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Honesty about sexual abuse sparks dialogue about healing and unites attendees at FNHA’s first ever Mental Health and Wellness Summit

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Chief Charlene Belleau​

How can communities respond to sexual abuse and make lasting change? A panel of community and health leaders hosted an honest and heartfelt discussion on this delicate topic at FNHA’s inaugural Mental Health and Wellness Summit on Feb 7-8 in Vancouver. 

Chief Ken Hansen of Yale First Nation dove right in by plainly stating that sexual abuse affects everybody. “In my community, everyone knew about it but no one talked about it. We need to talk about this,” he emphasized. 

All three panelists agreed that the problem of sexual abuse needs to be faced head on by community; that change from within is possible; and that the path towards healing is based on culture, teachings and tradition.

Chief Charlene Belleau of Esk'etemc First Nation shared her personal experience. “I, like many of you, have my own story of sexual abuse. I thought that I was worthless ... I can talk about it now only because I have gone through a lot of healing,” she told the group. “We can stop this cycle of violence and abuse – we are capable! Let’s build capacity … we need solutions to come from within our own communities.”  

Panel speakers articulated how since time immemorial, ancestral teachings, ceremony, ritual and cleansing was and continues to be central to our healing journeys—both individually and collectively. The role of ceremony and tradition are very important pathways to personal, spiritual, and collective healing.

Patricia Vickers, FNHA Director of Mental Wellness, spoke about ancestral law as a guide for healing relationships that have been affected by sexual abuse because it is grounded in honour and respect, and provides the protocols we need for intervention.

“Following ancestral law, interventions in instances of sexual abuse occur when all parties involved – the victims and the perpetrators – are assisted and directed with respect,” she explained.

Healing begins with telling and hearing each personal story. The telling of a personal story, or truth-telling, breaks the shame of secrecy and silence and brings what is hidden out into the open.  Restorative circles are intended to support both the one who has abused and the one who was abused. Community involvement in the healing process is an important aspect of healing. Healing circles need to be offered for women and men. Men also need to heal from within and become the warriors that they’ve always been, fully capable of fulfilling their roles as healthy caregivers and protectors.

There was much optimism and hope on the panel about the possibility for change, believing in ourselves, and a path forward based on respect, culture and tradition. 

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