An Indigenous author living in Kamloops has released a powerful book on her childhood and the effects of trauma as an adult in an effort to create dialogue about the importance of healing through Indigenous practices.
The new book, Calling My Spirit Back, was released July 24 and recounts Elaine Alec’s lived experiences facing racism and sexual abuse as an Indigenous girl growing up in an alcoholic home and her ongoing journey to individual and community healing.
A Syilx and Secwepemc person with roots in the Colville and Nez Perce nations, Alec works as an author, political advisor, women’s advocate and spiritual thought leader and teacher. Alec has travelled across Canada into Indigenous communities to discuss challenging topics Indigenous women and girls face, including sexual assault, silencing victims, incest, and perpetrators with the hope honest conversations would lead to safe spaces and to create action plans to keep women and girls safe.
The author also shares the tools she used to help her cope with and heal from various types of trauma.
An author’s childhood trauma and path to healing
Alec said it’s important for Indigenous women and girls to share their stories as when they don’t silence becomes the norm.It’s not unusual for an Indigenous woman to share stories of abuse, sexual assault, poverty, and trauma, but there are still many stories that go untold, young girls are often silenced by community members, family, or lateral violence.
“By sharing our stories it helps people feel like they’re not alone,” said Alec. “And it helps people realize that they can reach out for help and talk about things without being judged without feeling shame, and the more we talk about it the less shame we start to feel, and that shame has been in communities for way too long.”
Alec said she took the opportunity of travelling into the communities to face her own lived trauma and write the book that has been developing in her mind since she was 10 years old.
Her travels sparked conversations and questions that Alec said she felt a responsibility to answer, not just regarding the topics but also on how to heal from them.
“I think the biggest thing I’ve done in my life was when I learned how to ask for help,” Alec said. “Get past the fear of judgment, it’s a lot of work to get past the fears but to move past the fear of feeling judged and finding help through mentors really asking for what you want, and don’t stop.”
She said when she first began searching for help many of her requests were unanswered but she didn’t let that stop her pursuing healing. Through work with mentors, and continuing to reach out to women, especially older women or women she admired, Alec said she found the right group that helped her start healing from her trauma.
“I’ve established a really strong network of women in my life who I can talk to about my feelings or I can talk to, to process what I’m going through,” she said. “I know that they’re going to love me exactly where I’m at, and sometimes I might not like what they share with me but that I know that they’re going to be there for me.”
Alec began writing the book 10 years ago and said in the beginning she glazed over a lot of her experiences and believes many people also feel too ashamed to talk about sexual abuse. That stigma and shame inspired her to be open and honest about the truth.
“I wanted to put words to it, to move through it so that others could see that I wasn’t ashamed of those things anymore, that it did happen to me and I’m not hiding anything,” she said. “I’ve tried my best to be as vivid as I could so that people can see exactly what happened and how I moved through it.”
Alec said she was also inspired to face her trauma after reading the book In My Own Moccasins by Helen Knott. She said it took her months to read the book out of fear of being triggered, but that by the time it was done she felt hope.
“I felt like I could continue to move forward because of her story of resilience,” she said.
Alec now gives her readers the same advice she received from Knott, which is to read the book when ready and to put it down if you’re not prepared.
Speaking on safety for Indigenous women and girls
Alec promotes planning and governance to encourage healing and offers training and seminars that can be done both virtually and in-person with physical distancing and safety protocols in place. She teaches vicarious trauma and resilience for front line health workers, and a workshop called Cultivating Safe Spaces, teaching people how to facilitate difficult conversations.
Indigenous women and children are one of the most vulnerable groups in Canada so creating awareness and opportunities for open dialogue is an important tool for communities to heal from trauma. Currently in Canada there are 582 cases of missing and murdered women, 67 per cent of which are murder cases and 20 per cent missing women and girls, according to The Native Women’s Association Fact Sheet on Murdered and Missing Aboriginal Girls.
Indigenous knowledge and ceremony lead to discussion and action
Indigenous knowledge on healing was fully integrated into Indigenous families pre-colonization but after colonization many Indigenous healers lost their practices and are now learning to utilize decolonized healing approaches, a topic Alec shares in her book.
“When I was writing the book I did a lot of meditations, I did a lot of prayer, I went to the water, I went back home,” she said. “I prayed for myself but I also prayed for others that would read my book and even now, you know, as I’m going through this experience I’m thinking about the people and who are going to read it.”
She gives the advice to pray and to keep ceremony in the steps of healing.
“You’re going to be okay, it hurts, healing sucks because it hurts so bad and we’re so afraid of the pain that we don’t want to move through it, but there is hope and there is strength when once you feel the fear, you face the fear and you go through the feelings you come out on the other side seeing that you made it you can do it and you can be stronger for it.”
If you or someone you know are a victim of crime and need more information or support, call VictimLink BC at 1-800-563-0808 for toll-free, confidential, multilingual service available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. For more information, visit VictimLink BC.
Mental health assistance can also be found by calling 310-6789. A First Nations and Indigenous specific crisis line is also available every day ay 1-800-588-8717.
Dana Foster is a reporter hired by SPIN with funding from the Local Journalism Initiative, a federal program created to support “original civic journalism that covers the diverse needs of underserved communities across Canada.”