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National Indigenous History Month


As part of National Indigenous History Month, our monthly op-ed is a collaboration from Clarence Cachagee, Crow Shield Lodge Founder and Helen Fishburn, CEO of Canadian Mental Health Association Waterloo Wellington. Clarence and Helen met in 2018 after Helen heard Clarence speak at a local health system meeting. Clarence shared some of his personal journey at that meeting, and Helen was inspired by his courageous leadership and was drawn to his compassion, wisdom and humility. At this time, Clarence was in the early stages of creating Crow Shield Lodge. Helen reached out to Clarence after that meeting, and they began walking together and have been building a partnership ever since.

“Embracing Indigenous Healing Practices”
It’s been an honour to walk with Helen at CMHA and her team. Helen and I have always found alternative ways to support community. We have established pathways of communication, healing and are continually looking at ways to give back to the community in a good way.

The land offers a connection to everyone. When we connect to the land, we connect with each other.
Having the opportunity to create land-based healing, education and possible housing, is just the beginning.

We all need a starting point.

This service would encompass the unhoused, Frontline workers, managerial staff, and boards.
Together we can find and give alternatives to the community. I’m looking forward to seeing the next stage of the partnership between CMHA Waterloo Wellington and Crow Shield Lodge.
Clarence Cachagee

National Indigenous History Month is a time to commemorate and celebrate the First Peoples of Canada, including our local Indigenous people and our local land. It is a time to learn and unlearn, to deepen our awareness of the complicated and painful issues that have left deep scars on Indigenous peoples, and to commit to meaningful actions that will bring Truth and Reconciliation. As the CEO of CMHA Waterloo Wellington, a large mental health agency, I am on my own listening and learning journey, so that I can then honour my personal and professional commitments to address the harms that have been done by colonization.

Since Clarence and I first met five years ago, we have continued to walk together, building trust between us and our organizations, and exploring every opportunity to create more space for healing using Indigenous principles and practices.

With each conversation, Clarence and I have been able to create new opportunities. Small steps at first – with funding from CMHA WW, Clarence’s team offered new healing circle programs. Then a bigger step with one time funding that CMHA WW leveraged from Ontario Health, which supported more land-based healing programming and the opportunity to purchase supplies and materials for Crow Shield Lodge. Then an even bigger step with Crow Shield Lodge hiring their own full-time position, with funds received and redirected by CMHA WW. The new position is based on the land with the Crow Shield team but has become a beautiful bridge to the team and services at CMHA WW.

Although these are all steps forward, it is just the beginning. We have so much more to do to provide land-based healing opportunities.

While we have been walking together, I have learned so much from Clarence. I have learned that trusting relationships are built slowly over time – you can’t rush to action. Truth first, and then Reconciliation. Clarence has also shown me how important it is to listen with your heart and your spirit, and that being on the land brings healing, connection and calm. Every time I am on the land, my shoulders drop, I breathe deeper, and I feel grounded.

Clarence has taught me that everyone brings their own gifts, and everyone’s gifts need to be honoured. I’m so grateful for his generous guidance and partnership – it has opened up my eyes and my heart to different ways of finding peace and harmony. I am hopeful that our shared work will create more room for Indigenous providers like Crow Shield Lodge. While there continue to be many “traditional mental health services” which are therapeutic, like the services at CMHA WW, I also know that many people will benefit from disconnecting from our fast-paced world, and reconnecting with nature. The land has a way of strengthening all things.
– Helen Fishburn
Learn more about Crow Shield Lodge and CMHA Waterloo Wellington

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