Posted by on May 21, 2012 in Uncategorized

Healing as an Ancestral Way of Knowing for Future Generations

By:  Renee Holt

Walking, I am listening to a deeper way. Suddenly all my ancestors are behind me. Be still, they say. Watch and listen. You are the result of the love of thousands. – Linda Hogan (Chickasaw)

Hear the echo of our ancestors and speak loud and true so the echo can carry and be heard by the children and the children yet unborn. — Arsene Tootoosis

Last week I shared an experience as a result of being a mother.  I learned that as a mother, I have the power to be the change I seek not for myself, but for my family.  In that realization as an Indigenous woman- I am a mother, daughter, sister, grand-daughter,  aunty, friend and life is a sacred ceremony.  From when the sun rises and sets, a mother also rises with the sun and works throughout the day before she actually sets with the sun on a daily journey.

In our lifetime we experience many things.  Sometimes we experience happiness, joy, love, peace, and sometimes we experience regret, anger, frustration, and hurt.  Not everyone has the same experience, but one common thread we share in the Indigenous experience is that women of Indian country are the backbone for our people no matter what nation we are from.

If we’ve ever been in that place where hurt occurred, our hearts, minds, spirits, and our families are affected by the experience.  Most often those emotions take time to process and require attention.  When we feel that emotion that tells us we have been hurt or things just don’t feel “right,” that is instinctual knowledge that is woven into our genetic makeup and becomes what is known as cellular knowledge or cellular memory.

This is a follow up from an experience relative to identifying signs and/or events that are characteristic of grief, because in all actuality that is what pain is rooted in and grief needs to be resolved in order to heal.  In this process, I have learned that compassion, forgiveness, humility, and hope are important.  Don’t get it twisted; I still have my days when I’m frustrated, angry, hurt, and disappointed.  It’s how I cope with these emotions that is important.  For each individual who turns a new leaf towards living a healthy life, I believe there are also individuals who need strength, fortitude, and hope.  When seeking change within our lives, it’s important to know that grief is an important element in healing the heart, mind, and spirit.

Through learning about self and identifying the unresolved issues I was able to see through my children that I have been given an opportunity to create change.  Recently I communicated with Kimberly (Nakoda/Cree) and Arsene Tootoosis (Poundmaker Cree) who work in grief recovery at Red Echo Trainers and Therapists and gained a deeper understanding of unresolved grief and recovery.

It is important to note that they are a family who believe in ancestral knowledge and use Journey work for their grief and recovery work.  For more reading on Journey work, please read The Journey by Brandon Bays, which as stated by Kimberly, talks more about “cellular memory and the energy or ties that we have with our parents and/or grandparents experience.”  An example of this can be worrying about an issue/concern that one may not have first hand experience with or a issue/concern that was a issue/concern a parent or grandparent may have had and was passed down.

Essentially, the cellular memory of who we are begins in utero.  The fact alone made me think about what I recall my aunt(s) on both sides of my family trees had shared with me while I was pregnant to be careful about what I thought and that certain taboos were to be practiced due to the sacredness of the life about to born.  At the time I received that instruction I had no conception of this teaching.  Today, I am a strong believer in cellular memory.  It is in our DNA and what we as Indigenous people feel and know is truth, especially as it relates to our ancestral ways of knowing and what academics call Indigenous knowledge systems.

Based on this shared knowledge and through observations within my own home community, Indigenous communities are experiencing more than a loss of a cultural value system.  We are struggling and suffering from unresolved grief and trauma.  The unresolved grief within our Indigenous communities is a result of colonization which was used to annihilate all culture and included genocide.  For some tribes it has resulted in loss of language, kinship/clan systems, ceremonies, and ancestral knowledge.  The frustration and angers of that loss has residual effects such as families torn and dissension within communities that plays itself out in politics.  In addition to that events that are traumatic such as loss of loved ones through death, divorce, abandonment, separation, addiction, domestic and lateral violence are also negative effects of colonization.

When it comes to healing and grief work, as an Indigenous woman it is important to share that grief and healing are important to wellness and recovery.  Cellular memory is woven into our genetic makeup and as Kimberly shared, “Grief and recovery is also about experiencing freedom and self empowerment.  We can role model the ability to overcome generational traumas and impacts, therefore impacting and affecting family and community members in a positive way stimulating hope and healing.  Taking the steps to recognize and heal the triggers that surface and affect us entails a deep courage, such as the courage of warriors past who defended the community.”

As I thought more about cellular memory, I understood why healing was a process that takes time and does not happen overnight and includes forgiveness and compassion.  Sometimes just allowing a person to vent and be who they need to be is acceptable and in other instances, accountability is important.  When one takes the onus and accepts they have inflicted hurt on another is quite a process that includes grief and forgiveness.  As a mother, I have a tendency to minimize events for self preservation and to be strong for my children.

This brings me to a topic that seems to be the open secret within Indigenous communities: lateral violence.  It can take many forms including verbal or physical abuse as well as persistent gossiping about a member of the community or family member.  When I learned about lateral violence, I thought of the years I spent dwelling over what I could’ve, should’ve, and would’ve said.  I remember learning for the first time that this was an issue and one that could be recovered from.  Over time I learned that healthy coping mechanism is necessary and important.

After working through a grief recovery, the emotions of healing began and today I have learned that wisdom and cellular healing are important.  “Grief and recovery is about completing the relationship(s) and completing the emotional communication…Honoring what needs to be said, what could be said, and what must be said in order to clear the unresolved issue and open into forgiveness.  Forgiveness means giving up the hope of a different or a better yesterday.  It is important for communities and leaders to provide a sacred space in order to rebuild strong roots and a solid foundation… effective and compassionate support people, counselors, therapists need to hold this sacred space for individuals to begin their grief and Journey work (cellular healing).  Communities need to ensure such resources are in place and are available to people and families.  Trauma is a part of life.  We face challenges and the process after traumatic events and incidents is vital to the holistic wellness of each and every one of us.  This needs to occur first and foremost and begin the process of healing and recovery.  It is then all other aspects of community such as economic growth and development can successfully unfold.”

The wisdom that resonates with me is to DECOLONIZE.  The shift and change begins with the individual and more importantly, awareness and healing of our Indigenous communities IS a form of decolonization.  Decolonization presents itself in various forms and in this instance it is through the healing of our nations.

For more information about Journey work you can contact the Red Echo Trainers and Therapists, Kimberly and Arsene Tootoosis can be reached at 306-398-4746.