New Leaf recognizes that our program and offices sit upon the unceded lands in the territories of the Mi’kmaq peoples and Mi’k’ma’ki land where the Peace and Friendship Treaties still hold sway. We are all Treaty Peoples. We are one of the people of the dawn.
Kwe’! Happy National Aboriginal Day!
20 years ago, the Government of Canada and various Indigenous organizations came together to designate Summer Solstice, June 21st, as National Aboriginal Day. This day celebrates the culture, traditions, and contributions of all Aboriginal peoples in Canada and recognizes the continued need to build stronger relationships between settlers and Aboriginal peoples in Canada.
Building stronger relationships is not the only characteristic New Leaf and National Aboriginal Day share. The New Leaf program is structured around many traditional aspects of Aboriginal culture. At New Leaf, our group sessions and any other conversations we have with our guys and even amongst the staff are always held in circle. Circle is a traditional ceremony structure in which every person in the circle is equal; there is no hierarchy, no one is better than anyone else and no one dictates what or how anyone else speaks. This is a value and tradition that is extremely important to the work we do. We are not here to judge others or dictate the conversation. In traditional ceremony circle, everyone has a turn to speak. Often, the person who begins the conversation has the most on their mind or is in need of the most guidance. Every night in group, Sterling begins by opening the conversation, asking if anyone has anything they would like to check in with or talk about. This gives the guys facing the biggest obstacles or who have just overcome obstacles a chance to share and begin the theme of the discussion, and be offered guidance by the entire group. In traditional ceremony, everyone first has a chance to speak, however what they share is usually linked to what the person before them has said. This builds relationships, listening skills, and strong communication and understanding. We do the same in group. As facilitators, we are simply in the room to guide the discussion and offer what we can, just the same as every other guy in the room. The guys help each other by sharing their experiences. The conversation is almost always naturally linked; we do not need to designate a “theme” for the night’s discussion, the guys genuinely listen to each other, relate to each other, and offer guidance to each other. We value the experience and knowledge the guys have to offer; everyone in the room is there by a different circumstance but for the same underlying issues, and as the Mi’kmaq people and we at New Leaf believe, every individual matters and has something to offer to the rest of the world.
Traditional Aboriginal cultures are also extremely family centric with a matriarchal structure. New Leaf helps families by helping the abusive men within them; we cannot expect someone who has caused harm to return to their family without any support and have the tools they need to help develop and maintain a healthy family. New Leaf is focused on the safety of women and children. New Leaf is focused on building and maintaining healthy families. We believe women have the right to self determination and safety, which is directly related to traditional Aboriginal families. We are here to support just as Aboriginal communities came together to do. We are here to address underlying power imbalances which were brought to Turtle Island (the traditional Aboriginal name for Canada) by settlers. It is not acceptable to harm other people, it is a socialized and learned behaviour that we must address at it’s core.
New Leaf operates using these methods and values because they are respectful and they work. These methods and values produce the healthy, helpful, respectful, and meaningful conversation that is necessary in our sessions and in every day relationships.
New Leaf and traditional Aboriginal culture value equality, family, and nurturing, and today, on National Aboriginal Day, we remain committed to work toward ensuring these values are represented in our program and are central to our work in building stronger families.
It’s easy for us facilitators to get lost in what we think we are achieving at New Leaf, just the same as it is for members of the community to form their own personal idea of what we do within our green walls. However, this week, while sifting through piles of old files and notes, we came across a list of goals our clients had said they had hoped to achieve by coming to our program from 2007.
It is always interesting and helpful for us to get feedback from our clients, especially when given the opportunity to see what they want to get from us and what they feel they do get from us at the end of their time here. Finding this list gave us insight into what we should be doing and an opportunity to reflect on what we are doing well today.
As a summer student intern, I have no idea what was going on in the program in 2007, however looking at this list today, I can identify aspects of each of the goals our guys set out on that warm September night 10 years ago in the work we have done in the past six weeks. While I cannot attest to what the guys felt they were learning with us 10 years ago, I do know that these goals are playing out every night in group today.
I think the goals they guys set out reflect the values New Leaf has always dedicated itself to, but serve as a good reminder of the work we are doing and where our focus should lie during group. They guys identified;
Every day we walk into group somewhat blind; we have an idea of what our guys were struggling with the last time we saw them or major events they had coming up, but we are never certain of who will walk through the door or what will be on their mind. I personally feel like the goals the guys shared with us 10 years ago give us a guiding light with which to lead our sessions, regardless of the individual struggle each guy is going through on that particular night. Finding this reminder of what the guys want to get from us helps us guide discussion and create links between what each guy is going through on their own and provides us with the opportunity to address the bigger picture and give the guys something they can take home, think about, and work with.
This list of goals also goes beyond our meeting room; the things the guys identified that they would like to learn and work on in their lives and with us are relevant to every individual and every relationship. We hope looking at these goals also serves as a good reminder to everyone that we need to constantly be working on ourselves and developing our relationships in positive ways.
Sarah Toole – Admin Assistant, Summer Student Position
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