As an All Nations Teacher, Elder Mary works with individuals who follow a traditional Indigenous way of life. Not only does she guide First Nations people utilizing her expertise on regional Indigenous knowledge systems, but also has the skills and capacity to work with individuals who are not Indigenous themselves, but follow this way of life. In partnership with the JHS, Elder Mary organizes Miyàq’elhà:wetawt programming. Actively working with Elders and members of the Stó:lō Nation, in addition to other Indigenous Peoples, organizations, and service providers, Elder Mary offers ceremonies, resources, and activities that seek to meet the evolving needs and interests of our CBRF residents.

“Miyàq’elhà:wetawt isn’t just a program,
it’s a way of life” – Elder Mary

In preparation for our annual report, we had the opportunity to sit with Elder Mary as she reflected on Miyàq’elhà:wetawt and its importance in the lives and reintegration of individuals served through the program. We were also fortunate to speak with one of our CBRF residents who actively participates in Miyàq’elhà:wetawt programming. Eric shared some of his favourite aspects of Miyàq’elhà:wetawt and shed light on how Elder Mary has assisted his reintegration.

When Indigenous people leave correctional institutions, they often face barriers from accessing Indigenous-focused services and supports.

“It’s not that these services don’t exist in the Lower Mainland and Fraser Valley,” Elder Mary says, but rather, “there is a need to build the guys’ capacity, sense of agency, and ownership over their reintegration so that they proactively seek out the resources, services, and supports that they need to lead an Indigenous way of life, which will play a fundamental role in their success reintegrating into the community.”

 

Elder Mary has also made deep contributions to the Indigenous people that we serve as an Elder at the Pathways Units at local federal correctional institutions. Pathways are Elder-driven intensive healing initiatives within correctional institutions in Canada that reinforce a traditional Indigenous way of life through one-on-one counselling, increased ceremonial access, and an increased ability to follow a healing path consistent with Indigenous values and beliefs. Miyàq’elhà:wetawt builds on this continuum of care by assisting persons following an Indigenous life path once they leave the correctional institution.

“Inside the institution, our brothers have access to Indigenous and non-Indigenous forms of support, which is great, but Miyàq’elhà:wetawt holds them accountable to themselves once they leave that space. In prison, they have much of their needs provided for them, but they need to build agency skills so that when they live independently within the community, they use their Indigenous beliefs, values, and ways of life to guide them; Miyàq’elhà:wetawt helps them achieve this.”

Miyàq’elhà:wetawt programming invites participants to follow their traditional way of life, in the process increasing their experience of pride and self-confidence. Elder Mary says that, “the guys create something beautiful, even when they don’t think they can. The activities that take place here allow them to cultivate feelings of positively contributing to their community and being confident in their skills. It gives them an opportunity to be proud of themselves.”

“Our brothers and sisters need homes
like this to support a successful transition.”– Elder Mary

The vast majority of the things created through Miyàq’elhà:wetawt programming, which has included beadwork, carving, and paintings, are donated. Elder Mary spoke to the philosophy behind this approach, explaining that, “if they get enough beads for five necklaces, they only get to keep one of them. It keeps them honest and encourages them to see beyond themselves. It fosters a sense of accomplishment in spite of themselves and teaches them the value of selfless giving.”

Elder Mary offers guidance to residents and delivers Miyàq’elhà:wetawt programming twice a week. She says that she is excited for the renovations to be complete, and emphasized that this will provide the residents with more opportunities to increase their sense of responsibility and accountability, in addition to bolstering their ability to bring in Indigenous community partners to deliver a more diverse array of programming.

“Our brothers and sisters need homes like this to support a successful transition.”

message from Eric, a JHS CBRF resident who actively participates in Miyàq’elhà:wetawt programming

“The staff at Miyàq’elhà:wetawt are extremely supportive of the practices and spirituality. In my situation and life this is a solid platform for my rehabilitation. In particular, the most beneficial activities have been the pipe ceremonies, sweats, and the biggest responsibility I was given by Elder Mary, which was the honour to be the drum keeper in ceremony. This responsibility is a huge one in my culture. The drum has an honourable calling which brings the people together to celebrate, pray, teach, and learn the respect that the drum encourages. My spirituality is important to me and my rehabilitation, because it gives me an escape from stresses, and it gives me a vent when I need it.

I am very grateful Elder Mary suggested I apply to live here upon my release. The staff are helpful and believe in helping the residents rather than judging them. They sincerely put an effort into our rehabilitation. Our program is supported by our Elder Mary. She is definitely the mortar that keeps us men that want to succeed held together with her kind words, teachings, and support. She encourages and gives advice that only a man who embraces change can openly accept.

Her role as Elder, spiritual advisor, grandmother, teacher, and yes even counselor is very much appreciated for the most part. Some men have communication issues, and she provides comfort to them.

I look forward to the upcoming programs that Elder Mary and JHS Staff at Miyàq’elhà:wetawt will offer in the near future, and appreciate them.

Sincerely,
Eric