I was a caterpillar, crawling through life; when I found a beautiful plant and spun my cocoon. As I metamorphasisized and grew my wings, I thought about how grateful I was, for the hibernation. For I had only experienced life from one perspective. When my wings had grown, The struggle began as I broke free from the confines of my cocoon. I thought of how the fight and the change; no matter how hard it was, no matter how much it hurt, no matter how much pain it caused, was going to be worth it. I was no longer going to see the world just from the ground. When the time finally came and I spread my wings, I could fly. Bright, bold and rainbow I used my wings to fly high. I let the wind blow me around. I was happy. I needed to learn, and then when I established control, I could see from above and I could fly down below and I could sit on a plant like before. I could see the world from 2 different perspectives, and it allowed me to be free. The watcher and the experiencer. The best of both worlds. Once I could fly, I never once looked back on the struggle in the cocoon. I had a whole new way to look at everything.
This is me and my brother Andy. His birthday is 8 days before mine and we are what is known as Irish twins. Born within a year of each other. Now the reason I am posting this is because I see a serious flaw I would like to point out. My brother has his dukes up. He was taught that, to be a little fighter and believe me, him and I got into some pretty crazy battles so I learned quick. When we were young my Dad would put the boxing gloves on us and then we would fight. When I started to win it was game over. Couldn’t have the girl beating up the boy. Then Andy got taught he should be a lover not a fighter… Yah well this isn’t about him so we can stop right there. I got to sit in the background as the girl and hear all these things but I was expected to put on the dress and act differently. It’s un-ladylike to want to fight, it’s not very girly-girl to act that way. So from the start there was a double standard I have had to fight. I have fought so hard to get where I am. I have fought to expose the truth, I have fought to find myself and I have fought for the rights of others to be treated fairly. I have fought for love, love that wasn’t even worth fighting for because fighting was what I knew. I had to fight myself to finally love myself. I am the black sheep of the family for doing what is right because it’s the right thing to do and it’s OK. I cannot fit into a World I was not meant to fit into. I was taught to be passive, submissive, unasserting, non-resistant, docile. meek, non-aggressive and afraid while my brother got taught right from the start to be dominant and aggressive. Had I not had my Brother I would not have learned how to be a fighter. I also thought that as a girl watching Disney someone was going to rescue me but nope, had to do that myself as well. I am learning that while I still need to stand up for myself, it is OK to not fight the battle, just let it go as well. Feel the pain, surrender to it and deal. It’s not pretty but the other side sure is…. The other side of the pain, when you realize how beautiful and worthwhile you are, what your value is and the only person you need to impress is yourself.
One only has to look at a Globe of the Earth or a map of the planet to see that we are a world full of water. Mother Earth is covered in Water and it has been told that in the beginning before the Earth was even a habitable place it was all Water. There were many creatures living in the World of Water however no humans (D. Longboat, 2017). The Creation story holds many valuable lessons but one of the most valuable is that Mother Earth has provided for us everything that we have ever wanted or needed (D. Longboat, 2016). If I were to paraphrase Professor Dan Longboat (2017) for the three rules of Creation I would say they are to be good, kind and loving and respectful to all your relations; to be good, kind and respectful to all of Creation and let it be your teacher; and Be thankful for all things that keep life going in a cycle and sustain us. In an introduction to Indigenous Environmental Studies course I was taught that we are taking things for granted. Our physical bodies, our minds and our environment. Our health has a direct correlation to our environment (D. Longboat, 2016). If we are degrading ourselves and our environment then how are we showing honour to the Creator and all things yet to come. If we do not live responsibly than what will be left for our children, grandchildren and their children. The coming generations are what is most important, what will be left for them if we continue the path that society is walking. When considering Mother Earth and our Environment the most important thing we need to remember are the 5 R’s which are relationships, respect, responsibility, reciprocity and restoration (D. Longboat, 2016).
It is my humble opinion that our Mother the Earth is suffering because she is not being thanked and not many people are grateful for her sacrifices. So many people take from the Earth and they never give back. How exhausting it would be if people were constantly giving their time and energy but never receiving anything back. If people did their jobs but never got paid they would constantly complain and probably not go back to that work environment. What makes the Earth any different? Could you imagine someone digging your insides out and not caring, not even using anaesthetic. Our Water is becoming polluted at an alarming rate and most people are taking it for granted as if clean water is a given and will always be here. More and more people are turning to bottled water and paying money for a resource that has always been here and should be appreciated. Water has been turned into a commodity for enjoyment and pleasure. You only need to go to a lake on a weekend in the summer to see what Society has done to our beautiful waterways. Water is not being appreciated because people do not see what it is for. This paper will discuss the importance of water and how it can be used to heal people. Water deserves reciprocity. Water gives the Earth and Creation so much vitality and it is rarely appreciated. It is the writer’s opinion that more and more people are getting sick physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually, because the Earth is sick. By returning to nature and giving the proper thanks for the wonderful gifts it gives us may be a turning point. Mother Earth is suffering. Her blood is polluted and her guts are being exorcized. This paper will attempt to show that by respecting the Water and learning about it we can use Water in a reciprocal relationship and by healing the Water we can heal ourselves. This paper will be restricted a Canadian Indigenous view of our Mother Earth and water. I will attempt to weave relevant literature which will lead to an ecopsychological viewpoint of how we can take Indigenous Knowledge of the Water and benefit all human beings that are in need of repair through such things as mental illness and PTSD. Our Mother is out of balance and society is out of balance so if we (Human Beings of the Earth) could restore balance and harmony to nature and make it feel important than perhaps we could save Mother Earth and all of humanity. This can only be done by through the intimate knowledge of Indigenous people and the lands they care for.
In 2010 a paper was commissioned by the Atlantic Centre of Excellence of Women’s Health and the Prairie Women’s Health Centre of Excellence by Kim Anderson where she interviewed eleven grandmother’s who were of First Nations, Metis and Inuit decent. This paper will be the basis of my literature review as I discuss the topics brought up by these traditional knowledge holders of this beautiful Country we call home. The body of this paper starts with a lovely quote from Grandmother Jan Longboat about how “Water is life.” The direct quote from her is:
“Water is what sustains us. Water is what brings us into the world, and water is
what keeps us in this physical world. And so, it’s our life. – Jan Longboat p.9”
Water comes in many forms and I think many people forget this. It is a well-known fact that our bodies are made of water and that we will die if we do not have access to clean water. I do not need to reference this as it is something that every person should know regardless of race, religion, gender, age or prestige. When a child is born into this world it enters the world with a rush of water before it. Its amniotic fluid yes but it is the water of life. According to J. Longboat in K. Anderson (2010) everything that our spirit in this world needs is contained in the water in the womb. Your feelings and thoughts right from conception are with you in the womb. Grandmother Pauline Shirt also adds that when you are in the womb with the water for the gestation period and you are taught and cared for by the person carrying you. Your mother. When you are born she states that the spirit of the water helps with the birth and the child flows out like a river. Water is life as it sustains the baby in the womb and helps with the delivery, it is also in the breast milk and colostrum as soon as a baby is fed upon birth. The biggest thing I noticed when reading these teachings was about how the baby was washed and cared for when coming into this world. I have had two children and watched many born and in the hospital, they did not really wash the baby down. The nurse grabbed a wet cloth and wiped enough to make the infant clean but that was it. It is the mother’s responsibility for that first bath and it is usually not easy without guidance. The Grandmothers discuss how important it was for ceremony and medicines with the birthing process and that because water is spirit it can be used for medicine (Anderson, 2010)
Women are the water keepers of our Mother the Earth, although this is mostly only acknowledged in Indigenous societies (McGregor, D, 2008). It is well known that the World has been fighting water issues and have made some big policies as I found discussed in White, Murphy, and Spence (2012}. What I have discovered in much of the research I did on Indigenous Women and Water in Canada is that they are very excluded. There have been many commissions done about safe drinking water in Canada and many studies done (White, Murphy, & Spence, 2012; McGregor, 2012; LaBoucane-Benson, Gibson, Benson, & Miller, 2012). It is alarming to me that when knowledge is sought about water in the Communities by the Canadian Government and legislating bodies they do not ask the women. The men are approached for their stories of the Water and what it means to them. Men do not have the same connection to water however it is just as important to them. Upon visiting our class in 2017 an Elder named Solomon Wawatie spoke of how the DNA of Indigenous people is in our rivers and lakes, ponds and streams. It is the very blood of our Mother and filled with the spirit of its original inhabitants. In one paper it is discussed how colonialism has resulted in leaving Indigenous peoples feeling powerless over their positions and futures. Because of colonialism and society becoming patriarchal women have lost their positions. The Indian Act and residential schools only added to these attitudes that women in Indigenous societies were not important (LaBoucane-Benson et al., 2012). This paper also includes teaching but from a male Indigenous perspective but includes the information about how we all need to come together and work as a community collectively with no distinction. It is even stated how children of the coming generations need to work with Western and Traditional Knowledge if we are to have hope for tomorrow (LaBoucane-Benson, 2012).
As a non-Indigenous settler to this territory I have realized how important water is to our environment and this literature review was eye-opening for me. Continuing in Anderson (2010) we find Grandmother Josephine Mandamin speaking of how Water is sentient and Water forms relationships. Grandmother Jean Aquash O’Chiese in Anderson (2010) points out the relationship between the water in our bodies and the water on our Mother the Earth and the interconnectedness. Life is dependant on all of these connections. They are what sustain us continually. Many of the Grandmother’s also pointed out that water is changeable. It can carry different energies and different spirits. Grandmother Pauline pointed out that all water is special just like people, it all has different purposes and different work to do. The Grandmother’s point out in this article that in the past people knew the purpose of the different waters and who was to enter them and who wasn’t. What was sacred and what wasn’t (Anderson, 2010). Water is now a commodity that most people have no clue where it originated from or what they are putting in their body. One of the Grandmother’s commented on how anything that is put into plastic is dead so essentially it is my belief that bottled water is doing nothing but killing human beings because we are drinking something that the spirit has been taken from.
Water is being taken from Indigenous communities and diverted so that Cities can have clean water. Indigenous people are being denied access to clean water at an alarming rate whereas people who have no clue what the water means are just abusing it. Shoal Lake First Nation Reserve #40 has not had clean water for over 20 years and it is only recently anyone is doing anything. A few documentaries have been done on this Reserve and how the city of Winnipeg has clean water but they do not. An interesting one to watch where Shoal Lake #40 is mentioned is Colonization Road done by Firsthand and CBC Canada. (http://www.cbc.ca/firsthand/m/episodes/colonization-road). White, Murphy, and Spence (2012) point out the paradox Canada has in what they even view as what safe drinking water is. Committees and policies are adapted throughout the Country for people without even asking the people. Indigenous people are often left out of decision processes because of colonialist practices. Environmental discrimination is a well-known fact to Indigenous people and has many references in this article however the main point is that the Canadian Government has created a dependency and is now limiting growth. They pour money into projects with little or no thought as to the process of such things or who should be involved (White, et. Al., 2012; McGregor, 2012; McGregor 2008).
Water as Medicine and for Healing
Anderson (2010) then goes on to discuss that Water can Heal and what it takes for the Water to be able to keep sustaining us. Grandmother Ellen White is quoted as saying:
“Water will agree to help you with anything you ask of it.”
-Ellen White p.21
Water is often used to cleanse us when we are dirty and in this way, it protects us from harmful bacteria and things that may make us sick. Water is often used in ceremonies for protection and cleansing of spirits. This paper references Grandmother Ellen White saying that people used to ask for protection from the water and then dunked themselves in it four times (Anderson, 2010 p. 22). While attending a Full Moon ceremony at Curve Lake First Nation a Grandmother told a teaching of how she had asked for an answer for menopause and the answer was in the water. I do not have permission to use the exact teaching so I will not go into detail about it. Suffice to say it was the first time I truly realized that water was for more than drinking and bathing. In an Indigenous Studies class I started to attend in the fall of 2017 we had a visiting Elder Grandmother Shirley Williams and she spoke of how the water was always important to her and when she was in mischief as a youth her Elders sent her to the water. She said she learned so much from the water and it had a profound impact on her life.
Water carries spirit; therefore, it is just as alive as you and I. Water can hear and if you listen water will talk to you. It is explained in Anderson (2010) that we can get negative energies entangled in our own and when we bathe, shower or go to the water we can ask it to wash away these energies. This reminded me of when I have heard people say they need to wash their sins away when they have had indiscretions. This must be done in a respectful manner though. You could not just get in the water and ask away for a million things. There is no respect in that. This is where Reciprocity comes in. If someone asks you to do something in a manner where it is an order and there is no thankfulness in it you would most likely not want to carry that out. You may do it grudgingly and then hold a resentment against that person because that is the way society is conditioned. The water will clean us, it will nourish us and it will be there for us whenever we want and it does this without asking for anything from us. However, one only needs to look at the condition of the water anywhere in the world and you can realize this isn’t free. The water is suffering and not many people who are not close to the land can see this. As a little girl I can remember seeing the pollution in the water and knowing it did not belong there. This was 40 years ago when we could still swim whenever we wanted to. The lakes and rivers were not polluted to the extent that they are now. I was never taught that water was important but I knew it was and I had a connection with it. I have conducted mini social experiments with women and water on my own and not in a scientific manner. I have asked women who know nothing about Indigenous culture or traditions to explain to me what water means to them. I have not had one woman yet tell me that water does not bring them peace and tranquility. Many women tell me that when they are sad they often go to the water and one of the most interesting things I have learned is that when some women are in pain they seek solace in the bath. It reminded me of a childhood commercial where the woman is in a bathtub with bubbles and soap saying “Calgon take me away.” These women have no clue that they have an inherent physical, emotional, mental and spiritual connection with the water. They see it as a convenience provided to them to cleanse them or relax in. I asked some of these women if they had ever thanked the water for joy it provided them and I got looked at like I had three heads. Suddenly I was an outsider in the conversation because I had suggested thanking a natural resource. Why would anyone do that? I often go back to the Biocultural Framework taught by Dan Longboat (2016) when I explain things to people about how everything that we do has an impact on us, the Earth and all of Creation. To change people’s behaviours and practices we need to change attitudes, which consists of changing values and beliefs. This all boils down to culture and how each and every culture applies to an ecosystem (D. Longboat, 2016). Our Earth is multi-cultural and each nation holds its own beliefs. Within Canada itself we have a broad range of nationalities and the First People here know this land intimately (Anderson, 2010; Anderson, Clow and Haworth-Brockman, 2011; McGregor, 2012; McGregor 2008). We should be listening to the people that know and care for the land the most. As normal human beings we advocate for the things that are most important to us. Our health care, our justice system, our education, our possessions. These are not the important things. And how often are we thankful for the things that are given to us quite freely. Most people do not get upset until the things that they use so freely are no longer there. In society I would not keep giving freely to someone who kept taking from me and did not say thank you. So why should our Mother the Earth be any different. Her frustration is building and she is getting so sick and people are complaining. Our waterways are polluted. Springs and ponds which once were homes to animals and plants are now polluted. The spring where my own non-Indigenous family first settled in Mount Pleasant, Ontario as one of the first settlers in the area is now undrinkable. When my son was born in 1994 this was my only source for clean water for him and I. I would drive there and fill the jugs to sustain my son and I but I never thought of thanking this precious resource. Now it is polluted. No one can drink from it. People took advantage of the resource and did not appreciate it. I often go to this place and I talk to it and try to make it feel important again. I take it gifts and on special occasions I go visit for the serenity it provides me. I may not be able to drink it anymore but I can make sure it knows it is still loved.
When these women I ask about thanking the water look at me strangely and I begin to educate them in a way that I feel I have no right to I ask the Creator to help me remember the teachings of my teacher Dan Longboat and the true honest teachings of all the people that I have heard and felt in my journeys. I tell these women that if we can appreciate the water the way we appreciate superficial things than the rewards are endless. Indigenous Women are leading the way through Ceremonies and Water Walks. They thank the water every day. The spirit of the water is with them in everything they do and every cell of their very being (Anderson, 2010; McGregor, 2008). I tell these women that it is so simple to thank something that gives us such nourishment and joy but it is not something that is high on their list of priorities. I cannot change their attitudes or years and years of conditioning that we ask for things without giving the proper recognition to what really deserves respect and honour but I can plant seeds. By my constant educating and asking them questions it causes them to think about the water and how important it really is in their lives. When my young girlfriend was leaving for an extended trip to Australia the advice I gave her was that when she was homesick and sad and felt like she had nothing to be thankful for to think of the water. She giggled and said I was sweet but almost every single picture she sent me from Australia had the water and her in it. Conn (1998) speaks of an ecopsychological perspective of health. She speaks of how in Cartesian Duality humans are separate from the non-human world and somehow think they are superior. Each person must identify with something separate from another. This causes disconnection in Society. Most people do not realize that their own illnesses are manifestations of their exterior energies (Conn, 1998). She describes the definition of a Native American word for insane/madness in the Okanagan language. This spoken word includes four syllables each with a definitive meaning. Briefly the first syllable represents the tendency to talk inside your head; the second syllable is speaking of being scattered and having no community; the third syllable is for having no relationship to the land; and the fourth and final syllable refers to a total disconnect from the Earth (Conn, 1998). Well if this is a definition of insanity and madness than it is my opinion and mine alone that a good majority of the world is insane or totally mad.
Conn (1998) goes on to reveal in her paper that in order for one to have good health one needs to feel connected and unique. That includes opening oneself up to the Universe and realizing there is more out there that just material reality. Last year I conducted research into using nature as a healing tool for PTSD and mentally ill Veterans and I have been watching Veterans groups and seeing more and more people turning to nature to heal. More and more of them want to run away and live off the land but they do not know why. Many wounded people have begun to look to Indigenous ways to heal as they know the land better than anyone and they know the Universe. I can remember being young and the only thing I knew about Indigenous people was that they knew everything was alive. I knew this as well but when I spoke of it I was quickly silenced. I never understood how someone could tell me that what I thought wasn’t right but the people that lived a few miles from me could believe that with all of their hearts and beings. I was ostracized and abused for holding different beliefs and then finally supressed them all. My connection with Mother Earth was suppressed and my healing did not begin until I was reconnected to her. My ecosystem is the Earth and the Water is her veins and lifeblood (Anderson, 2010; LaBoucane-Benson, et al. 2012). Water is often appreciated for its physical and chemical qualities and the fact that it can do amazing things like be a solid, liquid or gas but rarely is water ever acknowledged for its spiritual properties (Blackstock, 2001). Blackstock (2001) also points out that Western Science’s definition of an ecosystem includes the organism is separate from the environment. Each organism and environment is studied individually and broken down to its basic compounds. Everything is separate from each other. Water is not really mentioned as a separate part of the ecosystem it is grouped in with the physical environment. Indigenous people and women especially know that the water is alive and has a spiritual component to it that is too often forgotten. If you go back to mythology and look at the Gods and Goddesses they have connections to the water, it is even mentioned in Blackstock (2001) the ancient Greeks believe the Earth was once a water world formed from water.
Humanity needs to go back to basics and start appreciating the things that really matter before they are gone. The water is polluted, used as a commodity and for summer enjoyment. The animals and plants that depend on the water are getting sick from the pollution. Cottagers are complaining about things like manoomiin (wild rice) growing and blocking their prestige expensive waterfront. At a town hall meeting the cottagers were so frustrated they resulted to name calling and speaking about how they were entitled to be able to get their boats and jet skis in and out of their properties because their families had owned it for generations. One woman spoke of how her grandfather had owned that land on that lake for 80 years and there had never been an “invasive species” like manoomiin there to her recollection. My heart hurt and I was filled with pain for a plant that has just begun to resurge. The water is shallow and something has happened which has allowed for optimum conditions for Indigenous people to harvest manoomiin. This little hardy plant is coming back because it’s people need it. The water, the plants, the trees, the animals, they are all sick but still here for us because they know their original purpose. Professor Dan Longboat (2017) stated that if we are not thankful for things than they will disappear. I have a granddaughter and the day she was born my whole life changed. I was not worried about the world when I had sons but the minute she came into my life my awakening began. Our Mother the Earth provides us with everything we need and all she asks of us is to be thankful. How hard is that? How hard is it to appreciate the little things? We say thank you for things all the time without thinking twice because that is the way we were raised for the most part.
My task at hand is to bring the Bio Cultural Framework alive in everything I do and make sure that people realize that the Indigenous people of Canada and all over the world have the answers. Everyone has the answers if they can open themselves up enough to the Universe. Trauma rips people open spiritually leaving them with a wound in their soul that only our Mother the Earth can heal but she can only do that if she is healthy. I am going to take my stand with my Indigenous brothers and sisters and my wounded friends and I want to help ensure that our Mother is appreciated, respected, honoured and cherished ALWAYS by all people. I am a human being of the Earth. She is my mother. My father is the Sun, my grandmother is the Moon, and my grandfather is the Sky. I am neither a woman or a man, I am a free spirit and I live to please the Creator each day. I pray I can do him justice and honour him in all that I do each and every day on my journey to reconnect women back to the water and its importance. I have a granddaughter now. It is my duty. My Service to Creation. I hope this paper serves as an introduction into why water is important for health and how we can begin to use it to heal but only if we are thankful. Reciprocity in everything. Thank you for your time and again this is my interpretation and my words of the research I have done. My thoughts and I am only one person.
Anderson, K. (2010). Aboriginal Women, Water and Health: Reflections from Eleven First
A Connection to Nature, Indigenous Ways of Healing and PTSD
For: Professor Dan Longboat
By: Dawn McIlmoyle
Class: INDG 2601Y
Canadian veterans are experiencing post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) at an alarming rate for a variety of different reasons. In 2013 Statistics Canada conducted a survey of Canadian Forces Regular Forces members and found that 1 in 6 members reported some form of depression, anxiety disorder, PTSD, or alcohol abuse/dependence (www.statcan.gc.ca, 2014). This survey also found that between 2002 and 2013 there was an increase in the prevalence of PTSD and panic disorder with 11.1% of these members experiencing PTSD in their lifetime (www.statcan.gc.ca, 2014). This survey also pointed out that 48.4% of Regular Force members experienced some form of mental or alcohol disorder in their lifetime (www.statcan.gc.ca, 2014). Veterans can develop PTSD from other things such as military sexual trauma (MST), interpersonal violence, and operational stress injuries (OSI) (Conard, Young, Hogan, & Armstrong, 2014; Rowe, Gradus, Pineles, Batten, & Davidson, 2009; Wanklyn, et al., 2016). Wanklyn et al. (2016) conducted a Canadian study of active duty personnel and found that men were more likely to suffer from PTSD for deployment-related issues, nonsexual interpersonal trauma and an event happening to another whereas women were more likely to develop PTSD due to sexual trauma and nonsexual interpersonal trauma. There were also a high number of women who had other or undisclosed trauma.
Military Sexual Trauma is defined as “sexual assault or repeated unsolicited threatening acts of sexual harassment that occurs during military service (Rowe et al., 2009 p.388).” Kintzle et al., (2015) found in the United States and that between 9.5% and 33% of women had experienced an attempted or completed rape during their military service. These numbers increase significantly when all forms of harassment are included (Kintzle et al., 2015). The numbers of women experiencing PTSD from MST are significantly higher that women with a civilian sexual assault (Himmelfarb, Yaeger, & Mintz, 2006; Kintzle et al., 2015). The study conducted by Himmelfarb, Yaeger and Mintz (2006) found that women with MST had a fourfold increase in odds of having PTSD and that 60% of their sample that had experienced MST had PTSD. This is thought to occur because of the military culture and the way the trauma is acknowledged if at all (Kintzle, 2015). The military is based on unit cohesion. It is based on the fact that you are part of a team and you are no longer an individual. When a sexual trauma occurs in the military it breaks down the unit cohesion especially if the perpetrator of the violence is in the same unit as the victim (Kintzle, 2015). The victim regularly has a hard time finding support and is often in fear of coming forward because of career consequences. They also may have to see the perpetrator on a regular basis (Kintzle et al., 2015; Yaeger, Himmelfarb, Cammack, & Mintz, 2006). Conard, Young, Hogan, and Armstrong (2014) found that 80-90% of MST goes unreported and victims often experience guilt, shame and non-trust. Kintzle et al., (2015) discusses how along with PTSD, victims of MST often develop multiple symptoms such as gastrointestinal problems, chronic fatigue syndrome, and eating orders to name a few. Campbell and Raja (2005) discuss in their article how female veterans often experience the actual assault and then secondary victimization by the system. Secondary victimization is defined by Campbell and Raja (2005) as “victim-blaming attitudes, behaviours and practices engaged in by community service providers which results in additional trauma for sexual assault survivors (p. 97).” This could include encouraging the victim not to report, refusing to take the report, being told that the issue wasn’t serious enough, and asking if the victim resisted the perpetrator. The study conducted by Campbell and Raja (2005) concluded that experiencing more secondary victimization of any type was strongly associated with PTSD symptomology. They also found that over 70% of the participants in their study had been discouraged from reporting the assault and 83% who did report their assault and suffered secondary victimization were reluctant to ask for further help from anyone. For years, the Canadian Military has engaged in secondary victimization practices which have ruined the careers of many soldiers (www.macleans.ca, 1998, 2014) leaving them suffering the symptoms of PTSD.
PTSD is characterized by negative alterations in cognition and mood and often causes the person affected to engage in coping strategies that are less than ideal (Vella, Milligan, & Bennett, 2013). Veterans with PTSD are also more likely to report multiple health problems because of their constant hypervigilance and high levels of anxiety (Vella, Milligan, & Bennett, 2013). Most veterans with PTSD have a high sense of disconnect with society and a high level of mistrust. Dr, John Whelan (2016) writes in his book on Canadian Military mental health that military people have several inconsistencies and contradictions that they must come to terms with to deal with their mental health. They must deal with the fact that they are taught to always put the unit and the well-being of others first, they are taught to hide weaknesses and work hard at overcoming them. Military people become attached to the institution. All their relationships are entwined in their unit. They are taught that the military is their family, their comrades are their brothers/sisters. When they are released they are suddenly on their own and without their family. This is what causes much disconnect (Whelan, 2016). This is often compounded by the difficulties they face trying to get medical help for conditions like PTSD which were a direct result of military service from institutions like Veterans Affairs Canada.
For a veteran with PTSD to heal they need to find value within themselves and they need to attach or reconnect to something. Kopacz and Rael (2016) speak about trauma and PTSD and how it is dehumanizing and a moral injury. They continue to say that the cost of a moral injury is psychological and spiritual. Essentially they are saying that a moral injury is an injury to your soul or spirit. Elder Albert Marshall (2017) stated that if physical damage or harm is done to you it is tolerable, however if your spirit is injured it will take a very long time to heal. This trusted Mi’kmaq Elder speaks of Two-Eyed seeing and using the benefits of both Indigenous ways of living and Eurocentric Knowledge to come to terms with what is happening in the world today. He is quoted in Marsh, Coholic, Cote-Meek and Najavits (2015) as saying that “Two-Eyed Seeing refers to seeing through one eye with all the strengths of Indigenous knowledge and ways of knowing and from the other eye with the strengths of Western Knowledge and ways of knowing, and to use these eyes together, (p. 10).” This paper will attempt to answer the question of whether Two-Eyed Seeing could be the answer to heal our wounded veterans with PTSD.
The literature review in this paper will focus on how nature and activities in nature have helped veterans with PTSD and their symptomology. Due to the limited number of articles on veterans with MST, this writer has read many articles on nature and combat veterans and has inferred that this would help veterans with MST as the symptomology of the issues are essentially the same, the triggers may just be different. The writer knows this from personal experience. The base of the paper will focus on how Indigenous ways of knowing nature can help people with PTSD and trauma heal. The writer conducted some interviews and placed a question with regards to nature online for military members and veterans with MST to comment and this will be discussed. The writer has made some profound discoveries while conducting this research and would ask that any readers keep an open mind and remember that some conclusions are the opinion of the researcher and her only.
A search was conducted on Scholar’s Portal Journals for articles discussing veterans and nature related activities. Another search was conducted regarding the benefits of being connected to nature. There is much research as this has become an intriguing topic in society today. Some relevant books on incorporating nature into healing were also reviewed.
Roszak, Gomes, and Kanner (1995) wrote the book Ecopsychology which refers to the fact that if we restore the Earth we can heal our minds. There are many good chapters in this book written about reconnecting with the Earth and how this brings about spirituality and healing in our lives. Western psychologists and psychiatrist are often obsessed with the physical, mental and emotional aspects of humanity and trying to heal those but most often the spiritual side is left out in treatment. While this is a mainly Eurocentric-idea based book, the writer included this as it shows the need for people in general to connect to something bigger than their selves to have a sense of who they are. In Conn (1998) the writer discusses the needs of the Earth and the needs of the human individual as being interdependent and interconnected. It is discussed how the psychological disconnection from nature is showing up as symptoms in psychotherapy practices across the world. Conn (1998) states that human health must include active participation with all living beings, not just humans. The definition of healthy that is used by this Conn (1998) is “to become who one really is, an authentic, unique, and connected being, exercising both assertive and integrative abilities, (p. 184).” This is the closest Eurocentric theory that the writer could find to Indigenous ways of knowing nature. The writer wanted to include this to show that individuals today are starting to pay attention to the Earth and the disastrous effects that have taken place over the last couple of decades.
While many articles deal with the health benefits of nature for people in general the writer’s focus is on using nature as a healing tool for veterans with PTSD. While using nature as a healing tool, there seems to be a sense of connection that has been missing for the individual. Poulsen, Stigsdotter, and Refshage (2015) conducted a literature review of nature-assisted therapies for veterans with PTSD. While conducting their research, they found it important to note that there were no negative results at all when looking at nature-assisted therapy for veterans. They looked at different variables and found that nature had the potential to be a therapeutic resource for these veterans that were facing so many challenges. When nature-assisted therapies are done within a group as in a wilderness adventure setting, the veteran regains a sense of connection by realizing that they can accomplish a task, no matter what it is. It was also found that being together with a group of like-minded people was very beneficial as veterans often feel distant and alone (Poulsen, Stigsdotter, & Refshage, 2015).
Vella, Milligan, and Bennett (2013) looked at veterans with PTSD participating in outdoor recreation programs and how well it predicted improved psychological well-being. It is acknowledged that conventional therapies are not working for these veterans and alternative therapies must be looked at. The authors looked at 74 veterans given the opportunity to go on a fly-fishing excursion. The results indicate that this experience of being in nature and learning to do something that requires attention and concentration left the veterans with an increased sense of psychological well-being. There were significant reductions in anxiety, somatic disorders and PTSD symptoms which continued at the six-week follow-up (Vella, Milligan, & Bennett, 2013). This was a pilot study but many benefits were found in the veterans who participated. In addition to a decrease in PTSD symptoms the veterans were found to have increased attentiveness, serenity. and self-assuredness following the outdoor recreation program (Vella, Milligan, & Bennett, 2013). This study also showed that the nature-based intervention provided a sense of distraction, reconnection and restoration which often helped veterans come back to a calm state of alertness (Vella, Milligan, & Bennett, 2013).
In a study done by Gelkopf, Hasson-Ohayon, Bikman, and Kravetz (2013) they looked at how a nature adventure rehabilitation program could benefit veterans with combat related PTSD from the Israeli Defence Force (IDF). They found that while there were many viable treatments for PTSD, many veterans do not profit from these. Veterans participated in a twelve-month sailing program where they were placed in groups and conducted sailing activities. The veterans that participated in the program were compared to a group on a waiting list and it was found that they their PTSD symptomology was greatly reduced and noticeable to those closest to them. Gelkopf, Hasson-Ohayon, Bikman and Kravetz (2013) also found that the more the veterans felt that they had control over their illness the less symptoms of PTSD they had. This was thought to occur as this experience gave the veterans a sense of belonging and a sense of empathy from those around them. While the veterans still reported triggering behaviours, it was reported that the emotional outbursts surrounding these were more short-lived and manageable than had been previously. This study gave the veterans an outlet in nature that they had previously not had and it allowed them to change the perceived control over their illness.
In a paper written by Hawkins, Townsend and Garst (2016) they discuss nature-based recreational therapy for military service members and using a strengths-based approach. This paper found that most interventions that are used for PTSD symptoms are based on a person’s deficits and their limited functioning. By using nature-based interventions with veterans you are using their previous military assets as well as providing them with internal and external strengths. The restoration qualities of nature are found to reduce stress, arousal and anxiety (Hawkins, Townsend, & Garst, 2016). It was found that when veterans participate in an exclusive group and are surrounded by other veterans with the same problems they can find a sense of togetherness that they only previously had when they were serving in the Military. They conclude their paper saying that nature can be a practical rehabilitation therapy intervention, program and environment for veterans to heal but that it is important to use a strength based approach and not focusing on the deficits of the individual and what they cannot do (Hawkins, Townsend, & Garst, 2016).
The Sierra Club Military Families and Veterans Initiative conducted a report on exploring the benefits of outdoor experiences on veterans in 2013. This report suggests that women with PTSD who engaged in extended outdoor recreation found greater mental clarity, spiritual growth and a stronger sense of connection to others leaving more of a sense of “wholeness.” The authors found that outdoor recreation experiences for veterans leave them with greater feelings of social connectedness and more optimistic about life even a month after participating in the program. They also found that these experiences alter the way veterans look at their social and physical environments. Increases in positive feelings were found in the most seriously ill veterans participating in these programs (Duvall & Kaplan, 2013).
The literature suggests that nature is beneficial to veterans and that participating in nature-based therapies does improve the quality of life of veterans that feel disconnected from society. The writer believes nature gives a sense of attachment or belonging to something when the person feels like there is nothing else left. More research should be conducted into the benefits of nature-based programs however, this writer believes that by using nature and Two-Eyed seeing this can contribute to better well-being of veteran
There are many articles on using the Medicine Wheel for healing and there are many on using nature as a healing device. This writer is going to discuss how using both processes could help veterans that are dealing with PTSD and not finding relief from their symptoms in mainstream therapy. The writer will include anecdotes from veterans who have used nature as a healing tool and why. In this writer’s personal experience, she has found that a number of veterans are turning to Indigenous Healers and Elders to find the healing that they need.
In the movie Healing the Warriors Heart (2014) it speaks about Indigenous veterans coming back from overseas. It speaks about the injury to their soul and how it is important to have ceremony to overcome these experiences. It also speaks about how Indigenous veterans are honoured among their people and often given a medicine bag to carry with them at all times while they are away. Indigenous veterans are encouraged to tell their stories and purify themselves so that they do not isolate themselves and become sicker. The veteran that was followed in the movie was given an Eagle feather for his service to show that he was appreciated and to help him heal from his broken spirit. This writer can’t help but think that non-Indigenous soldiers have no ceremony at home, or people to even care that they are away. There is not a huge amount of community involved with non-Indigenous soldiers unless a life is taken by war or by something like suicide. One of the things the writer found most interesting in this movie was a quote from Sitting Bull. He stated that if our warriors are well, our nations will be well. If our warriors fall, our nations will fall. It is imperative that we take care of the men and women that are serving our Country so that our Country will be strong. When the Canadian government says they have no moral obligation to sick or wounded warriors that is a big blow to the psyche. The movie shows how in the United States they have started building healing gardens and sweat lodges for the veterans with PTSD. This was started by the Indigenous veterans; however more and more non-Indigenous veterans are finding it useful for their symptoms as well.
When a person enters the Military, they go through an acculturation process. This is described in Walking the Medicine Wheel: Healing Trauma and PTSD by Kopacz and Rael (2016). This involves assimilation, separation, marginalization and integration. In the assimilation process the person goes to Basic Training and becomes like everyone else. They get their haircut and they are taught that they are no longer an individual, they are a part of a team. They become a part of their new culture, the Military. The individual is separated from those that they love as they are often posted far from their home and develop a new identity. Kopacz and Rael (2016) state that the marginalization process is the most difficult for a person because they are stuck in between cultures. They have rejected both their original culture and their new culture leading to feelings of anger, loss, grief and loneliness. This marginalization process is what is affecting veterans with PTSD. They no longer feel they are at home anywhere (Kopacz & Rael, 2016). After reading up on marginalization and how veterans are stuck in a place where they feel they don’t belong in between cultures the writer began to draw the conclusion that veterans are finding healing within Indigenous circles because Indigenous people are also very marginalized (Kirmayer, Simpson, & Cargo, 2003).
Kirmayer, Simpson, and Cargo (2003) concluded that current trauma therapy and theories are all related to the actual disorder of PTSD and it being a psychiatric problem. There needs to be more attention paid to the symptoms of the disorder such as attachment issues, trust issues, belief in a just world, a sense of connectedness to others and a stable personal and collective identity. Although their study looked at promoting culture, community and mental health with Canadian Aboriginal peoples, it offered some good insight into how Eurocentric attitudes are not healing people with PTSD (Kirmayer Simpson, & Cargo, 2003).
Kopacz and Rael (2016) discuss how using the medicine wheel is a movement away from using medicine as a pill and realizing you have the power within yourself to heal. As the writer has stated before many Indigenous Elders realize the symptoms of trauma are spiritual injuries and therefore balance needs to be restored to all four dimensions of a persons’ life (Marsh, Coholic, Cote-Meek, & Najavits, 2015). This includes the physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual aspects of a persons’ life (Twigg & Hengen, 2009). Interestingly enough, Twigg and Hengen (2009) state that in order to heal and restore balance in your life you must transcend the ego instead of strengthening it. They speak of a program in Saskatoon called Building a Nation where people can go to learn the teachings of the Medicine Wheel. This program was originally designed for Indigenous people however more and more non-Indigenous people are turning to Indigenous ways of healing and realizing that their lives are unfulfilling because they are missing one of the four dimensions of the Medicine Wheel (Twigg & Hengen, 2009).
In The Wellness Wheel: An Aboriginal Contribution to Social Work (2006) the authors discuss how social workers can use the Medicine Wheel in therapy. It is said in the article:
In their fundamental nature, human beings share many similarities with regard
to the four components of the Medicine Wheel. Their basic needs are the same;
they feel similar emotions in similar situation; harmonious relationships, identity,
recognition and a sense of belonging are all individual aspirations in all cultures;
human beings of all backgrounds have capacity for creative, rational, logical and
intellectual functioning; all humans have choice of thought and attitudes when
confronted with moral and ethical issues; desires for the spiritual qualities of love,
justice, unity and peace and for general happiness are universal (Margot & Lauretta,
2006, p. 10.)”
The authors continue to discuss ways people can use the Medicine Wheel to come into balance and harmony in their own lives. It gives exercises and guiding questions that people can use to see where they are out of balance in their lives and where they can improve (Margot & Lauretta, 2006). This article shows how using the Medicine Wheel can promote healing in all dimensions of a person and how important it is to have holistic health. Imbalance in any one of the four aspects of the Medicine Wheel can cause sickness and discomfort. By using the Medicine Wheel and other Indigenous ways of healing the writer feels veterans can come to terms with the symptoms of PTSD and the feeling of loss of control over their lives.
The writer wanted to see how actual veterans felt about nature and their connection to it, what it meant to them. In a secret online group of MST survivors, a question was posed as to whether anyone had found nature to be healing for them and if so how? As these people asked not to be identified due to the nature of the issue the writer felt that it was important to state that many responses were that nature was the only place they found solace and could heal. Some stated that nature had returned their sense of spirituality which had been lost to them when they were victimized. In personal conversations with friends over the past few months the writer has found several individuals that have turned to Indigenous Elders for their healing. It was stated by a friend who asked not to be named that when she found a Cree Elder to confide in, her healing began and she could finally get over the years of pain she had felt. In a personal interview conducted with J. Pogue (2017) who has suffered from PTSD for several years for non-combat related issues the writer found that nature gave this individual a sense of peace, calm and a rush. He spoke of how he loves to watch the animals and how when you watch them you recall how life should be. The fact that animals just exist and are not rushed by a timeline is something that he wishes for humanity. J. Pogue (2017) feels that everything in life is inspired by nature, it is a very grounding centering experience which can bring you to present when you feel very overwhelmed. He is thankful for where he lives even though it is in the city as he has many animal visitors and often spends his mornings outside just observing. This helps to maintain his serenity in a world full of chaos.
In Eurocentric views of mental health there is always a neurobiological explanation for the person’s illness. Often the concepts of mind, body, emotion and spirit are left out along with a person’s desire for interconnectedness with family, land and community (Vukic, Gregory, Martin-Misener, Etowa, 2011). Indigenous people have a strong connection to their land, family and community. By engaging in their communities and always thinking of the welfare of the community it allows for healing (Vukic, Gregory, Martin-Misener, Etowa, 2011). The writer believes that if veterans could think of themselves as communities and begin to use Two-Eyed Seeing in their healing then things could start to change for them. Veterans often suffer because they feel misunderstood. They at one time were willing to give up their lives for their country, and then they find themselves unable to work due to PTSD symptoms and often turn to drugs or alcohol. By becoming communities that support each other and by starting grassroots initiatives to promote healing among the community veterans could come together and help each other. This paper has shown that nature is a very beneficial tool to use to reduce the symptomology of PTSD, and that by using the Medicine Wheel and other Indigenous ways of healing you can recover and become a whole person again.
This paper is limited in its scope as there are many Indigenous ways of healing such as smudging, prayer, ceremony, and sweat lodges that could have been discussed and shown how they could also benefit veterans with PTSD. The main focus of this paper is that nature and a return to spirituality to heal your broken soul is what is needed to feel that veterans are again a productive member of society. By blending Indigenous healing methods with Eurocentric healing methods and using Two-Eyed Seeing to focus on the whole person and not just the disease that was created because a person was traumatized, veterans could find a healing path and return from the fact that they feel they don’t belong anymore. This reconnection with nature is important as it provides a sense of belonging to something bigger than yourself. With nature and its benefits often comes a return of self and a sense of attachment to something. It is this writer’s hope that Indigenous ways of healing will get the recognition they deserve in mainstream society as it seems that these ideals are helping our wounded veterans across North America with PTSD, no matter the cause, and are worth more investigation.
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