From the Winnipeg Free Press–Growing up in Winnipeg’s inner city and North End, and for a while in Berens River, Henry McKay moved around a lot during his youth. Raised mostly by a single, abusive father, he didn’t know stability but he knew poverty and intergenerational trauma, eventually entering the child welfare system.
“It was a big adjustment. The first year was pretty lonely and sad,” said McKay. “I was in many homes, including hotel stays.”
McKay started drinking, smoking and selling cannabis at a young age and spending most of his time on the streets.
Things improved for a while when McKay was placed with Luke, a foster dad who provided much-needed stability and an introduction to Indigenous teachings and ceremony.
“I attended my first sweat lodge at age 12. Luke was a very kind person, but also tough a little bit, too. We need that sometimes. With almost every conversation, there was some kind of teaching, learning.”
That’s when McKay was introduced to Ogijiita Pimatiswin Kinamatwin (OPK), which translates from Ojibway into “young warriors living a good life moving forward.”
Founded in 2000, OPK — a United Way Winnipeg donor-supported agency — works primarily with Indigenous men who’ve had involvement with gangs and/or the criminal justice system. A wide range of services includes consultations and advocacy related to mental health, school, CFS, and addictions.
At the heart of OPK’s mission is a connection to the Indigenous traditional community of ceremonies, teachings, elders and medicine people.