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RGC’s Aboriginal Outreach Initiative : A Year in Review

by Sheila Wahsquonaikezhik, Responsible Gambling Council | Nov 16, 2012 04:17 PM

Newscan (Vol. 14, Issue 45)

Sheila Wahsquonaikezhik works for the Responsible Gambling Council as a Service Coordinator at the Responsible Gaming Resource Centre (RGRC) onsite at Casino Rama—a First Nations casino located about 2 hours north of Toronto. For the last year, she has also been the Aboriginal liaison for RGC’s Aboriginal outreach initiative. Her interest in the area of responsible gambling within Aboriginal communities has grown from her experiences in both the addictions field and gaming industry as well as her studies of cultural reclamation and environmental experiential learning, for which she earned a Masters in Environmental Studies at York University.

Ahneen!! My name is Sheila Wahsquonaikezhik and I am a member of the Ojibways of Batchewana Band in Sault Ste. Marie. For the last year, I have been the Aboriginal liaison for an Aboriginal outreach initiative for the Responsible Gambling Council. I am honoured to share with you the goals, background and some of the milestones of this year’s journey.

In late summer 2011, Bev Cheshire of the Chippewas of Rama (Mnjikaning) First Nation approached the Responsible Gaming Resource Centre at Casino Rama (where I work as a Service Coordinator) about participating in the on-reserve community health fair as part of National Aboriginal Addiction Awareness Week. With the support and direction of senior RGC staff, the event at Mnjikaning took place in November, 2011.

Since then, other First Nation community representatives have approached and invited the Responsible Gambling Council (RGC) into their communities to support responsible gambling initiatives, addiction fairs and health fairs for their community membership. This has been done largely by word of mouth or what we call “The Moccasin Telegraph.” This has lead not only to my being a liaison between each community and RGC, but also to communities sharing information with each other.

Thus far we have engaged (either through an event or a meeting) 14 communities, treatment centres or provincial/territorial organizations (PTOs). In these communities, I have been presented with gifts (specifically, hair ties, tobacco and a small rug) that will become part of the RGC bundle that will travel with us to future communities. To date, we have a list of 35 other communities that have expressed an interest in further information, events or resource materials. We will be adding to our bundle as things come to us and will offer the tobacco received for the various ceremonies.

The Aim is to Engage from Within

The purpose of this pilot is to engage various representatives (usually workers who are part of Canada’s National Native Alcohol and Drug Abuse Program) from aboriginal communities and organizations in order to disseminate responsible gambling messaging collaboratively to Aboriginal communities. This is achieved by accepting an invitation extended by the community representative, and by encouraging community participation in a variety of responsible gambling events at health fairs, addiction fairs and community responsible gambling initiatives.

In our work together, we aim to develop innovative interdisciplinary approaches to responsible gambling messaging that will strive to meet each community’s need. We will also document any feedback from the community that will enhance the overall project to meet the requests and needs of each community.

This will also be an opportunity to strengthen policy, programs and practices as they relate to problem gambling through partnerships that deepen RGC’s understanding of the complexity and regional/jurisdictional differences among Aboriginal communities.

Reflections & Lessons Learned

RGC’s role is to support communities in responsible gambling initiatives and in doing so gain some insight and understanding of the problems and factors involved in influencing effective responsible gambling messaging. Another important function is to act as a bridge to isolated communities of the north, which are marginalized by geography and language. Here are just some of what this initiative has taught us:

1. Invitations are an Honour

We at RGC must always keep in mind that an invitation extended to come into a community has been afforded serious thought by its representatives. Cultural protocols must be treated with respect and it is always good practice to accept invitations that are extended.

2. It’s About Listening

Also, we will follow the lead of the community and not impose nor interfere – we will practice the ethic of non-interference and listen to feedback of the community and representatives.

3. Wise Practice, not Best Practice

It is wise to remember that the individual is intrinsically connected by lineage to his or her community. A wise practice takes into consideration the situated knowledge of the individual to maintain spiritual integrity throughout the process of reclamation of self and community. As land-, water- and sky-based peoples, that connection is integral to the reclamation of the health of our communities.

4. Integrated and Multi-Dimensional Approaches

We must remember that problem gambling can be seen as a response, coping or avoidance strategy to the broader context of the continued marginalization that occurs in many aspects of our lives. I have found that there is an expressed need to integrate an interdisciplinary, multi-dimensional and collaborative approach to engage members about their perspectives on gambling, including:

  • defining gambling and problem gambling
  • identifying what might constitute risk factors for problem gambling
  • redefining or renaming “problem gambling” and “responsible gambling”
  • reclaiming knowledge of what traditional forms of gambling looked like

I believe that this approach will lend itself to inviting active participation in RGC events, while at the same time preserving the essence of each community’s understanding of “native science” in the process of understanding today’s gambling landscape.

It has truly been an honour serving the communities and various PTOs. My hope is that this initiative will continue to exist and be embraced by participating communities as we work collaboratively toward developing and strengthening responsible gambling initiatives that maintain the cultural integrity of each community.


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