Healing on the Land: My Vacation in Yellowknife – Part 3

 Sharing my insights about the land, healing, Reconciliation & Canada 150.

Onion Lake Powwow 2017

Onion Lake is hosting their annual powwow on July 14th -16th at the Onion Lake Heritage Park. I’m excited to bring our Women Warriors researchers from the University of Calgary, Masters student, Megan and summer student, Elsy to their first powwow. They are coming to familiarize themselves with Lloydminster, and learn more about the Women Warriors program. We will be attending the Grand Entry on Friday night and supporting local artists and friends at the Indigenous Beauty Market.

Here’s an excerpt from Megan’s Master’s proposal that links reconciliation to Indigenous health:

The Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) of Canada’s eighteenth and twentieth calls to action, respectively, state the following:

We call upon the federal, provincial, territorial, and Aboriginal governments to
acknowledge that the current state of Aboriginal health in Canada is a direct result of previous Canadian government policies, including residential schools, and to recognizeand implement the health-care rights of Aboriginal people as identified in international law, constitutional law, and under the Treaties (2015: 2).

In order to address the jurisdictional disputes concerning Aboriginal people who do not reside on reserves, we call upon the federal government to recognize, respect, and address the distinct health needs of the Métis, Inuit, and off-reserve Aboriginal peoples (2015: 3).

The proposed research will examine food security as a major contributor to Indigenous women’s health on the Treaty 6 territory of Lloydminster. It will be conducted in collaboration with Women Warriors, a program which promotes the wellbeing of its participants through free exercise classes and dietary education. While serving both Indigenous and non-Indigenous participants, Women Warriors prioritizes and celebrates Indigeneity in its programming, which aims to be culturally responsive in its approach. This research will contribute to the program’s holistic approach to health by taking a closer look at how their participants achieve or attempt to achieve access to nutritious foods in their daily lives. In light of apparent limitations on the part of formal markets and government initiatives to produce food security for Indigenous women and their families living off reserve, it will inquire as to how informal economic practices and support networks may facilitate increased access to food resources. It will highlight the ways that Indigenous women’s social capital and informal supports facilitate food access and help them to feed themselves and their kin. Furthermore, it will consider the role of self-provisioning and relations of distribution within social support networks, and the perceived benefits and values participants associate with various foods. In doing so, it will attempt to define a gap in formal health care provision, looking not only at how Women Warriors may improve their programming but at how healthcare providers may respond to the nutritional needs of Indigenous women in more culturally responsive ways. The proposed research is necessary due to its potential to reveal how informal economic practices, patterns, and networks of social support reflect the cultural values and desires of Indigenous families as they relate to food and health. It will seek to incorporate and prioritize Indigenous perspectives, emphasizing relationship between individuals, the land, their food, culture, and each other in an attempt to discover what food security means to participants.

My cousin, Julie Lys is opening an healing centre in Fort Smith, NWT this fall.

Healing on the Land: My Vacation in Yellowknife Part 3 of 4

Two days after I arrived in Yellowknife I received a message from my friend Julie Beaver, a community health representative (CHR) that I met in Inuvik in September when I consulted on the Government of NWT Tobacco Sharing Circles. (To learn more about the tobacco sharing circles please listen to this CBC interview with another attendee, Lyle Frank, Supervisor Community Wellness Programs, GNWT). She had a friend who wanted to meet me, Julie Lys from Fort Smith. It turned out that Julie and I are related, third cousins, and that she is opening a healing centre in Fort Smith.
Before I summarize our conversation here is a biography about Julie from the Canadian Nurses Association 2014 Biennial Convention where she presented. Julie Lys NP, MN-ANP, is Métis; she was born and raised in Fort Smith. Lys has been working as a nurse for the Government of the Northwest Territories for 26 years. She completed her master’s degree in nursing through Athabasca University in 2007 and is currently working as a nurse practitioner in her home community. Lys is the North of 60 director for the Aboriginal Nurses Association of Canada. Her interests are in aboriginal health and healing and in the integration of traditional knowledge in health and wellness. Recognizing that the current health-care system does not effectively address the needs of aboriginal clients, Lys has been searching for ways to improve health in aboriginal communities.
Julie believes culture is the foundation for health and wellness. Her healing center, still unnamed is funded through the NWT Métis Nation. It will be open to anyone. In an email to me she states, “The intend it to provide land and culture based healing and wellness programs that help us discover and utilize our strengths as indigenous people to help us heal and live well. This will include talking, sharing and healing circles, traditional counselling and support, understanding traditional ceremonies, genealogy, medicine walks, fireside chats, traditional harvesting, gathering and food prep and lots of gathering and laughing. It through rediscovering who we are, and where we have come from that will lead us in a good way. This is based on what my Dad used to tell me when I was younger ” we have to know where we have come from to know where we are going”. He also told us “the land heals”. I have come to a place in my life where this finally makes sense to me and I have found resources to make it happen so I will do my best.”
In this Northern News Service article Julie states that, “the health-care system that we have looks at physical and a little bit of mental health, but it does not look at the emotional and the spiritual health. In a lot of aboriginal cultures it’s just that you need a balance between mental, emotional, spiritual and physical health to really be healthy.” We also talk about how Indigenous spirituality is not valued by the Western medical model. I tell her about my issues with the western research on my program and ask her, how can we prove that spirituality and healing on the land is an important key to improving the health outcomes of Indigenous peoples?
I believe that due to the work of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada we’re in the midst of decolonizing knowledge and investing in learning about Indigenous culture and knowledge systems through on-the-land camps. Furthermore, that the NWT is at the forefront of this movement in Canada. For example, “Fort McPherson First Nation teams up with U of A to create community camp” and “over three years, $100,000 in funding has been granted by the university through the Kule Institute for Advanced Study.” Or the “Learning on the land at Dechinta, the N.W.T.’s ‘bush university’ whose mission is to “support a new generation of leaders and researchers by providing accessible and practical learning and development experiences, respectful of traditional ways, in a taiga bush environment.” Dechinta University’s semester of study includes “the first 6-7 weeks onsite, working with Elders and instructors, preparing assignments and maintaining and outcamp. Students and faculty spend those 6-7 weeks engaging in lectures, workshops, daily experiences, fire sessions and out-trips. The majority of the on-site instruction takes place outdoors.”
From my perspective as the co-founder and facilitator of Women Warriors I believe that culture, land, and health intersect. I thought that by removing the main barrier to getting physically active, the cost associated with exercise classes, my Indigenous participants would increase their activity levels and improve their health outcomes. It proved to be more complicated. I have observed that my participants that are connected to their traditional culture have better attendance. I also know from my experience as a Northerner and being connected to my family in Yellowknife that having access to the land, developing and investing in on-the-land programs is the key to improving health outcomes for Indigenous peoples.