Breaking Down Barriers
Only her simple request to hold a red pouch filled with loose tobacco belies her nervousness at being asked to open up and share her views. Tobacco is a native sacred medicine, used in ceremonies and as currency to honour Elders or to pay for ceremony. It shows respect both for natives and for their culture. Merely holding the pouch is comforting to her, Grant explains.
Grant first came to New Leaf in 1999 on a job placement as a student of the Community Services program at the Nova Scotia Community College, Pictou Campus.
“I was really stressed when I was told I needed to come here,” Grant confides. “I was a mature student and my instructor felt that I needed a placement that was challenging to me. Initially I had gone into that program looking to work at Tearmann Society. I wanted to work with abused women so this placement was a particular challenge for me in terms of my own personal goals. And I was intimidated; I was afraid because I think, like many people even today, I had these pre-conceived notions of the men that I would be working with. Very quickly I realized that these men are human beings and not the monsters I had imagined. Generally speaking, they tend to be really good men — very hard working and trying to provide for their family and trying to do everything they were taught was right. But when it came to relationships, they struggled. I have been here ever since.”
Grant has also been doing some work out of the Tatamagouche Centre with the Peace and Friendship Project, specifically around social justice and building respectful relationships between native and non-native peoples. She strongly believes that this work is all connected because it is all about relationships and how they can go terribly wrong quite easily but it’s work to keep them going well and/or to repair harm done.
The New Leaf program runs on the premise that domestic violence is a social issue, Grant says. “So it’s how the genders are socialized. From the very first time a male toddler falls down and hurts himself, the first thing adults say is ‘big boys don’t cry’ and they get that reinforced by all the adults that are around them. That’s why we work in a group setting. It takes the adults around us to help to teach us how to do things differently and hopefully in a better way.”
Grant’s accumulated knowledge comes not from intensive studying in hallowed halls of higher learning establishments; rather, it is generated from a more organic place than that.
“I have sisters,” she smiles. “I have mothers and grandmothers and aunties and friends, daughters and granddaughters.”
She adds, “I also had some very good teachers in Bob (Whitman) and Ron (Kelly) who ran this program almost its entire lifespan, and from the men themselves. And I think part of it is my own world view. I sort of see this society as set up as a triangle. There’s the people in power at the top and everybody on the bottom end is encouraged to fight their way to the top. We see it in a number of the men who are workaholics. It’s a normal thing for couples to want to make their lives financially sound. What we often see happen is that, this desire to make that success happen means that lives become totally out of balance. Working 18 or 20 hours a day year after year, you can’t actively participate in your relationship, and the cost to the relationship can be high. That was never their intention. They believe that is what they’re supposed to do as men and, there are certain perks to it. You get valued as a successful male in society. Unfortunately, they often are left feeling confused, angry, and in crisis, because losing their family was not what was supposed to happen.
“I come in with a world view of the circle. The circle is part of the original instructions of this territory. The circle is where no one is any more or less important than anyone else. Every single person in the circle brings with them knowledge, experiences, and value, and the circle is stronger because of every individual in it. We’re all in this together. So let’s sit down and really talk about things. Together we have everything we need to figure this out. We, New Leaf staff, sit in circle with the men we work with, because we are also learning from them.”
“A lot of what we do with the men is defining what it is to be a man, a father … People have these vague notions of what these things really mean; which are reinforced by commercialism that promotes exaggerated stereotypes. These notions are unattainable because they’re not tangible or defined. When our clients realize they have the authority to decide that for themselves, it becomes something real and attainable. And they don’t just decide it for themselves anymore. They learn to include their families and their partners and actually participate in that relationship on a whole new level. They learn that it was not all on them. So, instead of being all by yourself at the peak of the triangle, you’re creating the circle and participating equally.”
New Leaf has been in existence for 30 years; Grant took over as executive director when Ron Kelly retired about a year ago, but has been involved with New Leaf for about 18 years in various capacities. One of her first projects with New Leaf was in developing a parenting program, specifically for New Leaf clients. “We haven’t been able to offer it since 2003 because of a lack of funding for it. It’s a shame since it was so well received by our clients who felt safe asking questions about parenting when they were surrounded by other fathers looking for the same information.”
Sterling Smith, Grant’s colleague, has also been with New Leaf on a volunteer basis for about eight years but became a staff member about a year ago. He cherishes the relationship he and Grant share.
“She is dedicated and excited to be a part of the New Leaf program,” he lauds. “Cathy is all heart and is addicted to helping people. She brings a woman’s perspective to the program and the men need that, they respect that.”
Most of the men who come to New Leaf come in crisis, Grant says. “So our main focus when they first come in is getting them through that.”
The number of men coming to the program on their own is rising to be a fairly significant percentage. Grant says, “We have fathers bringing in their sons, we have men bringing in their brothers and their friends and their co-workers.”
Men involved in the program are recognizing its value and the good it does them and their families.
“Men are socialized to not talk to each other about certain things. That’s why we view it as a social issue because nothing can change until men learn how to talk with other men about relationships in a good way. It needs to be done in a non-judgmental way, while still holding them accountable for the choices they made. That gives them the power to make different choices. It is always a dance of sorts.”
The premise behind New Leaf is simple, Grant says: “We give men the permission, support and skills to be the men they want to be as opposed to the men they thought they were condemned to be. We are all in this big mess together. Simply talking can change everything. That’s the power of the circle.”
This article was originally published by The Pictou Advocate and was written by Jackie Jardine. The link to the original article can be found here.
A Note of Thanks
As I walked into my office this morning, I was overcome with emotion. Today is the final day of my internship at New Leaf before Cathy and Sterling take their well earned and much needed vacation and I head halfway across the country to go back to school. When I walked into my office this morning, I wondered how I would even tie up my loose ends because my desk, chair and a good periphery around them was covered in a rainbow of balloons.
As I pushed some balloons to the floor to make a little room to sit, I thought back to my first day at New Leaf. Intimidated as I was to have my first “real job” in my field, especially with a mind racing of who I could possibly be meeting in group, I skipped up the stairs to find Cathy awaiting my presence, glowing at my entry. From the very first moment I mounted the crest of the stairs, Cathy was excited to have me. I remember feeling the excitement rise, knowing that the uncertainty of what might happen within these walls was well worth the experiences I would gain.
With the title of “administrative intern” I had expected to answer phones and scan documents, but still excited to have the opportunity to even dip a toe into front line work, especially after studying domestic violence policy in a classroom for 5 years. I had no idea the realm of opportunity Cathy, Sterling, the Board of Directors, clients, and other agencies would allow me to delve into. Having someone notice your potential and help you reach it is truly remarkable. Having an entire system to people, all of whom have been privy to the front line for decades, recognize your passion and give you room to run is a true honour.
On that first day, when I walked into my (unexpected) office, there was a vase of red carnations and baby’s breath on my windowsill with a note of welcome from Sterling. Coming from the slew of minimum wage retail jobs I held to pay my tuition, this simple gesture was a grand sign, foretelling of the wonderful people I would have the pleasure of working with and of true recognition of equality. Cathy would be gravely disappointed if I ever referred to her as my “boss”, and I recall Sterling adamantly saying I was not to call him “sir”. Cathy and Sterling always ensured we were equals, regardless of how we got here or how long we’ve been here. That is why New Leaf works. Everyone in circle is equal, everyone has something different to offer, and everyone is valued. I hope to spread this vision of equality throughout the world. I hope to offer the world what New Leaf has offered me.
The feeling of being truly appreciated and respected for simply existing in someone’s world is truly remarkable and cannot be matched. Cathy and Sterling have an immense power to make everyone feel at home and valued. From laughing at corny jokes, to inviting me to participate in a million opportunities, to taking turns bringing coffee for everyone to just sit down and chat. I will be forever thankful for Cathy, Sterling, and the New Leaf program for what it has offered me; intellectually, personally, and spiritually.
So thank you. Thank you to Cathy and Sterling for your friendship and guidance. Thank you to our guys for giving me a window into your worlds and allowing me to represent you in my advocacy and research. Thank you to the United Way of Pictou County, Chris Lewis, and all of my PR classmates for allowing me to tag along on your journey of education. Thank you to the Board of Directors for allowing me to stay longer than originally planned and welcoming me to the Board. Thank you to the Interagency on Family Violence for not only allowing me to be present, but also encouraging my input. Thank you to Tim Houston and Lenore Zann for giving me the opportunity to advocate for our guys. Thank you to EVERYONE who has submitted recipes to our cookbook, especially our community role models who I never expected a response from. Thank you to everyone who is reading this and to everyone who believes in the New Leaf program. It has truly been an honour to spend my summer with you. And believe me, I won’t be far even from 3 provinces away; you have all left me with too much to simply walk away from.
With love, with thanks, with pleasure,
Administrative Summer Student Intern – 2017
New Leaf and community contributors