Local aboriginal women met at the Selkirk College Gathering Place last week to share and heal.
The Circle of Indigenous Nations Society (COINS) held its third annual Aboriginal Women’s Healing Conference from Aug. 10 to 12, welcoming 38 participants and presenters from across the West Kootenay Boundary.
“We have women coming from the Grand Forks area, all the way up to Nakusp and all the way in between,” said Kris Salikin, executive director of COINS.
The conference offers aboriginal women a chance to heal using traditional ways. “It’s really about healing using traditional ways, sharing culture, using the drum, our traditional ceremonies, to help heal through some of the history and trauma that aboriginal women have experienced over the years and historically,” said Salikin.
Among the presenters at this year’s conference were a couple of art therapists and Thursday afternoon the women attending the conference created masks as art therapy.
“They’re using some art therapy techniques to make a mask and it’s really going to be there kind of guardian, explained Salikin. “Or when they’re feeling in that place where they need some strength, they can bring out that mask and think about what that process felt like, and gain some strength from that and some guidance even from that.”
In addition to the art therapists, the presenters included COINS staff members and women from different community service agencies who have worked with aboriginal women in the community. A number of Elders from all over also attended, including a Cree Elder who came from Saddle Lake, Alta.
Most of the women attending the conference staid in the Selkirk residence, and there were plenty of crafts and activities in the evenings as well as during the day. On Thursday night, the women had a chance to practice parkour with a teacher from Nakusp.
Salikin acted as a presenter at the conference, but also participated in the events she wasn’t facilitating. Asked how she found the experience of attending the conference, she said, “Empowering to see the shift in women, the healing through trauma that can happen in three days, the depth of sharing and the trust. A lot of these women have never met each other, and the trust they have in sharing their stories throughout the three days is beautiful.”
The conference began three years ago when a group of women talked about wanting to gather to share culture and teachings together. The event is sponsored by the Ministry of Justice.
“There’s strength in aboriginal women coming together and there’s a reclaiming of culture, given the history and what’s been done to aboriginal people over the history,” said Salikin. “So I think that this conference helps with cultural identity and feeling good, feeling proud to be a Native or aboriginal women, and I think that’s an important piece because it’s part of the healing.”
Asked why it’s important to specifically have an opportunity to heal that’s just for women, Salikin said, “I have teachings about women being sacred because they have the ability to give life, and so if we don’t take care of our women and we don’t help our women heal then our children will suffer, our men will suffer, our families will suffer. So women being kind of that forefront of giving life and nurturing children, and raising children. Women need to be healthy to raise healthy families, healthy communities.”