How this man plans to help other fathers in his Manitoba First Nation heal from trauma

William Gaywish returned to his home community in southwestern Manitoba hoping to heal, after finding himself in a bad place and experiencing addictions while he lived in Winnipeg.

But the father from Rolling River First Nation couldn’t find the help he needed in the rural community, just south of Riding Mountain National Park.

Now, he’s one of several people starting up a men’s group there.

He and other group members “came back to our community to try to get back to our normal selves, and it’s been a long journey,” Gaywish said.

Many people in his community are dealing with the effects of intergenerational trauma, he said, and the ongoing impacts of residential schools and substance use. 

“It all starts off there, and we gotta work with each other. If we don’t work with each other, it’s all going to fail,” said Gaywish.

His goal is to create a better future for his nine children, he said.

“We dealt with my mother and me going through the trauma of residential schools and everything, and now we’re looking at my children, and that’s what … this group is all about,” said Gaywish.

“[It’s] about the children — how trauma is affecting them and what we can do to help them out.”

Trauma conference focuses on action plans

Gaywish was among the attendees on Wednesday at a conference in Brandon dedicated to the topic of dealing with trauma, hosted by Home Counselling and Wellness, a private company.

Catherine Arnold, the company’s co-owner, said the hope is to establish a committee in Brandon made up of community members and service providers focused on change and what people can do at the institutional and individual levels to address trauma.

One of the goals of the event was to help participants create plans for their own communities, and to offer an opportunity to have “very vulnerable and open conversations about what we can do as people, and just as a society, to create that change,” she said.

A woman wearing glasses stands before a wall covered in fairies lights.
Catherine Arnold is co-owner of the company Home Counselling and Wellness, which organized the conference. When it comes to change, ‘a lot of people don’t even know where to start,’ she says. (Chelsea Kemp/CBC)

As part of the conference, participants created an action plan to address trauma impacting their communities.

The finalized action plan will be available for agencies and groups in Brandon and surrounding rural areas, and updated as needed based on concerns and ideas that emerge in the community, Arnold said.

When it comes to change, “a lot of people don’t even know where to start,” she said.

“This is those little pieces that we can take. It builds that trust and compassion and empathy within ourselves.”

Brandon has Community Mobilization Westman — a network of social service providers — but in rural areas, more help is needed to connect community members with resources, said Arnold.

She said for counsellors, service providers and others trying to provide help, Indigeneity must be a key part of the conversation because of the intergenerational trauma created by colonialism, including residential schools and the Sixties Scoop.

“We want people to be able to feel safe and trust us, and that takes time,” she said.

Community connection essential

Angela Mitchell, who attended the two-day workshop on behalf of Dakota Ojibway Child and Family Services, says traumatized people often can’t advocate for themselves.

That’s why it’s up to those who can, including professionals, to step up and “kick it into gear” to help, said Mitchell. Making connections in the community is critical to start the healing process, she said.

Gaywish said he took inspiration from the idea that the community can work together to provide support.

“I believe that a community raises the children, right?” he said.

“And it’s not just one person. It’s the whole community.”

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