The DUDE Club’s annual retreat brought men together from across British Columbia. Participants found their way to Loon Lake Lodge & Retreat Centre from locations such as Terrace, Kamloops, Prince George, Gitxsan, and Smithers. The men from the Vancouver Club were eager to host fellow DUDES Club members on Katzie First Nation territory.
Frank Cohn picked the men from the airport. After a couple of hours negotiating with the Vancouver AirPort, five men from Northern Communities made their way to Maple Ridge and finally to Loon Lake.
Meanwhile, fifteen men who were residences of the Downtown Eastside started from Vancouver Native Health Society. For most of them returning to Loon Lake was highly anticipated. For some it was a first-time experience.
The energetic trip in the bus to Loon Lake was expressed by song, conversation, and laughter. Upon arrival the excitement of the men poured out of the bus and set the tone of the retreat. The men from Vancouver were quick to embrace the guests from up north with enthusiasm and inquisitive questions. Sandy Lambert (DUDES Cub Elder and Liaison) called the men to form in a circle to first acknowledge Katzie First Nation territory and then formally welcome all the men. He then orientated them to the facility and reviewed the code of conduct for the retreat. After the orientation, the men were invited to smudge.
With the tone set and intentions clarified, the men sat down together for conversation and a meal. After which the men relaxed in the lodge or found fellowship around the fire. Around the healing fire, song, laughter, and stories lasted long into the night. Men look up into the dark night and noted the tall trees reaching into the clear sky full of bright stars. For the men from the Downtown Eastside, this was a powerful and peaceful beginning to the retreat.
On day two, Wednesday, the men started their day by filling their bodies with a hearty breakfast, their minds with conversation, and their spirits with a ceremonial smudge. As most of the men knew, this retreat was not just about a much-needed break from the day-to-day grind. There was much work to be done. Workshops were kicked off by Kyle Sam who sang and drummed the song “Four Directions”. Jeff Topman followed with a photo montage presentation that was representative of previous years of the DUDES Club. The men found the photos to be both inspirational and emotional. The montage was framed as a means to invite people into what men’s wellness looks like; to tell stories of men’s wellness. The photos were said to be "Putting faces to the statistics", which was evidence of the benefits of the DUDES Club’s model for men’s wellness across BC.
Frank Cohn began the second half of the morning with the presentation -“Where the DUDES Club is NOW”. Cohn gave an overview of new partnership with the First Nation Health Authority and the subsequent growth of the club’s model in Northern BC. Cohn then divided the men into two groups and presented space for the men to discuss the DUDES Club through the lens of a Rose, Thorn, and Bud exercise. After a short coffee break, Mike Johnson, from Gitxsan, presented the activity: “Calling Out”.
Following a morning of hard work and healing, the men welcomed a leisurely lunch.After which they were free to choose between a three-hour hike or a workshop consisting of Indigenous medicine facilitated by Chris Sands. The day was perfect for being in nature, which drew some men to the hike while fifteen other men choose to stay at the lodge for the workshop. The lake was calm, and the sun provided perfect conditions for canoeing. After the workshop and hike the men took advantage of the weather and paired up and ventured on to the lake with canoes. Dinner was welcomed by all and flowed perfectly into a cribbage tournament for some and a fire circle for others.
The next morning brought a crisp and bright day. The participants ate and prepared for workshops by taking part in a smudge led by Sandy Lambert and Chris Sands. Jeff Topman took this opportunity to gather the men for a group photo. It was not long before the men were put back to work giving feedback on an evaluation that was to be used to gather information about DUDES Clubs across BC. After sharing their thoughts on the evaluation, the men sat together and talked about what the DUDES Club looks like in their particular communities. The occasion gave an opportunity for the men to share what is working well for their individual clubs.
The retreat wrapped up with a contemplative group nature walk. As men prepared to leave, they exchanged contact information, shared hugs, and affirmed new friendships. The men from northern communities headed to the Vancouver Airport. Around the same time a bus arrived to pick up the men from Vancouver who enthusiastically continued their conversations well into the trip home. The retreat was over with men being more emotionally and spiritually renewed and they were ready to put their mind and bodies toward furthering men’s wellness in their communities.
What the men were saying:
“I’m a member cause I said so”
"How far the message has traveled"
"Putting faces to the two statistics (photography)"
“Even though I’m the leader the guys have taken ownership. It’s bigger than them.”
“You can’t just come for the food, you have to come for the circle’. That made some guys uncomfortable, but was able to calm it, and the guys are really pushing each other in good ways. Nobody can come in and take my spot now, but that will come.”
“This is something different, there’s food there, no judgement, doors are open, and you can get a haircut. Over time, they are no longer there for the food, more so for the brotherhood, ceremony, cultural learning, really about wellness. Beautiful thing is: we don’t tell guys you have to do that in three months. Not a twelve-step program. You are doing this on your time, and we are always going to be here. We have no pretense about how quickly this (healing) has to happen.”
“Tankful that I came, to meet new people. Hard to open up and talk. Being alone—I got used to it. Kept to myself for 10 years, in my own space.”
“We can spread love, especially in the DTES. Come in and sit down with us and see what happens. LOVE. don’t overwhelm with policies. We just come together cause we want healing and to get better.”