Former NHL player Theo Fleury was in the Cariboo this week for two days talking about men’s healing and the importance of community and spirituality with Esk’etemc First Nation near Williams Lake.
The visit marked Fleury’s 300th time going to a First Nations community to work with people since 2009 when his book Playing With Fire was released, revealing how he had been sexually and mentally abused by his junior hockey coach Graham James in Winnipeg.
“It’s all about healing,” Fleury said of the reason he goes into communities, during a phone interview with the Tribune.
When he visits First Nations communities he sees there are a lot of issues still lingering from the residential school legacy, he said.
He encourages people to change their mindset from being a victim and moving forward, he added.
“You cannot change the past, but you can certainly change the future.”
Off to #WilliamsLake BC this morning to spend a couple days with the people of Alkali Lake. Focusing on men’s healing and the importance of community and spirituality.
— Theo Fleury (@TheoFleury14) March 19, 2018
Fleury spent time in a sweat lodge with the men at Esket Tuesday and said when he visits different communities he learns there is spirituality and healing available to people and he is baffled as to why more people don’t participate in the spirituality of their culture.
“That’s how you are going to be free from the trauma, is to embrace your spirituality,” he said.
“Residential schools were invented in the first place because the church knew they had to break the Aboriginal spirituality or they wouldn’t be able to have an impact. The way back to self is spirituality.”
When asked if he finds the work satisfying, he replied, “no question.”
“Helping is healing,” he added.
Trauma teaches people that they are no good, and that they are not lovable, which often leads them to abusing themselves, Fleury said, noting he finds people gravitate to him. “I am extremely busy travelling to somewhere new every week.”
Originally from Russell, Manitoba with a Cree heritage, Fleury now lives in Calgary. He has four children, ages 30, 20, 19 and nine.
These days he doesn’t get any time on the ice playing hockey, he said, but noted in Esket he witnessed how much hockey means to many of the people there.
“We met a guy yesterday who is 58 years old and he plays anywhere between 14 and 30 games a month,” Fleury said. “It is awesome.”
Chief Fred Robbins credited former Chief Charlene Belleau for inviting Fleury to the community after she heard him speak at a First Nations health conference in Vancouver.
“It was amazing listening to the ups and downs of his story and how he has impacted people,” Robbins said of Fleury.
Fleury’s message had a positive impact, he added.
“I think some of the men in the healing circle received information and tools to be successful in their sobriety and drug addictions,” Robbins said.
“He is a positive role model for a lot of people.”
Fleury accepted an invitation from Robbins to return to Esket in the summer to participate in a traditional fast in the mountains.
“He would also like to come when we have our annual AA Roundup,” Robbins said, noting Fleury is planning a follow up movie and would like to feature Esket in it.
To abuse victims who have not been able to come forward or talk to anyone yet about their situation, Fleury encouraged them to find a voice to expose their pain and suffering.
“That’s the only way you are going to get out of it,” he added.
Fleury said he is relatively at peace now, but has his struggles.
“I have lots of mental health issues that I need to deal with every day. I need to find a routine that helps me be positive.”