Healthy Living in the North

Wellness Warriors

Sign on the outside of the Wellness House

The Wellness Warriors gather weekly at the Wellness House in Masset to nurture wellness.

It’s 5:00 p.m. on a Tuesday and so the space at the Wellness House (across the road from the Masset library) opens up. It always does, like breathing, and when it does, people gather here with intention. Tonight, there is the usual bustle in the kitchen: people joking and laughing. Someone is looking for a can opener – turns out we left it at camp this summer. Someone else runs off to get cream for the coffee; we should have told them to get a can opener, too! Venison stew simmers on the stove (Haw’aa to the cook); someone else made rice. I brought homemade fermented pickles (again!) and we all know who brought the salad. The energy in the room is comfortable, welcoming, safe, and fun. We are the Wellness Warriors.

After dinner, and the kinds of discussions that dinners seem to inspire, we form a circle in the living room. Passing the feather around, we all speak and bring ourselves into the room together. This circle is the heart of us warriors: pumping vitality through the community of wellness we are creating. There is much courage and much kindness that happens in this circle. It transforms us.

Colorful four-canvas art image of multi-coloured yin-yang symbol with feathers and other shapes

An image of a yin-yang (balance) with four coloured feathers (wholeness and diversity) hanging down. This image is broken down into separate canvases that we pass to our left every 10 minutes or so. As they go around, we each contribute shapes and colours in dialogue with the other shapes and colours on the canvas. The art reflects our group intention: everyone is contributing to the process of creating something beautiful – something that is more than the sum of its parts. You could call that something wellness and we, its warriors.

Then, fed, connected, and present, we delve into the activity of the week. The group determines what it does: picking berries, making candles, talking about colonialism, searching for crabs, discussing shame, playing charades, or any number of other things. This evening, we have decided to work on an art project that we will exhibit at the annual All Island Art Show. Someone plugs their iPod into the speakers and the energy in the room shifts again as we delve into creativity.

The Wellness Warriors is a weekly gathering of people focused on nurturing wellness. The group, originally modelled after the Adult Addictions Day Treatment Program, evolved over the past three years to dynamically fit the context of our community’s particular needs and resources. The group is facilitated through a strong partnership between the Haida Health Centre and Northern Health as well as through the support of other community partners like the Haida Gwaii Society for Community Peace and the various guests and contributors who have come and shared with the group over the years. Most notably, however, the group functions through the participation of the people who come to the group, who champion the group’s wellness orientation, and who support the values of nonjudgmental acceptance, connectedness, confidentiality, and respect. The Wellness Warriors is a truly community-based, non-hierarchal, client-focused, client-driven, open group that is both nourishing and transformational.

Want to learn more about the Wellness Warriors? Check out this presentation I gave as part of a webinar series last year.

Four members of the group pose outside of the community building

Members of the Wellness Warriors team gather outside of the Wellness House.

Who are some of the Northern Health team members involved with the Wellness Warriors? My bio is in the author section of this post but two other team members are:

Sandra Dan (far left in the photo) is a mental health and addiction counsellor with the Old Massett Haida Health Centre. She is originally from Sto:lo Nation in the Lower Mainland of B.C. Sandra has lived in Old Massett, Haida Gwaii since 1985. She is married to a Nisgaa/Haida from Old Massett and is mother/stepmother of four, grandmother of 15, and great-grandmother of one. Sandra worked in the field of social services and child welfare in downtown Vancouver for 10 years, social development in Old Massett for six and a half years, and as social work team leader for Khowutzun Tribes for one year before starting with mental health and addictions for Old Massett Haida Health in 1984. Sandra’s interests include walking the beach, gathering food, beading and leatherwork, coffee with her buds, reading, and watching good movies.

Darlene M. Stoddard (far right in photo) is a life skills worker with Northern Health mental health and addictions. Darlene comes from the east coast of Canada. She graduated from New Brunswick Community College in 2010 as a patient care aide in acute care. Since graduating – and even before college – Darlene has supported clients with mental illnesses, some who suffered with dual diagnoses. She is also extremely skilled at working with adolescents who suffer from the autism spectrum disorder or fetal alcohol spectrum disorder. Darlene feels privileged and honoured to have recently been able to accept the position of Life Skills Worker II with Northern Health.

Dan Binnema

About Dan Binnema

Dan is a father of two young children, living happily on Haida Gwaii. Seven years ago, he quit a great job with the mobile crisis response team in Calgary, spent a summer canoeing across northern Canada with his pregnant wife, became a father, and moved with his family to Haida Gwaii, the islands of his dreams. He has been working in Masset as a mental health and addictions clinician with Northern Health for just over six years, with no plans of leaving. In his time in Masset, he has become increasingly connected to the land, the food it offers, and the community it nourishes. This connectedness spills over into his work as a clinician, most notably within the community of the Wellness Warriors group.

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