Monthly Archives: July 2015

Native American totem poles

Native American totem poles: a work of art

Hello all!

I hope you are doing good and are enjoying all of what Mother Earth has to offer 🙂 For those of you who do not know, I live in Vancouver, BC, a city filled with the Native culture, the culture of the Indigenous Pacific Northwest native people but also of a lot of different nations. The cultures are alive and there to be known. And I think that is just awesome that I get to live in such a place! In this beautiful city, there is also an equally beautiful famous park named Stanley Park. It is a gorgeous park surrounded by the Pacific ocean with numerous attractions for all. Including the Vancouver aquarium, a pool, a lighthouse and most importantly beautiful displays of Native American art. Yes I am taking about beautifully crafted and carved totem poles. A whole bunch of them for your viewing. Indeed, Native art is everywhere to be seen in this city I live in. Let’s discuss this Pacific northwest art, more specifically Native American totem poles.

totems in Stanley Park

totems in Stanley Park, Vancouver, BC

Native American art in Vancouver

I love my city and I cannot hide it 🙂 The Native culture is so alive in Vancouver that no matter where you are, you will see beautiful displays of art. From your arrival at the Vancouver international airport, you will be surrounded by sculptures and totem poles made by local artists. See a few examples below. Those sculptures are scattered throughout the airport and provide a wonderful sight to visitors. As for me, they represent home.

Raven house posts

Raven house posts by Roy Henry Vickers, red cedar-1990

Flight spindle whorl

Flight Spindle Whorl by Susan A Point, red cedar-1995











Once one leaves the airport, it only takes a walk through the city core to run into randomly placed Northwest Native sculptures literally on the corner of streets. Public art is alive and colorful. Each sculpture comes with a title and the artist name. Believe me I tried finding pictures of them but I was not able to. I have to say that most of them are of birds such as an eagle. Not all of them have a native design but some do. I will just have to go take a picture of some of them and add them later 🙂 But how cool is that? Public art right on the streets. Native art is so present in Vancouver that pretty much every prison I have worked in had a totem pole!

Stanley park

totem pole Stanley park

totem pole Stanley park

And then there is Stanley park. A little piece of heaven with 8 km of trails alongside the ocean (called the Sea wall). Kind of hard to beat that one….Stanley park is just perfect for an afternoon picnic, a visit to the aquarium, a day at the pool or the beach OR for an afternoon looking at the beautiful Pacific Northwest art on display. Literally in the middle of the park. Indeed, the totem pole display is one of the main attractions. It features beautiful pieces by local artists. The display began in the 1920’s with just 4 totem poles from Alert Bay on the Vancouver Island. The display grew over the years, with the addition of totems from the Queen Charlotte islands, also called the Haida Gwaii islands (hence the name Haida art) and the Rivers Inlet. Some poles were actually carved in the late 1880’s and were loaned to the park.

Serendipity and Orchids

Serendipity and Orchids

Finally, greeting you at the entrance of the display, you will find the Coast Salish gateways, carved by local artist Susan Point (see her work at the airport above). On the inside, male and female figures greet visitors with the traditional Coast Salish greeting (raised and outstretched arms).

Coast Salish greeting

Coast Salish greeting

On the outside, you will see a dancer with a sea serpent rattle and a thunderbird on top and on the picture below you see three grandmothers facing six grandchildren.

dancer and thinderbird

dancer and thunderbird

grandmothers and grandchildren

grandmothers and grandchildren

A bit of history on Native American totem poles

Well before we start, let’s clarify that contrary to what some people think, totem poles originate and can mostly be found on the West Coast of Turtle island. Washington, Alaska and British Columbia. Those are the type of places you will find totem poles. Plains or Southwest Indians did not carve totems. Why? Well just think of the types of trees on the West coast. Freakishly tall ones! With lots of good wood for carving such as cedar. Therefore, carvers will be mostly Northwestern or Alaskan. Not all of them but most of them. There is also a debate on whether or not totem poles existed before the arrival of Europeans. It is hard to prove as wood decays over time. But most oral stories will say that yes totem poles did exist before the arrival of Europeans. However, the size of totems probably grew with the arrival of woodcarving tools.

So yes in BC, totem poles are everywhere. There is even a gorgeous one in front of a flooring store two minutes from my house! They are scattered throughout the province. They are gorgeous pieces of native art, if not expensive pieces of art. Probably some of the most expensive native art you will find. But just think of the quantity of wood used (often cedar) and the amount of time spent on carving and painting it. Then the price makes some sense. For example, when I worked for a school district, two artists set up camp in one of the school’s yard to carve a totem. They were there for a week straight working away. And that is for a unpainted totem….For totem poles of different sizes though, you can visit this site for work from Alaskan artists.

thunderbird and killer whale totem

Thunderbird and killerwhale totem

What about the animals?

On many totem poles, you will find animals. Now we have to think in terms of relations. What I mean by that is that animals are our relations, as we are all related. Thus animals including birds are there to guide us. We just need to listen. Animals accompany us throughout our life. Depending on what is going on in your life, you might notice a certain animal more frequently around you or you might feel a connection to a certain animal. Those are situations that one needs to pay attention to. The animals will guide you and help you complete your journey. I can totem polesay that for me, I often see or hear birds such hawks. Owls also have a special meaning to me. Both are thought to be messengers and related to intuition. Hawks and owls are also known for their clairvoyance or insight. Further, owls are related to deception and bad events. However, they can also warn against bad events and foresee some. They sometimes come to warn you. Some say that owls are a sign of death. But I see it more as a bird that foresees, warns and helps you see all sides of a situation or a person.

totem pole

Anyhoo…. that is just me. But it is worth paying attention to your relations around you, see if you notice a pattern or one who is popping up more often. How does this all relate to totem poles you ask? Well sometimes people will say that they have a totem animal or a spirit animal. What they mean is that they connect to one animal in particular and that animal is their guide. There is a connection with that particular animal. Whether in reality, in dreams or in characteristics. You can also type in “what is my totem animal” in Google and you will find a ton of quizzes to find out. They vary in length and I would not vouch for their validity. I tried a few and got wolf, deer and eagle…So just go with your own experience, see if you feel a connection to a particular animal or bird. It does not have to be an animal you spend a lot of time with, but more of an animal which lessons you are open to. For some of you, you will know right away what your animal is. For others, it will not be such a quick process. Think of an animal that you see or hear in your life, one you feel a connection to, one you see in dreams, one you collect figurines of, one who might have attacked you in the past. And if you cannot come up with anything, then take the quizzes 😉

totem pole


Any thoughts about totem poles? Ever seen some from up close? Comment below 🙂

All my Relations



Native American spirituality: Different perspective on suicide

Native American Spirituality: Different perspective on suicide

Hello all!

If you follow my site’s Facebook page, you know that I am currently doing course 4 in my certificate on Aboriginal psychotherapy and complex trauma. I absolutely love this program and recommend it to anyone who will listen! It is a very nontraditional program in which traditional ways of healing such as using the land and Mother Earth to heal, using our connection to nature, using the ancestors to guide and help us. It is very much an experiential program in which we do try on ourselves what we would do with clients. As much as I love it, I am typically exhausted by the time a course is over. But it is a wonderful experience! So I thought I would share and write about a topic we discussed today: suicide. Yes not the most uplifting topic, I agree. I did not mean to be a bummer. BUT, actually the perspective I want to share is a different one in which suicide is seen, in a way, as having had an adaptive function over time. Stay with me and you will find out what I mean. Let’s look at Native American spirituality and suicide.


A Native American perspective on suicide

In today’s day and age, suicide has a negative connotation. We tend to skirt the topic and pretend suicide does not exist. Or we tend to reassure loved ones of those who have committed suicide by saying things such as “she does not feel pain anymore” or “she is in heaven now”. Well, let’s think about this for a sec. So the one who committed suicide does not feel pain anymore? Well I want that too then. I mean, although it is meant to be reassuring, it almost makes suicide attractive here. “Who wants to stay alive and feel pain?” “Who wants to die and not feel pain anymore?” That is quite a restrictive view of suicide. I get that those words are meant to reassure those left behind but they portray suicide in a light that might not be accurate. This is not a tampon commercial, we are not all running in a field to go to a better place.

What else are we supposed to say you ask? Well, let’s think about it for a second. Within the Native cultures (yes there is more than one), the connection to Mother Earth, to the land is strong. We connect with the ground beneath our feet, with the wind in the Father Sky, with the warmth of Grand-father Sun, with the water of Grand-mother Ocean. We feel all of this on our earthly body. Because our life as we know it is our “earth time” in which we are in our physical form. We return to our spiritual form in the spirit world at death. So how about saying “she will never feel the wind on her face again” or “she won’t be able to feel the sun on her skin” instead? To remind us that we also need to be thankful for our bodies, for our physical side. We need to embrace our life on Earth before we go to the Spirit world. Because once we have crossed, our earth time is over and that comes with aftereffects that are rarely mentioned.


But wait suicide has always been present

Yes it has. It was present before the colonization of Turtle Island. Our ancestors committed suicide. They died for their land or their community. For example, older people would go off to die rather than slow down a nomadic tribe. Not as a sacrifice but rather as a way to serve the land or their community. If their earthly body was failing them, if they were in pain, if they believed that their family or community would do better that way. In a sense, it had an adaptive function. Kids would kill themselves if they saw their family struggling to eat so that the family could survive. This is still seen at times today, except that it is called an accident. I know some of you might be scratching their head, but suicide has always been and remains an option. It has always been there in the life of Indigenous people and will remain there. Suicide then has to be perceived as being normal. We all have our own different relationship with suicide. We sit beside it, we look at it, we explore it.

For some I can understand that what I just said might be scary. Because suicide is often considered to be a taboo. But suicide is present so we might as well talk about it. In numerous nations, on numerous reserves, suicide rates are high, higher than in the general population. Suicide and self-inflicted injuries are indeed the leading cause of death for First Nations youth and adults up to 44 years of age. It does not mean that every community has a high suicide rate. It means, however, that on average, the suicide rate is higher in Aboriginal youth than non-Aboriginal youth in Canada (5 to 1, up to 11 to 1 for Inuit youth). You will also see cluster suicides, of teens at times, where a teenager commits suicide and then a few follow suit. Or an echo suicide, i.e. suicides that take place after an extended period of time after the first one (e.g. on the anniversary of the death).

Hopi prayer

Hopi prayer for those who have lost a loved one

So yes we need to talk about it

Talking openly about suicide is what is done in Aboriginal focusing oriented therapy (AFOT, the program I am taking). We go toward suicide, we do not run away from it. We have an open discussion about it, we do not shame those who are thinking about dying or have tried to kill themselves. We respect and recognize that part of them might feel like dying. And then we can explore which part that is. And very importantly, if there is a vicarious or intergenerational component to that feeling. What do I mean by that? Well we explore whether that feeling is theirs alone or if part of it might belong to past generations. Was it the client’s mom feeling the same or the grand-mother maybe? Are clients carrying their ancestors’ experiences within themselves? Yes they are. Their body carries it. Their body carries the memory of what happened to their ancestors. And we need to be mindful of that reality.

smudging fan

So yes talking about suicide might be scary. When I first heard that suicide was and always is an option, my stomach churned. I was not comfortable with that. But then you have to look at it this way: suicide might be an option but it might not be the one I am taking right now. I am comfortable talking about suicide. I have done it many time in my work in jails. Detailed and intimate discussions about the client’s thoughts, feelings, actions. And what I found is that most individuals will find it reassuring to have those conversations. That someone can hold all of that. Because as therapists that is what we do, we hold. We serve as the container for the client to safely empty what makes them feel uncomfortable. We sit with it.

And that is not always easy. Cue Mother Earth. Yes we need to use the land to hold the client’s feelings. The land can do that. Imagine you are standing up and the space in front of you can hold what makes you uncomfortable, what hurts you, what scares you. Well in AFOT, that is what is done. The space, the land serves as a space to put the client’s feelings so they can be observed and discussed from a safer distance. The land will hold them so that it can feel safer to discuss them. The land is strong, solid (rocks do not move, we can count on them) while also offering fluidity (the fluidity of water, water washes the rocks).


So here we have it: suicide. A topic that is uncomfortable for many. But it is a reality and not talking about it won’t make it less a reality. So we might as well talk about it. Sit with it, have a conversation with it, a relationship to it. Normalize the whole thing so that people can speak more openly without feeling shame. While remembering that we are not alone as Mother Earth is there to help. What are your thoughts about suicide? Anyone offended by what I said? Anyone agrees? Comment below and I will answer 🙂

All my Relations


Pow wow dancing: meaning of some of the dances

Pow wow dancing: meaning of some of the dances

Hello all!

As I have had some requests through my site’s Facebook page, I thought I would write about Native American Pow wow dancing and the meaning of some dances. If you follow me on Facebook, then you know how much I love Pow wows! The dancing, the regalia, the music. I attend as many as I can. The music is music from the soul, it brings tears to my eyes at times or gives me chills. I listen to it in my car, at home, before I go to bed. I was not kidding when I said that I love Pow wows! 🙂 So here we go, all about Pow wows!

pow wow panorama

Pow wow dancing

So as I said, I have covered the concept of Pow wows, what they are about and include in a different post. You can read it here. In a Pow wow, dancers come in in what is called The Grand Entry. If you go on my FB page, you can see videos of Grand Entries of some Pow wows I have attended (under videos). The Grand Entry begins with the head woman and man dancers followed by  Elders or guests and then men dancers followed by the women. Most dancers will be dancing (but not extremely as they need to keep their energy for the competitions!). There is nothing like seeing all the dancers on the floor at the same time. It is jaw dropping! Typically, in a one day Pow wow, there will be 2 Grand Entries, one at the beginning and one right after dinner time.

Grand Entry

The Grand Entry

After the Grand Entry, you might then see a dance of the hosting tribe or nation. Representing their culture. Then, it is dancing time!! From my own experience, types of dances are called and dancers dancing that particular dance go on to compete. You will have women’s dances, men’s dances, youth’s dances, tiny tots (7 years old and below) as well as couple’s dances (typically one in which women select a partner and one in which men select a partner). So today, let’s cover some of those dances (along with pictures) to see what their meaning is. As to the untrained eye they might all look alike. But in reality, they all have their particularities. So here we go!

Men’s traditional

The men’s traditional dance is one of the oldest dances. It is often “animal” in nature. Meaning that the dance honors the different animals the Creator put on Earth and represents movements of the hunter, gatherer. Action oriented movements such as battling an enemy or hunting a game. There is no prescribed regalia but dancers will often wear regalia of their own creation. You will however see regalia with meaning for our ancestors. For example, men will wear breast plates made of bones or shells to protect against arrows, or a neck choker to protect against knives or have a tomahawk or a shield decorated with symbols associated with their tribe. Oftentimes, you will then see dancers low to the ground as though they are hunting. Moreover, some of them will wear a plate or bustle made of eagle feathers (it is quite impressive), the eagle being a sacred bird within the native culture. The eagle flies to the sky to bring our prayers to the Creator. The Eagle is the connection to the Creator. Eagle feathers should also always be given to you. Mine was given to me by an Elder. Below you will see the bustles I am referring to.

Men's traditional

Men’s traditional

Women’s traditional

On to the women’s traditional! That particular dance is so graceful. I have seen it many times and I never get tired of it (as well as the jingle dress dancing). The women’s traditional dance is a very rhythmic dance, in which women basically repeat the same movements over and over again. It does not look like much to some but it is an excellent exercise for your calves! Women typically dance in a line or circle, side by side. They move their feet up and down close to the ground, in time with the drum. Movements are very precised. Women will also carry a folded shawl draped over one arm and a feather fan in their other hand (see picture below). They will raise their fan when they hear the “honor beats” (in other words the louder bangs on the drum) to honor the drum and their male relatives. Traditionally, they will also carry a knife case and an awl on their belt. And what to say about their dresses! Beautiful colors, beading often made by the dancer, representing their different tribes. Colors, patterns and flowers will vary according to the tribe.

women's traditional

Women’s traditional. Courtesy of

Men’s grass dance

Another one of my favorite (ok every single dance is my favorite….)! Multiple meanings or stories are associated with the grass dance. One of those is that men would dance in such manner to flatten the grass on a new camp or meeting site. They would dance on the site. In certain Pow wows, grass dancers are asked to “clear the floor” before dances begin, as they would for a new camp site. They bring good energy to the floor for the dancers. Some will also say that the grass dance was created by the Creator to represent balance in life and the need for it (movements are then made on both sides of the dancer). Some movements will be similar to the men’s traditional dance, such as hunting like movements or battling with an enemy movements. However, one of the most recognizable movement is one in which the dancer dances as though one of his legs is caught and unable to move. The dancer then dances with his leg in the “held” position (as though they are dancing around their leg). As for the regalia, well it consists of a base attire to which is attached ribbons of fabric, representing the grass (often very colorful) The head dress is comprised of two feathers that twirl or rock as the dancer dances. Finally, as with every dance, the dancers follow the beat of the drum and in the grass dance, end the dance with both feet on the ground on the last beat.

grass dancer

Grass dancer

Men’s fancy

The men’s fancy dance often referred to simply as the men’s fancy is a treat to see! Be prepared for a show and a display from the men 🙂 It is a more modern dance and it is also an energetic one! They give it their all 🙂 A fancy dancer will then need stamina and agility as he will be jumping and twirling. The colors are bright, the regalia is elaborate. Think of peacocks dancing. Dancers often have two bustles of colorful feathers, ribbons, horse hair as well as bright head and arm bands. You really cannot miss a men’s fancy regalia, you see them from a mile away! The brighter the colors the better. A head dress of 2 eagle feathers (just like in the grass dance) is worn and you will see the dancers constantly moving their head as the feathers are supposed to be constantly moving throughout the song. And dancers will often carry a decorated coup stick. What is that you ask? Our ancestors carried a stick in battles. They would touch their enemies with their stick (called counting coups) without killing them. It was considered a significant sign of bravery. Finally, I have also seen dancers carry a decorated mirror which they will use during the dance.

Men's fancy

Men’s fancy

Women’s shawl dance

The women’s shawl dance can also be called the women’s fancy. In some ways it is the female version of the men’s fancy. It is a more modern dance as well and women used to wear either a blanket or a shawl over their head (it used to be called the blanket dance). It is a very athletic dance which involves quick steps and lots of twirling. Women will use their shawl to accentuate the twirling, the shawl becoming an extension of their arms. At the end of the shawl there will often be ribbons to add to the regalia, the ribbons flying in the air as the woman twirls and kicks. If you have never seen the women’s fancy you are missing out! It seems to be one hell of a good cardio exercise as well! It is just a time for women to shine, to give it their all. And it is absolutely breathtaking. Just see the picture below.

Woman shawl dancer

Woman shawl dancer

So there you have it, 5 Pow wow dances for you! Any of you ever been to a Pow wow? Have you ever seen any of those dances live? Any other dances you would like to learn about? Comment below and I will answer 🙂

2007 Pow wow

2007 Powwow;
Washington, DC.

All my Relations


Come check out Native American Tea Company’s Iced Tea Chest created for Summer 2015! We include our 2 favorite recipes for Iced Warrior’s Brew and Victory Iced Tea!