To be a man requires a thick skin, not a hard fist.
One should be, according to traditional Canadian values, more like the moose. The moose stands for strength, protection of loved ones, resourcefulness, a sheltering and quietly powerful figure. That power is used to protect and provide, not impose will and strike fear into one's own family.
The Moose Hide Campaign draws on the noble forest creature to show human men that domestic violence is not only counterproductive, it just hurts the people you're supposed to be sheltering.
Barb Ward-Burkitt, the executive director of the Prince George Native Friendship Centre, is raising her grandchildren, and saw her elder generations raise their grandchildren, too, as a result of glitches in the family dynamic - showing her just how cyclical domestic violence and its spinoff effects can be. She also knows because she survived years of abuse at the hands of one significant other in her own life. She and fellow female Jennifer Harrington of the friendship centre are supporting the Moose Hide Campaign in partnership with a core team of men.
John Woodrow, Sam Ens and Brock Sanderson work at men's social recovery house Ketso Yoh. Chris Branigan runs the friendship centre's Aboriginal Child and Youth Wellness Program. They are already on board, whiile there is dialogue underway with the John Howard Society (male violence reduction agency), the Walk Tall Program based at the Carrier Sekani Family Services agency, and others.
The more men that can join them at their meetings, the better, said the four men already part of the Moose Hide Campaign. They have held a few meetings already, and announced their message at some community functions like the recent Sisters In Spirit event.
They are in the process of handing out square swatches of moose leather, with an information card and a pin to attach the hide to your jacket or shirt. It shows the wearer's wish to see domestic violence end, and it also invites conversation.
"It's a symbol of communication. Where there is communication, there is hope," said Woodrow. "It is opening up awareness that communication can help any situation. It promotes the idea [for potential perpetrators] that you empower the authorities to take away your personal freedoms and take away your access to the people you love, when you use violence. You have the door. Go outside and cool off for awhile, and come back to the situation in a frame of mind that doesn't have violence with it."
"At our last meeting we spent time talking about what masculinity means, the tensions around discipline and what we grew up with. We have talked about how the moose symbolizes protection, warmth, shelter, strength, and the cultural beliefs about how men are supposed to look after the women in their lives," Branigan said. "It takes aboriginal men back to a more traditional way of living."
"Just because you grew up with something, or just because your dad did it, doesn't mean you can't make a different choice," said Sanderson. "There are things you want to change, and you can end that cycle of violence. You can live a better way. None of us are exempt; so this isn't about judging anybody. Somewhere along the line, we have all had domestic violence come into our lives."
The program was devised by Paul Lacerte, executive director of the B.C. Association of Aboriginal Friendship Centres based in Victoria but he is Carrier and grew up in a small northern B.C. town. "It falls to us to take action, speak up, and take responsibility," Lacerte said of the program. He brought the first moose hide to Prince George for the campaign launch. It was cut up into about 1,800 small pieces, and hole-punched for the pin. Now they are being distributed.
"It would be nice to see a community movement take this on, and really move it forward," said Ens. "We identified early on that although this is rooted in aboriginal culture, we agreed to remove the term 'aboriginal' from our activities. We don't want to stand up against violence towards only one group of people, this affects everyone, and I think you understand the symbolism of the moose hide even if you are not aboriginal. This is about the men of the whole community standing up together."
Men of any background are invited to attend the next meeting of the Moose Hide Campaign on Oct. 23 at 1 p.m. at the Native Friendship Centre.