The Nak’azdli First Nation was the scene of a three day workshop dealing with loss and grief last week from August 12 to August 14.
The workshops were hosted by actor, indigenous activist and counsellor Curtis Ahenakew, a Cree man from Ahtahkakoop (Star Blankets) First Nation in Saskachewan.
Workshops came in the aftermath of a number of prominent deaths within the Nak’azdli First Nation including the deaths of community elders Flora Prince and Patricia Marie Joseph, both of Lhts’umusyoo Clan and Harold Dale Isaac and Jeffery Joseph Thomas, Sr. both of Lusilyoo Clan.
Ahenakew has been hosting loss and grief workshops in aboriginal communities through Canada since 1994. A graduate of the University of Saskachewan where he studied clinical counselling, Ahenakew began his career in counselling as a alcohol and drug counsellor on the Ahtahkakoop Reservation.
“That’s where I got my introduction to the western view of therapy,” said Ahenakew.
Ahenakew also received education from Poundmakers Lodge Treatment Centre, a co-ed addictions treatment centre near Edmonton, Alta.
“We had a program [at Poundmakers Lodge] that taught First Nations counsellors about specific, cultural loss and grief workshops. So I had both a contemporary an a traditional view of grief and loss,” Ahenakew said.
The three day workshops consisted of a number of different exercises designed to break down emotional barriers from as far back as residential school.
“The first thing I have people do is a journalling process; letter writing,” Ahenakew said. “Journalling helps. We write a letter to a loved one – as far back as 20 years ago. The objective is to unlock grief that may have been locked away.”
Ahenakew also employs methods like trust falls and blindfolded tours around the community. Methods he says help to break down the walls people build up when they are dealing with grief and anger.
“Grief is powerful,” Ahenakew said. “… unfortunately people don’t have access to people that say ‘hey, it’s okay to grieve.’ Don’t let shame prevent you grief from being expressed.”
For the last parts of the workshops Ahenakew employs his artistic background,
“I use the arts – I started using drama and artistry to help by talking about voice and having them do theatrical activities like portraying an abusive father.” Ahenakew says these kinds of activities open the dialogue for a conversation about how those past situations have impacted the lives of those in the community.
Ahenakew says that grief and loss is important and in particular important in the First Nations community citing that the impacts of residential schools and oppression have necessitated the workshops.
“Residential school is a part of the reason it’s necessary. It’s important for every age but in particular for the current generation. They need to know what happened,” said Ahenakew. “They need to understand why their grandparents shut down emotionally.”
Ahenakew had such an impact on those who attended that he was personally requested to return by attendees. In response to the overwhelming requests Ahenakew will return to the Fort St. James community in September.
Ahenakew said that should anyone feel the need to contact him they should send a email to firstname.lastname@example.org