Cannabis & Indigenous Women:
A Series of Health Stories
Relationship Renewal & Cannabis
by Shelley Wiart
Our last storyteller in our Indigenous Women & Cannabis Health Stories Series is Juanita Lindley, who self-identifies as Syilx from the Interior Salish peoples of the Okanagan Territory. She has been working and helping others heal from addiction and intergenerational trauma for the last decade. With strong integrity, she believes that we must break social norms of how we view addiction and healing to make a sustainable change within Indigenous populations. She is the founder of Keepin’ it Real Addictions Services Ltd. and she holds and creates space for others to find their voice. She hosts a weekly online Zoom meeting for Wellbriety.
Juanita’s story about relationship renewal with traditional medicine, such as cannabis, has coincided with teachings from Indigenous psychologist, Dr. Eduardo Duran from the Indigenous psychology reading and practice group Facebook group that I enrolled in starting in April. He has permitted me to share audio clips from an interview that he posted in our Facebook group (click the link to listen to the audiogram). I have provided the text below about his teachings pertaining to a renewed relationship with substances.
“There’s a protocol that I’ve been taught by different traditional providers where let’s say that the issue is the opiate. I never tell people to stop or to keep using because in my experience, at least for me, that’s never worked to tell somebody to stop using opiates or stop using alcohol for me that doesn’t work. Instead, I tell them to make a relative out of it. And it’s the next time you’re going to use whatever. Let’s say, whatever opiate you’re going to use before you take it identify yourself to it because if you’re using that medicine it’s really rude for you to just take it without any added care. And the way that this works is you tell it your name, tell it your parents name, grandparents, as far back as you can go. You ask it, what’s your name and who are your parents? Who are your grandparents and what is it that you want? And then give it a gift. Give it some tobacco. Now that completely shifts the relationship. And a lot of people over the years have really gotten upset at me because they said that thing you told me about talking to the spirit of the medicine, it’s ruined my drinking because now I can’t just drink in peace because. I think about that stuff you said, and I just can’t do it the same way. So at the very least it creates a little bit of a cognitive monkey wrench in there to where now the person isn’t drinking the same way. So already something shifted just by being conscious that there is a relationship. And then usually what happens is that the spirit of the substance will respond. And so now the whole relationship is changed where it’s becoming more medicine because now they’re respecting it.”
For Indigenous peoples, it is our relationships that are integral to our ways of knowing. By addressing substances as an entity that we may form a relationships with, it shifts our way of knowing and relating to it from an unconscious to a conscious relationship. The key to transforming substance misuse/abuse is to treat it as a relative and be respectful of its power.
Duran, E. (2019). Healing the Soul Wound: Trauma-informed Counseling for Indigenous Communities. New York, NY: Teachers College Press.
Reframing Practices for Healing
by Juanita Lindley, M.Ed.
These last few months after being asked to write on this important topic, I have struggled with my position. As an Indigenous storyteller and researcher, I have decided that it is inconclusive and situational. Here is why:
This article comes at a very uncertain time over the globe with the current COVID-19 pandemic. I believe this pandemic has impacted my outlook and worldviews in a more meaningful and compassionate way. As a single mother, my instincts to protect and lead my family through these times are fierce, and my survival mode kicked into high gear. After I had gone to gather what I could for food and created a plan, I knew I had to gather medicines. I told my son we are going to the mountains. When we arrived, he took the tobacco and the knife and did what I had taught him to do. We took the medicine home and prepared it later that evening. Its scent wrapped around us and throughout our home like the presence of a grandmother coming to stay awhile. As instructed to me, I tell my children to talk to the medicine and thank it for coming to help us, and what we need it to do for us – asking for it to keep us healthy and safe from harm. These protocols of harvesting and using traditional medicine were lovingly gifted to me by my grandmothers, mother, and aunts.
I considered these teachings and my way of being when asked to write about cannabis and Indigenous women. As a Syilx woman who comes from the Interior Salish peoples of the Okanagan Territory, it is my way of being to recognize our relationship with all of creation.
As a plant medicine, cannabis should be respected. It is powerful in multiple ways, and it can heal many ailments. There is much to discuss in terms of traditional versus non-traditional use of this powerful plant. This notion then brings me to another timeline and way of being through stories of addictions and trauma.
It is no secret in Canada that the highest numbers of children in foster care, highest rates of men and women incarcerated, the highest numbers of peoples diagnosed with type II diabetes, and the highest numbers of addiction and overdose are Indigenous peoples. This disproportionate burden of societal ills is attributed to the genocide of the residential school era.
In his book, In the Realms of Hungry Ghosts- Close encounters with addiction (2008), Dr. Gabor Mate asks us to consider why the addiction? When looking at these staggering statistics and considering Indigenous peoples only make up 4% of the total Canadian population, we must view our situation as characterized by shame and judgments. It is the stereotype of character defects that places us on the margins. As Indigenous peoples, we have either experienced or have a family member who falls in these categories.
Cannabis is classified as a psychoactive substance due to its high concentration levels of THC and is known to cause symptoms of intoxication, paranoia, auditory and visual hallucinations (Darryl, 2011). Therefore, we must respect it for its powerful and healing properties. I believe that spirituality was removed from Western medicine to rule out the validity of our cultural and traditional healing methods. The result: our traditional medicines are viewed by mainstream medicine as taboo.
Something magical happens when we begin to ground within our Indigenous way of being through rebuilding the relationship we have with all our relations (Little Bear, 2000). We can cultivate a healthy relationship with cannabis by beginning to understand it and educate ourselves while reintroducing ourselves to it in a good way. We bring meaning and importance to our lives by what we choose to acknowledge and build a relationship with, or we risk being swept away by it.
We are still in the process of discovering all the healing benefits this plant medicine can assist within our wellness journey. It is a helper to aid with pain management – to those people suffering from anxiety, osteoporosis, fibromyalgia, and the list goes on. As an individual in recovery from alcohol misuse, I must consider what substances are harmful to my mind, body, and spirit. We all should. I find CBD to be helpful with my anxiety and insomnia in my areas of distress. I had to overcome my stigmas around healing with cannabis. I had to explore my own beliefs and acknowledge my history with substance misuse and set a new healthy intension with cannabis.
The non-traditional worldview of cannabis is that we are using it to get high, numb ourselves, or it fits us into a social role and identifies who we are. The Indigenous worldview is that we can reframe it by understanding there is a protocol to the use of cannabis and set an intention to cultivate a respectful relationship with it and respecting it as we would any other relatives of the plant species (Coyhis, 2002).
We have been given the gift of will to harness and choose what we allow ourselves to heal within this world through education, practice, and relationship. What works for one may not work for all. It is the deeper story of having respect for all creation, breaking free from shame and stigma, that we can deepen our understanding of the power of All My Relations and live with the intensions to transform our relationship with all things, such as cannabis.
Juanita Lindley M.Ed. is an Indigenous woman descending from the Upper Nicola Band of the Syilx – Okanagan Nation. She is a proud Mother to her 3 children. Juanita holds a Masters of Education through the Thompson Rivers University; She was a part of the First cohort to graduate from the Chemical Addiction program with the Nicola Valley Institute of Technology and the University of the Fraser Valley. Juanita is now recognized nationally for her awarded research proposal Envisioning a HUB Center for Healing through the Social Science and Human Research Council (SSHRC). Juanita was also a selected as speaker for Tedx TRU, her talk was titled Holding Space for Healing from and Addiction and Recovery.
Coyhis. D. (2002) Red Road to Wellbriety- In the Native American Way. White Bison Inc. Colorado Springs USA.
Inaba. D., Pharm. D., Cohen. W. (2011) Uppers, Downers, All Arounders, Seventh Edition. CNS Productions INC. Medford Organ USA.
Little Bear. L (2000) Jagged Worldviews Colliding. Reclaiming Voice and Vision. Battiste. M University of British Columbia.
Mate. G (2008) In the Realms of Hungry Ghosts- Close encounters with Addiction. Vintage Canada, a division of Random House of Canada Limited. Toronto. Canada.
My Medium Blog: Covid-19 From an Indigenous Perspective
We are living in a time of prophecy. The Elders from many different tribes across Turtle Island have passed down stories about a time when Indigenous peoples would be called upon to share their wisdom. A time of being called back to the land. A time of great healing for Mother Earth. A call for unity. A call for Indigenous peoples to share their cultural teachings of interconnectedness, humility, harmony, and balance with all of humankind.
Dr. Duran’s book, Healing the Soul Wound: Trauma-Informed Counseling for Indigenous Communities (2019) opens with a prophecy from Ta Shunka Witco (aka Crazy Horse) which was delivered in 1877 during a pipe ceremony with Sitting Bull, near Standing Rock.
I am currently continuing my digital storytelling research and preparing my presentation, The Methodology of Indigenous Digital Storytelling: A Spiritual Signature in Data Collection for the Alberta Indigenous Mentorship in Health Innovation (AIM-HI) Network on July 21st (I will share the link of the recorded presentation on my website). I am also writing a research paper from the digital storytelling interviews with my co-creators and collaborating with other Indigenous academics on their own digital stories for research. I will resume the Women Warriors newsletter this fall when I resume university. I am excited to announce I am three courses to completion for my four year Bachelor of Arts degree. I will continue to write my Medium blog over the summer and share Indigenous perspectives on Covid-19. I would love to welcome you over to my Medium community. If you would like to contact me please send me an email: Shelley@womenwarriors.club OR please join my Facebook or twitter audience using the social media buttons below. Enjoy your summer break!