A unique panel at the inaugural Mental Health and Wellness Summit spoke to the power of connecting to the land as a way of restoring our spirits and revitalizing our relationship with ourselves, our families, and our territories. The land heals. Three speakers talked about the success and popularity of the land-based healing opportunities they offer in their communities.
Ahousaht First Nation
"The land and sea are medicine"
For the last 25 years, Julia Atleo and Dave Frank of Ahousaht First Nation on the west coast of Vancouver Island have been working with the support of government and health partners to provide traditional healing. "The land and sea are medicine," says Julia. "This approach really works for us."
Brushing is a big part of the program, as the healing work is done together with Creator. "The brushing gets into the body where the memories hide and takes them away," explains Dave. Canoe journeys, sweat ceremonies, and solo time on an island are also ways offered to help people on their path towards healing.
"We will help … but you have to do the work," says Dave about the program, which is kept simple and grounded by connecting with Creator and family.
Qqs Projects Society
"Inspiring youth to be stewards of land and culture"
Over on the coast at Heiltsuk First Nation, the Qqs Projects Society takes a land-based approach to youth and wellness, providing several very well-attended programs for youth. The programs' pillars are land, culture, family and community.
Qqs programs nurture and support community through its young people and the society's mission is to introduce youth to their responsibility as stewards of their land, culture and resources.
Larry Jorgenson spearheaded the creation of the society's Koeye youth camp over twenty years ago. Koeye Camp is an summer camp and is grounded in environmental stewardship, culture, language, and traditional teachings. Kids and teens love the camp and many return year after year.
"We provide opportunities for the kids to get involved with community in all kinds of ways – coat giveaways, community gardens, food self-sufficiency programs … so they learn to give back and understand how important community is," says Larry.
One of the innovative aspects of the camp is that it operates as a non-profit. Also, it owns the land it operates on and has formed a conservancy to protect this land. The key to the success of this program is full support from Elders in the community.
Unist'ot'en Healing Centre
"Heal the people, heal the land"
Freda Huson, Unist'ot'en Hereditary Spokesperson, and her family decided to move back to their community in Northern BC to reconnect with culture, the land, and to heal. In 2010, they decided to protect their Nation's territory by building a cabin in a strategic spot, successfully preventing a proposed pipeline from being built.
This was a healing experience and Freda wanted to help others in her community heal as well, so that together they could protect the land better.
Freda, her family and friends raised a total of $250,000 and, with the help of volunteers, they built a bunkhouse that sleeps 20 people and a healing centre. All the money was donated; there was no government funding.
The centre has had many visitors over the years, youth, adults, and even some families. The centre provides a wide variety of healing activities on the land, such as berry picking, hunting, trapping, cleaning furs, fishing, hiking, and gardening. The centre has also offered youth art camps and created a permaculture garden.
"All activities, including chores, are voluntary. We don't want the healing centre to feel like an institution," explains Freda. One important condition for being at the healing centre is that everyone must make a commitment to benefitting the territory in some way during their stay, blending healing with empowerment.
"We give thanks for everything – water, trees, our ancestors – before every meal," says Freda.