Hunting for Healing

In 1995, Kacey Yellowbird’s grandfather left him with some advice.

“Before he passed away, my grandfather told me, ‘Times are going to get tough, so you have to learn how to continue with hunting.’ That’s the legacy he left with us,” recalls Kacey, manager of the Samson Youth and Sport Development Department, a group within Samson Cree Nation.

What started out as familial counsel has now transformed a community. Eight years ago, Kacey decided to turn his grandfather’s vision into a tangible mission. He came up with a plan to use the meat from hunting to start a community freezer program for Maskwacis, a community south of Edmonton that includes Samson Cree Nation.

The project, supported by an early Communities Choosewell grant, aimed to combat food insecurity in the nation by providing fresh meat for vulnerable residents.

Today, the original freezer initiative has grown into the Samson Cree Hunting program, where Kacey hunts alongside other men two to three times a month, brings back the animals, and then gathers youth to teach them how to cut and prepare the meat.

The Samson Youth and Sport Development Department now has two deep freezers stocked with fresh game. The food is served to elders, offered at cultural and recreational events, and given to community members with little to no income. The project helps change the way people eat and provides them with a healthy option, says Kacey.

Beyond meeting the practical needs of the community, the initiative also serves to inspire youth. With over 87 per cent of Samson Cree Nation’s population under the age of 30, this work is crucial.

Kacey calls the program a “holistic approach to healing,” as it allows youth to connect back to traditional practices.

“An elder once told me, ‘The root of many problems in our Indigenous communities is grief.’ And grief is not always a loss of life. We’re grieving our loss of culture, our traditions and most importantly, our language,” says Kacey. “Part of the solution to that is this hunting program—learning those traditions, those cultures and trying to find your place in society  and in community. It’s a whole process of finding yourself.”

The hunting program is just one way Kacey and his team work to help their community members find belonging and build a strong sense of self.

In 2018, Samson Youth and Sport Development partnered with the Alberta Recreation and Parks Association to host an event for female Indigenous youth. The event was a proactive response to news that Indigenous girls and young women were dropping out of sport at a high rate.

Kacey and his team brought in Brigette Lacquette as a speaker. At the time, Brigette had just competed on Team Canada in the 2018 Winter Olympics, becoming the first First Nations woman to play for the women’s Olympic hockey team.

“What better way to spark motivation in these girls than seeing another Indigenous woman who has accomplished this?” asks Kacey.

From the hunting program to motivational speakers, the goal is to provide positive reinforcement and help youth connect to culture, tradition and community as a way to heal from trauma, adds Kacey.

Now that healing work is being recognized, as Samson Cree Nation received the Communities ChooseWell Most Significant Change Award in 2019.

“I’m just glad the community is being recognized for this accomplishment. It’s important to the program, but it’s also important to a community that’s been faced in years past with a lot of negative press,” says Kacey. “Change has started to come. You can see it happening.”