Drum Making With Culture Saves Lives June 12 and June 14 2018

Culture Saves Lives joined the DUDES Club in Vancouver for a two-day drum workshop. The men spent several hours cutting, punching, and stretching the elk hide. The first day was spent cutting and punching the hides. The second day was spent stretching the hides over cedar supports. Many thanks to John and Earl, from Culture Saves Live, who worked hard to share their knowledge of the drum with the men. 



Eagle Valley Retreat, Squamish Valley, April 20 2018

If you were up early on Friday morning, April 20th, in front on the Vancouver Native Health Society you would of witnessed a group of men gathering. These men were eagerly awaiting vans to transport them to the annual DUDES Club retreat. This year the retreat was hosted by Eagle Valley Retreat and was located in Upper Squamish Valley, Squamish BC. 

Twenty-one males filed into vans for the trip to Squamish. The ride to Eagle Valley was a scenic feast for the eyes, mind, and soul as the drivers wound their way along the sea-to-sky Highway. Some vans could not resist the opportunity to stop along the way to take in the breath taking scenery. For some, the trip was a first and for others it was a long time coming to take the trip again.

After the vans drove through the city of Squamish, the men ventured onto a winding dirt road, enclosed by a thick canopy of trees. The majestic road set the tone for the retreat and took them to the door of Eagle Valley Retreat. The men were greeted by staff and were given a brief overview of the grounds and facilities. After orienting themselves to the facility (Coach House and Lodge) the DUDES Club kitchen crew, led by Derek Harry, started making lunch. It was decided that this year the men themselves would prepare meals. It was the skill-set of Derek Harry and the hard working crew that made the meals a success. 

After a hearty lunch of Bannock Tacos, the men walked to Anderson Beach, a sandbar located on Squamish River. Here, the men participated in a smudge in the presents of the powerful setting of the river and mountains. A few brave souls ventured into the swift and fridge waters of the Squamish River. Others took in the landscape skipped rocks, chatted, and enjoyed the company of each other in the embrace of mother earth.

The men headed back to the Lodge, along the way chatting and visiting local horse farms. After a feast of moose stew, prepared by the kitchen crew, the men settled in. After relaxation and socializing the men participated in a brushing off ceremony and talking circle facilitated by Greg Dimmer (Culture Saves Lives).  Some of the men took advantage of the sauna for additional healing. As the night moved on, a fire circle formed and gradually the group settled in for the night.

The men woke early and were met with a heart felt breakfast of eggs, toast, bacon, and fried baloney. Again, the kitchen crew stepped up to the challenge and fed the men one-by-one as they awoke from a much-needed reprieve from the day-to-day grind of the DTES. The morning shifted into midday and the men participated in a talking circle followed by a salmon feast. After a full lunch the men tidied up the lodge and filed into the vans for the trip home.

Men commented that each retreat is different and they take different things from each retreat. The retreat this year was no exception. Each man reported something that was significant to him personally. Men reported everything from engaging in nature and ceremony to an opportunity to get away from the daily grind. One thing that is common from one man to another is that the retreats are a safe opportunity for healing. In this way the men support each other, in a good way, along their healing journeys. 




Moose Hide Campaign’s7th annual Provincial Gathering and Day of Fasting (Victoria)

On February 14th, people gathered in support of the Annual Women’s Memorial March on Main and Hastings. After participating in ceremony, Elders and family members of murdered and missing Indigenous women emerged from the Carnegie Center into the gathering and accompanying drumming and song. The group slowly moved along the annual route, beginning at Main and Hastings, through Gastown and then east down Hastings, stopping at various locations where women were last seen. During the march eagles were seen circling above.

Members of the DUDES Club were present at the Women’s March to show their support. This support extended into the next day as five members represented the DUDES Club at the Moose Hide Campaign’s 7th annual Provincial Gathering and Day of Fasting.  

The men gathered at 7am in front of Vancouver Native Health Society and piled into the van for the drive to the ferry. After boarding, there was reflection of the previous days participation in the march. The men also were focused on supporting each other through the long day of fasting ahead.

On deck of the ferry, the crossing was windy and brisk. Yet, the men took comfort as they gradually met others on the ferry that were also heading to the convention. The DUDES met a group from the Circle of Eagles Lodge Society. They joined together in song and drumming amongst the Islands, water, and sky. The men felt warmth in the knowledge they were not alone in their expression of support for women. Their hearts lifted and emotionally recharged they headed to the convention in downtown Victoria.

After the DUDES checked in at the conference center, they joined many other men, women and children to march toward the Parliament Buildings. One of the members of the DUDES Club took this opportunity to shake the hand of John Horgan, Premier of B.C.

At the steps of the Parliament Buildings the DUDES witnessed speeches from the Moose Hide organizers, Elders, members of parliament and other distinguished guests such as the founders of the Moose Hide Campaign and the Premier of B.C. Of particular note, for the DUDES, was the performance by the Butterflies in Spirit dance group that honours lost women through dance.

After a wellness break, the members of the DUDES Club joined other participants in workshops, which included: Reconciliation Dialogue by Reconciliation Canada, and The Power of Our Own Story - Men Returning to Our Traditional Roles in the Community by Glenn Patterson. The days hard work was wrapped in singing, drumming, medicine, ceremony, and protocol.

The highlight of the conference was the ‘fast breaking ceremony’, which included both men and women expressing solidarity and commitment to addressing violence towards Indigenous women and children. The fast breaking ceremony was followed by a light meal and guest speakers after which the DUDES retired to their rooms for a well deserved night of sleep.

The next day was met with a hearty breakfast and conversation about the workshops the day before. Some of the men chose to take a walk through historic Chinatown and explore the Parliament Buildings.

The ferry ride home was spent eating and reflecting on topics such as colonialism, the sixties scoop, residential schools, and how it affects their families and their own lives today. The men had a meaningful experience during this trip and with a revitalized sense of solidarity are now ready to share, in a good way, with the other men at the Vancouver DUDES Club.









Visioning Retreat (Bowen Island)

On a brisk clear November morning a group of researchers, social workers, health practitioners and academics made their way via water taxi, car sharing, bicycling, and city transit, to Granville Island. The group was invited to take part in a Visioning Retreat at Xenia Creative Development Centre. Together, they boarded the vessel ‘Cormorant 1’ and headed out of English bay through the Burrard Inlet, into the entrance of the Howe Sound Fjord, toward Bowen Island, and docked in Snug Cove.

After a short orientation to the center, the group made their way through a swinging gate into a lush fall garden that led them past the grazing horses to the Gathering Place, a thirty-foot yurt. Upon entry, footwear was removed and the group moved into the welcoming warmth of the circular yurt. A tight configuration of ‘floor chairs’ that encircled a lotus themed rug completed the inviting atmosphere.

To prepare themselves for the work ahead the group participated in a smudge/welcoming circle conducted by our Elder Sandy Lambert. Refreshed, folks were invited to form a circle on the ‘floor chairs’; introductions and backgrounds of the participations were shared.

A presentation by Dr. Paul Gross and Elder Sandy Lambert outlined the three phases of the DUDES Club; Phase One as the first meetings, Phase Two that described the research conducted with the club, and finally Phase Three being the present expansion in northern communities in BC. The presentation sparked much conversation, particularly around constructs of masculinity, notions of men’s wellness, and the intersectionalities related to geography, cycles of violence, socio-economic inequity, and gender.

A much-welcomed team building activity was facilitated by Frank Cohn and was complimented by a hardy organic lunch comprised of fresh kale, soup, and melted cheese on toasted bread. After lunch the group split into smaller groups to explore the grounds. Some ventured to the Labyrinth, while others chose to take a walk in the woods or have one-on-one conversations.

The group reconvened in the yurt to workshop the DUDES Club Mission Statement, Vision Statement, Objectives, Values, and key Metrics. After splitting into smaller groups, the participants reformed their circle and discussed their findings. Much work was accomplished and it was agreed that the retreat felt like a beginning of a new phase for the club. Before leaving the grounds, the group stopped and gathered to visit Opa, a 1000 year Douglas Fir tree.

As the sun began to wane, the group made their way to Snug Cove to rendezvous with the ‘Cormorant 1’, which would take them across the water back to Granville Island. It was fitting, as the group dispersed, that the sunset light on the Howe Sound mountains marked completion of the retreat, as each participant left with a renewed vision of the DUDES Clubs and reinforced conviction to supporting men’s wellness. 


West Moberly Retreat

On Thursday, October 26 three representatives from the Vancouver DUDES Club, Frank Cohn (Program Director), Sandy Lambert (Elder and External Liaison), and Jason Fitzpatrick (UNBC Placement Student) arrived in Fort St. John. The night was spent preparing presentations and mulling over the agenda for the retreat taking place at Cameron Lake in West Moberly over the next few days. 

The next day, the DUDES Club Team drove to Chetwynd for a luncheon meeting with the organizer of the retreat Patricia Hoard, (Health Manager for West Moberly First Nation), and the support team for the retreat. The lunch was an opportunity to get acquainted and prepare for the weekend. Then it was back to the hotel for a much-needed nap and a bit more work.

Later that day the group gathered at School District 60’s Outdoor Education Center located on Cameron Lake. Introductions and an offering of tobacco to Elder George Desjarlais established a welcoming atmosphere. Elder George Desjarlais conducted an opening circle that welcomed folks and also recognized the Dunne-Za and Cree Territories.  Elder George Desjarlais extended the local hospitality by cooking a feast of chili for the retreat participants. The atmosphere was open and friendly as the group participated in stories around the campfire, card games and conversation. The men concluded the night by laying out their bedroles in the bunkhouse.

The next morning started bright and early with a hearty serving of eggs, sausage and bacon prepared by Jordan Garbitt and Julian Napoleon. Soon after feasting together the participants officially started the day with a smudge led by Elder Sandy Lambert.

After the men settled in, the work began with a viewing of the DUDES Club Documentary. The documentary was followed by a presentation of an overview of the DUDES Club’s past, present and projected expansion in northern communities. The presentation and documentary sparked much conversation, particularly around local concerns specifically about men’s wellness and the interconnectedness of men’s wellness and the health of the communities in which they live. 

The afternoon was met with a much deserved moose stew and bannock feast that was skillfully prepared, and demonstrated by Art Napoleon. Some participants were asked to assist in the preparation of the feast; all were well nourished physically and in spirit. The beautiful brisk day invited the men to join together to continue their work outside around the fire pit. Much was discussed, in detail, of a feasible plan that would introduce a club for men’s wellness tailored for the surrounding community. Much was accomplished and an opportunity taken to stretch their legs, relax their minds, and lift their spirits the men walked together to Beaver Lake.

To reenergize, the men gathered for a choice of boiled, baked or pan fried jumbo whitefish.  Some chose to taste a bit of each with their potatoes, carrots and bannock. After feasting together the participants took a quick break. Art Napoleon then led a discussion pertaining to ‘Two-Eyed-Seeing’. The presentation proved to be a much-needed outlet for some of the men and was a catalyst to an in-depth dialogue concerning language, identity, community and values. The night was concluded with a cribbage tournament that provided levity and camaraderie amongst the men. The tournament went late into the night and provided a means to reflect on the day’s topics. The men then turned-in and one-by-one slept well.

 Folks woke early to a crisp cool morning. For breakfast, pancakes were served and the gesture was appreciated and welcomed. Ivan Paquette conducted a closing circle to wrap up the retreat. However, the day was not finished. The plans for the day shifted as the group decided to accept the invitation, by Elder George Desjarlais, to help with the construction of a sweat on the site of West Moberly Reserve. Building the sweat was a perfect way to conclude the retreat as the men worked in solidarity to build the sweat for the communities wellness and their own. 


Loon Lake Retreat October 2017

On a bright and sunny afternoon, three vans left the Downtown Eastside and headed east toward Loon Lake. The remote location of the University of British Columbia research facility was apparent as the Dudes drove up the winding dirt road toward the isolated location of the Loon Lake Lodge and Retreat Center.

The retreat may have began on October the 4th 2017, yet when a long time member arrived at Loon Lake he turned to the Doctor and exclaimed “It took us seven years to get here”. The retreat was a long time dream in the making for the Dudes Club. It came to fruition as twenty-one men came together for three days and two nights of feasting, workshops, talking circles and Indigenous ceremony. The purpose of the retreat was to celebrate, heal, and contemplate the origins of the Dudes Club, where it presently stands, and the possibilities moving forward.

Sandy Lambert, the Dudes Club Elder, welcomed the Dudes Club members to the retreat with a traditional circle and smudge. Shortly after, representatives from the Kamloops Dudes Club joined the group. After some introductions, the Dudes settled into their rooms and prepared for their first meal together at the retreat.

After a relaxing meal, the Dudes congregated around a campfire under a clear sky surrounded by a quite cool crisp fall evening.  The men spent the night chatting, drumming, listening to guitar music (provided by Bob Chippeway), and telling stories.

The next morning was kicked started with coffee and a hearty breakfast, after which the Dudes gathered for a traditional smudge lead by the Elder. Shortly after, a talking circle lead by Dr. Paul Gross gave the Dudes an opportunity for formal introductions, overview of the retreat, and sharing of recent activities of the Dudes Club near home and in Northern communities of B.C.

    The men, refreshed, headed out on a hike in the woods that surrounded Loon Lake. After lunch, the Dudes refocused for a workshop facilitated by David Hatfield that concentrated on external influences that define masculinity for society and men.

To decompress after the workshop, some men chose to canoe on the glass-like surface of the lake, while others took the opportunity to play cards, contemplate alone or with others. Dinner was served and when finished the Dudes gathered to watch the movie Crazy Heart. Once again, the night concluded around a campfire accompanied by song and conversation.

The morning was embraced with coffee and the men fuelled themselves with a healthy breakfast. The Dudes gathered by the lake’s edge to participate in a smudge conducted by Elder Sandy Lambert. The morning ceremony provided a positive frame of mind for the Visioning Circle conducted by Frank Cohn. All gathered in a circle to discuss questions like: What does Dude's club look like to you? What are the Dudes Club’s next steps? The facilitation explored these questions and more as a large group and as three smaller groups. The circle concluded with a team building activity.

Before the closing circle, some Dudes went on the lake for a final canoe, and some took advantage of some much-needed time to debrief through one-on-one or group conversation. Before lunch Paul Gross summarized the retreat during a closing circle. The circle gave the men an opportunity to reflect on what occurred, the possibilities to come and to thank partners, such as ST. PAULS FOUNDATION, who made the weekend possible. It was also an emotional time for some, as past Dudes were fondly remembered.

A final meal was spent together before the trip home. A smudge preceded the men piling into vehicles for the drive home. The weather turned from blue skies to rain. It seemed a fitting transition as the men started to say their goodbyes and parted ways to head home.



The National Gathering for Graduate Students

The National Gathering for Graduate Students

The DUDES Club team was invited to present at the National Gathering for Graduate Students, Institute of Aboriginal Peoples Health, hosted by CIHR. The conference is hosted annually, and typically kept small and specific, so our team felt quite honoured to have been invited to present. Any opportunity to share the DUDES Club message is greatly appreciated. This gathering, in particular, was very valuable because we had the opportunity to talk to future health care professionals – people who hold the potential to make a large difference in indigenous peoples’ daily lives.

We arrived the evening of the 13th to catch the end of the award ceremony and dinner. It was a great networking opportunity, and our team was happy to see familiar and unfamiliar faces alike. We made some good connections that evening, in preparation for the following day.

The next day started at 7:30, with breakfast, then several sessions followed by a health break. The sessions were very interesting, all focusing on indigenous peoples health; for example, the results of one study indicated that if indigenous youths and teens are connected to their culture, they are less likely to use or abuse substances. Our presentation was scheduled to start in the late morning. Having been allotted 75 minutes of time, we were able to go through our PowerPoint, share our documentary, and have time for questions. The presentation was a huge success, and it sparked a lot of conversation afterwards. The networking dinner that evening provided many connections regarding our work with the DUDES. It was a great day!

 The team after our presentation.

The team after our presentation.

We spent one extra day in Ottawa beyond the conference to attend some meetings with local indigenous groups. We were able to meet with members of Wabano to discuss potential partnering for an event coming up in September. In the afternoon we met with the First Nations and Inuit Health Branch, to share our documentary and some of our findings. This was another very successful meeting – FNIHB agreed to collaborate during the September event as well.  

Altogether, this trip to Ottawa was incredibly successful. Our message was well-received by a room of interested future health care providers, and we were able to connect with some important individuals regarding policy.

Hike Swɘyqe?!

(This phrase was created by our Musqueam Elder, Henry Charles. It translates to “Cool Man”, which we say after every meeting to mean “The DUDES” because we are cool men).

Indigenous Health Conference: Lessons learned

And we’re off! Another trip to spread the word of the DUDES. Our team travelled to Toronto to present at the Indigenous Health Conference, held May 26-27th. This conference is one of the only Indigenous Health Conferences in the country – a great opportunity to network and share the DUDES experiences. Individuals from every province and territory in Canada, along with international visitors, were present. We connected with professionals from many areas such as health care, public policy, community engagement, and research.

The conference started at 7:00 am on the 26th, so our team was up bright and early (4:00 am BC time, and most of us felt the jet lag) to see the keynote speakers. We were welcomed by Dr. Malcolm King of the Mississaugas of the New Credit First Nations, and then the conference began.

Throughout the rest of the conference, we were lucky to hear from many esteemed speakers. Margaret Froh, the newly elected president of the Métis Nation of Ontario, spoke on the history of Métis peoples, and on the recent Daniels v. Canada case (check out this link, or this one, for background information), in which it was decided that the Federal Government of Canada was responsible for the Métis people, as they are for the First Nations and Inuit. Dr. Ian Mosby discussed the nutrition experiments of residential schools, sharing some heavy and disturbing findings. Natan Obed, President of the Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami shared the experiences of Inuit peoples currently living in Canada, noting abysmal housing and food insecurity. Dr. Cindy Blackstock, Professor and Executive Director of the First Nations and Family Caring Society of Canada spoke on how the Canadian government has systemically discriminated against children living on reserves, by providing them smaller amounts of funding when on child welfare. Many other speakers were present and shared moving stories or pertinent information – for the sake of length, we shall not describe them all in this blog.

During breaks, attendees were encouraged to peruse the research poster exhibit, which was set up by attendees wishing to share their research in poster form. Throughout the conference, attendees participated in multiple workshops and viewed several oral presentations. These ranged over several topics, all related to the main theme at the conference: Health and Reconciliation.

Our team learned much information pertinent to the work we are doing with the DUDES. For example, one of the workshops, entitled “Self-Determination Applied to Research: FNIGC and the Principles of OCAP®” reaffirmed the importance of OCAP when doing research with indigenous communities. An Oral Presentation called “Holistic health and self-determination in an urban Indigenous context: Outcomes from a traditional Indigenous healthcare initiative in Vancouver, Canada” shared results of a study investigating the importance of elders. It was excellent to see research specifically on this topic, as so many of our DUDES talk about the importance of having elders present within our club. Their findings indicated that elders are indeed an integral part of culture, and thus paramount to health. They ended by reiterating this idea: “Culture saves lives.” These are only two examples of the excellent information that was shared at the conference – all members of the team attended different sessions and we all gained a lot from the experience.

 After the workshop presentation. From left to right - Henry Charles, Sandy Lambert (back), Lyana Patrick (front), Dr. Paul Gross, Dr. Vicki Smye, Viviane Josewski, and Iloradanon Efimoff

After the workshop presentation. From left to right - Henry Charles, Sandy Lambert (back), Lyana Patrick (front), Dr. Paul Gross, Dr. Vicki Smye, Viviane Josewski, and Iloradanon Efimoff

During the conference, we had the opportunity to present a workshop and oral presentation on the DUDES club. Both were highly successful. During the workshop, we shared the final documentary, ran through our informative presentation, and had our elders, Henry Charles and Sandy Lambert, facilitate an open dialogue with the attendees. We had a full room, with over 30 participants. Individuals were very interested in the club: they asked questions about the health outcomes our dudes experienced while attending the program and how to start their own DUDES clubs. They also shared their own experiences and frustrations in attempting to start men’s only health groups in their communities.

The Oral Presentation was short and sweet – with 10 minutes to talk and 5 minutes for questions. This presentation focused on our qualitative findings, which come out of multiple focus groups and interviews that we have completed to date. Again, we had a full room of very attentive listeners. Our findings were well received and we connected afterwards with attendees.

Overall, the conference was a huge success. All members of the team left feeling inspired and motivated to do more for our DUDES and our communities on a wider basis. We had the opportunity to network with some great partners, and develop new relationships with individuals who were inspired by our presentations to create their own DUDES Clubs. Here’s to another conference well done!



March 2016 Pilot Site Visit

In March the team visited the pilot sites from the 6th to 9th. We have a new team member on board, and it was her first time meeting all of the DUDES and providers – what a whirlwind way to put faces to names!

We started the trip in Smithers this time, flying in Sunday evening. Around a later dinner we flushed out the final details of what we were going to be doing for the next 3 days – we were all excited as we usually are the night we arrive.

The first day we visited our DUDES at PLN in Smithers, and were able to show a rough cut of the documentary we created from our stay at Dunalter Lake in Houston in October. The guys absolutely loved it. After showing the film, we gained some valuable feedback, and had an informal discussion about the ups and downs in the group since the last time we saw them. They let us know that they have a city councilman and a lawyer still attending frequently. Our dudes in this group are a lot like foot soldiers, and they work with everyone they meet to expand the club. We also had a very powerful discussion about transgendered people’s rights and experiences in Smithers.

 Smithers DUDE wearing the vest made at our retreat in October 2015.

Smithers DUDE wearing the vest made at our retreat in October 2015.

After this meeting, we took the short jaunt up to Moricetown, with a couple of the Smithers DUDES in tow, to meet with our only on-reserve DUDES club. They provided us with a wonderful dinner, of which our research assistant was asked to open. This meeting was very enlightening, as our team had not met with Moricetown prior. We learned that Moricetown has held a Men’s Kitchen, which has a very similar format to the DUDES club, for the last 20 years! Members of all ages, from children to elders, come to learn about culture, food preparation, and health. The group has strong community support and a dedicated leader, and the meeting was inspiring for our team and the Smithers DUDES who attended.

The next day we were able to have a meeting with Cormac Hickish (Health Services Administrator at Northern Health), who is a huge supporter of the program. He gave us some ideas regarding funding and sustainability that were very helpful. Afterwards, we met with the provider at the Smithers DUDES club to have a one-on-one interview about the impacts of the DUDES club, and gained some very valuable information.

The next day we flew from Smithers to Prince George (well, after an unexpected re-route through Terrace). After some scrambling due to our late arrival, we finally settled in at the hotel and met with our DUDES in Prince George. Their group has grown to include even more keen members. We shared a meal and talked about how the club had been going – they were excited that they had just been able to purchase walking shoes for the walking group that they are starting once summer truly arrives!

The next day Paul and Sandy had to leave to make it home for events on Wednesday, so Lyana and Iloradanon stayed to tie up some loose ends. They were able to secure a meeting with the interim director of FNHA to discuss project sustainability, especially on reserves. The meeting was very productive. Afterwards, Lyana and Iloradanon met with the Prince George elder for an insightful one-on-one meeting regarding the impacts of the DUDES club on the members.

After another successful pilot site visit, we parted ways for a few months. 

First ever DUDES Retreat!

About a month ago, our team just returned from an amazing experience. We held our first ever DUDES Retreat! After months of planning and hard work, our dream came to life.

It all started months ago when we threw around the idea of bringing some Vancouver DUDES up North to meet some of our DUDES in Smithers, Moricetown, and Prince George. We thought it would be excellent if guys could meet each other, so they would have the opportunity to learn from each other’s experiences, both in terms of personal well-being and their own versions of the club. We went through many renditions of the retreat – different locations, different activities (from skits to music videos) and multiple areas to focus on. We ended up with a memorable and very meaningful experience.

 A view of the lake Rough Acres backs on to. 

A view of the lake Rough Acres backs on to. 

The retreat was held at a Bible Camp, called Rough Acres, in Houston, B.C. – about half an hour from Smithers. From October 1st to 4th men were able to share their experiences and support each other while sharing communal meals and fun activities like kayaking, canoeing, and of course sitting around a fire pit. The Vancouver crew, including elders, DUDES, research members, and a film crew flew up on the afternoon of the 1st. In Smithers, we met up with the Smithers DUDES, did a bit of shopping, and hit the road to Houston. When we arrived at the camp, the Prince George team was already there, just as excited as us to get started.

During the planning phase of this event, we were concerned with how all of the guys from the different sites would get along, and our research assistant spent a fair bit of time planning icebreakers. To our relief, the guys hit it off completely fine! No icebreakers needed, the fact that all of them were there for the same reason, being passionate about the DUDES model of well-being, was a much better introduction than anything we could have provided. Shortly after we arrived we ate dinner (the food, by the way, was absolutely amazing during the whole trip, with the cooks even accounting for a particularly tricky attendee with multiple dietary restrictions).

After sharing our first meal, Henry Charles, one of our Vancouver elders, said a welcoming prayer, and one of the local men from Smithers welcomed us to his territory. Then Henry and Sandy Lambert, the Vancouver elders, presented the other site elders with blankets, as thanks for them inviting us to their territory. We also presented all of the elders with vests – a very important part of our retreat – more on this later. We were just finishing with some tedious administrative work, when suddenly, out of the mist, our Moricetown DUDES arrived. We had heard that it would be unlikely they would be attending, so it was a wonderful surprise! The Moricetown DUDES facilitator had brought two teenage boys with him. This made for a diverse dynamic, with our attendees ranging from 14 to 75, both indigenous and non-indigenous, from remote to urban metropolitan sites.

 A couple of our DUDES club vests.

A couple of our DUDES club vests.

Later, we watched a film created by the documentary producer from the film crew who accompanied us for the weekend. This film served as a way to introduce our film makers to the group of men, and to make them feel comfortable with each other. The film was related to the Liberian civil war and the aftermath, carrying themes of grief, brotherhood, struggle, and friendship. The men were sincerely impressed by the movie, asked many questions, and got to know each other even better. Finally, we went to bed.

The next morning breakfast was served at 7:30 – after eating we dove right into the work, with all of the guys being very eager and enthusiastic. We started off with a research update, and got feedback on our qualitative analysis from the guys (as we work from a community based participatory action approach). After a quick coffee break, our guys broke into two groups – one to do a focus group with our team researchers, and one to work on patches for our vests.

“Leave your armour at the door” is a motto of the Vancouver DUDES club. This motto effectively means that the DUDES club is a safe place for men to interact, to be vulnerable, to share experience, and to seek peer support, help, and consequently, wellness. The armour represents the “mask”, per se, that men wear when they face the world. The world today often dictates that men must be a certain way – they must be stoic, strong, unemotional, independent. Living in adverse circumstances, such as on the street, these societal rules are even more pressing, and sometimes necessary for survival. So, to symbolize the armour men wear, we decided to bring up leather vests that the men could adorn with hand-made patches. This would serve as a bonding activity for the men, and the vests themselves would be a reminder of one of the fundamental aspects of the DUDES club (solidarity and brotherhood). They might even be used in the clubs for the “DUDE of the day” or something of that nature. The four vests were embroidered with the DUDES logo over the heart, as well as the words “DUDES Club” and the community name on the back.

In order to decorate the vests, we needed an artist. Our elder/external liaison/community research assistant, Sandy Lambert, used his amazing community connections to accost an artist from Vancouver a few days before we left to help the men create vests. Allanah, our artist, did amazing work with the men. She taught them to bead, carve, draw, and paint. She was incredibly kind and patient with the men, giving them helpful tips and talking them through the art work. The men used this time not only to create art work, but also to bond. They were able to talk openly about their life experiences, both good and bad.

 All the sites vests, some already adorned with their hand made patches.

All the sites vests, some already adorned with their hand made patches.

While half of our guys were working on the vest patches, the other half were participating in a focus group. The goal of the focus groups was to get feedback on the content of an online tool kit. The idea is to create some type of document or interactive website that explains all of the necessary ingredients to have a successful DUDES club. We received some very insightful feedback from the guys that will be very useful for the creation of the toolkits.

We broke for lunch, and then the two groups swapped. After another quick coffee break, guys had some free time. Some went out on the lake on canoes for some serenity and quiet time. Some continued to work on their patches for the vest. Others just hung out around the firepit or coffee pot chatting about whatever came to mind. After a delicious dinner, we had our first night out by the firepit. Elders told stories, men laughed and shared over many cups of tea and coffee. Afterwards, we went inside to watch a movie and wind down.

The next day was very open. We started off by watching a movie called “The Mask You Live In” (generously lent to us by UBC for screening on the weekend). It was an incredible documentary on masculinity, and what it means to grow up as a boy in the modern world. The movie was definitely a tear jerker, and impacted many of our men deeply, as they could see themselves, or people close to them, in those situations. Some of the men had to excuse themselves from the room, as the messages in the film hit too close to home. After the movie, we had a very moving, insightful and healing group discussion. Many of the men shared their experiences with the group, really opening up about the struggles of growing up in a society that restricts expression of self. However, one man took a different view.

After the movie was done, he said “I feel elated… I feel lifted up.” He was referring to the fact that this conversation has been started. The fact that all of us were sitting in that room together, talking about masculinity, talking about societal restraints, talking about men’s health and wellness, and being open and vulnerable with each other. This man’s stance really lightened the mood, and we finished the discussion with laughter, hugs, and a prayer.

 One of the DUDES canoeing.

One of the DUDES canoeing.

After this, the rest of the day was mainly free time during which the men fished, canoed, worked on their patches, networked, shared stories, ate together, and ultimately, healed together.

 One of our Vancouver elders and a DUDE around the fire pit on our last night there.

One of our Vancouver elders and a DUDE around the fire pit on our last night there.

With woe, our last evening steadily approached. Many of them men spoke of keeping in touch, some handing out email addresses and other ways to contact each other. After dinner, some men stood up to share their stories with the whole group. The evening ended on a note of intense inspiration, in a room brimming with hope and optimism. We ended the night with a sit around the firepit, and then scooted off to bed for the early start the next day.

 One of the many goodbye photos.

One of the many goodbye photos.

Up at 6:30, ready to go at 7:00, we still managed to leave late, with all of the hugs, last minute goodbyes, and photographs being taken. Men didn’t want to leave – many said they hoped for this event to be annual, for more DUDES to have this experience, and to maintain the links created that weekend. At long last, the Vancouver DUDES departed in their rented minivans to the Smithers airport to catch a morning flight. With heavy but optimistic hearts we left Rough Acres, our minds filled with inspiration, hope, and happiness.

DUDES Annual Health Fair 2015

On August 20th, The Dudes Club hosted its 4th Annual Men’s Health Fair at Vancouver Native Health Society, in the Downtown Eastside. It’s an annual opportunity to showcase the innovative work of the Dudes Club (www.dudesclub.ca) but, more importantly, to provide a welcoming environment for marginalized men to access critical health screening measures and learn more about health and wellness. This year, approximately 120 men were present many of whom were able to access prostate cancer screening (thanks to Dr. Chris Zappavigna from Vancouver General Hospital), screening for sexually transmitted infections (thanks to Vancouver Coastal Health outreach nurses), liver fibroscan (thanks to the Hep C program team at VNH), and blood pressure/cardiovascular assessments (thanks to the Canadian Men’s Health Foundation). For men who would normally not present to the clinic for preventative screening measures, this health fair is breaking down the barriers and hesitations that men face when considering their health.

While men were waiting to line up for the various health stations, there was a room set up with information booths about liver and cardiovascular health. Men were also invited to participate in evaluation research of the Men’s Depression and Suicide Network at UBC, generously funded by Movember Canada. Having laid back discussions about mental health issues among men is what the Dudes Club has been doing since it began in 2010.

The stigma and societal expectations of masculinity are major hurdles that men have to overcome to share their struggles of mental or emotional issues with a health professional. Over the years, so many of the man have told us that they don’t feel comfortable telling their doctor or nurse about these issues. Much of that has been addressed by flipping the traditional medical paradigm where for years patients have been expected to come to places where health providers feel safe to practice their profession. These places are often sterile and intimidating, especially to at-risk or marginalized populations who face complex issues with housing, poverty, trauma, multiple health conditions, substance abuse and the ongoing impact of colonization. This health fair attempts to highlight the Dudes Club approach, which brings health to where men feel safe. This novel philosophy of health engagement for men has allowed them to feel more empowered and supported in the process of opening up about their health. In fact, over the years, men have shared their stories of emotional trauma with the group and been received with open arms and a shoulder to lean on by fellow Dudes Club members.

This non-threatening approach mixed in with activities (bingo, poker, sports trivia) and services (free hair cuts, social worker and nursing on-site) that men appreciate has become the winning formula for a program with very humble beginnings. The Dudes Club evaluation has shown rather convincingly that safety, trust and brotherhood are the unique ingredients that have made this program so successful for over five years.

 Delicious salmon at the health fair. 

Delicious salmon at the health fair. 

As the Health Fair rounded up for yet another successful event, our highly esteemed Musqueam elder, Henry Charles, invited the men to share a nutritious barbecue feast. Henry helps ground our meetings with a focus on the aboriginal medicine wheel and traditional teachings. Men streamed away with a Dudes Club t-shirt and bag to carry some of the health information swag they had acquired at the health fair. As a sign of success, many men who had for years been disengaged with health care inquired when the next Dudes Club meeting is and if they might be able to join the clinic to see one of our physicians. These men had seen that taking care of themselves in a proactive, holistic way is just as courageous as anything else a “real man” can do these days. The Dudes Club brotherhood continues to grow thanks to events like the Annual Men’s Health Fair. 

June 2015 Pilot Site Visits

On June 22nd our team flew to Prince George for a 48 hour trip to visit our pilot sites up North. We spent the first night in Prince George talking about the successes and challenges of the project, and wondering how our pilot sites were doing. The plan was to visit sites the next day, then drive to Smithers, then visit sites in Moricetown the next day. 

 The route (we flew to Prince George, and home from Smithers). We drove PG to Smithers.

The route (we flew to Prince George, and home from Smithers). We drove PG to Smithers.

Bright and early the next morning we set out to our first pilot site, at the Fire Pit in down town Prince George. It was a sunny and warm morning, so we walked from our hotel. We first stopped to admire the art work that is displayed on the wall of the Fire Pit, shown in the November 2014 blog below. The art work was done by community members and is weather proof, and is absolutely stunning.

We then started our Focus Group inside the Fire Pit with a group of their core dudes and their elder. It was a productive meeting in which we were able to discuss some of the challenges and possible solutions to those challenges. Many of the solutions the dudes are looking to implement in the months to come. This group is very interested in working, and as such they haven’t orchestrated any fun activities yet! We suggested that they do some fun stuff together, like bowling or fishing, to take the tension off of the work. We have a super hard working bunch of dudes in Prince George!

After this Focus Group meeting we had an impromptu meeting with one of our medical colleagues who is involved in the Dude’s Club in Prince George. We discussed some of the barriers to access along with the steps the dudes have taken to circumvent them. Soon after we were off to Smithers. It was a gorgeous sunny day and the drive was quite nice. The whole ride there we discussed the project or concepts related to the project. It was quite educational! We arrived just in time for a later dinner, and went to bed early.

 Sun setting behind the mountains. View from Smithers. 

Sun setting behind the mountains. View from Smithers. 

The next morning we got up bright and early and were in Moricetown by 8:45 for our meeting scheduled to start at 9:00. After some room changes, we settled in a cozy little hall off of the main highway to discuss a multitude of things. In attendance were Moricetown community members, Smithers dudes and their elder (along with their honourary “dudette”!), and representatives from the First Nations Health Authority (FNHA). The FNHA is a BC organization established in 2013 to improve First Nations health.

This was a very rich meeting, filled with stories of successes, struggles, suggestions, solutions and multiple themes. Each dude’s club took advice from the other; it was a great reciprocal exchange. Not to mention the delicious breakfast provided by the band. We also discussed plans for our retreat coming up in September for our dudes. We settled on a date, space, and threw around some ideas for activities.

 View on our drive to check out a possible Retreat site. Just outside of Smithers.

View on our drive to check out a possible Retreat site. Just outside of Smithers.

After this meeting we drove back to the Smithers airport, and hopped on our short plane ride back to Vancouver. Overall this was a very useful trip – all of our pilot sites seem to be doing very well, and are filled with energy to continue with the programming.

Thanks for reading. 

Dude's Club and Men's Shed Gala in Winnipeg

On May 19th to May 22nd, our team travelled to Winnipeg, Manitoba, to co-host the Men's Depression and Suicide Network Gala: "Spaces & Places for Men" Community Approaches to Supporting Men's Wellness" with the Men's Sheds at the Canadian Museum for Human Rights.

Close to 75 were in attendance, these people are local politicians, community workers, researchers and members of the community. Our Dudes Elder, Henry, got the special honour of opening the Gala along with Lionel Houston, a highly-respected Anishinaabe elder, and Damon Johnston, President of the Aboriginal Counsel of Winnipeg. Lionel shared with us a valuable cultural insight of becoming a man and women being our backbone (see video below).  

The purpose of the gala was to not only promote the Dudes club and the Men's Shed to the general public but also to start a conversation about a possible collaboration to provide a men's health initiative program for the Indigenous men of Winnipeg. There are a limited number of Men's health programs across Canada, and a First Nation focused men's health program are even more scarce. According to Census Canada, Winnipeg has the largest community of First Nations living in a central metropolitan area and also the highest total number of Aboriginals living off reserve in Canada. This highlighted the importance of this opportunity to showcase the Dudes Club, considering its dedicated focus on Indigenous men.

We like to thank the UBC Men's Depression and Suicide Network and Movember Canada for inviting us to Winnipeg to share the success story of our Dudes Club. Also special thanks to Damon Johnston of the Aboriginal Counsel for giving us sweet grass, which we will take back to Vancouver and share with our Dudes.

November 2014 Pilot Site Visit

On November 17th, several members of the Dudes Club Vancouver embarked on a 4 day trip up to Prince George, Smithers and Moricetown to talk to organizers, community members and stakeholders about launching local Dudes Clubs.

When we arrived at Prince George Monday morning, the weather was a chilly -10.9 degrees C. Luckily, the folks at the Ramada was kind enough to let us into our rooms early so we didn't have to drag our luggage with us while we walked around in the cold doing last minute errands.  Afterwards, the team held a successful focus group discussion with the team from Central Interior Native Health in the early afternoon and another focus group from the people at the Fire Pit later that evening.


The next morning we were excited to find out we were invited to a Potlatch hosted by the members of the Fire pit.  It was an eye opener for the few of us that had never been to one before. Almost everyone from the community even members from the local police department came and participated. The organizers kept serving us with food and gifts that unfortunately we didn't get a chance to take any pictures.

Wednesday morning we took an early flight from Prince George up to Smithers (it was warmer on Wednesday!). The team flew up on a small plane (Beechcraft 1900D) and we were able to see the pilots and the cockpit from the passenger zone.

Once we landed we went to Bulkey Valley Hospital to pick up our friend Cormac and went straight to Moricetown and presented the Dudes Club Vancouver at the Moricetown Multiplex. 


On our last day, we visited the Positive Living North in Smithers and had another successful focus group meeting with the organizers and community members. We were overwhelmed by the great response we had from these guys that it felt like a regular Dudes meeting in Vancouver! Food was well catered for by the organizers Melanie and Steve and it was a wonderful treat to be able to talk to these guys (and girls). It looked like everything is coming together in Smithers and we can't wait to hear back from their progress from their meetings so far.