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Elder urges holistic 'self-healing'

Women should always wear skirts

Nathan VanderKlippe
Northern News Services

Yellowknife (Nov 12/01) - Bertha Blondin's voice soars above the drumbeat, crying out words of healing..

Standing and swaying inside a circle of seated social workers from across the North, the Dene healer chants and then sings with an intensity that fills the meeting room. Face upturned, eyes closed, the crescendo of her voice diminishes to what sounds like a prayer.

Finishing with a loud single drum beat, she smiles and asks people how they felt.

"We have to look after ourselves," she said. "It's important how you take care of yourself."

Blondin's message was one of holistic -- she prefers "wholistic" -- self-healing, something she said is necessary for social workers.

She was speaking Nov. 3 at the annual territorial social workers convention, which brought together 86 workers from Nunavut, the NWT and the Yukon.

Employing a blend of humour and native healing traditions, Blondin urged those in attendance to take care of themselves to be more effective in taking care of others.

She blamed the government in part for imposing regulations on social workers.

"I've been working for years and years to tell them to stop what they're doing," she said. "It's not helping people.

"It's making choice for the people until we start to burn out or stress and illness develop. Where is the aftercare for staff?"

To avoid staff burn-out, she said "you have to have spirituality growing constantly in you. Spiritual guidance has to be part of our whole being, all aspects in our life."

Blondin exhorted her listeners to avoid anger and gossip. "We can't be judging each other. Always have loving and non-threatening ways -- be gentle, be kind."

She urged better communication about hurts.

"I always tell people that since you walk on this earth, you have every right to work on your own healing and talk about your pain."

"Healing daily enables us to build ourselves with strength, love, understanding, trust and value of others," she said.

Self-healing also allows social workers to avoid transmitting emotional sorrow from one patient to another, she said.

Blondin guided attendees through a number of rituals, including breathing and stretching exercises.

Each person was given a small amount of tobacco to hold in their hands.

Blondin said the tobacco absorbs negative energy, which is released when it is burned.

She gave suggestions on different native remedies for stress -- including juniper berries, oils and cedar bark.

And, she said, women should always wear skirts to allow energy forces to pass through.

Those in attendance appreciated Blondin's message.

"There's a huge need for self-help," said Yellowknife social worker Rebecca Riley.

"If we're not healthy we can't help our clients. It's important for us to remind ourselves to take a minute and take care of ourselves. Somehow that always gets forgotten."