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New counselling programs offered to First Nations’ men

A demographic often forgotten when it comes to counselling, district First Nations’ men now have two unique services available to help them heal through group work.

Offered by the Fort Frances Tribal Area Health Services Inc.’s Counselling Unit, the “In Search of Your Warrior” program and the men’s sharing circle have never been offered here before.

Facilitator Harold Tookenay said he already has received phone calls from local men interested in the Warrior program—the goal of which is to explore anger and rage issues, and work towards healing.

Tookenay noted the men have called and said things like, “I have rage and anger issues that I want to explore,” which is a good starting point.

The sessions will run Monday to Friday from 9 a..m-4:30 p.m. for six weeks, and be comprised of an intensive combination of First Nations’ rituals and more traditional group therapy-style sessions.

“It’ll be therapeutic to some degree,” Tookenay explained.

The free program “is an extensive, intensive experiential program where the participants will examine their issues around their personal rage and anger issues and how violence became a part of their lives, and more importantly, how the violence shaped their lives,” according to a press release from Tookenay.

The idea for the Warrior group comes from a program developed by Native Counselling Services of Alberta for released inmates in conjunction with Correctional Services Canada.

Correctional Services Canada later found significantly smaller proportions of participants were re-admitted for new violent offences (seven percent versus 57 percent) for a comparison group that did not participate in the program, stated a House of Commons Standing Committee on Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development document from February, 2007.

In April, Tookenay and 10 other men from Treaty #3 completed a training course to facilitate the Warrior program for men in the community dealing with rage and anger problems.

The facilitators learned how to take the original program for convicts and apply it to the general population. But potential participants must be willing to work if they expect a positive outcome from the counselling.

“You need to be dedicated to yourself, to each other, and to the program to be successful,” warned Tookenay.

Going into the sessions, men should know that they can get beyond their problems with rage, he added.

“There’s something at the core of us that is healthy,” he reassured, adding participants “need to remove all that negativity so that they become better men in society.”

Indeed, if they are successful, Tookenay cited many benefits to the rest of the community and the families of participants.

He said it starts in the home—reducing violence against women, setting an example for children of how to control anger, and that from there the benefits snowball to a healthier society.

And because of the healing approach, support will be available for the men’s partners, too.

One aspect provides for the participant’s partners to come in once a week and speak to counsellors themselves, making the healing process a team endeavour with a well-rounded approach.

The components of the program include rage and anger issues, violence awareness, family of origin issues, life skills development, cultural awareness, and developing a self-care plan.

Although combining the idea of a warrior and getting past anger issues may seem an unusual combination, the first impression is deceiving.

The aboriginal vision of the warrior is one of spirituality—a warrior who fights injustice and strengthens the values of a community, according to the “Let’s Talk” newsletter on Correctional Service Canada’s website.

So far, Tookenay said the response has been favourable and he’s also received positive feedback from the community.

“The people have been saying it’s about time we get something going for the guys around here,” he remarked.

But the idea of dealing with these personal and emotional issues in a group setting might seem like a daunting task for some. Tookenay said this is okay and should not keep potential participants from inquiring about the program.

“They will be tentative and shy and scared, and so on,” he admitted. But in the end, the benefits of dealing with these issues far outweigh the challenges of the healing process.

And “to know that you’re not travelling alone in this journey” should provide some comfort, added Tookenay. “There’s safety in numbers,” he reasoned.

There are only 10 spots available for the warrior program and Tookenay would like to meet one-on-one with all participants prior to the beginning of the start date of Monday, Oct. 20. The program ends Nov. 28.

Those interested should call Tookenay at 274-9839.

Meanwhile, the sharing circle also is a free service and is less of a time commitment (running Thursdays from 7-9 p.m.), but will address many issues similar to those of the warrior program.

Some of the possible topics include relationship issues, addictions and recovery, rage/anger, residential school issues, family of origin issues, boundary issues, men and women’s roles, and communication styles.

Other topics may be suggested by participants as the sharing circle moves forward.

The circle is another group session run by facilitators Tookenay and Dave Beaulieu, but on a drop-in basis.

The men’s sharing circle begins Thursday, Oct. 23 at 601 King’s Highway—the same location as the “In Search of Your Warrior Program.”

All sessions for both programs will be highly confidential to protect the privacy of participants.

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