Strength in Circle: Men get training to help them help others in Norway House Cree Nation

With hope on their hearts, a group of men from northern Manitoba has come to Winnipeg on a mission to help their community.

The Norway House Cree Nation group, known as Strength in the Circle, is a trauma-healing support group for Indigenous men They are in Winnipeg this week learning crisis and employment skills needed back home.

“The violence is getting out of hand. The drugs is getting out of hand. And for us, I think we can reach out to them and talk to them,” Leon Colon said on Thursday.

“For me, personally, I’ve been down that path … it’s not the way to go … you can end up in bad places, takes you to a bad place and I don’t want to see that for the youth back home.”

An aerial view of a community.
The community of Norway House Cree Nation in northern Manitoba. (Norway House Cree Nation/Facebook)

The program was formed by executive director Jonathan Miekle, who grew up in Norway House.

Miekle, who has endured struggles with addiction, anxiety and depression, says he created Strength in the Circle after a life-changing event.

“Me and my friend got on a bus. An individual tried to provoke me with a knife. He went after somebody else. I ended up intervening — I disarmed and detained him. However, I was stabbed in the process,” Miekle said.

A man with glasses, a hat and grey sweater stands near an open window.
Leon Colon says violence is getting out of hand on Norway House Cree Nation. (Randall McKenzie/CBC)

He says he saw the violence as a cry for help.

“All I knew were the things I shared in common with him” Miekle said. “He was Indigenous. He was a man. He was a youth. He was exhibiting behaviours of violence. He had substance use issues.” 

Miekle and the man who stabbed him became friends, and Strength in the Circle was born — men helping each other heal.

It’s an organization built in response to the prevalence of untreated trauma in Indigenous communities often the result of historical and collective trauma that stems from discriminatory practices.

The group is also starting to bring more attention to the impact of the residential school system, Miekle says, including the symptoms of historical trauma that translate into addiction, incarceration and early death.

Hanson McKay is part of the group that is making it first trip to Winnipeg, and will be in the city until Tuesday, taking in a week’s worth of workshops, volunteering and joining patrols..

“Johnny [Miekle] got ahold of me and asked me if I was interested in this training,” McKay said. “He was also looking for other guys to join. So I went out and looked for some people who had the same interests as I did.” 

He says the main focus of the group is Norway House’s youth.

A man stands in a room.
Hanson McKay believes the training he’s receiving in Winnipeg will help him connect with members of his community who are struggling with addiction and trauma. (Randall McKenzie/CBC)

“This training has shown me a lot, how to connect with people in a positive manner. We’re taking suicide prevention program training, which is very helpful to us, because there is a lot stuff we did not know, that we know now.”

Through recognizing and addressing historical trauma, Miekle hopes the men come away with tools to help their people.

“The vehicle to get to that place we want to be is to build up our supports every way we can … to inform all our policies and ways of operating in all our departments,” he said.

“To me, that’s what I think is going to get us to that place of collective healing.”

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