Elder Bev Gillard (right) drummed with nine-month-old Izabelle Johnston before leading the healing circle of the Metis Traditional Parenting program in downtown Trail last week. The gatherings are open to any parent or caregiver who is caring for a child with Aboriginal ancestry. For information

Elder Bev Gillard (right) drummed with nine-month-old Izabelle Johnston before leading the healing circle of the Metis Traditional Parenting program in downtown Trail last week. The gatherings are open to any parent or caregiver who is caring for a child with Aboriginal ancestry. For information

Metis program offers support group for parents

A newly formed society in the West Kootenay and Boundary region calls upon a traditional approach.

Sheri Regnier

Arrow Lakes News

A newly formed society in the West Kootenay and Boundary region calls upon a traditional approach to healing that uses the mind, body and spirit.

Bev Gillard, a member of the Ochapowace First Nation in Saskatchewan, is now a local Aboriginal Elder who draws from her life experience when she sits in with the Metis Traditional Parenting and Personal Healing group that convenes Thursdays in Trail.

She opens each meeting, or healing circle, with smudging — a cleansing ritual that uses smoke from traditional sacred medicines such as cedar, sage and sweetgrass to purify or cleanse negative energy, feelings or thoughts from a place or a person.

Following prayer, the gathering opens when a symbolic object, such as a talking stick, is given to a group member who wishes to speak. It is  then passed around the circle in sequence to others who wish to speak.

“We are here to support each other,” said Gillard. “It is heartfelt stuff that can be something painful with the shedding of tears, or it can be happiness and we laugh. But the circle is not a hierarchy. Nobody is better than anyone and we all listen and respond to each other for support and help.”

The support group is one of four programs offered through the Circle of Indigenous Nations Society (C.O.I.N.S.), which is an Aboriginal non-profit registered in 2013. The society is guided by an Elders Advisory Council (board of directors) made up of seven elders living in the region. The board includes Trail’s Faye Poirier as chair; Joanie Holmes of Grand Forks, vice chair; Castlegar’s Gerry Rempel, secretary; Ganishka Silverfox-Dann from Nakusp, directors; Laurin Hackman-George and Bev Gillard of Castlegar; and Nelson’s Duncan Grady.

Alongside the Metis Parenting group that runs in Nelson on Wednesdays, C.O.I.N.S. offers an Aboriginal Mental Health and Addictions program called “Healing our Spirits,” in Trail, Castlegar, Nakusp, Grand Forks and Nelson; an Aboriginal Family Services Development Program; and an Aboriginal Early Years Program.

“When I came here I tried to get involved in the First Nation community as much as I could,” said Gillard. “Sitting on the board as an elder is an honour,” she added. “But at my age, I still go through things, so being part of the healing circle to listen and be supported is also for myself.”

The Metis Parenting program is open to any parent or caregiver of a child of Aboriginal ancestry, and incorporates traditional ceremony, drumming and medicine wheel teachings.

Talking circle discussions include the effects of colonization, reclamation of cultural identity, traditional ways, self care and child development from an Aboriginal perspective.

Each gathering draws lessons from the traditional medicine wheel, which symbolizes the interconnection of all life, cycles of nature and how life represents a circular journey.