Letwílc – Healing

To speak of healing, first let us take a brief look at our Secwepemc concept of health. We understand that health is determined by a wide range of social, political, economic and environmental factors, rather than simply personal health behaviours or genetic influences. In addition, the effects of colonialism, has profoundly shaped – and continue to shape – the health of our families. We Secwepemc view health as holistic- addressing the physical, mental, spiritual and emotional parts of oneself. Our health is also directly connected to the relationship we have with our land (Secwepemcúlecw), to our families and to our greater community- these are not aspects that we address separately.   The extended family is the core unit of Secwepemc economic production and social interaction. It is the extended family where, on the one hand, Secwepemc life stressed the importance of sharing and “helping one another” but on the other hand, the importance of self-sufficiency and autonomy and not being a burden on others.

Julianna Alexander, Splatsín

I feel bad for the distortedness of how government has torn us apart, the unity that has been torn apart as a breaking the family up, breaking our values, our belief system, our way of life, how we survive, and what we need to do to survive. We have to learn how to care take right from like I said, the water, the mother earth, to the plants, to the animals, to even the rocks and to the air, and to the universe. We understand how they’re all connected, and knowing that and believing in our work as a Secwepemc person. It’s a big job. It’s not a little job. It’s everything we do every day. It’s what we believe in, it’s how we portray our self as a Secwepemc person, and a lot of our families are broken up. The unity isn’t there, and having to practice and relearn all these things and reteach it to give that value back as to be a Secwepemc person is really difficult because we have all sort of other obstacles in our way.

Julianna Alexander, Splatsín

Wayne Christian, Splatsín

Our ancestors suffered greatly. They were put under … How do you put it? I’ll call it a state of siege, because if they practiced certain things, they were thrown in jail. If they didn’t send their children to residential schools, they were put in jail for six months at a time, a year, simply because they didn’t obey the white law. That fear also permeated into our spirituality, where our pipes and all those things, instruments we use, were actually buried and hidden away. If we’re doing ceremonies, they would close off rooms. They would put it in the dark. There was a great fear because if we practiced who we are as Secwepemc, we would be sent to jail. And that happened. So, I think that fear is an understanding that we don’t have to do that anymore. Contained within us is the ability to do those things in the open and have no fear because what you’re doing, whether you understand it or not, is the way of your ancestors. They’ll stand with you and you call upon them to help you, they will help you. That’s the important part of prayer, sqweqwentsín, is that we can do it in such a way as individuals we can pray for that support and how collectively we can pray for that support, and it does come. They show us what to do. I think it’s really, really important. A lot of influences have happened to our people from the outside world and tore our people apart, you know, addictions … You start listing all the negative things that have happened to our people, the residential school, all the abuses that took place, the beating of the language out of our people, the sexual abuse, the spiritual abuse, the physical abuse, all of those things, and that we need to find a way to heal ourselves so we can look after each other. So healing has become a real critical component of the work we’re doing when we go out in the territory of connecting to the land and talking with each other and how we heal each other. And we can do it through our medicines. We can do it through our sqílye, the sweat lodge. We can do it through, actually, that connection with each other.

Wayne Christian, Splatsín

Fred Johnson, Esk’ét

Healing starts with me. I need to heal me before I can even help somebody. That’s a challenge because outside people don’t understand to live in Esket or Secwepemcúlecw. Our standards are different, we are more group and I think that presents a challenge for social workers. Oh, this house is crowded but for us that would be like inter-family. For me, try to put yourself into that parent or parents. I always tell people try to understand, go there, be there, go sleep over there. Not in the same house but be in the community. Don’t run off to Williams Lake or Kamloops. Your books are over there but come here and you’ll understand.

Fred Johnson, Esk’ét

Travis Marr, Tk’emlúps

I understand that us as humans, we struggle with emotions and we struggle with our socio-economic need for healing and everything that’s happened with the genocidal approaches of the Catholic Church and how the earth and history has gone. I think that the healing would begin with healing the ecosystems, healing of the air, of the land, the water, because ultimately that is our mother, that’s our feeding source, so if we don’t heal her, we’re not going to get healed ourselves.

Travis Marr, Tk’emlúps

Dorothy Johnson, Esk’ét

Healing in a way that we spoke our language and we ate our own traditional foods.

Dorothy Johnson, Esk’ét

Mike Archie, Tsq’éscen

We have to work towards the source where the pain is, it’s a lot of alcohol and drugs and a lot of our children are growing up without mom and dad around because the mortality rates of alcohol and drugs and the impacts that some of those parents couldn’t handle it because they were taken out by residential school and there’s just so much pain in there towards generations after that it’s like trying heal from those impacts. We need to understand what specifics types of healing and programs and services that need to be put in place so that our children can be parents.

Mike Archie, Tsq’éscen

Mike Archie, Tsq’éscen

Our children that are growing up today have so much to give their soul. They are so free with their spirit and they don’t understand the pain that’s in there and we want to keep that spirit alive and keep on building on that. That’s important to keep safe and keep them protected and let them be who they really are and build them up to be the good leaders that they and also as well instill the language, songs and traditions in them as well. It is important to have the good education to succeed in life and be independent.

Mike Archie, Tsq’éscen

Ceremony

Ceremony starts everything. When you’re born there’s a ceremony. When you die there’s a ceremony and so throughout your life there’s ceremony. So before begin anything and tkwem7íple7 I see that people forget to start with ceremony and even if that’s just a prayer but whenever there’s major negotiations, anything that’s happening that affects the land and the air, the earth and the fire, you need to start with ceremony because you’re speaking on behalf of those that cannot speak for themselves and you need to remember that each and every day. So, the prayer is one part of the ceremony, the pipe (ctsqú7eten), is another part of a ceremony when you go up on a mountain to do your (exstem), that’s another ceremony. To go to the water is another ceremony. To go to the top of the mountain to do prayers is another ceremony. Each and every piece, every day of our life is a ceremony. 

Jeanette Jules, Tk’emlúps

Sqílye (Sweat lodge)

In sqílye, the Sweat House, we use the water, and the grandfather rocks, and the fir boughs and the Sweat, the sqílye itself represents the womb of our mother. . In our past, in the history of our people, sqílye was number one. And water, séwllkwe, being number two. All of those things work together. And the scenc, the grandfather rocks, and qwéltsen, fir boughs that was there. Everything is there for a reason. Fir boughs takes and soaks up all of the sweat and all of that bad, the sickness that you have and also gives it the aroma of the fir boughs. The grandfather rocks, we put medicine, sage or juniper, juniper berries, whatever, rose petals, on those grandfathers when they come in. That’s to smudge and to clean out everything that’s there. Then we fan out all of that smoke before we close the doors then we start to process. Four different stages, respecting the land, person, people, and everything. Most of all, praying for everything to go good. In anything we do.

Steve Basil, St’uxwtéws and Tsk’wéylecw

The sweat lodge is a healing ceremony. It’s where you connect and where you send your prayers up to the Creator and it starts all of the different pieces so that you’re purified. You’re purified in your mind, you’re purified in your heart, you’re purified in your body and you purify your spirit, so that you can. It’s a cleansing. The sweat lodge represents the womb of our mother. And when you go in there it is like you’re going back through those nine months that you’ve had in the womb of your mother. In the waters in there so that you’re splashing the water on the rocks. And that brings that ceremonial peace in and then when you leave after the fourth round, then you’re being reborn so that you can make your way in your path in your life to do that.

Jeanette Jules, Tk’emlúps

 

Smudging

If you watch the old people it was just like they were using water. They washed their hands first, then they put it all over, and then they put it in their eyes to clean their eyes and their ears, and then they took everything off and it was just like you can feel it when they do that with the feather, when they clean it off.

Mike Archie, Tsq’éscen

To cleanse out our mind, body and spirit and that’s what I introduced the students to was, so they could learn going to school here, that they needed to cleanse themselves and we did that everyday we formed a circle and each student had a turn to pass the sage around the circle. Sometimes they’d ask why do we need to do that every day, I said, well, you don’t know what happened yesterday after school or something might have happened you still have it in you or you are still thinking about it. Maybe you feel tired or stressful, you need to cleanse yourself again. That’s how I taught them, it was a medicine that we had to use.

Juliana Alexander, Splatsín

We use either sage, cedar, sweet grass, or other herbs that provide spiritual, mental and physical health and healing. We burn it and take a feather or a fan and waft air at it so it releases smoke and we take that smoke and we wash our eyes, so we may see no evil, and wash our ears so we may hear only good things and wash mouths so we may speak only good things and we take the smoke and we bring it to the back of our neck because when are soul leaves us, it leaves through the back of our neck and we also Smudge our feet so we may walk the good path and after that we are brushed off on our back. After what I do is I Smudge my heart and that’s really important to me. Also, after that I honor all four, [actually] all six directions , which is the ones that we know of, north, south, east and west but also earth and heaven.

Brandon Laye, Cstálen

When you use the Smudge that’s cleaning the spirit but also it protects you from outside, negative experience.

Fred Johnson, Esk’ét