Going Back to Ceremony
Alice Te Punga Somerville
December 3rd, 2022
Going Back to Ceremony
It struck me in my late teens about how valuable it is to know; practice and pass on the
cultural traditions and knowledge that I have grown up with. My mom Paula James is a Coast
Salish weaver from Katzie First Nation, who specifically works with cedar and wool. As well,
she is a teacher and learner of the downriver dialect hən̓q̓əmin̓əm̓ language. My late dad David Leon was a hunter and fisherman who carried on knowledge of working on and with the land to provide for our family and community. Having this exposure to a culture that is rich with compassion, love, and teachings gives me the ability to know my sense of belonging as a Katzie woman who also has relational ties to Chehalis First Nation through my late dad's side of the family. I highly appreciate knowing that I have cultural practices, people, and a community I can go to for any healing or guidance that is needed.
How and what brought me the realization or opened my eyes was by working and being
friends, with urban Indigenous youth. In healing circles or class group discussions I will listen to them share about the challenges about being far from home and away from their culture. As well not knowing their culture or Indigeneity is also common amongst urban Indigenous youth. Indigenous writer Terese Marie Mailhot illustrates the ways colonization has demonstrated itself as feeling and seeing as depression. Mailhot expresses “I’m tired of the constant stories and the truth I don’t acknowledge. They’re not medicine anymore. I’m not medicine anymore. The words are flaccid, and the things I used to find sacred are torment. I’m stepping into my own undertow… I am sick or possessed” (2), and this amplifies how colonization feels on the minds, hearts, and spirits of Indigenous peoples. Colonization has affected the land, ways of living and knowing, which has led to many methods and practices that Indigenous peoples utilized to heal to be affected. Colonization stripped away parts of Indigenous culture that made disconnections from the land, family, ceremony, and teachings that enables a catalyst of providing healthy relationships with people, land, and with yourself.
I do not want to discredit what the healthcare capabilities are when it comes to helping
Indigenous peoples to heal. I am wanting to bring attention to a significant element that should be recognized. It is the exclusion and lack of cultural safety within these healthcare systems that causes many Indigenous peoples feel they are not heard or unsafe. Alicia Elliot, a Tuscarora writer who wrote A Mind Spread Out on The Ground, she too puts attention on colonial depression amongst Indigenous peoples. As well, Elliot is voicing that going to culture is what helped understand mental illness from another perspective. A perspective that is valuable and intimate because it has not only helped find methods of healing through ceremony but helped her feel and see her sense of belonging as an Indigenous person. Indigenous language is a way Elliott used to understand what depression is from a personal connection to her culture that helped her find her sense of belonging simultaneously finding ways to understand this colonial depression.
As mentioned, I am deeply thankful for the culture and knowledge that I continue to carry
and endlessly learn from Katzie, Chehalis, and many other people or places. Having these
connections truly makes me feel alive and proud as an Indigenous woman. With this short-
written piece, my hopes are to strike attention on one of many ways of how colonialism has
embedded itself within Indigenous people’s mind, heart, and spirits. As well, highlighting how much value culture holds to help positioning a person in a healing way with people and the land.
Mailhot, T. M. (2018). Indian Sick. Heart berries: A memoir. Bloomsbury Publishing Plc.
Washuta, E. editor, Warburton, T. editor, & Elliott, A. (2019). A mind spread out on the ground. In Shapes of native nonfiction: Collected essays by contemporary writers (pp. 246–255). essay, University of Washington Press.