Grand Chief Doug Kelly, Chair of the First Nations Health Council, spoke recently at a gathering of Chiefs from across BC.
HEALING BEGINS WITH ME!
This week, I recognized the anger, hurt, and powerful energy from leaders that experienced childhood trauma. With seeing, hearing, and feeling the hurt, the anger, and a very powerful energy, I remembered my own journey. I heard my Mother’s teachings – if you want to be heard then you must listen. If you want to be understood, then you must be understanding.
Mom taught me that unresolved grief and trauma become anger. She taught me that untreated anger becomes a very powerful energy. She helped me understand that the powerful energy of anger exceeds human capacity to manage. We have a choice in how we invest all of the energy within our body, mind, and spirit. We can invest that energy in doing going things or not. Energy can heal or hurt – the choice is ours.
From birth to eleven, raised by loving parents, my brothers and sister enjoyed a safe, warm, and loving home and family. Then the Creator called Dad home. Suffering grief, our family continued to love and support one another.
The stress of raising four children alone must have been incredibly tough on Mom. When I was thirteen, Mom brought home a boyfriend. When she introduced me, I shook his hand. Everything in my being told me to stay away from this man – he’s evil. Mom, lonely and stressed, did not hear me when I told her. She married that man.
From 13 to 18 years of age, my Mom, my brothers, my sister, and I experienced hell on earth. Mom married a white man. He was a raging alcoholic. He was a pedophile. He was angry and violent. When he beat my Mom – I jumped in and took beatings for my Mom until I was angry and strong enough to beat him. This man tore apart my loving family. He destroyed everything he touched. He terrorized my Mom by threatening to kill her children if she left him.
A devout Catholic, Mom received counselling from one of our parish priests. Mom married in the Church and the priest counselled her to stay in the marriage. When she told me – I broke from the church in anger. Eventually, I found the courage to tell my Mom that she could have her husband and church or she could have her children, but not both. She found the courage to leave him.
At nineteen, I became suicidal. That was my first stage of healing – I learned to shed tears and not hold on to my grief. Understanding my Mom’s teaching is one thing – carrying that teaching is much more difficult. I began to learn how to carry Mom’s teachings.
At twenty-seven, my marriage broke up. I could not imagine living without my beautiful daughters. I became suicidal. When I made my three attempts, my daughters saved me. I am here today because of the love that my daughters have for me. That was my second stage of healing. A year of depression that I self-medicated with running, walking, and meditation.
At thirty-four, I knew that I had to complete myself. I needed to ask for help. I am a proud man and it is hard for me to ask for help. I asked my Sts’ailes family to take me in. They took me in and they put me on my third stage of healing. My Sts’ailes family taught me by example and with ancestral teachings. My family helped me to accept and take care of my spirit and gifts from the Creator.
At fifty – I was a heart attack waiting to happen. I held and continue to hold stressful, high profile, and demanding leadership jobs. As a leader, my life no longer belongs to me. My life belongs to the people. I worked hard and long hours – 24/7. I ate too much drive-through fast food. I did not exercise. I did not attend annual physical exams with my doctor.
Five years ago, I began my fourth stage of healing. I focussed on being physically active, eating healthy foods, taking care of my spirit, and seeing my family doctor annually. While I am still too heavy – my numbers are good. I learned to manage stress. I developed new habits. I worked at these changes slowly – one step at a time.
I have completed four stages of healing in my fifty-five years. I believe that I will go through one more stage of healing before I respond to the Creator calling me home.
For more than a century, our people experienced grief and trauma. Many of our citizens continue to carry hurt and anger. This unresolved pain has become a powerful energy beyond human capacity to manage. Our people always have a choice in what we do with all the energy available to our body. We can do good work with that energy or not. We can make productive use of our energy or not. We can invest this energy in healing ourselves or not. We can heal ourselves and show our families or not.
The journey to healing has many stages. Everyone is different. Healing takes as long as it takes. It is not an event. I have had to learn to take care of my emotional health. I had to learn how to take care of my spirit. I had to learn how to take care of my physical health. It took me as long as it took me.
The journey to my healing began with me. I did not make my journey alone. I had help every step of the way. My heart is full of good feelings and love for all of those many family members by DNA and by choice that helped me. My heart is full of good feelings for my friends and colleagues that have encouraged and supported me along my healing journeys.
A few years ago, the Beefy Chief Challenge created an opportunity for Chiefs to consider their physical wellness. We challenged Chiefs to eat healthy foods, be active, and achieve a healthy body weight. We followed this with a “Step-it-up” challenge. We wanted people to walk, run, cycle, to be active. We challenged our Chiefs to be physically active.
In coming weeks, I will be talking to the First Nations Health Council and the First Nations Health Authority about our next Wellness Challenge. Given the pain and hurt that came out at the table earlier this week, I believe that we need to consider thinking about a challenge to support healing of the heart and spirit.