In Person Profile: Maurice (Morris) Bowen
02 Mar, 2013
The Sou’Wester is pleased to introduce Maurice (Moris) Bowen who has spent 24 years in prison and is currently on day parole living in a half-way house in Montreal. We are grateful that Maurice was willing to share his experiences with us.
Q. Firstly, thank you Maurice for agreeing to participate. Your home is Waswanipi in Northern Quebec. Can you tell us a little about your childhood and culture?
A. In the early part of my childhood we lived a seminomadic life, travelling in early spring to goose camps, summer to our fishing grounds and moose camps in the fall, mainly in tents. We travelled by boat (canoe). During late fall we were more sedentary and our residence was basically log cabins near non-native communities. We lived predominantly off the land which was rich with fresh meat, fowl and fish. In order to maintain the natural balance of the ecosystem, we moved from one area to another from the preceding year. We lived and travelled with our extended family and friends. Most days were spent listening to stories and learning the finer art of hunting and understanding the habits of animals. The framework of our culture has two basic ‘commandments’—respect and share. Respect meant treating all living things with honesty and in the purpose that they were meant to be (this included self-respect). Sharing did not only include material items but feelings, hopes, joys and fears.
Later, I was taken away from my parents as part of the 60’s scoop (which lasted until the 80’s)—the mass removal of Aboriginal children from their families. The impact on me was traumatic, growing up in conditions of suppressed identity and abuse. The complete disregard of my identity had farreaching consequences and contributed to the rage that I lived with for many years.
Q. You have spent many years inside. Could you tell us what you did with your time?
A. I spent as much time as I could acquiring information and knowledge, initially taking up trades (small motor repair, cabinet making, machinist) as well as upgrading my education (computer courses, French immersion and any free workshop I encountered). I went from working alone (because I didn’t like people) to working with people (as ombudsman, peer helper, sports commissioner, “préposée au handicappe”) because I began to realize that I needed help—needed to trust people again and I was not an island, nor was I safe and secure in my isolation.
Q. How did you first become aware of MSCM and Open Door?
A. In time I began to be more sociable and meet people from the outside. Marie Beemans was one person I met in various institutions—she seemed genuine and I was enticed by her honesty and her willingness to help others. Through her I heard
about MSCM and later when I was in a minimum, I heard about Open Door.
Q. What benefits did you think you gained from our Open Door volunteer program?
A. Open Door allowed me to work on my social skills (especially communication skills) rather than just venting frustration at the system. It has helped me find solutions and alternatives.
Q. You have attended MSCM’s Community Building Workshops. Did you gain any valuable insights?
A. The Community Building Workshops allowed me to express myself openly (in secure confidentiality) without fear of rejection and/or being judged. This was a first step in understanding my behaviours, including my wariness about other people.
Since my release, I continue to use the resources offered by MSCM and will continue to do so, because I need caring, positive and honest people in my life.
Q. Can you tell us what your goals are now?
A. Sorry, other than school and menial work (for now), I do not have any goals per se…in the long term I would like to work in small communities or community centres developing programs…
“We Crees believe that life is like a tree, we grow depending on how secure our roots are.
If they are not deeply rooted, we will not grow or expand to our potential, we will live stunted, never seeing further than what’s near to us or reaching out to others around us. We will not be chosen by other creatures for shelter (will not be able to totally connect to all creation)—they will not find strength in us and when storms arise (difficulties), we will not sway with the wind but crash and fall.
So it is important to know who you are and where you came from. Family, friends, community and culture are your roots that
will help you aim higher, be stronger and let you walk with confidence into the future, no matter what storm arises.
Remember that it is never too late to strengthen your roots—this can be achieved only by going deeper into the earth (inside yourself).”– Maurice (Moris) Bowen