“Our culture is so powerful.”
Reconnecting with Indigenous ways of knowing, being, and doing put Haley on the path to healing.
Whenever Haley hears her neighbour, Brielle, drumming next door, she stops in her tracks.
Every beat of the drum synchronizes with Haley’s heartbeat, flooding her with a sense of connection. It makes her feel alive. Grounded. Whole.
But it hasn’t always been like this.
For most of her life, Haley felt so lost. Something was always missing—an emptiness she couldn’t define.
Yet when every day is a game of survival, there isn’t much space for reflection.
“Being on a low income and being a single mom, it’s hard to take the steps to have a successful life,” explained Haley. “It’s hard to get out of the cycle.”
Still, she tried. At 19, Haley moved to Winnipeg with her daughter, Addison, hoping they’d find more opportunities to build a better life.
Instead, life started collapsing in on Haley. She started drinking more. Keeping up with rent felt impossible when she needed to invest so much of her energy in Addison, who was having a hard time at school—and even thinking about suicide.
“I’d spend hours on the phone every day, searching for help for her,” Haley remarked, noting how confusing, overwhelming, and time-consuming it can be to navigate the right supports.
“I was so exhausted.”
That’s when her neighbour, Brielle, told her about a program for Indigenous single moms at Ka Ni Kanichihk*, an Indigenous-led agency supported by United Way Winnipeg donors.
Haley was curious. Growing up in a Cree family in northern Manitoba, she had little to do with her culture. One of Haley’s only links vanished with her dad, who died when she was young.
The other connection was when she’d hear drummers play at funerals. Their songs wrapped a sense of peace and comfort around Haley even as a child, leaving her longing for more.
It was when Haley joined the Ka Ni Kanichihk community at 25 that she discovered why those fleeting moments fed her soul so deeply.
“I’m on the right path now.”
Haley started out in a job readiness program called Honouring Gifts, where she gained confidence by learning skills like effective communication and building a resume.
Then, after graduating from the program, Haley was elated to land a job as a support worker at a 24/7 safe space for women called Velma’s House, led by Ka Ni Kanichihk with the help of United Way Winnipeg donors.
But one of the greatest gifts of the program was reconnecting with her culture—and understanding why she’d been untethered from it for so long.
Elders taught Haley how colonization sought to erode Indigenous values and traditions. How certain ceremonies were banned until the 1950s. How much of her family trauma stemmed from generations of systemic oppression and the despair that followed.
Finally, Haley had a name for her pain. But now, she also had a reason to hope—a source to draw strength from.
“Our culture is so powerful,” said Haley. “Learning our history and teachings makes me feel empowered. I’m so proud to be Indigenous.”
Helping keep her culture alive also sparks hope for her daughter, Addison. They often smudge together now, soaking in all the good energy Haley wishes she had when she was Addison’s age.
“I’ve finally found what was missing. I’m so happy now—and I thank Ka Ni Kanichihk for that,” said Haley.
“They make me feel like I’m not forgotten.”
With the support of her sisters at Ka Ni Kanichihk, Haley’s grown as a parent, too. She’s discovered that prioritizing her own mental, physical, and spiritual well-being isn’t a luxury, but a conduit to showing up better for her daughter.
There are still tough days, and the rising cost of living isn’t making Haley’s life any easier. But relying on her new support system and being rooted in the wisdom and traditions of her ancestors makes such a difference.
“Now, whenever I hear the beat of the drum, I cry,” expressed Haley.
“I know I’m on the right path now.”
*Ka Ni Kanichihk (which means “those who lead” in Cree) seeks to awaken the spirit of First Nations, Inuit, and Metis people through culturally based education, training, employment, leadership, community development, and healing and wellness programs.