The first time Jason Staats really felt accepted was when he received an invitation to sit around the grandfather drum.
“It was the first time I felt like I wanted to live, that I wanted to be sober,” says Jason. “I will never forget that moment.”
This was the day he was given the spirit name Zhaawsko Nimki, which means Blue Lightning.
Impacted by the residential school system, Jason’s family left the Six Nations of the Grand River and settled in nearby Brantford. Being bi-racial and LGBTQ, he found it hard to be accepted, and struggled to connect with his Indigenous culture, battling alcohol and substance addiction for many years.
Things began to spiral out of control for Jason in his teen years, when his best friend was murdered. The perpetrator received a sentence of only two years in prison and returned to the community.
Jason found his way to Georgian’s Indigenous Resource Centre.
“It’s beautiful seeing how much they care and the lengths they will go to, to provide for and support the students,” he says. “It felt like family.”
It wasn’t until he attended a healing lodge that he began to discover his culture. Jason learned to sing, use traditional medicines and smudging.
“It was like Culture 101 on Anishnaabeg teachings,” he says. “Access to my culture changed my life; I thought it could change others.”
He graduated from Georgian’s Pre-Health Sciences program in 2013.
After completing the Shki-Miikan (New Road) program in 2017, he found employment with the Na-Me-Res (Native Mens Residence) shelter in Toronto within three weeks of graduation.
Jason now works with clients for up to one year after they leave the shelter, helping them to rebuild their resumés, identify opportunities, and rediscover their individual purpose.
He offers a mental health outreach program that is available outside regular work hours in the evening, making it more accessible for those with school or work commitments.
The shelter has 71 beds, 70 staff, and actively works with 125 clients a day to provide a safe space for Indigenous men to reconnect and explore their culture, and to develop the necessary skills to begin a healing journey.
“We’re helping people reconnect with their culture,” says Jason, noting that clients of the shelter also tend to the Medicine Wheel Community Garden, which grows traditional indigenous medicinal plants and food.
“The shelter offers them hope,” he says, adding that he too spent years feeling like he was stumbling about blindly:
“I used to carry anger and frustration every day of my life, but I learned how to walk a better path.”