Dr. Carrie Bourassa responds to Life Stages and Native Women

By U of M Press

As part of the September 22 launch of Life Stages and Native Women at the Indigenous Peoples’ Health Research Centre at University of Regina, three people were asked to present responses to the book.

Dr. Carrie Bourassa, who teaches in the Indigenous Health Studies Department at Regina’s First Nations University in addition to her role as Principal Investigator at IPHRC, presented on the health applications and implications of Kim’s research.

“First of all, I want to thank you Kim, for writing this book. Like many others at the start of a busy semester I found myself overwhelmed and wondered how I was going to read this book and write a response in time … then I opened the book and the rest took care of itself. I literally could not put the book down. It was like I was reading the teachings I have been getting from my Kookum these past years. I knew I was truly blessed to be receiving these teachings and had been wondering how they could be shared … I need not wonder any longer. Your words leapt off the page. I was giddy grabbing my little sticky notes and marking up the pages with exclamation points and writing YES! YES! YES! This book is long overdue and will be a tremendous contribution to academia and to our communities. This book will help advance the reclamation of Indigenous women’s identities in Canada, dispel myths and assist with the decolonization process that was started by the strong women and men you interviewed and speak of in your book. Moreover, as a health educator, the book contains valuable traditional knowledge regarding prenatal care, the role of men during pregnancy, midwifery practices, child rearing practices, moon time and rites of passage – and so much more that can be incorporated into the curriculum that I deliver to nursing and other health studies students every day.

I could talk about how I am going to do that but I felt compelled instead to speak about the goal of Kim’s book … “how it can contribute to the further healing and decolonization of our communities” (p. 161). Kim notes that “Health, as it is understood among Algonquian and other Indigenous peoples, includes physical, mental, emotional and spiritual dimensions and health is also something that is not individual but collective. We are thus only as healthy as are all our relations in all dimensions.” (p. 167). Maria adds that “Health and well-being were contingent on how well one managed relations, all of one’s relations, including those with the human community, the land and the spirit world” (p. 167-8). In addition, “Relationships between Elders and children were considered critical in terms of maintaining the life force and survival of the people”. (p. 168). Earlier, Kim states: “How the quest for individual identity and spirit is connected is something that is worthy of further consideration; particularly how the process works for girls and women”. I would like to expand on these concepts and support Kim’s argument for the need for this but also illustrate that when this happens, much healing on many levels for many people can take place.

My Kookum, Elder Betty McKenna, is Anishnabe and she has blessed my family with many teachings. Her Oskapios is my uncle and is my daughter Victoria’s great-uncle. His wife is her great-aunt. I never had the opportunity to have the ceremonies and the teachings that I should have received. As Kim notes, it is hard to access these in an increasingly urbanized setting but also, as she points out, after years of inter-generational trauma, many of these teachings are lost. Digging up medicines is indeed exactly what is needed. Victoria had her first moon time a year ago and Kookum put her into a berry fast on the night of a full moon ceremony. She was lovingly surrounded by a community of women who would support her for that year. The berry fast would teach her about self-restraint and self-discipline. It was a good thing too since I often forgot and would make blueberry muffins and offer them to her! She did the fast for a year and never wavered. She was given many teachings about her identity as a woman, she was given plates, a cup, utensils to eat from when she was on her time and teachings about what it was to become a woman and how powerful she was on her time. She was told how to wash herself and bathe in a special way to drain the body’s lymphatic system … p. 91 … the words literally leapt off the page!! Her hands and feet were painted with ocre and her imprints put onto birch bark. These were to be kept by her father until she got married at which time they would be burned in the sacred fire. This August Kookum brought Victoria out of her berry fast … she is turning 13 and is now going into the rapids of life … those 7 sacred years where she will need the support and love her community and kin in order to emerge from those waters. She needs good stones to cling to while she is in the rapids and it is our job as kin and community to provide those stones or teachings: growth, order, adequacy, love, social approval, security and self-esteem. Her great uncle and great aunt have particular roles to play in supporting her. She spends time with them getting teachings – teaching she does not even realize she is getting. Her father too was tasked with a special role in supporting her. When we had her sweat to bring her out of her fast the community was there to support her.

As Kim has documented these relationships between individual and community health are central. They have been central not only to my daughter’s health but also to my health and growth as an Indigenous woman. To my husband’s health … to the entire communities’ health. It has created bonds and ties that we never imagined we would have. When Jane talks on p. 176 about collective healing, this is what digging up the medicines can mean. This reclamation of our identities is absolutely central and it has to be not only an individual reclamation but a collective reclamation. There most definitely is a spiritual aspect to the teachings that are imparted to the young women … they may not be documented yet but it is there. My daughter has her spiritual name, she takes pride in herself, she values ceremony and the role it plays in her life. While this may not be documented historically, or was interrupted, I think this was absolutely a strong aspect of the teachings.

So Kim, I think you have achieved a great deal with this book and again, I thank you for this incredible work. I believe the teachings are coming back, identities are being reclaimed, healing is coming to our communities and your book will only assist in the processes that are underway.”

UMP would like to thank Carrie for sharing this material with us.

Posted in Reviews.

Posted on
October 6th 2011
at 2:42pm

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