Native-Jewish partnership focuses on health

Canadian Jewish News logo-2014-300x116Avrum Rosensweig, The CJN, Wednesday,
May 20, 2015

I write this article while visiting native reserves in the Kenora, Ont., region. We are staying in a Super 8 Motel, and a sign outside says: “Burton Cummings performing. Tickets inside. Cool!”

I am here with Hanita Tiefenbach  and Leah Silverman, Ve’ahavta staff.  Our goals are to strengthen our relationship with the Kenora Chiefs Advisory, a group composed of several chiefs; familiarize ourselves with the reserves we will be working with; and integrate two health promotions fellows through our Briut program

Briut, which means “health” or “wellness,” is funded by the Ontario Trillium  Foundation. It is a three-year program run in partnership with the Kenora Chiefs Advisory. The program is Ve’ahavta’s first Jewish-Aboriginal program.

Among the communities affiliated with the Kenora Chiefs Advisory are Shoal Lake 40 First Nations, Ochiichagwe’Babigo’Ining First Nation, Grassy Narrows First Nations, Naotkamegwanning First Nation, Wabaseemoong Independent First Nation, Obashkaandagaang First Nation, Wauzhushk Onigum First Nation and Northwest Angle 33.

Kenora is beautiful. It is set on Lake of the Woods and has a reputation for some of the best boating and fishing in the world. I arrived here in the rain, on Bearskin Airlines’ turbo prop plane with 18 seats. On the way to Kenora, we first landed in Dryden and Fort Francis, small Northern Ontario “shtetls.”

It was a tad harrowing, as the winds were strong and I suffer from agoraphobia. But I made it and my knuckles are intact.

The hospitality we have experienced through our partners has been Abrahamic in nature. Last Tuesday, we celebrated the spring solstice at Dalles Indian Reserve, which has 200 residents. The sound of the drums went right through me, and the gifts we received from Chief Lorraine Cobiness, an Ojibway native, were lovely. We raised the gifts to the Creator in sync with the rhythm of the beats as we danced in a circle.

Paula Broeders, a Ve’ahavta fellow, will operate out of the Dalles Reserve.

We also visited Whitefish Reserve, or Naotkamegwanning First Nation. Our host was Chief Howard Kabestra. It is there that our second fellow, Dr. Jennifer Wesley, an Aboriginal medical doctor, will work. She will be the first native doctor working on the reserve.

We were introduced to their health centre by Kabestra, who stated proudly that the community also has a women’s shelter. The chief pointed out that the health centre has received an Accreditation Canada stamp of approval – “a big deal” for them.

Whitefish has the Black River Youth Camp, where the children learn about their culture, including drumming, dancing and fishing.

“We are doing incredible things in times of crisis,” Kabestra said. “All of this fresh out of residential school.”

His statement is a compelling one because it reflects clarity about his and his people’s history and a level of hope and pride one would not necessarily expect from a native community.

Through my trip, however, I have discovered a number of dynamic leaders, including chiefs Cobiness and Kabestra, individuals who work hard on behalf of their people.

I have also discovered some very special personalities and am excited about our Jewish-Aboriginal initiatives. I look forward to learning from our native counterparts and sharing with them the beauty of the Jewish People.


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