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Who Made You The Judge

Chris Osawi Maskwa Yellowbird’s history is inundated with trauma, addiction, drug dealing, gang involvement, and gun violence. Centuries of abuse, oppression, racism and the systemic attempt to destroy his culture have had devastating impacts. If you met him today, you would have difficulty believing his past.
Chris and his family are from Alexander First Nation (Kipohtakaw); they relocated to Edmonton early in Chris’ childhood. Chris and his family experienced abuse at The Charles Camsell Indian Hospital; his father, father’s siblings, and grandparents all survived residential school – both federally funded, Christian missionary-run institutions. Chris knows little of their experiences but has seen his father’s scars and recalls his father’s account of the older boys being forced to dig graves late at night to bury their own. His Grandmother never spoke of it; the family believes she was raped and worse.

Chris Osawi Maskwa Yellowbird

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As a child, Chris was repeatedly exposed to death. Many of his relatives suffered from addiction, leading to death. When Chris was seven, he found a cousin dead on the couch of an overdose; he also saw his uncle collapse and eventually die. Around the same time, Chris and his brother were being sexually molested by another uncle. Consequently, Chris carried enormous shame, guilt, and fear. Believing it was his fault and not knowing what to do, he regularly ran away, skipped school, and misbehaved. 


Child protective services tore him and his siblings from their parents when Chris was twelve. They were separated from their sisters and placed in foster care. Even though Chris and his brother had a kind, caring foster mom, he continued to act out. His final stop in the system was a group home, where he dropped out of school entirely.

Chris became a father at sixteen. Early on, he and his son’s mom did well, but things deteriorated. Chris faced his first criminal offense, charged with driving without insurance. The fine was $2800.00. He paid what he could but ended up in jail for the outstanding amount. Desperate, he contacted a friend for help and agreed to pay him back with a favour. The favour was delivering drugs. After a couple of deliveries, his debt was re-paid. The temptation to continue was impossible to resist; it was easy and lucrative. In no time, Chris had duffle bags of cash. He started partying, buying expensive vehicles, and living the lifestyle. As he got more involved, his life was eclipsed by personal addiction (to alcohol, pills, meth, heroin, and fentanyl), paranoia, and gun violence. The criminal charges and subsequent court cases piled up. Chris was remanded in high profile max for his involvement in a shooting. While awaiting trial, Chris’s father was found frozen to death. The news devastated Chris, and everything became too much. 

Chris did his best to straighten up, but nothing worked. His spirit was broken; he had given in to the fact that he would have to return to dealing. Something compelled him not to, and spirits guided him to Footprints Healing Center. Chris was immediately taken on as an emergency case. He lived at the center for six weeks, cut ties with people from his past, and focused on working on himself. Family members that hadn’t talked to him in years surrounded him with support. He continued speaking with a spiritual mentor as time passed and returned for AA and NA meetings. 

Chris has been sober since 2016 and is not the person he was. He is a peaceful spiritual mentor, cultural leader, and educator dedicated to helping others. The Footprints Healing Center put him through school at Northern Lake College to get his Addictions Counseling Diploma while he worked nights. Now, Chris uses his past to help others on their journey to recovery as a full-time Facilitator & Addictions Counselor.

He’s been honoured by his elders with gifts of songs, teachings, stories, and medicine. He has been gifted a pipe and is a lodge holder. A pipe is not meant for everyone; it is a sacred honour. Pipe carriers are individuals acknowledged by the community as healers with spiritual gifts. They are humble role models, teachers, and leaders in their community who live by specific laws and virtues. Through their work, they pass on traditions to others and contribute to the health of their community.

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