How the Bent Arrow Traditional Healing Society used Cree language to bring home missing man

The Bent Arrow Traditional Healing Society set up at the Edmonton Convention Centre. Supplied to Global News

“It’s a good success story.”

That’s what Shonan Awasis, a cultural connector with the Bent Arrow Traditional Healing Society, had to say about how the Cree language brought a missing man back home after three months.

It was Jan. 6, 2021, at Tipinawaw, the temporary accommodation set up at the Edmonton Convention Centre. Awasis got a call on his radio from the medical team. They had an uncooperative Indigenous man who needed medical attention.

“When I listened to him talk, he was talking in his own language. Cree language,” said Awasis. “So I began talking to him in Cree and he immediately sat up, acknowledged me and started talking to me in Cree.”

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Awasis said the man was in his early 20s and spoke very little English. He had come from Fox Lake, Alta., an isolated community with no year-round road access in Little Red River Cree Nation in northern Alberta.

“When you’re isolated, you only live in your community. You don’t get to see the outside world so he had no idea what he was getting himself into,” said Awasis. “For him to come out of his community only knowing what he sees on YouTube and what he sees on TV, for him to come into the real world, it was a big step for him.”

He had never left his community and Cree was his first language. The man came to Edmonton without knowing anyone.

“He wanted to go home. He was afraid. He was scared. He was tired of nobody helping him.”

The man had just been discharged from the hospital after experiencing two overdoses. He had heard that a shelter could potentially help him.

Awasis helped the man call his family in Fox Lake. He didn’t realize who he was helping until the next day. The news sent a chill up Awasis’ back.

The man had been missing from his community for three months. His family hadn’t heard from him since.

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“They feared the worst. They thought he was gone,” said Awasis. “I told them, ‘Well I found him,’ and (his family) started crying on the phone.”

Awasis said the reunion made him proud to work for the Bent Arrow Traditional Healing Society, adding it shows how important it is for them to be at Tipinawaw.

“We couldn’t have connected with him if we didn’t speak Cree. Language is a big key factor,” he said. “We are a key component here in the cultural aspect.”

The man stayed at Tipinawaw and a week later, his family drove down from Fox Lake to pick him up.

Awasis believes that this is a success story.

“There’s a lot of missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls everyday, and men too. You just don’t know these days,” he said.

“For him to be alive and for him to be found…his community cared. His family cared.”

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The 24/7 temporary accommodation is operated by Boyle Street Community Services, The Mustard Seed, Bissell Centre and the Bent Arrow Traditional Healing Society. It opened on Oct. 30, 2020. It is expected to stay open until March 31, 2021.

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