Word from the wise
Elder talks about overcoming sickness

Derek Neary
Northern News Services

Fort Simpson (Jun 30/00) - Crying, laughter and prayer.

Those are three of the keys to combatting sickness in our lives, according to Slave Lake elder Madge McRee, who was one of the guest speakers during last week's Spiritual and Healing conference in Fort Simpson.

McRee, who grew up on a reserve where "we respect everything," said the elders have used laughter to help them get through the hard times. Equally, it's OK to cry, she said.

"If we don't cry we shove (the pain) back in, we create sickness. Sometimes this is where cancer comes from," she said. "Our elders tell us we're not thankful enough any more, that's why we're sick. We complain about everything ... All we need is to be healthy and happy."

One route to wellness is the sharing circle, which allows people to talk openly and express their feelings. Prayer is another important component of health, she said.

"He (the Creator) loves everyone equally, that's why we all sit in a circle," McRee said of the symbolism.

She went on to tell her audience about the "seven grandfathers." They are: wisdom, love, respect, bravery (warrior), honesty, humility and truth. Together these attributes create balance in one's life, she explained.

Wisdom is possessed by young and old, according to McRee. Unfortunately, the lifelong insights acquired by the elders go unheard all to often.

"They're put in old folks homes now. They stick them in there and forget about them," she said. "And that's where they die; they lose their feeling of spirit ... You have to respect your elders. The old people are very important, they're the wisdom keepers."

Love was something McRee said she never knew while attending a mission school. Self-worth didn't come until later in her life. When she began to love herself, she was then able to express her affection for her children, she noted.

Love is best when it's unconditional. It's not always easy to love ourselves and others because "we're like a blade of grass," she said -- smooth on one side and rough on the other. We're rough when we don't look after ourselves, she added.

Once we accept who we are, then we can begin the path to healing, she said.

"Healing begins with yourself... then you heal your family, then you go out in the community. Everything starts with you. If you don't respect you, you don't respect other people ... If somebody puts you down, pray for them," she said.

"We're always crying 'Oh our children are in trouble.' I always say, 'What are you going to do about it? Are you going to make change, or are you going to sit there and cry about it for the rest of your life ... We have to take responsibility as mothers and grandmothers, and say, 'We can help our children.'"