Mickey and Randy Decarlo, Wemindji First Nations Reserve
Among the Cree Indians at the First Nations Reserve of Wemindji on James Bay, Quebec, you'll find a very special couple. Their story is well worth telling. It's a story of how they came to Wemindji, and the practical helps they are pouring into this community with their own resources, to bring healing to a people scarred by the effects of three generations of residential schools abuse.
Mickey DeCarlo first went to Wemindji in November, 1999 for a job developing social programs for the community. The following year her husband, Pastor Randy DeCarlo, followed to work with the people and teach Bible studies, and they've never looked back.
Mickey is now the Program Coordinator, a Family Life Worker, and Resource Worker at the Wellness Centre where she gets programs up and going. When she began working in the community, her commitment was for 3 months. This grew to 6 months, and now she has one year contracts that are renewed regularly.
The couple travel back and forth between Wemindji and Peterborough, Ontario, but spend most of their time where their hearts are — in Wemindji.
Mickey speaks with a deep passion when telling about their work with these Cree Indians they have come to love. She is from the Ojibwa tribe herself and has a keen sensitivity to many of their challenges, the same challenges that are common to most Canadian Indians.
Paint Hills Bay is located off James Bay at the mouth of Maquatua River, Quebec, Canada. There is a red pigment found in the Paint Hills; thus its name, and in the Cree language, Wemindji is the word for "red ochre mountain."
This sparsely populated area along the eastern shores of Quebec is home to four Cree communities of indigenous people to the region. The communities are Waskaganish, Eastmain, Chisasibi, and Wemindji, with a population of about 1200.
The settlement has also been named "Nouveau-Comptoir," and is made up of families of Cree Indians who originally lived at the trading post founded in the seventh century, called Vieux-Comptoir, which means "Old Factory" in English. In 1959, not by their choice, the families were relocated 45 kms north from Old Factory, because of problems related to fresh drinking water supplies.
Today, Wemindji is accessible by both air, via the Wemindji Airport, and since 1995, by car on a gravel road that joins to the James Bay Road. The community has little unemployment as many find jobs with nearby hydro and mining operations.
James Bay Shoreline, Quebec, Canada
Photo CC by FargomeD
Cree Indians are a traditional people who have fishing camps and live off the land as much as possible, which they prefer. The children are fed traditional foods from the time they are little, and the Cree language is the first tongue spoken in their homes.
They preserve many important traditions that remind them that their land supplies all they need for survival.
At Wemindji, in the winter they are busy with setting fish nets, camps, and snow shoeing. In the summer they have a yearly canoe expedition through the rapids, set up camps, and go back to their original community at Old Factory.
It sounds like life is good in Wemindji. However, Mickey tells the inside story of a people suffering from the effects of three generations of residential schools, and the related abuses that have left their mark.
Family systems are deeply hurt and broken. The nurturing within families has been lost. Children as young as four years of age are often out unsupervised late at night in the community.
They are a people who have lost their identity and ability to cope with their crisis like the abused generations before them have modeled. Therefore, they struggle in a big way with gambling, alcohol, and drug problems. Unhealed, grief leaves its ugly hurt expressed in attempted suicides and unplanned pregnancies.
Add to all of this a severe shortage of housing, which means overcrowding problems that cause even more stress. Mickey reports as many as 17 people live in one bungalow. The people are limited to the number of houses they can build per year, according to allotted funding by the Canadian government.
In 2007, a core group of friends came together to help Pastor Randy fulfill his vision to build a church for this community. Randy and Mickey used their own personal resources and lots of backbreaking labor to build the church.
Randy comes from an Italian background that left him with a talent for cooking. Through their catering business, they have funded this amazing project themselves.
Not a conventional church, but rather a community mission whose doors are open for self-help group meetings, housing of a Christian teacher who assists with their work, and hosting conferences.
There is no doubt that this couple are dedicated and committed to the well being and healing of the Cree Indians at Wemindji. They know what needs to be done, and what it will take to get there. They need support and encouragement to fulfill their vision and get the job done.
Mickey Decarlo And Emily St Pierre, Project Director
The DeCarlo's provide a place of belonging, safety, and fun to over 30 children who show up at Mickey's house because they feel loved and nurtured. Having this safe place of belonging is a key to their development.
It's a big undertaking and now that the church is up-and-running after its official opening on June 4, 2011, Mickey has moved the gatherings from their home to the church building. A special event can mean as many as 50 children will come at times. It takes lots of supplies.
Emily Loading Supplies For Wemindji
Wherever you have a gathering of children, you need something to feed them and something for them to do. Mickey is integrating the children into children's programs while working with the parents on social issues and emotional healing needs.
The Julia Project has provided a supply of popcorn and juice boxes for the movie nights. We've sent up small toys, crayons, and art supplies, as well as Bible story coloring handouts with lessons about character building.
Below, Julia gets donations ready for shipping to the children at the Wemindji Indian Reserve.
The DeCarlos have found that running a monthly family Sunday school is a wonderful way to bring healing to the families. Side by side, parents and children learn about the love of God with a short teaching from the Bible, while doing crafts and sharing snacks together. It's a hands-on experience of family nurturing that is one of the keys to their emotional restoration.
In one of our conversations, Mickey expressed a need for children's Bibles, and we have committed to purchasing 50 children's Bible study guides with accompanying children's Bibles.
They're a great resource filled with interactive fun activities providing opportunities for coloring, solving puzzles, word games, and so on, while teaching valuable life lessons on how to get along and care for themselves and others.
A final thought from Mickey DeCarlo:
"I feel like Randy and I have a ministry of love and the way Christ loves us is the way we try to love the people we meet. Now, we are not perfect, but that really has been our mission and intent in Wemindji. God brought me to Wemindji to learn how to love deeper, give more, and to sacrifice — love is healing."