Where no woman walks alone: Focus on healing and fun at the 2019 NTC Women’s Gathering

Nanoose Bay, BC

Dozens of Nuu-chah-nulth women of all ages arrived at the Nanoose Bay Pentecostal Church campground for three days of self-care and fun times together May 8-10.

Women of all ages and most Nuu-chah-nulth nations were represented; some young women were there with their mothers or grandmothers and many siblings and old friends reunited. Many were grieving losses and found comfort with a supportive, fun-loving group of peers.

“I just love coming here,” said Ahousaht elder Greta Charlie. It was her second time to attend the event and she liked being with her positive, happy peers.

As usual there were planned activities and presentations geared towards health, safety and personal wellness. Vina Robinson and her Teechuktl (NTC’s mental health program) staff drew on resources both at the NTC, such as the Nursing department, and also from outside organizations like Island Health. They also reached out to people in the communities that could offer Nuu-chah-nulth language services, or esthetic services like haircuts, manicures, massages and henna art (temporary tattoos).

There were activities where the women sat in smaller groups making things like medicine bags, appliqued textiles and woven cedar bark projects. More importantly, the crafting tables gave them an opportunity to learn together and laugh together. The sprawling campground at Nanoose Bay has a beach, lawns and is dotted with cabins and buildings. It has a main gathering hall and other outbuildings that were used for self-care and crafting activities.

The weather was gorgeous and many took the time to walk the beach nearby or soak up the sun on the lawn or at one of the picnic tables.

At the main building catered meals were served. The women gathered there to take part in larger group activities like presentations or they visited one of the several information tables set up there.

Harm reduction for illicit drugs

The first presentation of the day had to do with illicit drug use and harm reduction measures that are available to both users and their families.

Natalie Ocean and Gina Amos, NTC harm reduction outreach workers, talked about the dangers of illicit drug use and the services offered by safe injection sites such as the one on Third Avenue in Port Alberni.

Most people know that fentanyl and carfentanyl are lethal additives sometimes found in illicit drugs. A few tiny grains of carfentanyl can quickly kill a human. In the event of an overdose immediate intervention is necessary in order to save a life.
Overdose Protection sites provide trained medical personnel to monitor people using drugs and deliver medical attention if necessary. This is one way lives are being saved.

Few people know that they also offer testing of the drugs for fentanyl or carfentanyl. A miniscule portion of the drug is taken to be tested for the presence of deadly additives.

Mothers and other family members of drug users can do something to prepare themselves in the event of an overdose. Ocean said people can get a life-saving Naloxone kit along with a short training session on how to use the medication on an overdosed patient. Both the kit and training are free. Simply call her at the NTC or contact the overdose prevention site.

There is a new, more simple-to-use product to treat overdose call Narcan nasal spray. Amos says the medication is safe to use and is sprayed into the patients nostrils. The spray is free and no prescription is required.

“Simply ask your pharmacist for this product,” said Amos.

Ocean warned the women about proper storage of prescription pain medication.

“We’ve been getting calls about young people taking their parents’ or grandparents’ pain medication without their knowledge and sometimes mixing it with alcohol,” said Ocean, noting that this is a dangerous practice.

It is important to properly store medication and to be aware if the supply is dwindling faster than it should.
Ocean and Amos said the most important thing people should know is that help is there. They reminded everyone to check in with their loved ones; “let them know there are people that care about them,” they said.

Goals, self-care and spirituality

Jolleen Dick, a young leader from Hupacasath First Nation, delivered an inspirational message about goals, self-care and spirituality.

Dick said her leadership ambitions started out while she was still in school. She took leadership courses in high school which led to volunteering her services in her community and in Port Alberni. She helped to launch the popular Port Alberni Sunset Market which takes place each summer at Victoria Quay.

Following high school and college, Dick began working for her nation in research; she eventually moved on to communications for Hupacasath, then successfully ran for a seat on the First Nation’s council. She played a lead role in the events that led up to Port Alberni’s Walk for Reconciliation in 2017.

Dick is now an executive assistant for B.C. MLA Scott Fraser, who is the Minister of Indigenous Relations and Reconciliation. Dick says through her work with the minister she sees first-hand what the other 202 First Nations are doing in their communities in terms of economic development and reconciliation.

At one point in her busy life she became aware that she wasn’t paying enough attention to her own needs when she began struggling with health. Dick reminded the women to always practice self-care, and that includes taking care of mind and spirit. She lives by the values of respect (for self, for others and for her culture). She also protects her integrity.

“It’s important that you don’t throw away your integrity when others are trying to bring you down,” she said, adding that retaliation is the easy way to deal with negativity, but it comes with a price. “It’s easy to go to nasty words and dark places when people are cutting you down. It is a true sign of strength and integrity when you don’t go there.”

Dick says she lives by former US First Lady Michelle Obama’s mantra, when they go low, we go high. This is especially important for people in leadership positions.

Diabetes awareness

Matilda Atleo and NTC nurse Beth Neilson delivered a presentation on diabetes awareness. They talked about risk factors and symptoms to watch for. Just being of Indigenous ancestry is a major risk factor, and for that reason it is important to know the symptoms and to have blood sugars checked regularly.

Many people are afraid to be tested for diabetes. Neilson said that there shouldn’t be a stigma attached to having a diabetes diagnosis.

“The pancreas gets tired in people with Type 2 diabetes; it’s nobody’s fault, that’s just the way it is,” she said.

From childhood trauma to a boxing career

Young Indigenous boxer Ivy Richardson told a harrowing story of a childhood living with emotional and physical pain. The adults in her life were practicing addicts and she witnessed unspeakable horrors. As a result, she went through a period of poor choices due to low self-esteem and simply not knowing any other way. Richardson went through abuse but she found a way to turn it around.

She involved herself in sports and settled on amateur boxing as her focus. Like any sport, boxing requires rigorous training and focus to be successful.

Richardson says she now treats life like she’s training for a boxing match.

“It requires passion, purpose and intent and you must pursue it relentlessly,” she said.

“Healing is a life-long journey that never stops,” added Richardson. “Sometimes it’s challenging but the journey gets more and more beautiful every day.”

Lisa Watts, NTC resolution health support worker, reminded the crowd that not one woman in here is walking alone.

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