Culture and tradition play an important role in the mental health and well-being of Indigenous people. In celebration of National Indigenous Peoples Day on June 21, we spoke with Randi Sager, Indigenous Registered Psychologist at The Mustard Seed in Calgary, one of our Bell Let’s Talk Community Fund partners. Through The Mustard Seed’s Indigenous Wellness Program – Culture as Good Medicine: Indigenous Wellness and Healing Through a Traditional Wellness Approach – Randi provides culturally-sensitive case management and support services to Indigenous clients experiencing poverty, homelessness, addiction, mental illness and other challenges.
Randi, who is Lakota and Cree, talked to us about the importance of culture as medicine, the role it has played in her own healing journey, and how all Canadians can celebrate Canada’s rich Indigenous history.
How does The Mustard Seed’s Indigenous Wellness Program incorporate Indigenous culture into treatment?
We provide our clients the opportunity to engage in their culture through community and group activities such as ribbon skirt making, dreamcatcher making, beading and drum making. Our weekly Dreamcatcher Making Circle is a powerful circle. As everyone sits around working on their dreamcatchers, conversations flow and the therapeutic process begins. I am honoured to witness the healing that occurs during these circles. Each member supports one another without judgment and provides wisdom and teachings to each other. Every person has a powerful story to tell, and there is a teaching for everyone, including myself.
We have also collaborated with other agencies within Calgary on events such as Bannock and a Movie and Creation Lodge that allow clients and community members to learn from Elders and Knowledge Holders about the history of our people and culture.
Why is having culturally specific mental health treatment for Indigenous people so important?
Research has shown that Indigenous peoples have not been utilizing mental health services because the majority of these services work within non-Indigenous concepts of health and healing. Culture as treatment not only strengthens a client’s cultural identity, but it also empowers individuals to make positive changes in their lives. It is essential for many clients to incorporate culture into treatment in order for healing to begin. Not only do we work at the individual level, but at a community level as well. Community gatherings and healing/sharing circles are such an important part of the healing journey. We learn and support one another, allowing us to feel supported and not alone.
What inspired you to become a psychologist and to provide Indigenous counselling?
I was always fascinated by psychology, but I was unsure what type of psychologist I wanted to be. I was not raised in my culture and grew up predominantly with my non-Indigenous family. I knew that I was Indigenous, but I did not know what that meant. I would go to pow wows with my father, but that was the extent of my knowledge of our culture. Growing up, I always felt different, as if something was missing in my life. I was unable to cope with the trauma I experienced throughout my life appropriately. I internalized it which ultimately resulted in me developing an eating disorder. I lived like this for over 20 years, not acknowledging that I had a problem until my last year of undergrad in psychology. I knew that if I wanted to be a psychologist I had to work on myself first, but that meant I had to face the struggle I was experiencing within me. At that point, I had not embraced my Indigenous culture, and so I did the only thing I could think of and booked an appointment with my general practitioner. We agreed treatment would be a good option for me, however, this was not a good experience. What I witnessed and experienced did not resonate with me at all. There were times when I would speak up, which resulted in me being viewed as resistant. This was never my intention. I wanted to get better, but the way things were being done, it felt very wrong to me, but I was unsure why it was wrong.
It was during that time I started to feel a strong pull towards my culture. I could no longer ignore the pull and I entered the Writing Symbols Lodge at the University of Calgary to find support. I was afraid to go before because I felt I would not be welcomed due to my fair skin and limited knowledge of my own culture, but I was welcomed with open arms… literally. This is where I met Elder Kerrie Moore who worked with me on understanding my relationship with my eating disorder. After only three sessions with her, I no longer engaged in harmful behaviors. I was amazed at how well it worked for me and wondered why incorporating culture into treatment was not an option for Indigenous clients. Since that day, I knew I was going to become an Indigenous psychologist that provided clients the opportunity to engage in culture as treatment.
How has the COVID-19 crisis affected how The Mustard Seed’s Indigenous Wellness program is supporting clients?
Since the COVID-19 pandemic began, we have adapted to the virtual world and have been able to hold gatherings, ceremonies and beading classes online. It has been well received with a few bumps along the way. Furthermore, the community has been working together during this crisis to help better serve our Indigenous clients.
How would you encourage all Canadians to celebrate National Indigenous Peoples Day and to learn more about traditional Indigenous wellness practices?
Be an ally. Stand with us as we celebrate National Indigenous Peoples Day. Get involved in online events occurring within your community and educate yourself about Indigenous culture. For more information about the Day, visit the Government of Canada’s website. It’s important to be aware of the history of Indigenous people. More specifically, the Residential and Day schools and the Sixties Scoop and the history behind them. You can also contact your local Friendship Centre or Native Centre to ask about local ceremonies and resources.
To learn more about Indigenous mental health projects that Bell Let’s Talk has supported, please visit our website. Read more about how Team Bell is celebrating National Indigenous Peoples Day in this interview with four of our Indigenous team members.
National Indigenous Peoples Day, June 21, is a day for all Canadians to learn about Indigenous history and celebrate the diverse cultures and achievements of Indigenous peoples.