Tina Petawabano was the Coordinator for a Cree Nation Gathering for Healing, held in Mistissini in August. We interviewed Petawabano in a teepee on the second last day of the Gathering at Mistissini’s culture camp. The camp has grown from past years and is a must-see for anyone visiting this community as well as being the perfect location for the Gathering. The Band Council has also purchased a large pontoon boat to make access easier for people wishing to go back and forth. During the Gathering we noticed that it had a lot of use.

The Nation: Is this the first Gathering of this type?

Tina: Yes, this is the first one. It’s actually a follow-up of a Youth Forum that was held in Mistissini in 1994. Out of that came a report of recommendations put forth by the 60 youth who participated. We followed up a recommendation that the youth, well actually everyone, come together and discuss the social issues that were brought up. These were issues that the youth perceived that needed to be talked about.

What do you hope will come out of it?

First of all, there was already a major step with the report that came out of the youth forum. The youth spoke up and had a lot of concerns about things we didn’t really know were going on. Now we have this gathering and we hope we’ll keep on talking and learn to open up more than we already have. It’s going to be a slow process, but at least it’s coming. It’s opening up where we need to hear them and we need to see what is being said.

As a youth—since I’m one myself—we are looking at what we are having to face in the communities, such as suicide, sexual abuse and issues like that. They need to be more opened up and we’re hoping this will wake up some people, leaders, parents. To open up their eyes and say this is what we’re facing right now. Please listen to us and help us.

Are there a lot of youth attending this forum?

We were hoping for a minimum of 10 delegates from each community and we managed to get participants from four communities. Well, five with Mistissini. It was not only youth who attended but Elders who came along from the other communities, as well as NNADAP workers and counselors. I would have hoped for more youth to come but I think we’ve had a good turnout. The past days we didn’t have such a great turn-out from Mistissini youth but today has been very good. From what I’ve seen I’m very happy with what’s come up so far.

So the results have been positive so far?

Yes, I’ve seen a lot of Elders and parents talking about their own experiences with their children. It’s been very touching with all the stories. It’s opened up my mind to see that’s what they’re thinking about us. But as I said I would’ve hoped for more youth to be involved and listening and opening up.

They might even be scared to open up in front of adults because at the Youth Forum there were no adults. It was just all youth and they opened up. They said this is what we hear and this is what we see and nothing is being done about it. I think in these settings they might be a little shy and worried that when they go home their parents might be saying why did that person say that.

So what kind of things are they saying?

So far what we have is a lot of them saying we need more gatherings like this in the future to keep it going. When they share like that—such as growing up in a violent home, the social issues like having a friend who committed suicide—those are the types of social issues from what I’ve seen so far in the workshops that I’ve managed to peek into. I’d like to stay but with all the running around I have to do, I don’t have the time I’d like to have to fully participate.

When I get a chance to sit, I find that a lot of the older people are talking out more than the youth are. That may be because the youth are thinking, “Okay, I can’t really say anything here; it looks like an adult thing”—but it isn’t. It’s geared for the youth along with everyone else, too. Maybe in the future there should be a gathering where it’s only the youth coming from all the communities.

A lot of them have been listening to the Elders or their parents talking about what they would like to see happen or their own personal testimonies. But I think a lot of it was that a lot of the youth haven’t opened up yet at the gatherings, workshops and healing circles. At some of the workshops I heard youth say, “I don’t have anything to say,” or, “I’ll pass.”

But the thing is that they came. That is a sign that they want to help themselves. I appreciate that that in itself is a big step: They came on their own time and they weren’t paid to attend. I think that’s where it all begins. They came to attend and listen. They might not have opened up like we hoped, but they came and we appreciate that. It makes me happy to see them here.

Do you feel there has been a consensus on some concerns that have been raised?

Yes, especially with violence, which was such a hot topic. We not only see it in our own homes, we actually see it on the streets—when people are drinking. That was something people were talking about. While it was about values, it was something everyone could relate to. Everyone shared their experiences. They talked about seeing a fight, no one feeling good about it, but no one stopping it either.

Yes, I think people have come together in the workshops. For example, the Teaching and Healing Circles that took place after each workshop. I found them really nice. They weren’t big, the biggest was about 25 people. The smaller it is the better it was because I find that people tend to work better than the 50-people-per-workshop I had hoped for. But now I think it was good the way it turned out with the amount of people who attended each workshop. The healing circles were something that brought everyone together. One of the things was that the workshop was just that, while what was said in the circle stayed in the circle. People appreciated that.

Do you expect solutions from the Gathering to be presented to the people?

Right now, not really, because tomorrow we have the group discussion day where all the facilitators come together with the ideas and recommendations on what could be done along with other suggestions on the follow-up to this conference. This isn’t the end because we don’t want to just end this conference and have nowhere to go after attending it.

I mean, how would you see it? A youth attends the workshops, opens up and goes home? Then there’s nothing done. They could say, “Well, that was fun. I am able to open up but can I have some more now?” That would be a dead-end so tomorrow we’ll have people speak, at minimum the facilitators anyway. There are two facilitators who couldn’t be there but we’ve asked them to mandate someone else to report. We have a few presenters who will be coming in to talk on their experiences, where they show how they got out of what they lived through. They talk about what they’re doing today.

These are people like Matthew Iserhoff Jr. and Lisa Petagumskum. We plan to have an elderly couple, Sam and Minnie Awashish, come and speak, to do a presentation because they attended all the workshops and to talk about the Gathering because I thought it was really nice of them to come and attend at their own time. We asked them to attend whenever they could and they would appear every morning and would leave in the evening. So I guess it shows they are very patient also. They listen and they’ll talk when they have to, but I feel it was very good and nice to see that they were listening a lot to what people had to say.

Is there anyone you wanted to thank?

Oh Lord, I want to thank everyone! Where’s that list? (laughter)… I’d like to thank Josée Quesnel, my boss who works for Mistissini Band Council. I would like to thank her for the opportunity to be involved in organizing this Gathering. It’s something I won’t forget. It isn’t easy getting everyone together. I would like to thank the working group on healing in Mistissini. It was formed this year from all the entities and businesses from Mistissini. That’s including the clinic and the churches to get together to organize events like this. All of them were here to help out where needed.

I would also like to thank the Community Action Program. That’s Gordon Pet, who’s standing here. I think he’s making sure I thank him (laughter)… Also, Philomene Mianscum. They’ve been a lot of help. They’ve supported me at times when I wasn’t sure whether it was going to work or not. They did a lot of running around with me to make sure that things were done. I would like to thank two students. They were here on their own time. They would come in the morning and leave in the evening. Those people are Lillian Brian and Sophie Matoush. I asked them, “Why are you here? I really appreciate this—it’s a lot of work.” So I have to say I really appreciated that.

Thanks to the Chief and Council for providing the funding to make the Gathering possible. I would like to thank all the other sponsors who made this dream come true.