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‘We are always there’: Indigenous people also practice self-care on Sept. 30

Click to play video: 'National Day for Truth and Reconciliation often involves self-care for Indigenous people'
National Day for Truth and Reconciliation often involves self-care for Indigenous people
Summer Tyance is a first-year law student at the University of Victoria. They’re also an artist, poet and podcaster. Here, they share how they'll be spending National Day for Truth and Reconciliation – Sep 29, 2023

While National Day for Truth and Reconciliation happens on Sept. 30 every year, the weight of truth and reconciliation is something Indigenous people live with every day.

“We are always there, all year long in that place, concerned and worried and working towards the healing of our people,” said Marilyn Jensen, a dancer, speaker and educator.

“As Indigenous people, there’s a lot of pain, there’s a lot of trauma that we’re trying to navigate through.”

Leading up to events like National Day for Truth and Reconciliation often involves a lot of emotional labour for Indigenous people.

Their friends and co-workers ask them what they can do to mark the day, where they can buy an orange shirt or beadwork and what events might be happening in the city, and organizations ask them to speak. Sharing this information can be beneficial, but it’s also taxing.

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While many are involved in events on the day — whether that be organizing an intergenerational march or speaking to community — the weeks of buildup and work come to a point and National Day for Truth and Reconciliation often necessitates self-care.

“I try to spend it with my family and take the time to work on myself — sometimes I’m lucky to have the opportunity to engage in ceremony,” Jensen said. “What we can do is we can really focus on ourselves and our children and our family and take the time to really work on our own broken hearts and spirits.”

The weight of Sept. 30 is heavy for Indigenous people because of the lasting impacts of colonialism and the intergenerational trauma the Indian residential school system has caused communities.

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This year, Jensen will be spending part of the day dancing. She’s the founder and leader of Dakhká Khwáan Dancers — her troupe was part of the delegation that went to the Vatican — and finds healing through dance.

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“It’s one of the ways that healing has really been fostered in my life. Our dance group is a dance family and we’re often dancing on this day,” Jensen said. “But we somehow manage to navigate that. Yes, we’re sharing our culture, we’re sharing ourselves with other people, but at the same time, we’re really enriching ourselves, our wellness, our connection to our ancestors and the strength within us.” 

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Summer Tyance is a dancer too; they dance fancy shawl and plan on spending a bit of National Day for Truth and Reconciliation dancing, which they see as a means of prayer.

“There’s a powwow being put on by the Songhees Nation, I think praying is going to be huge for me — remembering my ancestors and those who need healing but also for myself,” they said.

“I went to a sweat last weekend and the lodge keeper was reminding us to pray for ourselves too.”

They also plan on spending time with family virtually, and sleeping.

“So many of us are so burnt out mentally, physically, emotionally,” Tyance said. “We’re always thinking ahead because we have to. We’re living in survival mode a lot of the time and that emotional labour of education is a lot. So I think if I’m sleeping, I can avoid that.”

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Danilo Caron has been busy helping plan the Intergenerational March at the University of British Columbia on Sept. 30 for the past several weeks.

“Things are just so chaotic for me right now, so I’m kind of just pushing everything down,” Caron said. “But the first week in October is my community’s fall harvest, so on Sunday, we’ll fly to Ontario and then I’ll spend a week with harvesting, doing some fun stuff with the kids, so that will be restorative.

“I basically just remind myself, as I’m trying to balance too many things that I’ve got this week coming, and it’s going to be awesome.”

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Priscilla Omullo, a mother, law student, community organizer, author and filmmaker, has spent the better part of the last month engaging with her community and sees National Day for Truth and Reconciliation as a day of rest.

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“This leading up has been very exhausting,” she said. “Emotionally, mentally, physically and spiritually draining, so I find that after I’m done doing all of the consulting work that I do, I just want to be with family and friends and just be there for each other.

“It’s important to take care of yourself as an Indigenous person, so I really just want to spend time watching a movie, chat, eat, (and) do the things my family enjoys together.”

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