This program was funded by a grant from the Community Radio Fund of Canada and the Government of Canada’s Local Journalism Initiative

A local youth attended an IndigenEYEZ training series: the goals are 5 fold: to strengthen the way that we walk in the world through the five modules – connecting to myself, to others, to community, to our cultural strengths, and to the land.

I work for IndigenEYEZ, and attended Touch The Earth facilitator training… excitingly, my daughter Sofia was invited by the director as a youth trainee. 

We travelled to the Okanagan, this session of the training was held at Headwaters Lake Camp.

When I arrived at the camp, I visited with director Kelly Terbasket- in a cozy cabin on Headwaters Lake. 

Cortes Currents: Odette describes an IndigenEYEZ training series: Touch the Earth

Wáy [hello] 

Kelly Terbasket. HI everyone, I’m Kelly Terbasket. I’m the director of IndigenEYEZ, I’m one of the co-founders, and I’m also one of the lead facilitators. IndigenEYEZ is about renewing relationships. Renewing our relationships with each other, and with the land. Snqsilxw means ‘sharing one skin’. We share a membrane with each other, including all our relations. And our mission is to strengthen those- our connection and our relationships. With the land, with the water, in order to become stronger stewards of the land. And remember our responsibilities to the whole. IndigenEYEZ is medicine for relationships. And that includes our relationship with the land, and with our water. That we remember, and revitalize our traditional teachings and values and principals… that remind us that we do ‘share one skin’ with all our relations. Snqsilxw means we are interconnected and interdependant on one another, for our existence and our sustenance. Way̓ p cyʕap my understanding of that translates to focusing on the triangle behind us, that of our ancestors, and bringing forth that traditional wisdom and knowledge that we need to forge healthy, sustainable pathways moving forward. Not only for ourselves, but for our future generations- the people to be. And we are a bridge between those triangles. Full of possibilities and full of choices to make together. I love that, I love that expression, in that it implies we are not alone. And the importance of our reconnection with each other, is to help us have hope, help us feel capacity, in that we are not stuck where we are at. That we have lots of opportunities for how we can move forward together. A big part of the work that we do is about inspiring momentum, building courage, and fostering hope. That we can make changes that we want to make for everyone. 

The main intention of Touch the Earth land-based leadership training is to build capacity in our communities. For how to run youth empowerment, land based camps. We have been running our own camps with IndigenEYEZ for the last 7 years. 

The intention of Touch the Earth land-based leadership training is to support front line workers in bringing youth out on the land in a way that is fun and engaging, and nurturing. We talk a lot about returning children to the centre of the community, and acknowledge it takes a community to raise a child. And I invite us to think of that community as also being our relations on the land. Our four legged, and two legged, and the plants, and medicines… and simply being on the land is a nurturing experience, on its own. A lot of times the land-based programs that I’ve witnessed have a focus more on teaching rather than on building and strengthening the relationship  we have with our relatives. And so, we include all aspects of revitalizing and the resurgence of our land based knowledge and wisdom. But, where we start is around simply allowing ourselves to sit in silence, and notice and be curious,  using more of our senses. Opening up our minds,  our bodies and our spirits to how the land can help heal us and strengthen us. 

The IndigenEYEZ Mission

“We believe that a healthy society requires intergenerational collaboration. We know that diversity is a resource. We also know that, as Indigenous peoples, our capacity for healthy relationships is in recovery. We encourage communities to explore their own cultures and to think deeply about what traditional values mean in the contemporary world. Like Coyote and Raven, Indigenous people have been transforming ourselves for thousands of years. A new day is dawning. The time to stand united in our strength is now.”

Connecting With The Land 

Leadership Essentials offers tools to heal the wounds of colonization by restoring the spirit of community. This program utilizes tools to restore relationships—with self, with others, with culture —and with the land. The work at IndigenEYEZ bases leadership practice on that vital source of insight: the land itself. Our land-based education is inspired by the Rediscovery Camps that began on Haida Gwaii in the 1970s.

I asked one of the facilitators, Skayu Louis, to tell me more.

Wáy [hello] …iskwist, [I am] Skayu, I’m from the Lower Similkameen Valley Indian band I’m Sylix, Similkameen and German. And I’ve been working with Indigenize for about five years, bringing the Rediscovery model into our Indigenous programming. And the rediscovery model really uses a lot of sensory activities. Focusing on the land from a macro and micro sense,  for many different lenses, uh, to promote deeper connection, deeper understanding through a personal introspection and also in conversation with other folks who are joining, camp program activities. And it’s been really powerful to watch the rediscovery model being engaged with more arts based creative sort of play-making and creative expression. And for our indigenous camps, we try and ground our Rediscovery programs into a local Indigenous context. So when we’re running our camps in the Sylix territory, we bring in our Sylix, language and culture and ceremony and into conversation with some of the Rediscovery models that have been developed for the last 20 years or so. 

INDIGENOUS KNOWLEDGE

What I love most about the work being done at IndigenEYEZ…what makes it personally meaningful to me is the centering of Indigenous knowledge. 

IndigenEYEZ describes this focus:  The natural world has been a source of personal wisdom for Indigenous people for time immemorial. Our Elders and Knowledge Keepers continually remind us that we must focus on upholding our responsibilities to the land and not just solely on our rights to it..

We all need more of this in our lives: Connection to land. Creative self-expression. Traditional cultural teachings. It is these three – held within a nurturing, intergenerational container – that is a force for healing and community building. Indigenous knowledge is critical to transforming our culture from a consumer-material, human-centred identity to one that is governed by natural laws of respect, responsibility, and reciprocity with the Earth.”

Touch the Earth
Courtesy IndigenEYEZ

TIME ON THE LAND 

And where it really becomes validating to me, confirming what I know and have experienced:

The concept of time spent on the Land.

It’s one example of Indigenous knowledge that must be reclaimed is the settler-colonial notions of linear time. These constructs of linear time were actualized through the Indian Act and Canadian identity narratives, and they de-legitimize Indigenous knowledge, history, and presence. Together we can look at de-colonial practices such as traditional languages and art, along with pre-colonial economic systems. We will combine those traditional learnings with an embodied knowledge of Indigenous practices. Centering ourselves in this lived way of being can rupture colonial geographies. By looking further into the politics of what are considered valid ways of being and knowing, we disrupted these narratives so that Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples can move towards anti-colonial consciousness together.

…So we’re doing an introduction to the land, to this land in particular. Taking time to walk out, finding a spot to sit and connect….there’s so much KInnikinnick here, it’s so different from where we live on Cortes. Here in the Similkameen it’s drier, lots of labrador tea, a lot of alpine wildflowers… the lupins are smaller, there’s soapberries. The pine smells really good.. I guess as I walk up this hill, I guess I’m comparing and contrasting to the west coast, all the underbrush is lower, drier. When we first got here we did a protocol as visitors to this territory… and then I start to notice the other contrasts.. Instead of contrasting this territory to the territory of the Klahoose people where I lived, I start to see the contrasts right here, the hills appear so dry, a lot of dead pine  mixed with rebirth and new pines, small trees. I look at a spiky pine, and I see the brown hairlike lichen, blowing in the breeze.. Softness underneath the hard… even this dry stick it seems so hard, but when you touch it, it’s soft, 

I haven’t done a road trip in a long time, the winding, washboard dirt road on the way in… kind of left me feeling a little carsick when I arrived… Maybe walking around will help feel a little better. 

Then on the walk down, I don’t know why I didn’t notice it coming up, but there’s wild strawberries everywhere. Criss crossing the path, all throughout the undergrowth. And I know, I know from when I was young, that wild strawberry  leaf was excellent medicine- for anything with digestion. So I start chewing it. And there’s more, I pick up the leaves, it’s good medicine. 

What’s interesting to me, I didn’t see it until I had done my connecting with the land. Almost like blinders, I didn’t see what I needed. But now I see it everywhere. “ 

ON “NATIVISM”

In a recent article by IndigenEYEZ co founder Kim Haxton, she wrote: On Nativism

“Recently, I had a conversation around the usage of the term “Native”. I found myself in an uncomfortable place discussing the semantics of this word. On the one hand my friend claimed that she is “Native” to Canada due to being born on these lands, although, culturally she is not.

I began to ask if in pre-colonial times we referred to ourselves as “Natives” – of course, we did not. The word play is mind boggling to me. A few weeks later, I was at a garden center and I saw my answer. There are native plants that are from this land, evolved over millennia to exist in an area that is simple to understand. There are introduced species, which I am grateful for the variety, as I look at them in my evening walks around the city. And finally there are invasive species.”

Skayu Louie describes his facilitation role, “So, that’s been, some of my role is really focusing on some of the land based activities, and trying to develop our own process and really, engaging senses of sound, touch and sight and all of our senses and how we engage with the land. And we like to use sensory exclusion activities to really tune in and some of the senses that we often neglect in our day to day lives. And so that’s what we try and bring into our camp process. Then allow that experience to unfold and then we have conversations about them and we talk about what we’re witnessing on the land and how the land is changing, and also how we can learn from the land. So there are different different strategies to really, to find the land as a teacher. So that’s a little bit about the Rediscovery model and how we’re bringing that into our indigenous programs within a local, very localized indigenous context. Place-based context. Wáy

I sat with my daughter, Sofia and asked her about last summer’s IndigenEYEZ youth camp and this facilitator training. “Okay. When you tell me about what last summer’s camp was and where that comes through the premise of it, and then compare it to this one, with the adults doing land based facilitator training. This one is for the people who will run those types of camps last summer, you were at one of the youth camps.”

Sofia responded, “ I think the major difference was last year, we did workshops and stuff that we were learning, but I was more focused on like making friends and the social aspect of it. And now I know that I’m here to learn how to do that. So there’s not really any point in focusing on the other part, because there’s not any kids here. It’s all about the learning part.”

I continued asking Sofia for her insights, it’s interesting to me to watch her process and discuss fluidly. “So, last summer at Hedley indigenous youth camp, you were experiencing it…now you’re experiencing it with teachers, social workers, youth workers; and listening to them process how they’re learning to do these activities with youth. Does that feel weird sometimes? Or is it just an extra layer of learning? What is it like for you? “

Sofia: “Well, it’s interesting. I didn’t know that before, that the adults did that, like they did it themselves and talked about it and then did it with us. I thought they just did it to like teach us a little bit, but also to entertain us. So I didn’t know, they were doing it and then debriefing it and like, thinking about all the little games and stuff. Pretty interesting.”

Odette: “They call that experiential. They learn by doing it themselves so they can more deeply understand the process. So you mentioned the little games;  can you just list off some of the activities that we’ve been doing? 

Sofia: “Well, we do listening games, like the deer game where you have to like be blindfolded and then everyone is trying to sneak up on you and you point them out, by hearing. So you are learning how to listen. Learn, listen to the land around you and how it moves and stuff.”

Odette: “What was your favorite activity yesterday? I really liked going on the walk and able to see the different land and the different plants. Like there was, I went to this hill and there was a bunch of grass and it was sort of clear-ish, but then there was a bunch of little strawberry plants. That was really nice. Cause where I live there, isn’t little wild, strawberry plants, just like pine needles and ferns along the ground. So we were doing my connection with the, as a metaphor. And there was a list of maybe 10 different things.”

Odette: “Do you remember what the list was?” 

Sofia: “Well, one of them was something free, but we couldn’t get a picture of it. So we just did a plant that had fuzz on it. Another one was like birth and rebirth and for that one, I think we did a little stump, ‘cause it was dead stump. Then I had plants growing over and some of the plants were dead, but more was growing from the dead ones. Kinnikinnick.  And then another picture was of a tree that had been cut and it was like open, but it was still surviving. So that one was resilience.”

Out of many land-based activities, one that focused on Indigenous ways of knowing and relating with the natural world is ‘Greet-a-tree’. People joined in pairs; one person wears a blindfold, and the other takes them on a walk to “find” and “meet” a tree. Later in the activity, they get to find the tree again without the blindfold on. Participants experience the learning that there are diverse ways in which we connect, not only with the natural world, but also with each other….“I’ll take your hand. Okay. Go slow. Some little roots here. Okay. There’s Kinnikinnick, scratch your ankles. Being in a log across, across the path. Get some trees on your right now. We’re going uphill. It’s the path…”

Odette: “So the reflection for that exercise…what did you notice about that, and what was in common with the other groups doing it, the other partners. And the second question was, is there anything you could incorporate into relationships?” 

Sofia:  “Well, you have to have lots of trust because you’re like giving up, being able to, you know, fend for yourself and watch out for things. You have to totally believe that they’ll tell you when there is something and warn you about it and tell you when there’s a log, let you have time to step over it and let you go slowly, not just like pull you over logs and stuff into the bush.”

Odette: “It’s the trust that was the biggest thing that we noticed everyone had in common. But what was the interesting thing about when we took our masks off and we just sort of made a beeline pretty much like upward, right? Towards where, the general location, where a tree was.”

Sofia: “Well, when you go in one direction, you sorta know how long you’ve been gone. So, you know, vaguely how far you’ll have to go. And like, if there was a big Hill, you’re not going to go the way that there isn’t a big Hill.”

Odette: “Well, for me, it was more like trusting your own self too. Like there’s the trust of your partner to lead you and describe and empathize for where the hazards might be and to guide you nicely. But it was also trusting yourself when that blindfold came off…Just going with my instinct, like I know which direction is, is even though there’s four different ways to get up this hill, just sort of following your intuition.”

Sofia: “Yeah. Cause when you first start looking sort of guessing,  and like, if there’s one that seems like it could be, you’re like, Oh, I think it was that one. Then you’ll go close and you’ll figure out it’s not. And then you’ll sort of look around and be like, okay, where is my tree? And then when you’ll see it, you’ll be like, Oh yeah, of course. It’s this one. I know this tree. That’s pretty cool.”

How these intentions, goals and themes impact youth continued to be reinforced through conversations with other participants and staff. “Hi, I’m Dana Setter. I’m from the Whispering Pines, Clinton Indian band part of the Secwepemc (Shuswap) Nation. And I wanted to come over and honor Sofia and speak to her about the strength that it took for her to come into the circle with adult learners, grateful for voice and hearing her speak and watching her move in comfort from discomfort, through to more comfort. And to learn from Sophia- from you, from what you were doing, how you were moving in, how you were being. So I’m very grateful for you and your mama for bringing you.  All my relations.”

A colleague of mine, Annie Phillips, shared her perspectives of Sofia as a youth facilitator trainee and youth participant process.  “I am a mixed heritage person. I’m Cree on my mother’s side and from the Montreal Lake Cree nation and Scottish on my father’s side.

I am an administrator with IndigenEYEZ and also a facilitator in training. So, I watch the youth come in, they come and they register and I see, um, how they’re shy and quiet and may not know what to do with themselves at the beginning. And this beautiful process unfolds, um, through seven days of being on the land with them in Sophia blossomed, uh, from the beginning of camp at, I remember very distinctly when we were doing our closing ceremony and Sophia had said, I don’t want to go, I don’t want to go home. 

And it was just so wonderful to hear her say that because like watching blossom, becoming more animated, more playful, more interactive, she was also one of the three youth leaders. So at last year’s camp, o just to see, witness Sophia step into that, what do I need to do in this role? And she jumped in, so seeing that part, like this amazing transformation happened over the seven days…And then being here today,, and having a nice time being with Sophia, talking about leadership and seeing Sophia’s strengths, like she is just blossoming. I’m seeing Sophia speak more, share more; share more of yourself with us. And I honestly feel so honored to witness this, you know, our youth really stepping forward because it can be scary just to put your voice out there and to take that risk.”

I ask Director and co-founder Kelly Terbasket what is the Importance of this type of programming? 

Kelly shares, “Another big part of our focus is on igniting our imagination. And this is something that’s really unique in our indigenous methodologies from other programs out there is that we’re combining land-based methodologies from rediscovery and from outward bound. And, and from our cultural teachings, we’re fusing or mixing that with our creative empowerment methodologies, which ignites the imagination, strengthens our innovation as well as it helps us build courage by stepping outside of our comfort zone. Doing things in a new way, it’s disrupting our patterns, the status quo- the way that we’ve become accustomed to interacting with each other and interacting with the land. And so the first step is just that that disruption needs to be in a way that’s inviting and not overwhelming. 

I would say the most common feedback we get consistently from participants who go through our touch the earth program is how relaxed and calm they feel, and how connected they feel to others. It’s amazing how quickly we can strengthen, build trust in ourselves when we use these methodologies. And so people come there thinking like, okay, I’m going to learn. I’m going to get a curriculum and I’m going to learn how to run a lab based program. And they leave with much more than that. They leave with realizing that it’s not only about what you do, it’s about how you do it. So, therefore it’s about who you are- as you are facilitating the workshop or  your land based program or your youth empowerment program. It’s not only about what you do. And so that is a big emphasis of our methodologies and the focus of our workshops is about helping participants to reconnect to themselves. 

And in this past fast paced world, many of our frontline workers are stressed out and overwhelmed. And so it is definitely one of the biggest, feedback that we get is around like how they didn’t realize how stressed they were until they weren’t stressed. And so when we talk about co-regulation and about  fostering like attachment with healthy attachments with each other, as we share one skin, as we say in our culture and tradition, snqsilxw we share one skin. So it’s not only about giving you this and children,  self regulation skills. It’s about giving them co-regulation skills on how do we allow ourselves to be co regulated with the land and with each other. So that is when we do our closing circle and we share our feedback. That is definitely a common theme around the whole circle is that they feel rejuvenated, joyful, and peaceful, happy. And those are things that we don’t necessarily put on our poster because those don’t sell. It’s hard to get PD [professional development] funds for that, but it is definitely that self care and that self nurturing is a big part of the outcomes of our Touch the Earth workshop. Limləmt. [thank you]

We are in unprecedented times. The polarities of what we are seeing on an environmental, social, and geopolitical level are overwhelming. Connecting to the Earth, ourselves, and each other is paramount to making the shifts for change. We work on communication and self-awareness, deepening our intuitive senses, and connecting to the collective wisdom that comes from the right relationship with the Earth.