There is something about hunting with my uncle that makes me feel safe and protected. And no, it’s not because he is carrying a rifle. I think the determination in his eyes reminds me of how important it is for him to provide for my aunty, little cousins, and whomever else may need a meal. Or maybe it is the way he beams with pride when something familiar in the scenery sparks a memory about my grandpa, stories he can’t help but tell. Or maybe it is because despite his artillery and warrior-like stance, he still needs the delicate touch of my aunty and I to cut the meat just right so that it dries in the smoke to perfection. Whatever it is, it reminds me that I deserve to feel safe.
This year’s theme for Alberta’s Family Violence Prevention month (November) is Reach Out. Speak Out. A call to action to end family violence and support survivors. This aligns perfectly with the time of year because indigenous men are already mobilized -- as the moose hunting season is winding down, it is the best time to shift men's efforts. The Moosehide Campaign is a new movement for men to use and join on their journey to end violence against women. It will not be easy because a once matriarchal way of life has been turned upside down as one of many impacts made by residential schools.
From moose hunting to moosehide
There is something about moose calling with the rising sun and crisp fall air that makes going to bed the night before feel like Christmas. The smallest chance of seeing moose around the bend provides enough hope to keep your eyes peeled for hours. Even when the sun is at the highest point of the day and the tip of the gas gauge is dipping below empty, you still believe there is time to get what you came for. Knowing there is a small chance to lay eyes on your prize is all the hope you need to carry on. Rallying ambitious providers and protectors is where the Moose Hide Campaign comes in.
The Moosehide Campaign involves men at a grassroots level and has proven successful in other areas of the country so ABSI Connect, the Nistawoyou Friendship Centre and Waypoints (formally the Family Crisis Society) wanted to nurture its growth here in Fort McMurray. There isn’t an Indigenous man in northern Alberta who doesn’t appreciate a conversation about moose hunting. After all, when you are silently hunting moose for hours on end, there is a lot left unsaid and the Moosehide Campaign gives the men a safe place to share their thoughts and feelings. To make the connection between moose hunting and taking a stand against violence towards Indigenous women, we explore the many reasons of why moose hunting is so essential to us as Indigenous people in the first place.
More and more, conversations are taking place about violence against women, the quality of life of Indigenous women in the region and the country, and barriers for survivors because of the Moosehide Campaign. The passion in the eyes of the men involved is easy to see. Having a safe place to talk about something so difficult is important because everyone who has experienced violence needs to feel safe in order to be honest.
Having Waypoints at the table removes any barriers of accessibility to counseling services. Having healthy men who were once perpetrators and/or survivors of family violence at the table puts at ease any sense of shame or judgment that anyone might have. We hope to continuing to foster this environment with the tools of the Moosehide Campaign. A couple years ago I bought a large piece of moosehide for my failed attempt to make moccasins that is going to be made into the centres first batch of moosehide squares for everyone involved to proudly wear. Proof that everything happens for a reason.
What began as Paul Lecerte and his daughter, Raven, hoping to spark a discussion about missing and murdered Indigenous women has turned into a national campaign. There are many Indigenous men trying to protect and provide for their families. Individually, they are accomplishing small feats and with organization and support, deep and meaningful impacts will be made.
The rate of abuse for Indigenous women is three time the national average. And now more than ever Indigenous social innovation is needed to reach men at a grassroots level here in Fort McMurray. The stress of May 3rd wildfire has resulted in a spike in domestic abuse in the region and the communities, Indigenous and non, are calling for men to stand up and speak out about the violence being committed. The Moose Hide Campaign can act as that hope that keeps you looking around the bend for a moose with tired eyes and together we will protect and provide.
By Melissa Herman