William Bearskin was born in Fort George and lives in Chisasibi with his wife, Linda Bearskin; he has six children and six grandchildren. He is currently member of the Chisasibi Justice Committee, coordinator of the Land-based program, and active support worker for the travelling court. During his teenage years William spent three years at a wilderness camp for troubled youth in Northern Saskatchewan and was later moved to live in a group home in Saskatoon for 18 months. His issues with the law continued in his adulthood when he was detained in Amos and other jails in the province due to his substance abuse. It took William five tries in treatment centers to get sober. His personal struggles with addictions, his healing journey, and his love of his family, have strengthened William’s resolve to Indigenize the justice system in Chisasibi and decriminalize substance abuse. Together with the Justice Committee and guided by community elders, William strives to implement culture-based restorative justice measures that are in line with Miyupimaatisiiun.
Irene Bearskin House was born and grew up on the land for the first seven years of her life after which she was forced to attend residential school in Fort George. She is a mother of four, grandmother and great-grandmother. Irene is the first generation of Cree to be trained as social worker and has spent the majority of her professional life working with youth in Chisasibi, first at the group home and later at the Youth Healing Services. Since her youth, she has been actively engaged in bringing back Cree teachings, medicines, and other culture-based wellness models into the health and social service provision. As a mother and grandmother, Irene sees her role as a keeper and teacher of culture at the heart of the family circle. She teaches a healing model that starts with a positive cultural identity nourished by love and trustful relationships and which is informed by personal experiences.
Lawrence (Larry) M. House remains my closest research partner and has largely contributed to the theoretical as well as methodological framework of the present research. Larry is a Sundance Chief, father of three and grandfather of eleven. He was born in Moose Factory, Ontario where he lived for the first seven years of his life and moved to Fort George in 1972. Larry received most of his education from the Chisasibi elders on the land and also worked in the field of addictions at Anishnawbe Health Toronto (AHT). Throughout his life, Larry has advocated for the integration of iiyiyiu healing models within the institutions that serve his community. His work has been to bring into the mainstream the knowledge and wisdom that his people hold sacred and to apply it in all facets of community daily life. Like in many Indigenous communities worldwide, he experienced the abuses that his people endured during the worst exercises of assimilation in the colonial history of Canada. His resilience is a testament to the healing inherent in his peoples’ worldview.
Roy Neacappo was born and grew up on the island of Fort George. He is the father of five and grandfather, and has worked for most of his life with youth, first as community policeman, then as teacher and has been, for the past 9 years, the Coordinator of Sports and Recreation in Chisasibi. Although Roy has struggled with substance abuse as a teen, he has maintained a strong and trustful relationship with his grandparents who taught him Cree family and social values based on respect and love. Roy also found inspiration and a positive cultural identity through his involvement with drumming and powwow singing that he continues to practice and expand in the community to this day. Roy is most involved in developing the social capacity in Chisasibi, especially among the youth. His approach is strength-centered and grassroots, focusing on creating trustful spaces and nourishing the potential of young people in Chisasibi by challenging them to be the best they can in everything they do. The fitness program developed in Chisasibi, one of the best in the Cree Nation, is a testament to Roy’s respect for and trust in youth’s strengths.
Denise Perusse grew up in Montreal and moved to Chisasibi, her mother’s community, twenty years ago. She is passionate about mental health and joined the Miyupimaatisiiun Committee in addition to taking the position of Cree Health Representative at the James Bay Eeyou School. Denise is a strong advocate for personal and collective healing, of living a balanced and healthy life, as well as integrating culture-based services within local and regional institutions. Her approach rests on building harmonious relationships through self-awareness, intergenerational knowledge transfer, and embodying positive role models. As a mother, Denise strives to create a safe and supporting community environment that will guide her children and those of others in making positive life choices. She believes that hard work, determination, commitment, imagination and compassion are necessary ingredients to building confidence and positive cultural identity. For Denise, decolonization and autonomy are achieved one step at a time, though conscious and sustained effort in everyday life.
Mike Polson was born and grew up in Kawawachikamach, his mother’s community; his father is from Temiskaming First Nation. Mike now lives in Chisasibi and is the proud father of a two-year old daughter. Mike has lived in North Bay where he was first introduced to the Sundance by the Friendship Center staff and his friends. The Sundance and other culture-based programs have helped Mike to lead a sober and positive life. He has always been fascinated with other Indigenous nations and has taken every opportunity to connect with Indigenous peoples across Canada. Having spent much of his youth in the city, Mike is now learning Cree language. His sense of solidarity with Indigenous struggles was most reflected in his participation in the Nishiiyuu Walk, which left a strong impression on him and strengthened his bonds with his Naskapi and Cree ancestry. He is dedicated to continuing his journey on the Red Road and remains an avid student of the Cree way of life.
Mary Louise Snowboy was born in Moose Factory and lived most of her life in Fort George and Chisasibi. She studied nursing in Montreal and completed a BA at University of Ottawa; she is for now the only Cree mental health nurse in the Nation. In her nursing career, that spans over twenty years, Mary Louise has worked as a clinician, liaison nurse, and cultural resource with the Cree Board of Health and Social Services. Although she has clinical training, Mary Louise was taught iiyiyiu care-giving practices by her grandparents in the bush. Her brother, Harry Snowboy is an accomplished healer and medicine man. She is currently the Chair of the Miyupimaatisiiun Committee and the interim coordinator of the Mental Health Department. Mary Louise promotes a holistic and multicultural model of care that has its roots in Cree land-based practices while also being open to integrate other culture-based approaches, be they traditional or clinical, Indigenous or non-Indigenous. Her own healing path is based on faith and spirituality that promotes self-awareness and respect for all Creation. Mary Louise strives to develop a culturally safe metal health model that is first and foremost patient-centered.