Cree by Blood – Indigenous by Spirit

June 4, 2021

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by Earl Thiessen

My mother was an Indigenous Woman from Makwa Sahgaiehcan First Nation. A small Cree First Nation band in Loon Lake, Saskatchewan. After my grandfather passed away at 29, my Mom was put in a foster home and separated from her siblings. She never wanted anything to do with her culture. We never spoke about her heritage when we were children. I now recognize this as spiritual trauma.

My unresolved childhood trauma eventually led me to the streets; to being homeless for seven years. My unwillingness to face my demons and my use of alcohol and drugs as an emotional response to my childhood trauma was so powerful. The shame of being sexually abused is so intense that many men and women lose their lives to addiction or suicide, refusing to speak about it. We gain knowledge when teaching through words and actions; we heal the same way. The first time I talked about my sexual abuse was while I was in treatment and doing my step five with a female elder. I broke down, crying for two hours, telling her about my childhood trauma. I walked out of her room a different man. I held that trauma in for 25 years. I only told my Dad about it five months ago. I didn’t want to hurt him because, as a parent, you don’t want to think you weren’t there to protect your child. After dealing with my own recovery and my own childhood trauma, I reconnected with my heritage. It played, and still plays a significant part in my healing journey. It took me four years to get my Indian registration number. When I received my Indian Registration Number, I cried in my office—a very emotional moment for me.

My breaking point with my addictions and homelessness came when my partner Jackie was murdered in 2007 on the streets of Calgary. She is one of the MMIW. I always say, “by Jackie’s life being so selfishly taken, it inadvertently helped save mine.” I honour her and all the MMIWG by continuing my journey to

healing and helping our people and women heal from past atrocities and with my effort to aid in Truth and Reconciliation. I have been blessed to be in my position, and through my career, at Oxford House Foundation, I have had the opportunity to help thousands with their own journeys to healing. A very special moment for me was when we held the ceremony to open our first collaborative Peer/Culturally Supported Indigenous Women’s Home (a partnership with Poundmakers Lodge Treatment Center). A red print was presented to me by Hal Eagletail, and the meaning of the name “Red Woman House” was introduced.

The recognition meaning given was: to honour “all” women for their life-giving gift, recognize their healing journey from trauma, and acknowledge and honour all the “Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls.” The name immediately moved me. Honouring my Mom for her heritage and honouring Jackie as one of the MMIWG was the first thing that entered my mind and brought tears to my eyes. I gifted the home with the dream catcher in the picture, and with Hal Eagletail’s direction that the print should be displayed in the home, I sat in the living room before the opening and sewed the print around the dreamcatcher and prayed that all women coming through the home would be kept safe and have the opportunity to heal with guidance from creator. I also wanted to honour my Mom with this opening, so I set the official opening date on my mother’s birthday. I also honour my mother by carrying on our Cree heritage and by educating myself regarding our history. Since the introduction of Oxford House/Poundmakers Lodge’s first men’s indigenous recovery home, “Wolf Thinlegs,” we have opened four other peer/culturally supported recovery homes. Now we are the most extensive peer/culturally supported indigenous recovery home program in the country. We have three homes in Calgary and two homes in Edmonton, and if we get the proper support, we will be opening two more in Lethbridge in the near future.

I am proud to be the Executive Director of the same organization that had a hand in saving my life. But am even more proud that I am being recognized as an Indigenous Leader in my sector and beyond.

A video link is attached as well https://youtu.be/hDWsJ5TwwZI

Much appreciation for all APTN does for Indigenous awareness and for honouring our people.

Earl Thiessen

Executive Director

Oxford House Foundation of Canada