance to End Homelessness’ Pandemic Hero Award.
For more on Miywasin, please see http://miywasincentre.net