Monthly Archives: May 2015

Native American sweetgrass: its meaning and use

Native American sweetgrass: its meaning and use

Hello all!

If you follow my site’s Facebook page, you know I am currently doing course 3 of my program entitled Aboriginal focusing oriented therapy and complex trauma. Today was day 2 of 3 and our teacher was kind enough to bring us sweetgrass she grows. Therefore, we all braided our sweetgrass during our break 🙂 So this inspired me to write a short post on sweetgrass, its use and meaning. Here we go!


What does sweetgrass represent?

Sweetgrass is one of the main herbs used by Native people. It is often part of the medicine used when smudging along with sage and cedar (for more on smudging, see this post). Just as sage is used to clear negativity, to cleanse, sweetgrass is used to bring positivity. At the healing circle I attend, we often start the circle by smudging using sage. As circles tend to be heavy (lots of trauma is shared), if we use sweetgrass, we use it at the end of the circle. To cleanse ourselves again and to bring back positivity and calm.

Therefore, sweetgrass represents positivity, strength, connection to the Creator and all our relations. it represents the Mother, our mother, Mother Earth. It is our connection to the land, to what is around us. Its smell when burned dry is a sweet smell, reminiscent of our ancestors. When fresh, its smell is one of grass (a faint one). It smells fresh, it smells like comfort and home. When braided, sweetgrass can represent a few different concepts. In the Cree-Ojibway culture, for example, the three braids of the sweetgrass can represent love, peace and harmony or mind, body and spirit.

fresh and braided sweetgrass

fresh and braided sweetgrass

The uses of sweetgrass

As I just mentioned, sweetgrass is used in smudging, to cleanse and purify. Native American sweetgrass is a healing herb, it has healing properties. For example, sweetgrass can be used to help with colds, or sinus issues. It can be drank as a tea or infusion to help with coughing (God knows I should drink some as I have been coughing for 2 weeks now). For more on herbal remedies see this post. One could also gargle with it (the tea I mean, not a branch of sweetgrass…).

Further, sweetgrass is a blood thinner as it contains coumarin, which has blood thinning properties. Finally, sweetgrass can also help with arthritis. Indeed, one can carry fresh sweetgrass in their clothes, like in their socks for example, to help with movement (my teacher often does that).


sweetgrass I received and braided today

I will share with you my teacher’s experience with sweetgrass as I know she would not mind. She has been growing her own sweetgrass for close to 50 years now. The one in the picture on the right is some she brought it today. She constantly has sweetgrass inside her clothes, like her bra or shoes, to help with arthritis. Well, one day, as she was crossing the border (between Canada and USA), she forgot she had it in her bra. And of course, it was found. Let’s just say it raised suspicions and she had some explaining to do!

dried sweetgrass

dried braided sweetgrass

Finally, above you will see dried braided sweetgrass that was tied into a circle. This was given to me years ago by an Elder. The sweetgrass was tied with a cloth and shaped into a circle to represent the Medicine wheel. One final note, according to that Elder, sweetgrass is never supposed to be cut with a knife, as metal is not supposed to touch the herb.

What is your experience with sweetgrass? Share below 🙂

All my Relations

Native American health care: where does cultural safety come in?

Native American health care: how is it different?

Hello all!

I was recently asked to write a little something about the concept of “cultural safety” in regard to Indigenous people. At first my thoughts were “what is that?” and “what the heck am I going to write?”. But quickly it became obvious that cultural safety in the health care system referred to a practice of health care appropriate to Native people, respectful of the traditions and sensitive to the history of intergenerational trauma. But let’s not give everything away right now! I am writing this article in continuation to my article about Native American therapy and my article about historical trauma. Let’s see what it means to practice health care in a culturally safe way.

History of the White man looking down

As I discuss in my article on Native American historical trauma, the Native people have a history of power differential with the White men. The Aboriginal ways were not only ridiculed for many years but at some point banned. With colonization and what followed (e.g. residential schools), culture, language and traditions were banned and severe consequences were to follow if one was to even try to celebrate their culture and people. Beautiful regalia that we see today at Pow wows was forbidden. Can you imagine a life without regalia? Without Pow wows or ceremonies? I can’t! native american regalia

But here, we are talking about centuries of the White man looking down on the Indian, denigrating the Indian, trying to control the Indian. Very unfortunate but true. The Native people’s lives were controlled in all their aspects. The colonizing of the Indigenous people led to terror on their part, led to an incredible loss of freedom and power (they could not even vote on policies affecting them!). What followed was significant trauma for numerous generations. Therefore, if we keep that in mind, our health care system and its professionals working with Native people, can certainly reactivate past trauma, as it is felt in the body, the mind and the soul.

Why a reactivation of trauma?

Well, health care professionals are authority figures and Native people could feel that the White way is imposed on them. Within the health care system, there is already a power differential between professional and client. if that professional is White and the client is Aboriginal, then the differential is even more pronounced. What does that lead to? A lack of trust from the Native clients and a shutting down of the clients. Because if one is feeling controlled or feeling oppressed, one will not feel like collaborating.

native american flute

The effects of colonization are long standing and profound as they were felt in subsequent generations and are still felt today. And those effects affect the health of Native American people today. Indeed, long-term consequences such as unhealthy lifestyles leading to poor health, substance abuse or a high suicide (or suicide attempts) rate are all realities of today’s world. And too often the clients are blamed by using denigrating stereotypes such as “the drunk indian”. In a way, for the dominant culture, it is much easier to think in terms of stereotypes than looking at its role in the trauma….

So what is Native American cultural competency or safety?

I would say that cultural competency and safety is letting go of those stereotypes. And meeting the person where they are at (which should really be done with every client). It also means that the health care professional has to be aware and recognize the history of intergenerational trauma within the Native population (if not, one runs the risk of reactivating the trauma). Which translates in understanding that numerous generations are involved in the dynamic presenting itself in front of the healthcare professional.

It means keeping an open mind to different perspectives of a situation, a perspective that might involve acknowledging the patient’s ancestors who are there to guide him or her. At the very least, it means respecting the client’s belief that they are. Respect, it’s all about respect and keeping an open mind. Cultural safety also means to listen, to listen to the patient’s worldview and to work to gain their trust by respecting their ideas and beliefs rather than imposing them. To have an open dialogue about those beliefs, which might include remedies/medicine from Mother Earth and the land, remedies that were used by previous generations. Past generations used so much of what is provided by the land. No synthetic stuff for them. Natural all the way, and far less illnesses. If the Aboriginal client does not feel heard or respected by the health care professional then chances are that treatment compliance will be very low. A lose-lose situation.

indian at wrk magazine

Should “white” health care methods be then eliminated?

In three words: of course not! A division between the two worlds is not what should be the goal. Working together should be the goal. Every human being contributes to this world and many modern practices are influenced by traditional ways of healing. And let’s face it, there are more illnesses in this world, illnesses that our ancestors did not have to face. However, it also means that modern medicine has made tremendous progress over time to cure illnesses that were deadly before.

Therefore, combining Indigenous ways to treat and heal with modern medicine provides a more holistic approach. An approach that attends not only to one’s physical side but also mental, emotional and spiritual sides. A balance of all four sides is what true health is. Remember the Medicine wheel people! We aim to find that balance between our four sides. Respecting the client’s beliefs, inviting an occasion to share treatment with the client’s Medicine medicine wheelman or Elder for example. Working together as a team. Because that is what the Aboriginal culture is about: respect all of our relations. It’s not about one being superior while the other is inferior.

We need to respect the medicine we take from Mother Earth, taking only what is needed and giving back to nature. But respecting others’ way of proceeding and their medicine is also essential. A mutual respect is the highest form of respect. We need to see the approaches as being complementary rather than competing. As we are all one. We are all related and so are our ways. That what I call Native American cultural safety.

medicine man

A Navajo medicine man in ceremonial dress-1904










What are your thoughts? Do you agree? What is cultural safety for you? Would you add anything? Comment below!

Head Smashed-in Buffalo Jump, Alberta: a heritage place to visit

Head Smashed-in Buffalo Jump, Alberta: a UNESCO heritage site to visit

Hello all!

I hope you are having a good week wherever you are. I had an awesome day attending a

Head Smashed-In Buffalo jump

Head Smashed-In Buffalo Jump

conference on Indigenous health care practices and traditional practitioners in a longhouse. Singing, drumming, hoop dancing and starting 30 minutes late…. the Native way of doing a conference you know 🙂 Now that I am back home, I wish to discuss a heritage site located in Alberta (90 minutes south of Calgary), Canada. The name of the place is Head Smashed-In Buffalo Jump. Let’s see what the buzz is about.

Continue reading

Native American therapy

Native American therapy: how can Westerners adjust?

Hello all!

As you might know, I am a mental health professional trained in psychology who has worked in various settings with various populations. I have conducted therapy sessions, assessment and just helped or listened to individuals ranging from children to incarcerated adults. I currently work with individuals who have reached their last resort, oftentimes homeless, mentally ill or presenting with brain injuries or substance abuse issues. My work in jails has taught me to practice my profession in a more culturally sensitive manner. It is also something I have researched in graduate school as well. So this article will focus on some points to consider when offering counseling or therapy to Native American people. Here we go!

The importance of spirituality and the belief system

The importance of spirituality in the life of most Aboriginal people and how the practice of dreamcatchersspirituality is embedded in the Aboriginal lifestyle is something to remember. The Native American belief system is not always linear or rational and thus it requires the therapist to rethink psychotherapy, how help is provided and how one’s worldview is defined. Traditional ceremonies (including peyote ceremonies, fasts and vision quests) can also play a big part in American Indians’ lives.  However, as the world is not a linear world within the Native culture, there is not really a standardized way of rendering therapy (due to variations in experience, skills and abilities). However, there are several principles that one can consider.

Some guiding principles

So if one thinks of the Western world, we live in a very structured world, in which everything has a time limit (especially in therapy sessions). We are supposed to be done when we are supposed to be done, to stick to the schedule at hand and do the same thing all over again the next day. If one thinks of the Native world, especially before the arrival of Europeans, well it was quite different. There was no watch to tell you when to go, no GPS to tell you where to go, no phones so someone could tell you where to go. They had the sun, Father Sky, Mother Earth, nature and the animals to guide them. They relied on their relations. And they got there when they got there. “Indian time” we call it. Well maybe there is something in there that we can learn from.

Meeting the patient where he or she is

This is a principle I would apply to any clients I have to say. Imposing an agenda never works in canyonmy experience. It just leads to frustration on both sides. When working with Native clients, it might mean to be open to looking at the client’s dreams, visions or signs received. Dream interpretation, also used in psychodynamic and analytic therapy, can be so useful. As all our defenses are down when sleeping and things that would normally be blocked from our consciousness come to the surface. It does not mean that things will come to the surface in a very clear way. Some interpretation will certainly be required. The same could be said of visions.

Trance states in non-Western reality

Trance states are present in many traditional ceremonies. They can be induced by repetitive chanting, drumming or rituals for example. I have gone in a trance-like state in a few ceremonies due to the repetitive drumming and chanting. Some might say “a trance like state, are you crazy?”. But when I say, “go in a trance”, I mean a very deeply calm state. Somewhat similar to a meditative state. Images can emerge from those states and the therapist has to have the willingness and ability to interpret them. It also means that the therapist might need to enter in a trance state him or herself to understand the reality of the client in the moment (concept of immediacy: what is going on in the moment). It can actually deepen the therapeutic alliance because it helps the client feel understood and validated.

Inupiat drummers

Time limitations

Western standard 50 minutes sessions might be difficult to follow with Aboriginal clients, especially if ceremonies are involved. Or if states such as trances are entered. Therapist needs time to safely bring the client back to the reality. If you have ever been to a Native ceremony, you know that knowing the exact time it starts at and ends is basically impossible 😉 There will be a start time but you would be very lucky if it actually began at that time….However, within the therapeutic context, you might be in control of when the ceremony begins (unless it is attended somewhere else in the community). But a ceremony is a process. Placing a time limit on it would defeat its purpose.

Ritual and prayer in the therapeutic encounter

Symbolic rituals such as prayer constitute a part of many Native Americans’ life. Therapists must understand and validate those rituals. However, certain rituals, depending on the setting might feel offensive to others in the setting. Like smoking of tobacco or smudging. Nonetheless, therapists must still include those rituals if appropriate, as they can ensure that therapy is effective. It does not mean that the therapist is a medicine person though and should not act in that role. I personally smudge my office every day. The smell of sage is not a smell that everyone likes but we talk about it. I know that clients appreciate it and with the amount of trauma and negativity that is brought in that office, it needs to be cleansed! I also have my own ritual of smudging myself while praying in the morning. I think it is important as a therapist to cleanse yourself, to find ways to do so, as our work can weigh heavy on our shoulders at times.


The therapeutic use of synchronous events

In the Western culture, synchronous events are often thought of as “chance events” (e.g. coyote crossing in front of one’s car). The therapist must be willing to entertain the idea that the event might not be a coincidence. I personally do not believe in coincidences. And if we think of all our relations, we know that they talk to us, might they be animals, birds or trees. They guide us, like our ancestors. If an eagle is flying above your head, that is no coincidence. To learn more about the symbolism of animals and birds, see my pages here and here.


So what are your thoughts? Anything you would add or take out? Do you agree with those points?

All my Relations


Native American historical trauma

Native American historical trauma: the silent risk factor

Hello all!

Man was it a busy week! But I have been thinking about what I want to discuss throughout the week and I want to share part of the research I did a few years ago in graduate school. I was at the time researching the concept of historical or intergenerational trauma and traditional ways of healing and the practice of native spirituality. Not going to lie it influenced the creation of my site 🙂 Although not an easy topic to discuss, I want to share some data, research and stats with you. Not to worry it won’t be as boring as it sounds! I also want to share my professional experience with you. So let’s get started.

eagle feather

What is intergenerational or historical trauma?

The concept of historical trauma refers to trauma that has been passed down the generations. In other words, what affected our ancestors is affecting us today. How is that possible you ask? Well let’s look at some factors. Research shows (e.g. Duran et al., 2004) that, in North America at least, Aboriginal people are more subject to what is referred to adverse childhood experiences such as abuse, neglect and substance abuse within the household. Therefore, trauma present is carried forward from parents to children and so on.

Moreover, Native people are also faced with additional adult traumas or stressful experiences spiritualitysuch as poverty, unemployment, violence or witnessing violent or traumatic events. What is experienced in childhood has an effect later on. Now adults, the trauma is witnessed by their children, who now live in a traumatic household. Some of you might say or at least think of the usual stereotypes such as “dirty drunk indians” or “they beat their women”, or “they all end up in jail”. But let’s look at it for a different perspective.

The effects of colonization

So yes the stereotypes are there. But let’s ponder the following for a second shall we? The Native Americans’ present situation is in sharp contrast with their situation before the arrival of Europeans explorers in America. Whereas today they present as a population at risk, in the past, before colonization and attempts at assimilation by Europeans, they presented as mostly independent and self-governing nations with their own beliefs and philosophies in regard to cultural, educational, family or economic questions (Bombay, Matheson & Anisman, 2009).


Furthermore, with the establishment of the Indian Act (1876), the lives of Aboriginal peoples were changed drastically. Indeed, the Act not only dictated who was an Indian but also established policies controlling Aboriginal peoples by, for example, outlawing cultural practices and ceremonies as well as rendering Residential schools mandatory and enforcing a forced adoption program (Bombay, Matheson & Anisman, 2009). Moreover, Aboriginal peoples were refused the right to vote for those policies, leaving them powerless as their land, language and culture and ultimately their identity were taken away. 

Hmmmm, puts things into perspective doesn’t it? But wait! That’s not all.

Residential schools and Sixties Scoop

Not surprisingly, although the nature of historical trauma might have varied across communities and was at times unique to certain tribes (there were community effects), a common theme revolves around the colonization period and later on, around the establishment and attendance of residential schools by Aboriginal children throughout Canada and the USA. This was combined with a phenomenon known as the Sixties Scoop (both efforts at assimilation of Aboriginal children). The Sixties Scoop refers to a period during which children were taken forcibly from their families to be adopted by non-Aboriginal families, living sometimes as far as Europe.

Moreover, Residential schools (RS) and their attendance, which existed from 1863 to 1996 and

Apache students before and after Carlisle Residential school

Apache students before and after Carlisle Residential school

were mandated by the Indian Act, were forced upon Aboriginal children in an attempt to acculturate and assimilate them to not only the dominant culture (English Caucasian) but also to the catholic religion. The goal of RS was then two-fold: to separate the children from their families, culture and communities and to assimilate them to the dominant culture. In addition to the trauma of being separated from their families and culture, Residential schools were a place of neglect and abuse for many children who attended them. Any form of cultural identity was suppressed, oftentimes using physical abuse. As it has been notoriously said, the goal was to “kill the Indian in the child” or to “beat the Indian out of the child” (Indigenous Foundations, 2009). Children were taught the English language and to be ashamed of their culture (Bombay et al., 2009).

So not surprisingly….

Those conditions led to difficulty for survivors of RS to develop socialization skills and parenting skills ingrained in their culture of origin, let alone passing them along to the next generation. Therefore, one can consider that those direct effects of the abuse and trauma (psychological) on survivors of RS were passed down to subsequent generations, i.e. to have an intergenerational effect. Indeed, it has been suggested that numerous survivors of RS returned home lacking appropriate social behaviour, as well as presenting with inadequate parenting skills or behaviors modeled after the behaviors of their caregivers while in RS (Nuu-Chah-Nulth Tribal Council, 1996). Attendance at RS and abusive experiences encountered while there disrupted the transmission of cultural practices as well as weakened or damaged the parenting skills of survivors, oftentimes resulting in an unhealthy family environment. 

head dress

War Bonnet

So what are we left with?

Well we are left with individuals who are stuck. Stuck in a cycle of abuse, violence and incarceration. In Canada, in British Columbia, where I am, 25-33% of the prison population is Aboriginal, a gross over-representation of the proportion of Aboriginals in the general population (5%). In the Prairies provinces, that number is even more astronomical, up to 75% of the prison population! I mean come on! That does not tell you something? That prison is often used as a method of punishment for Native individuals who are perpetuating a cycle of historical abuse (prison itself perpetuating it). I am not saying that it excuses the individuals’ actions and that jail should never be. jail

But I have worked in jails. If they actually worked as a deterrent, the recidivism rate would not be up to 50%….Without any sort of help with all the issues mentioned above, all the risk factors and the history of abuse, how in the hell is prison going to rehabilitate someone? I am sorry but to break that cycle, to get back to one’s cultural identity, to the ancestral ways of living and healing, it takes a lot of efforts and strength. As it means that one has to let go of what one knows, which has often become comforting, even if maladaptive. It takes courage, a whole redefinition of one’s life and priorities and ways of seeing those around. It means trusting the Elders, letting go of those bringing you down, it means talking about it, sharing one’s story, pain and hurt, to listen to the one of others, it means slowing down, seeing who is there to help and who is not, going back to the traditional values of respect, humility, courage, honesty, generosity, compassion and wisdom. And that is one hell of a hard thing to do…But it can be done. And in a way, it has to be done to work through the effects of colonization.

All my Relations


Native American feather earrings: an Etsy review

Native American feather earrings: an Etsy review

Hello all!

I hope you are all doing fantastic 🙂 Sorry for the lack of posts, life got busy! But I am back tonight with a review of an Etsy shop featuring feathers, feathers, and more feathers! Like glitter, a girl can never have too much glitter 🙂 So let’s talk Native American feather accessories and earrings.

Product: Drop tier real feather long earrings

Where: KelseysFeathers shop at Etsy

Materials: Nickel free metal, leather, feathers

Price: 28.25$ US

Rating: 4 stars

feather earrings



Continue reading