As CBC North journalist Roderick Rabbitskin has discovered, the journey to wellness requires continual travel. In the Nation last year, Rabbitskin revealed that a community member had repeatedly abused him as a child. During this year’s Wellness Week, held in Mistissini March 17-22, Rabbitskin spoke of that terrible ordeal for only the second time in his life (and the first time publicly).
The exercise led to feelings of relief.
“Everyone came up to shake my hand, it was really nice,” Rabbitskin told the Nation. “Jane Blacksmith from Public Health told me, ‘This is the first step. We saw your story in the Nation, we heard it on CBC North and this was a big step for you to take and it’s opened a lot of doors. You’re very brave and if there is anything we can do, just ask.”
One person came up to Rabbitskin and said he’d really helped her. “She told me that she’s been going through abuse over many years,” he said. “We talked for quite awhile.”
Gloria Blacksmith, the coordinator of Mistissini’s Journey of Wellness, said the experience opened doors for some people. “It’s good to hear other peoples’ stories and for them to share their own,” she said.
Rabbitskin said he hopes others come forward to tell their stories. He has already received a few telephone calls and emails from leaders and other community members commending him on his bravery, especially considering his high profile job as a radio broadcaster whom they tune in to every day. He said that they have also shed tears over the phone while expressing their gratitude and support.
Blacksmith said the impact of the event and its activities is truly inspiring.
“People realize that they’re not alone,” she said. “They keep it bottled up inside for a long period of time, but to hear someone speak, it opens the door and it’s a way to start healing. It’s encouraging.”“Each individual has their own purpose,” said Blacksmith. “They all have a different background. For some it could be trouble in a relationship, or alcohol or drugs. It’s also a way to get out of the community and go back to the traditional Cree way of living by following in their ancestors footsteps.”
This year, the Journey was so popular that 27 people ventured into the wilderness.
During the journey, individuals go out on the land to follow traditional Cree pursuits with minimal provisions. The first part involves snowshoeing or dog sledding into the bush for a whole month during harsh winter conditions.
The second part sends participants on a spiritual and mental journey. A sharing circle is held after the long day’s walk. Openness is encouraged and people talk about their innermost feelings and shed their inhibitions. Community members begin their journey with an open mind to heal old wounds.
Arnold Thomas, a motivational speaker from the Shoshone-Paiute Nations of the Duck Valley Indian Reservation, spoke about his own personal bout with suicide. His father committed suicide many years ago and Thomas later turned to drugs and alcohol. Eventually, he also attempted suicide with a 30/30 rifle. The attempt severely damaged his face and left him blind. He was unable to speak for many years.
But the experience proved the importance of having loved ones close by. Through the support of his family and friends and the larger community, he persevered and the resulting story became a real example of the horrors of the potentially deadly mixture of depression and suicide.
Blacksmith looks forward to next year when she hopes even more community members come out for the Journey of Wellness to share their stories and heal their pain.
“Hopefully through doing these presentations, it really helps the community to address the problems that they need to face and start healing,” she said.
“It makes people realize that they are not alone in life. There are services that are there to help and support. I think it’s very good for the community to share their experiences together.”
At the end of their journey, the walkers come into the community and Wellness Week begins in earnest.
“I’m really glad that I did it,” said Roderick Rabbitskin. “My family was very emotional. They cried. Two of my brothers and two of my sisters were there with my nieces and nephews. They’re very happy that I did it. I kept it to myself for years and it was just eating me up.”