Julie Lys says that working a hide is akin to the healing process. It starts rough around the edges, but when tended to, it’s transformed.
“In the western world medicine world, we can conceptualize everything, but you kind of keep your feelings [to yourself] and your spirit is not acknowledged,” says Lys, a healing and wellness coordinator with the Northwest Territories Métis Nation in Fort Smith.
Lys runs Marble’s House where they hold sweats, ceremonies, teachings and drop in programs.
“Our role here is just to bring in ceremony to help people through their healing and wellness Journey,” she said. “We do some workshops on in Thebacha and we do medicine harvesting. We went out and harvested sage and sweetgrass, all the medicines around here. And some of the elders that came by taught us a lot about the medicines and how to use them, how to prepare them for. So they just, they would just come and teach us stuff.”
Mabel’s House is a health and wellness facility run by the NWT Métis Nation in Fort Smith. It’s named after Métis Elder Mabel Heron.
The facility is used as a space to uphold traditional northern Indigenous wellness practices like medicine walks, hide tanning, sweats, pipe ceremonies and more.
Whitney Locken said the wellness program is crucial after Fort Smith was evacuated for more than a month because of wildfires.
“Just the way we function as a society, it’s always going to be a barrier,” she said. “This is a perfect example because the process is time-consuming and you can’t just take your hide out of the water and go back to work it and then like it dries up, like you have to just be there. And then hide, you don’t always choose when it shows up.”
Lys said that she knows what people who want to bring in Indigenous programming are up against. She said it took nine months to allow smudging in the local health centre.
“If you have a leader that is in their own space about the truth about what happened in Canada, they we’ll keep it that way,” she said. “If they’re in a space where there are realizing this has really been and we need to correct it and we need to do what we can to avoid damage control but also to allow people to feel. So what we do here as we provide that safe space.”
Lys said she’s hoping policy makers will become open to supporting traditional practices for health and wellness.