Pack your bags because we are answering the call to adventure in the latest episode of Stories of Healing with Jack Rennie! 🧳🧭
Jack Rennie (@renniejack) is the President and Executive Director of Global Alliance Foundation Fund (@gaffhouseorg). Jack is a practicing Advanced Care Paramedic in the province of Saskatchewan with 11 years of service. Jack has been an active mental health advocate since 2013 when he was awarded a scholarship from the Tema Center Memorial Trust for an essay that he wrote on PTSD in First Responders. Jack has also served as the Director of Mental Health and Wellness for the Association of Saskatchewan Paramedics and is involved with multiple mental health advocacy committees in Saskatchewan promoting the 4 pillars and post-traumatic growth. Jack has been a speaker at PTSD Conferences in both Saskatchewan and Alberta. Jack is also the Vice President of Insightful Journey Health and Wellness Inc. and of Hemp for Heroes Farm.
We stamped our digital passports and adventured through Jack’s story. It left us feeling grateful for knowing Jack and empowered to stand behind his advocacy and education efforts.
Inside of this episode:
↣ A childhood diagnosis + stigma
↣ How a life changing moment with his father lead to his calling and purpose.
↣ Jack takes us with him on his healing journey as he talks about the synchronistic path that lead him to adventure, love and understanding.
↣ A first hand look into the life of a First Responder
Connect with Guest:
Interview with Jack Rennie:
Calla: Why mental health? Where does your story start?
Jack Rennie: Um, so my story starts in childhood where I was diagnosed with ADHD and, you know, at a young age, I was labeled as someone with a learning disability. That was hard as a young boy, and I was also, you know, raised vegetarian. So I already had a lot of adversity when I was young and trying to overcome many labels. My father has was sick all my life. He had something called Hydrocephalus.
[Audio Cut Out.]
To continue what I was saying, my dad had Hydrocephalus. When I was in grade seven, he had a seizure; after surgery had an infection, and the paramedics and Fire Department came, and they picked him up. That’s when I decided I want to be a paramedic. I watched him struggle with mental health, with his illness, with everything. I’ve always been a huge advocate of that. At 15 years old, my mom started taking me to meditation retreats, started meditating, started attending silent meditation retreats at a young age, and already had quite a few coping tools. From a young age, which I forgot about during a lot of my paramedic career, a lot of my journey has been rediscovering many gifts given to me by my mom and different circumstances. At age 21, I became a primary care paramedic. I worked in a pretty northern reserve called Pelican Narrows. Within three months, I had my first major trauma where I had a baby pass away.
Within a month of that, another loss of a young lady passed away in front of me. That was sort of secondary, though, to the sanctuary trauma that I experienced within the culture of being a paramedic. I remember thinking that many people supported me and thought that the organization I worked for would be more supportive and understanding those sorts of things. And I found that not to be true. So I balled it up and kept it on the inside for quite a while. It was like three years. I silently sort of struggled. I put on that front. I bought into the culture, or the cult, whichever way you want to look at it. I, essentially, while I was in advanced care paramedic School, which is the top-level paramedic in Saskatchewan- so that’s another additional two years. I wrote an essay on Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, which is when I found out that I had it.
Leanne: Hold on. So you wrote the paper, And as you’re writing, you realize this is me?
Jack Rennie: Yeah, I was writing this, and I’m getting triggered as I was writing it. I found myself struggling in my scenarios and schooling, and I’m like, Man, what is going on, like, I usually can push through this and put my head down. And then I got flown out, won the scholarship, and flew out to Toronto. While I was there, I saw many other presentations and met some other people involved in charity, advocacy, and mental health. That was back in 2013, and by 2014, I did my first conference for PTSD Awareness in Saskatchewan. Shortly after that, we had one of the paramedics take their own life, and I realized I had to do more. So I quit my job, and I went tree planting. I was homeless for a year. I traveled Asia out of a backpack, put everything into storage, went to India first, and took my yoga teacher training. And as I was taking my yoga teacher training, I started to shift from that fight or flight I had been in for so long. I started the “Eat Pray Love” thing but from a masculine perspective.
Leanne: Yeah, I want to hear about that trip. Was the purpose to get out and find yourself?
Jack Rennie: So the interesting thing about when I reflect on it, you know, in Walter Mitty when he like takes that call to adventure.
Leanne: Yes, that sounds like your life, to be honest.
Jack Rennie: So, in Walter Mitty, he goes on what’s called the hero’s journey. And that’s was sort of popularized by Joseph Campbell. And it’s in all the different mythology around the world. So it’s found in all the tribal stories, and Hollywood uses that as a template for films like Lord of the Rings, Harry Potter, and Walter Mitty. So, without realizing it, I went on my own hero’s journey and answered the call to adventure. I started by tree planting, and I found it to be therapy, just being in nature and putting trees in the ground, 10 hours a day of tough labor.
From there, I went to India for a month and then went over to Thailand, Cambodia. While I was in Cambodia, I didn’t realize this, but the whole nation had been through a genocide. And I started looking at how other cultures heal from trauma. So I started approaching a lot of my travels with that lens of, wow, a lot of people, not just people in the West, but people all over have been through trauma, yet they learn how to live with it, and they learn how to be resilient and build that character. So I started going by the seat of my pants and every country leading me to the next. So after that, I went back to India for a month to live. I lived with monks in northern India for two or three weeks. It was incredible. I knew a monk from like, back in2007, who I live, I stayed with them for a little bit, and actually, very serendipitously reconnected with them. And he was in India at the time, and he was a follower of Radhanath Swami, is the guru of Russell Brand.
Strangely enough, he had just left from filming “The Trews,” which was this thing he was doing on YouTube for a while, and he had been in India about two or three months before I got there. So everyone, all the monks and I met him, and I was sort of traveling along to the same places that he went, which was cool. So I got to spend time with his Guru Radhanath Swami, and he was just an incredible light in my life at that time, so it was a pretty nice transformation.
Calla: What were the lessons you learn from him?
Jack Rennie: Compassion, Authenticity, and how to be Humble, and how to treat people. So, I had dysentery and got “Delhi-Belly,” and I was just sitting at a table trying to fight through it, thinking I would be fine. I remember him coming up to me, putting his hand on my shoulder and looking at me, and just being like, are you okay? And just like, getting lost in that, like, you know, eternal presence. It was just like, wow, this guy has a lot of power about him.
Leanne: I’ve seen documentaries featuring gurus, and all these people say, you feel like something bigger around them. It’s just something they give off. Is that something you experienced as well?
Jack Rennie: Oh, yeah. Big time. I couldn’t describe it. It just felt like the aura, the energy surrounding certain people, is like very healing, just sort of being around someone who’s done a lot of inner work, a lot of shadow work and stuff. It was just a pretty remarkable experience. So then I went back to Bali, and I spent, I think, a month there.
Calla: You’re just trusting yourself that this will all work out the whole time? I’m over here, like, how did you like get from point A to point B, to C to D? I mean, you were all over the place.
Jack Rennie: Yeah, I know. You know, I was like, I didn’t want to be, like, go off work, and be labeled, again, as I had as a child. I got labeled with a learning disability, ADHD, you know, like, felt very useless. And like, I couldn’t learn or be resilient. So I always had a chip on my shoulder. And I didn’t want to go into the western medical system and be put on many medications that disconnected me further from my feelings and emotions. I felt like that was a lot of the root cause. I just felt like this was a hail mary. I didn’t feel like I wanted to go off work and do counseling once a week. It was full immersion for me. So, in Bali, I came across a bike accident while I was in an Uber. Some lady fell off or got hit by a vehicle while she was on a scooter, and I snapped right back into paramedic mode. It’s kind of a weird story. So the lady is at a crystal-like, sort of gem shop, and all these middle-aged white women were surrounding her with essential oils and smudge, and I’m like, What’s going on over here? I was finishing my yoga class, and I was walking around and see a broken bike, and I’m like, Oh, that’s weird. Then I look over, and I see this woman obviously concussed saying “help me” and on all fours, and I’m like, “Oh, my gosh, does she need some
help?” And they’re like, “No, we know we got this,” to which I replied, “It looks like she needs help. Like, it seems like she’s in pain”. And they’re like, “Oh, no, we got it.” and I said, “Well, I’m a paramedic.” Then they’re like, “Oh, the angels sent you!” And I’m just like, No, I was just walking around the corner, I guess. Yeah. Sure. If you want to say that. Yeah. So I get her into the clinic and get her stabilized and send her off by ambulance to get a CT scan, and it turns out she has a fractured back, and they want to, like discharge her, but I was like, I don’t know. I think it’s probably a good idea for her to go to the hospital. Then the people that were intervening initially invited me to teach yoga at their women’s retreat. I’m like, Sure, yeah. I didn’t think I’d use this yoga teacher training thing. I ended up teaching like a three or four-day yoga retreat. I was their yoga teacher, and it was pretty cool. So from there, I was like, wow, this is pretty cool. Maybe I’ll go a little bit deeper into this. And then I got invited to go to like a manifesting your dreams and reality into reality workshop. In that workshop, just like in a flash, it came to me that I want to open a retreat center for first responders, paramedics, and people recovering from trauma. And it was just like a super crazy flash of me in a log home with my wife and baby. And, you know, running this retreat center. It’s kind of crazy because now I live in a log home in the forest and have a baby and a really beautiful wife. And now I’ve sort of, you know, transition into, you know, doing some retreats and stuff. So it’s kind of from that retreat or that workshop five or six years ago, I’ve sort of materialized in a way.
Leanne: You manifested your dream.
Jack Rennie: I didn’t think much of it at the time. But now that I’m thinking of it…
Leanne: They’ll recommend that workshop.
Jack Rennie: Yeah, from there, I went to the Philippines, and then Japan, and then went to Hong Kong, and then I went home for another season of tree planting.
Leanne: I’ve been to Asia a couple of times. I went to the Philippines into Bali as well. I think that’s one of the most beautiful places on earth. Do you find that the way people treat each other over there is different than over here?
Jack Rennie: Big time, more collectivists. The sort of underlying values of a lot of their culture is more deep-rooted than in North America. So I find they look out for one another. They are hardworking, more humble people. And I saw in Bali, in particular, their connection to Hinduism was pretty cool. The overall belief in karma. Like, you know, like that whole saying, “you’re meant to meet someone” or “the stars align,” that’s just like assumed over there. So then I just started playing into that a little bit. I didn’t know what I was doing. I was just like, well, maybe I am supposed to meet you. It turned out that perhaps I was, and then I just started believing in myself. I just started using my whole trip as unplanned as possible and went with my intuition and my gut and found a lot of healing from that. And then, I re-entered the profession as a flight paramedic in Stony Rapids. That’s near Northwest Territory, way away up north, that’s a three-hour flight.
I was working two weeks in four weeks out. During that time, I was still traveling. I went to Mongolia, I went to Taiwan, to Myanmar. I think I’ve been to about 23 countries now and picked up different things along the way. In Mongolia, I had the idea that I could have yurts at the retreat center. And that would be sort of like, you know, a cool way for people to like get back, and that’s a circular structure. So we just got our first 117-foot yurt-insulated wood-burning stove. I just got that a couple of weeks ago.
Leanne: I always see yurts on Airbnb, and I heart them because I’m like, one day I will stay in a yurt. And I love the word. I don’t know.
Jack Rennie: Yeah, it’s a great word. So, yurts are a very special thing to me. So I met my wife, and she had some trauma and stuff, and we instead of trauma bonding and focusing on the things that made us feel broken, we focus more on resilience. So, I took her tree planting and built a yurt for her, well, we built it together, and we stayed in it for the whole spring season. It was like a makeshift, but it had a wood-burning stove, and I started to feel bad when it was really cold. Everyone was shivering in their tents and like, had like, you know, a barrel-like homeless people have, and we’re out there like warming up, and I have this smoke billowing out of my yurt. So, I felt a little bit weird because I was there by choice and stuff. But yeah, it’s been on the radar for quite a while.
Leanne: Can you explain tree planting?
Jack Rennie: So it’s competitive. You wouldn’t think so, but you live in a tent for like two to three months, usually two months. And you get the seat? Or your Yeah, yeah, so you get these seedlings which are like, you know, probably like, you know, six inches long. And you shove, shove as many as you can like in the side bags like you’re around your waist and you have like shoulder straps, and you stab a shovel in the ground, and you try to, you know, get good soil, and then you just put them in the ground and make sure they’re upright and that the plug isn’t damaged. And you do that for 10 hours a day. And you have to make sure they’re spaced and everything. You get paid based on the amount of trees that you plant. So a good amount of trees would be like, you know, two to 3000 a day. And it’s about 11 cents a tree. So yeah, it’s like 11 and a half cents a tree. And sometimes you’d barely be able to plant-like 1000 because the ground is so bad. So it’ll just be like Rocky, and you’d have to slam your shovel and a bunch of different places before you find a good home for them. In my second season, I planted 4121 per day. I had the perfect land, the stars aligned, and I decided to see how much I could push myself. That’s pretty typical in the tree planting world because you want to use that competition, that drive, to make the most money. But, I was there for fun, but also the money is nice, you know, filling my bank account and stuff. That would probably be $500 for that day.
Leanne: Is it on a specific plot of land?
Jack Rennie: Yeah, it’s like a cut block. Forestry companies clear-cut a bunch of forests and then contract tree planting companies to replenish what they’ve come up with. So it’s sort of depressing, actually, just like seeing all this dead forest about and you see destruction where animals used to live, and the habitat and stuff. Doing that for 10 hours a day, the energy of a cut block, all that destruction starts to get to you. I sort of romanticized it. I want to take the good things from it, not some kind of the not-so-good stuff. I used it as a tool for my healing.
Leanne: What about it felt healing?
Jack Rennie: I don’t know if either of you are into yoga, but it’s like a mantra. I would do mantras in my head while I was tree planting. So once I found that, I was able to find catharsis. Then I started processing my memories and my traumas. My brain literally would go into these traumas and high definition, not in a triggered way, but in a very healing way. I’d be able to look at them differently and pick apart the value from them, not necessarily the parts of those situations that wounded me or the parts I felt wounded me. I was able to look at them in a different light. So I found that really helpful.
Leanne: Did you take any of that spontaneity and trust that that, you know, things are happening the way they’re supposed to? Is that kind of ingrained in you now? Or was that kind of hard to maintain once you came back to Western living?
Jack Rennie: It was very hard. I thought I was better (or healed from)my trauma or PTSD. I liked to call it “trauma fatigue.” I found that it’s tough to find out who I was now.
[Audio Cut Out / Reconnected]
Jack Rennie: Trauma fatigue, a term that my colleague and I, Dwayne Broughton, he’s the one that is a co-owner of our retreat that we’re working on out here in Saskatchewan. I feel like trauma fatigue, as opposed to a post-traumatic stress disorder, which seems like it hides the humanity of what people are going through in like jargon. I find it adds to the stigma. And it adds to, you know when you call something a disorder, it’s sort of like creates a stigma and resistance to people wanting to get that label.
Calla: Do you feel like it limits you?
Jack Rennie: I feel like it does. But I think any, any sort of diagnosis, I feel like, you know, it’s good to find out answers, it’s good to be able to compartmentalize what you’re going through, but I feel like it doesn’t have to be a life sentence—That’s my belief. When I re-entered the profession after my first trip, I got re-traumatized when I attended a plane crash with 26 people on it in Fond du Lac, Saskatchewan. It was really hard to live in that spontaneous way, live with my intuition, and make sense of why that would happen to me. I’ve been through a lot, you know, why can’t these things sort of ease up? Like, give me a break. So after that, I explored Western modalities. I did something called Accelerated Resolution Therapy shortly after that trauma. That involves EMDR. So, eye movement rapid desensitization and reprocessing. It helped change the neuropathway surrounding some of the triggers that I experienced during that plane crash. So I use that therapist, and I trusted the process that no one tool fits every job. I used conventional Western medicine, Eastern philosophy, plant medicines, and being out in nature to bring me back to my center.
Leanne: Can I ask what the protocol was after witnessing something traumatizing, like the plane crash or the young deaths you saw, in the beginning, to get back to work?
Jack Rennie: Yeah, I didn’t really have one; I just kept working. I asked for time off, and that was denied. So yeah, there isn’t one.
Well, they sort of want to set me up with the priest, you know, and I didn’t want to do that. So that might have been the protocol. I consider myself more Buddhist than anything. So I was like, you know, I sort of had a debrief with one of the guys who had been around for quite a while, but he kind of just went into his traumas. I felt like I was supporting him. I felt like I just went through something, and I’m 21 years old and crying uncontrollably, having night terrors, and not knowing what’s happening to me. I just remember thinking, “Okay, not bringing that up again.” So I actually am not a huge fan of critical incident stress debriefing. In the conventional sense, where you go around in a circle, everyone shares their collective traumas and grief. I think that can add to vicarious trauma.
Leanne: Has that changed at all? The protocol? Is there any more support for people or first responders that do feel traumatized by what they’ve been seen?
Jack Rennie: No. I’m, I’m working on it. I’ve been working on this and speaking up about this in newspaper and PR articles since 2013- 2014. Now people are starting to make a note of it with a lot of the suicides that are getting some attention, pretty public, you know? First responders who have taken their own lives due to their injury and disease, I’d say. So I believe that they’re contributing to the trauma by not having someone sort of qualify, well, I don’t know qualified to correct term, but like, just, you know, going around in a circle and having everyone sort of sharing their emotions.
When that wasn’t previously in the culture, it sort of feels forced. I’m not a huge fan of like, the AA style, I mean, is focused on the recovery and abstinence from, you know, alcohol or in our Narcotics Anonymous, it’s abstinence from narcotics, but, you know, when, when it’s a trauma, which is like, pretty fresh and complex. Everyone’s triggered differently and triggered by different things. You know, if you see someone struggling in that circle, it’s like, I feel for them. I’m like, man. I just want to hug you or tell you how I feel too. And, like, you know, really be there for them. But that’s sort of like people. If they break down or get emotional, then they might feel that vulnerability hangover and feel embarrassed. It’s kind of like sharing our collective guilt and sharing those feelings of some sort of like; it’s like trauma bonding, that’s what it is trauma bonding. So it’s more trauma bonding instead of focusing on the proactive steps that we can take to build each other up. I think the essence of peer support should be more on the social aspect, making sure people don’t become reclusive. They don’t become introverted. They don’t disconnect from their friends and family; I think check-ins are really important. That’s something I’m a huge advocate for. I don’t think that we should be having many people who are currently wounded and going through the trauma, taking on other people’s trauma.
Calla: Yeah, their responsibility. It doesn’t seem very healthy.
Jack Rennie: No, I always say like, you know, hurt people hurt people, healed people heal people. So, this sort of term was coined, I think, in the 80s called Florence Nightingale Syndrome. And that’s Florence Nightingale is the one who created the rounds, like doing rounds and check-ins on your patients. And I think she was like a single lady, and she dedicated her whole life to the nursing profession and that sort of glorified it. So, I feel like this sort of self-sacrificial, like almost like masochism, taking pleasure and being burnt out and being wounded and injured is sort of glorified in my profession.
Leanne: Yeah. I don’t even know if it’s just your profession. I think it’s in the culture in general. It’s very trendy to say like, oh, I’m so burnt out. I’m just so busy. You know?
Jack Rennie: Yeah, yeah. So then it creates this weird culture where it’s like, if someone does heal and is vulnerable and open like I am, it’s sort of like, looked down upon. It’s like, people don’t know how to take you, you know, open people, like Fabian and I, and honest about our struggles. So it’s sort of, you know, people like, well, you’re not supposed to be like that.
Jack Rennie: So I’m actually the president now.
Calla: Oh, my gosh. We had no idea!
Jack Rennie: That’s okay. That’s just a recent transition, um, because Fabian is taking the Veterans House side, which is the charity side. I’m working with the nonprofit side, working with the partners, and moving forward with some strategic planning. But yeah, that happens. Let’s see, my, my wife’s Auntie is married to a doctor who is connected to Fabian, through some business dealings. We’re at a wedding, and then a funeral shortly after. So I started talking to this uncle of hers, and then her Auntie said, you have to connect them to Fabian. It sounds like they would totally hit it off; they have a lot of the same ideas. Eventually, he connected us, and we were talking for man over a year. I just moved into my place and was still working in the profession actively. And, you know, that’s a hard thing to do. But when you’re in remission from your trauma, because you can come out of that fairly easily if you don’t take care of yourself. So, throughout that year, we talked quite a bit and emailed back and forth. He asked me to send in my story of healing to him. One day, I just typed it all out in an email. I don’t know really what came out, but it just sort of channeled through my fingertips into the email. Then that led to some phone calls and some messaging back and forth. Finally, he invited my wife and I out there to New Brunswick.
We flew out there in 2018, and they were doing an interview. Fabian was like, “I want you to talk to these news, people really quick.”, and I said, “sure.” Then on the interview, he’s like, “Oh, yeah, and Jack is joining the team. And he’s going to be director Western operations.” And I was like, “I am? Holy crap, this is happening.” So two weeks later, he and Juliane flew out to my wife, and I’s acreage retreat center. We hosted a mini-retreat for them. We had a medicine man come out and do a sweat lodge. We did some nature therapy. It is just a really cool experience to share that with Fabian and Juliane. We really got to know each other.
Calla: I would think you would bond through that for sure.
Jack Rennie: Yeah. And that was his first sweat lodge, so that was pretty cool being able to share that with him.
Calla: Can you paint a picture of what the sweat lodge experience is?
Jack Rennie: Well, actually, that’s a big missing piece, which I haven’t gotten into. So this would be the perfect opportunity. So, after all my travels, after everything I had gone through, I still felt this missing piece. So when I got that job in Stony Rapids at the Dene Reserve, I started approaching the First Nations cultures as if I was traveling to a new country. I started learning the language. I started learning the cultural beliefs and traditions around healing and the ceremonies. So that led me to work in La Ronge, which is just north of there, and that’s about 80% First Nation that’s 20%, Caucasian, they have about six reserves around this particular community that’s Woodland Creek—and I apprenticed under a medicine man for about three years.
The sweat lodge is representative of the womb of mother earth. So it’s made out of Willow. And it’s covered with blankets and tarps, and different things to create a circular dome structure. And the idea behind it is that when you enter, you’re entering into the womb of Mother Earth, and you come out reborn. And the rocks that are used in the sweat lodge or representative, the grandfather’s, you know, because they had been the rock as a spirit. And they’ve been here since the beginning of time. So when you give your traumas, you give what you’re going through, and your prayers to those rocks, and they take those traumas on, and you’re able to leave what you came in there to pray with, you’re able to leave some of that grief, some of that trauma, some of that pain in the sweat lodge and let it go up with steam. So in a sweat lodge is four rounds, and each round is a particular thing that you’re working on. So it depends on which style lodge you go to, whether it’s Lakota Nakota, Woodland Creek, or there’s Dene sweats. But the one I was learning from, the fourth round was the healing round, that’s the last round for you, you know, come out of the sweat lodge and become reborn. And the scene is that, within the sweat lodge, which we’re not meant to speak about. But there’s, lots of songs, there’s lots of healing that happens.
Different medicines are used to help with clearing and to help with healing. It’s what they call doctoring. When someone comes in there, they get doctored by the lodge-keeper. Usually, the lodge-keeper has an Asklepios, which I was acting as, and they’ll have other pipe carriers, so they’ll carry the sacred pipe with them. That tobacco spirit is the first medicine gifted to the people as a gift, and that’s meant to be a portal. So that is sort of what you’d offer if you’re calling a sweat. If you were to approach a lodge-keeper and want to sweat lodge, or to be doctored or healed, or, you know, if you were to pick medicines, and you’d offer tobacco, then the pipe is misinterpreted, a lot to mean the peace pipe, but it’s actually the truth pipe. So it’s some type of truth. So when you connect to the tobacco spirit, you have to live a life of truth. If you’re a pipe carrier, then you have to live by certain morals. You can’t drink, you can’t do drugs, you can’t disrespect women, you have to have integrity. You have to follow the red road, which is the road of integrity, the path of sobriety, the path of honor and courage, and now, there are many different teachings around that. To bring Fabian into that and use the local culture and tap into it in a respectful way, some of their ways of healing from trauma. That was a pretty incredible experience for me to be able to share that.
Leanne: What was it like to be an apprentice to a medicine man?
Jack Rennie: So in the First Nations teachings, the lesson comes first, and then the learning comes after. In the conventional system, it’s like the learning comes first, and then you get the lesson. You go to school, you get the teaching, and then you get the homework after. So it’s much more passive. It’s like, you’d be cutting wood or gathering stones, or you’d be actively doing something. If you go absent-minded, or you make a mistake, then the teaching would come after. They allow you to slip up or fall. That’s sort of called the principle of non-interference. They are quite accepting of a lot. At least the ones I’ve worked with. They’re very, very accepting of people making mistakes. They allow you to learn and grow naturally, which works for my learning style well. So every teaching and the First Nations way that I know of, in my experiences, the oral tradition, so it’s passed down, orally, it’s not written. Everything has a protocol. If you want to learn a song, you have to present broadcloth and tobacco and a gift, and then that song is actually transmitted to you. You can’t just go on YouTube and type it in and type it in and sign along.
Calla: It sounds very traditional and beautiful and very encompassing.
Jack Rennie: It is. The sad part is that many ways of the lodge and these different teachings have been lost through colonization. So people who do practice these ways on the reserve are often the black sheep. Because they’re outlawed for so long, and the church has such a strong influence still, to this day, on the different reserves, it’s been difficult to navigate that even from my perspective, as someone who’s Caucasian and learning these things, and who’s benefited from that. So there’s a lot of guilt and a lot of fear of appropriation and the “cancel culture” and stuff like that. But, when you’re sick and you’re struggling, you do what’s necessary to get better, and you leave your ego at the door. You leave the fear of judgment. You have to go by your experience, and so far of my experience is that if you approach it with integrity, and with good intentions, and you want to learn the ways and these different things and not just like take little bits and pieces and sort of make it your own and try to monetize it. If you do it with a good heart, you know everyone I’ve spoken to has been receptive to that: all these knowledge keepers, all these lodge keepers. Everyone has been just great.
Calla: How is that translating into what you’re doing with GAFF House?
Jack Rennie: It’s allowed me a way to find something that I feel like I’ve found my path. With yoga, I practiced it for quite a while and then, you know, I run into some different things, like the Bikram thing and the dark side of yoga, a lot of the ego, egotistical sides of it, which just sort of like turned me off. I found a spiritual one-upmanship very present within the yoga meditation and western view of that. That really turned me off.
Calla: That’s a weird thing to navigate, I would think.
Jack Rennie: Yeah, it was really strange. It sort of seemed like a lot of exhibitionism. Were in the First Nations teachings, and The traditional ways do not show and tell. It’s an experiential thing. It’s there for your healing; you’re there for your peers; you’re there for those you’re praying for. It’s a very private thing. And I think I felt like a lot of my journey has been very public.-especially being interviewed for many of the suicides that have happened in the past several years in Saskatchewan. I’ve made my voice pretty known to the public. I guess you could say. Having something where I could, you know, use it to heal myself, allow me to be a voice, a strong voice, for GAFF, and also let for me to step into my strength and be a voice for others who feel like they’ve lost theirs.
Jack Rennie: Absolutely. So the first pillar we’re looking at is triage, and people are finding people to write medicine. So that would be symptom reduction, or in the veterans’ case, medical cannabis is a really good start for people. So, starting them on high-quality medical cannabis is often really helpful for medically discharged people from the forces. So in the Veteran Affairs Canada perspective would be RCMP or military. However, we found that for a first responder to use medical cannabis still has a stigma. Even though it’s legal, it’s difficult for them to use without that guilt, without that shame, and without fear of judgment from their colleagues. So, essentially, that first pillar has been turned into a triage point, connecting people to the right service, the right therapists, the right medicine—basically a stabilizing point.
The next pillar is treating the root cause. The root cause would be using EMDR, neurofeedback, and trying to regulate the biological system and get to the root of the psychological injury that has occurred, whether cumulative, incident-specific, and working out some of the triggers. So, the third step being natural healing modalities, sub beware, like quantum therapy, the nature hikes, the retreats, you know, more of the residential component would come in. So what when Fabian created GAFF, the first two pillars were covered by Veterans Affairs, it was still not covered by the Workers Compensation Board. So that’d be first responders. So many first responders have to pay out of pocket if they want medical cannabis or therapy. It’s sort of capped at like $500 or something, so I don’t think five sessions will do much.
You’re forcing people to go on the Workers Compensation Board, which is an insurance company, you know, to leave your profession, sometimes risking permanently, and risking future opportunities for promotion, risking judgment from your colleagues, you have to go pretty far. People are pretty broken, just barely holding on because they don’t want to have to go off work and put themselves through that. There’s a lot of working wounded in first responders. At least with veterans, they have the opportunity to li have their pension covered and 90% of what you’re paid, and the regular forces that are covered, sort of as a result of your injury, where we’re still working on that in the first responder world. So, Fabian had created this third pillar because Veterans Affairs didn’t cover retreats. He was like, this has helped me, and I want to share with my tribe, with all the people I have served with, and that’s him giving back, right? I sort of had that same idea through doing my yoga teacher training, meditation as a youth, and then keeping that meditation practice, you know, throughout my healing journey, on and off. Still, you know, creating an immersive experience, just like I did with my travel, just like Fabian did when he started hosting these retreats, I think is a huge component. And then, the fourth pillar is reshaping purpose. So, here in Saskatchewan, we have a Hemp for Heroes program, where we’re putting people back to work by hand planting and hand-harvesting hemp.
We’re creating different products from that, whether biodiesel, which can run tractors and vehicles off of. You can run diesel generators off of. You can make hemp lumber. You can make hempcrete. You can extract the oil or extract the seeds as a superfood. So we’re just doing a small five-acre plot this spring circle planting in about a week. So we’re doing a five-acre test plot, and then we’re going to have some first responders and maybe some veterans come out and help with the hand harvesting of it. Hemp is awesome and can change the world. You can make electricity out of it, you know, you burn the biomass and, you know, generate your own electricity. It’s like, it’s such like a diverse, credible thing. And it’s such a crazy process to have the hemp farm like we had to do Health Canada application. And, you know, get audited every year to have hemp on our land. And it’s like, not even psychoactive. Yeah, you have to have like 1%, less than 1% THC, and the hemp product to be considered hemp. So it’s quite strange. But yeah, the hemp or the fourth pillar would be like, you know, if someone wanted to start their own business, like a veteran or first responder after they’d been through this healing process, that’s like the giving back. And if you sort of look at the hero’s journey, it’s in that circular format. And they always sort of return home, after they’ve been on their journey, and they want to get back. And that sort of follows that same hero’s journey, you know, from that call to adventure to the trials and tribulations to the abyss, and then coming back from the abyss and conquering that dragon, that demon or that trigger, you come back and have something to offer now. That is sort of depicted often as a treasure, or a gift, or something beyond yourself. That’s where a lot of people can become shepherds. They can help others along the way. They can open their own Retreat Center. They can basically, do you know what Tyson’s doing in Pictou creating a safe space for people to come and volunteer and have an incredible time and, you know, help land helicopters in a field.
Leanne: He was excited about that one.
Jack Rennie: Yeah, I listened to it this morning. And I was like, This is awesome.
Leanne: It is really beautiful what you guys are doing. I mean, it’s clear that this needs to be talked about, but not only that, like you’re making actual moves and starting a movement to support and change these people’s lives. And I think it’s incredible.
Jack Rennie: Thank you. That’s great.
Calla: I second what she said.
Jack Rennie: Yeah, I find that sharing our own stories of healing and our journeys. I hope that using my voice been sharing what I’ve been through and some of the things that have helped heal my trauma will give people some courage to do the same.
Leanne: Does that feel even further healing to to to be a to share and see what comes of it in a positive way?
Jack Rennie: Yeah. Like I had no idea what I was going to talk about this interview, and I didn’t know whether I would get into some of the plant medicines I’ve used to heal myself or the yoga, the meditation, the sweat lodge indigenous ways. Yeah, pretty much an open book.
Leanne: Thank you for sharing with us, Jack.
Jack Rennie: You’re Welcome. Thank you.