A Journey to wellness through the Kotawe Project at All Nations Hope Network
- Dallas Montpetit | June 13, 2022
Struggling with addiction, Willow Warrior 6 (not her real name) moved to Regina to face her trauma — by going back to where it all began.
She recalled walking from service agency to service agency, only to be turned away because she didn’t fit their criteria to become a client.
That was until she found herself at the All Nations Hope Network (ANHN) located in North Central Regina.
“The doors here at All Nations didn’t have any criteria,” said Willow Warrior 6. “It was just a come as you are (place), and that began my journey — my journey with All Nations Hope,”
Today, she's found healing through a project at ANHN called Kotawe (start a fire): Restoring Indigenous women's roles and responsibilities through cultural intervention practices.
Kotawe is a collective of seven local Indigenous women, who have been given the name Willow Warriors.
To follow community research ethical guidelines, names are kept confidential in this program.
The Willow Warriors act as role models to Indigenous women in their community and create safe spaces for those with diverse life experiences, according to Miranda Keewatin, ANHN research associate.
They are leaders in strengthening and building the capacity of Indigenous communities, said Keewatin.
“The Kotawe group has helped me to understand that I’m not alone,” said Willow Warrior 6. “There’s other women who are suffering from the same turmoil I carried.”
The women are all at different stages of healing, she added.
“We give each other support,” she said. “We hold each other’s hands knowing that we’re not alone … I do (this) to make changes for my grandchildren and my children. But most of all, I’m learning to love myself.”
Willow 6’s journey is testament to the stated purpose of Kotawe — to develop, implement and assess the impact of land- and gender-based cultural interventions that address risk behaviour, mental health, and trauma by fostering wellness among Indigenous women.
“I can honestly say that the community definitely see(s) a change in me,” said Willow Warrior 6. “I don’t drink as often as I used to. I don’t choose to pick up a bottle to solve my problems.”
Cultural intervention practices include sweat lodge ceremonies, moon ceremonies, medicine gathering and processing, drum making, land-based learning, language lessons, sharing circles and other seasonal teachings, which are led by local Elders, Knowledge Keepers and community-based navigators.
“For myself, the highlight of the group is interaction with Mother Nature,” said Willow Warrior 6. “It’s healing our people (who) have come from Residential School, foster care. It’s helped me to understand the damage that was done to my family.”
Kotawe is in its final year of the five-year project, and the research team is hard at work compiling the data for a final report.
“The experience is life changing — a whole new world is opening up for me,” said Willow Warrior 6.
She is worried about the program ending.
“It’s dire.” she said. “We need this group to survive … I’m trying to figure out what I can do to keep this alive.”
ANHN is a frontline service organization and regional network based in Treaty 4 Territory that provides support to First Nations, Inuit, and Métis families. The organization leads community-based research across Saskatchewan, with active involvement from their community members and researchers.
To learn more about ANHN, visit their website at www.allnationshope.ca.
Montpetit is currently employed at ANHN and is part of the INCA Summer Institute, where this article was produced.