Mental Health: How Indigenous Knowledge Can Help You Heal



My shoes clung to the floor as I walked through the bar.

Every day I would come here, blaming it on the 2–4–1 happy hour and a sweet deal on tacos. But in reality, it was a way to escape.

To numb and forget.

I’d seen it before in my family, using alcohol to escape and numb the pain of trauma. Trauma caused by violence.

Not many people realize that Indigenous people are some of the most traumatized by this society, while at the same time, the least represented.

Especially when it comes to health and wellness.

Don’t believe me? I challenge you to look through magazines, online publications, tv shows, you name it.

To find people that represent us and share our experiences and perspectives is like looking for a unicorn in an old-growth forest. It’s possible, old-growth forests are magical. But unlikely because, well… it’s a unicorn.

No, but seriously. It shouldn’t be that way.

It’s a disservice to everyone, no matter who they are. Native or non-native.

Because it’s in our communities and families that we can see the connection between separating people from who they are and trauma so clearly.

All I have to do is look at my family to watch the scenes unfold, step by step.

The violence carried out against us in the name of religion and capitalism.
Coercing beliefs and ideologies on us that are not ours.
Displacing us and forcing us to exile.
Separating us from our land, the natural world, our communities, and our way of existing in this world.

Not to mention the trauma caused by the attempts to erase our culture and identities.It’s in our past and our present.

When you are forced to forget who you are. When everywhere you look are people you can’t relate to. People who don’t share your experiences and can’t understand or even see them because they have never lived them. When all you can hear are beliefs that are not yours. You start to believe them.

It’s social conditioning and we are all affected by it.

So, that’s why, I, just like my family members, learned to think of Western society and science as superior. I learned not to question it. I listened to what their experts told me healing was and did what they told me to do.

Even though what they learn in school and from their books don’t reflect us.
Even though their knowledge is limited to their beliefs.

I followed the rules, but it was not enough. How can learning how to live with your pain ever be enough?

Coping is never enough.

If coping with medications and talk therapy had been enough, I wouldn’t have turned to alcohol all those years ago.
If coping were enough, millions of people, native or non-native, wouldn’t have to turn to ways to numb themselves. They wouldn’t have to live with pain.

Here’s the thing though.

Trauma is not the only thing we are close to as Indigenous people.

We are also close to our ancestral knowledge and our understanding of healing.

I’m the first generation to live in Western society as an Indigenous woman. First. Which means our knowledge has never been far away.

The voices of this society were just too loud for me to hear. But eventually, I did.

And I healed.

Not thanks to those who don’t understand. Not thanks to those who only listen to people who look like them and speak like them. It wasn’t thanks to the knowledge of only one perspective. A perspective that comes from those who’ve been separated from nature and themselves for a very long time.

It was thanks to the voice inside of me that said,

this is not right,
this doesn’t make sense,
this is not who I am.

It’s not who we are.

Trauma, mental health issues… it’s not a thing that just happens to us for no reason. It’s not meant to be chronic or a life sentence. Managing and trying to survive it, it’s not how we’re supposed to live.

It’s the result of imbalance.

We are nature, and just like nature, we have to follow a natural process.

Climate change is the result of an imbalance around us.
Mental health problems and trauma is the result of an imbalance inside of us.

That’s why representation is so important. Not only for Indigenous people but for anyone.

Indigenous stories and wisdom give us a different perspective. And with a different perspective comes knowledge.

It’s never about turning our backs from Western science. It’s about finding balance and helping each other. Not treating one perspective as less than the other.

If something is not working. If we find ourselves doing the same thing year after year (like how I did therapy and medications for years without healing).

We have to ask ourselves,

Does it make sense?

Can it be right?

Or is there another way?

The importance of hearing Indigenous perspectives.

There’s a different perspective, a voice, we’ve been taught not to listen to. Indigenous people who hold the wisdom of thousands of years, living as part of nature. Not separate.

Making space for Indigenous voices in our society could help someone see how the ideologies, beliefs, and actions of the settlers, have impacted their own lives. It’s all still alive and a big part of how we live today.

We can see the traces of them in the way we walk through life. The way we speak and think of ourselves and our healing.

But if you start to hear other voices that are sharing different knowledge and way of living. Maybe you too can start to ask questions.

You can learn who you are.

You can learn that numbing and trying to escape is not needed when you have healed.

You wouldn’t even want to. Because you’ll be doing what you were always meant to do — live your life.


Pewkayal/until we meet again



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