By Tom Summer
Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
Treaty 8 First Nations gathered with friends and family this morning in Fort St. John for `Healing the Hoop,’ a three-day indigenous wellness and health conference, hosted by Blueberry River First Nations.
Bands from near and far across the Peace are taking part: Saulteau, West Moberly, Prophet River, Doig River, Halfway River, and Fort Nelson, in addition to guests from McLeod Lake, Dease Lake, and the Yukon.
Blueberry River First Nations Elder May Apsassin set the tone for the festivities at the opening ceremony, with a prayer reflecting on friends and family lost during the COVID-19 pandemic. She says the nations are healing.
“It’s so nice to be with my native people, they don’t know me, I don’t know them, but I’m here right now with my grandson, these are my own people _ just like it’s a morning, daylight,” said May. “I just ask you heavenly father, you bless these children, these are all your children. They went through a lot of hurt, but they made it.”
She added that spending time in nature with her son has provided a sense of peace and healing.
“They go out camping, go out fishing, hunting, that’s what we do, me and my son, we go out into the bush to get rid of the hurt,”
said May. “I say I give it to you, my Creator, take it, and give me love.”
Saulteau First Nations member Art Napoleon played the role of master of ceremonies, welcoming familiar faces and guests to the conference, noting the shared community created by local First Nations.
“We have all signed a piece of Treaty 8, our forefathers. And we’ve kind of become one, our music has blended, a lot of our traditions, a lot of our culture has blended,” he said.
Blueberry Chief Judy Desjarlais also welcomed everyone to the conference, addressing the crowd with a land acknowledgement.
“The healing journey, my grandmother spoke a lot about losses in our own family, and the losses within our own community, and it doesn’t just sit with alcohol and drugs, but mental awareness, depression, that all goes along with healing,” she said. “Nations standing beside nations, there’s no better healing than to come together and reconcile with each other, ourselves, and our families so that we can create a better future.”
Blueberry River First Nations Elder Clarence Apsassin spoke of the power of forgiveness and the need for a resurgence of First
“It’s the first in a long time that I’ve seen our Treaty 8 people gather together, it’s much needed. We need to get our people back together, we need our language back, we need out culture back, we need our people back,” he said.
“It’s time to bring our nations spiritually in prayers for the right thing, for our people to go forward to heal. It’s important,”
said Clarence, before drumming a song passed down from his father and grandfather.
West Moberly Elder George Desjarlais said indigenous people have been lost in a culture that’s not their own for the past 500 years, but are making their way back to their roots. He’ll be holding smudge ceremonies throughout the conference, for anyone who wants to learn or needs a sacred space to pray.
“We as a people became lost in a whole new culture. I don’t mean any disrespect in what I have to say, but I feel as part of the healing, it needs to be said: We lost our way, our belief in the Creator, through the church,” he said. “And thank god, some people managed to carry on our way, a way that was taught that we believe was by the Creator.”
Tom Summer is a Local Journalism Initiative reporter who works out of the Alaska Highway News . The Local Journalism Initiative is funded by the Government of Canada. Turtle Island News does not receive LJI government funding.