Greg Providence, new to MWPA is a First Nations person who has lived his life on a reserve. Greg has completed one year of Breakout Program (Recovery and rehabilitation) at Hope Mission. He joked recently that first nations persons often like refugees when they come off the reserves. They have very little, but the courage it takes to leave the familiar, as wretched as it is, in search of a better life.
The goal of the Buss/Goltz Life Group is to implement a refugee resettlement model to assist Greg to integrate into a healthy Christian community and to help him achieve his desire to be healthy, settled, structured, financially independent, and integrated.
What follows is information about the Dene people and the Providence family compiled by Doug Majaesic to understand the magnitude of need.
Greg is from Assumption, now known as Chateh, which is an Indian reservation in northern Alberta situated about 900 kilometres by road from Edmonton. It is a community ravaged by cultural and economic isolation, and by alcohol. If you were interested in knowing more about the Dene people: The Dene called End of Earth People. Co-Written by Ivan Gaetz, the son of Ken and Sarah Gaetz who started the sub-arctic Mission of the PAOC in the 1950’s. Ivan is now the Dean of Libraries at the University of Wyoming. The book recounts the experiences of Father Bern Will Brown, a priest who lived among those people for 60 years and provides great insight into the thinking and culture of the Dene people, particularly after contact with white society. The social and spiritual condition of these northern communities is deplorable.
His is a tragic but compelling story. His father Modeste was a trapper. They lived in a small run-down house on the reserve. I believe his parents loved him but were too addicted to alcohol to care for him properly. As a child, he would frequently hide from the drinking parties that went on in his parents’ home. He grew up witnessing violence between his parents. He tried to look after them, even as a child, but was himself severely neglected and at times abandoned by them. Through it all, he sought to do the right thing and remained loyal to his parents.
He developed an addiction to alcohol that for many years got him into trouble with the law. I have represented him in court since he was 15 years of age. He is now 41. I have come to know him well. We have included him in many of our forays into the NWT for camping and fishing, and he has come to know some of the members of our church life group who have also been with us.
Greg was in a long term common law relationship with Monica Kolay. They have three children, Kirk (21), Mariah (19) and Sherman (13). Monica is an alcoholic He and Monica separated about six years ago at the urging of Monica’s parents who have always thought highly of Greg and continue to be his biggest supporters. They have worked with Greg as he has tried to parent his children.
A series of major setbacks occurred in Greg’s life – starting about 16 months ago when he found himself on a path in Assumption, unable to move and freezing to death. Doctors told him later that he would not have survived another twenty minutes. On the way to the hospital, his heart stopped twice. At the hospital, they discovered that he also had a broken neck. It appears that he was severely beaten and left to die.
Greg spent about six weeks in hospital in Edmonton and then, unable to get into a suitable treatment program to help him dealt with his addiction, he returned to Assumption to be near to his kids and to help his parents who were quite frail. One night a couple of months later Greg went out drinking, leaving his father alone in the house. When he returned in the morning, he couldn’t get in. After crawling through the window, he found his father dead on the kitchen floor, burned beyond recognition.
Last summer Greg was in the north with me and my son Max. He made the decision to stop drinking for the first time in his life and poured out the bottle of whisky in front of us. Greg hasn’t looked back. He stayed at the camp for the better part of a month, some of it alone, and then came to Edmonton and enrolled in the Breakout Program at the Hope Mission. He is now into his eighth month there, much to the amazement of the people ‘back home’ and is looking forward to graduating from the program this summer. Recently, his son Kirk (aged 21) came to the program and joined him. Arnold Danais, who is about the same age as Greg, came down from the north with me a month ago and enrolled in the program, as did Burton Ahkimnachie, another of Greg’s friends from the same Band, two weeks ago. Burton checked himself out of the hospital where he was under treatment for alcohol poisoning. He did not want to miss his chance of getting a ride to Edmonton to join the Breakout Program with the others. These guys are now doing well.
Greg’s son Kirk told me that he is amazed by how much his dad has changed. Greg’s supervisors at the program are impressed with how well Greg is doing. I was told that they had a meeting last week to talk about the people from Assumption and how they might encourage even more to come into the program. Greg’s presence and enthusiasm are a real draw for others in the north. Many, it seems, are aware of what he is doing, and I am getting inquiries from other current and former clients who say they want to do the same thing. These queries are happening just about every day. Those in their 30’s and 40’s recognise that this is a matter of survival now, having witnessed so many alcohol related deaths among their friends and families.
Greg’s goal is to have his younger son, Sherman and his daughter Mariah join him as he tries to develop a new life away from the reserve. They are cheering him on, hoping that he can succeed. (Sherman at 12 years of age walked through the community with his dad one day, fighting off the drunks who were trying to get Greg to drink – swatting and yelling at them to leave his dad alone). Their great hope is to be able to come to Edmonton and have a better life. Greg, Kirk and Sherman have been to Millwoods church. Sherman came down to Edmonton to visit his dad after his release from the hospital in 2015 and came to church with us, remarking afterwards that “if I ever move to Edmonton, this is the church I want to go.”
Greg has a great relationship with many of the people from our ( Buss/Goltz) Life Group. He and Rod Janz have spent time together fishing in the NWT and have been out hunting together a few times over the past several months. Last summer some of the families of our Life Group were up in the NWT together, and Greg was with us. Dwight and Linda Goltz know him as well. He was also with them when they spent ten days together on the Coppermine River two years ago. Everyone likes him. He built the medical “shack” at the Shiloh Youth Ranch and did a good job of it with his friend Paul – a carpenter from Assumption. This work was done under the direction of Fred and Barb Buss, who are also members of our Life Group. And he has travelled with my family and me into the remote regions of the NWT, always energetic and enthusiastic about being out in the bush and whatever the task at hand happens to be.
There is a lot of talk about solutions for indigenous populations, and we know that our governments throw vast sums of money at the problem. Unfortunately, no amount of transfer payments to the Bands will solve the problems.
There is no reason to live there and a thousand reasons to leave. There is no industry, and there never will be. It is an artificial economy, and cannot be sustained. Too many feel relegated to their shacks, dependent on small welfare payments, with a profound sense of hopelessness and despair. It isn’t surprising that in these conditions alcohol abuse is rampant.
I believe that the solution for the Bands is simply the answer for the individual – writ large – and that is to leave and enter the larger Canadian experience, with a job, and a home, a community of good friends and, of course, to find new life in a relationship with Christ. This vital relationship is nurtured in a Christian community, as Christ intended.
Leaving these reserves is something that many of the people I meet want. There are many roadblocks – which at times seem too daunting. Much of Canadian society is still wary of native people, and in some cases, downright hostile to them. I can give you many examples from my personal experiences that will attest to this, but I think we know that this is often the case.
Because of the conditions on the reserve, many lack education and marketable skills. Even if they have skills, or are willing to work hard, racism can make finding employment difficult. Social isolation and discrimination in the broader Canadian society can make a living off the reserve a sad and lonely experience.
Help us assist Greg to integrate into the healthy Christian community and to help him achieve his desire to be healthy, settled, structured, financially independent, and integrated.