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"What is broken is what happened to us"

The past six weeks has been a busy time, including the back to school season, World Suicide Prevention Day, the shift from summer to fall, the beginning of holiday seasons and the slow decline in daylight hours. I am mindful that this time of year can be difficult for many, as memories of potentially traumatic back-to-school are revisited, and individuals who are isolated feel the weight of loneliness settling in. These thoughts caused me to reflect on a learning session Culturally Committed previously shared with Nalaga / Kaaw Kuuna / Avis O’Brien (Kaa’was Staa’stas Eagle Clan from the Village of K’yuusda in Haida Gwaii and the Giga̱l’ǥa̱m Namima of the Lig̱wiłda’x̱w people from Cape Mudge), titled ‘Healing Through Land and Culture’.

Nalaga’s presentation highlighted the intersectionality of colonial genocide, systemic separation from Indigenous identity, land and culture, and mental health and addiction struggles that sometimes arise as a result of these facets. ​I was deeply impacted when Nalaga spoke about addressing addiction and suicidality from a non-pathological lens, insights she learned from Riel Dupuis-Rossi (Mohawk/Algonquin). She shared that in Western mental health systems, there is a tendency to pathologize by identifying the problem within the person. Dupuis-Rossi asserts that instead of pathologizing, we need to recognize that the individual is not broken -- they are only responding to the harms that have impacted them.​Nalaga further explained, "... what's broken are the invisible systems of oppression that drive the world we live in… What's broken is what happened to us… The way that we are responding is a really normal human response to carrying the burdens of 500 years of attempted and ongoing colonial genocide."

Her words resonated deeply. For me, this approach to trauma feels so much more human-centred; it is gentle and kind. When we pathologize responses to trauma, it can feel like there is something inherently wrong or broken within us; when in fact, we are so much more - we are resilient. When we view self-harm as a natural response to trauma, it grants compassion for others, and for ourselves. We are not broken. Each one of us is doing the best we can.

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