Elaine: „The only way things are going to change is when individuals decide to focus on their healing“

Interview with author, speaker and women´s advocate Elaine Alec

Elaine is a fascinating woman to talk to. When you look at her social media profiles and website, you will come across her saying, „My story may be rooted in trauma, but it is not my only story.“ I reached out to her because those words could have been mine, too. We are layers of stories; some of them we outgrow, others stay with us throughout our lives. We are more than the darkest story we can tell. Elaine’s experiences of family trauma passed on, and personal trauma shaped her into the deeply compassionate and fiercely passionate woman she is today whose stories are full of teachings that can help all of us to grow and heal.

In late July 2020, Elaine published her first book. She wrote „Calling My Spirit Back“ in her authentic voice, sharing her experiences and struggles with honesty and integrity. She gives readers answers on how to create a safe space for healing and how to have healing conversations within family and communities.

In late November, Elaine will be hosting workshops to help readers regain their voice, write their own book, and market it as successfully as she has.

Lacuna: How did growing up with your grandmother shape you?

Elaine: She only spoke the language of the elders, and everything she did and told me was a teaching. I didn´t realize all the things she was teaching me at the time. She taught me values. How to have understanding for all people, to think about the land that is living and breathing, to give thanks and have gratitude, and to never take more than you need. And to always think about other people and what they might be going through, especially if they are not being so nice to you. She taught me a lot about gratitude, compassion, and respect. Those really helped me in my early years because I ended up going to a school that was predominantly white, and I was one of the only indigenous children in that school. I experienced a lot of racism growing up. I feel like it was her teachings that helped me to get through some of those really hard times.

Lacuna: What did the racism you experienced look like?

Elaine: I started experiencing it really early. The first time I knew that somebody didn´t like me because of my skin color, I was five years old. It was the first day of school, and the words that I heard were that I was a dirty Indian. I didn´t understand what those words meant at that time, but I knew in my gut that they didn´t feel good. I remember feeling like I didn´t belong. I developed anxiety at an early age.

Lacuna: Where did you feel like you belonged?

Elaine: I always felt like I belonged home with my grandmother, in my community, out on the land, and by the water. From an early age, I felt I belonged in those spaces. As I got older and would go to ceremonies and indigenous gatherings, I always felt I belonged there. It wasn´t until school started that I felt I didn´t belong.

Lacuna: You said you feel like you belong to the water. Your name also is connected to the water, isn´t it?

Elaine: My grandmother named me the day I was born, and my name translates to “standing by water.” A lot of the women have names that are tied to the water, and a lot of our teachings are tied to the water. Whenever our people have a hard time or a challenge, our elders tell us to go to the water, and listen and pay attention to the water. Our people also say that there are water spirits and water people who share their teachings with us. Water is really important in our stories and our healing.

Lacuna: When you mention the strong connection of water and healing, it reminds me of astrology. It´s said that we enter the Age of Aquarius, which is tied to water, too. This is the age of coming back to nature, to community living, and helping others. Do you see a connection?

Elaine: I do. There are so many creation stories we have among indigenous people across North America. One of our creation stories talks about how there were four brothers who all lived on one land, and they were brothers from different races. The creator came and gave each of the brothers a gift and told them he’d send them into four different directions and that what divides them would bring them back together. The creator put his stick in the earth, and the earth divided. The brothers went off in different directions and up came the water. It was the water that divided the brothers. In the last decade, people are really starting to understand the shape our planet is in and how our water is threatened by different policies and countries. So people from different backgrounds and different races are coming together to protect the water. We started talking about that a lot over the last few years, especially when #IdleNoMore happened to protect the water. That was an example of our prophecies of people coming together with the purpose to protect the water.

Lacuna: I didn´t know the story. That is really beautiful. The values you grew up with are in stark contrast to the values many people hold these days in the Western capitalist world. How do you feel about the state of the world, other than knowing it has to change?

Elaine: One of the things that keep me grounded is the stories told by our elders. A lot of it is based on trust, love, understanding, and discipline. When things get bad, I always reflect on where we are and what we got told. Through our stories, we were always told that we were going through a hundred years of darkness, and our people would struggle. Every time there was a challenge, it is up to humanity to decide what choice to make. Based on those stories, the hundred years of darkness is over, and now we have another choice to make what direction we are going to take as humans. Whatever happens, there is going to be a renewal of life. I focus on today. I focus on making things easier for the next seven generations. I know I might never see the outcome of the work that I do.

That is one important teaching we have. Not doing something for instant gratification. Not doing something so I can see the results now but knowing that what I am doing is going to make it easier for my children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren. The only way things are going to change is when individuals decide to focus on their healing and not to judge each other on where we are at in our lives and that everybody has purpose. Some days it is really hard to think like that, especially with what´s going on in Canada right now. There is a lot of violence happening on the East Coast of Canada right now. The Mi´kmaq´s right to fish is being threatened by non-indigenous commercial fishermen. Buildings are getting burned down, vehicles getting burned, people being harmed. A lot of this is a result of racism and lack of understanding. When that happens, you see the racism coming to the surface again. It´s especially hard for me to send my daughter to school right now, because children go to school listening to what their parents say before they walk out the door. I´m constantly thinking about those things. I get really sad. I get disappointed. For the most part, I am focusing on myself and what my purpose is and not let those things affect me so that we can keep moving forward.

Lacuna: You said we first have to heal ourselves before we can heal communities. Tell me about your personal healing story.

Elaine: I experienced a lot of trauma from a really young age aside from racism. I experienced sexual abuse between the ages of four and ten. It was something that was normal around me. A lot of people around me were experiencing it, but nobody talked about it. By the time I was ten, I started to smoke, and by the time I was twelve, I started to drink. I was a raging alcoholic by the age of twelve. I struggled with alcoholism, dropped out of school, got pregnant at 17, had my son at 18, and then was diagnosed with a chronic disease, Rheumatoid Arthritis and Fibromyalgia. I made several attempts to harm myself and attempted suicide at 23. I didn´t realize that all this behavior was a result of my childhood trauma, a result of me trying to hide it. I didn’t know how to deal with it or to talk about it, because you were not supposed to talk about it. I manifested it in my body, and it turned into these other behaviors because I didn´t want to deal with it because it was too painful. So I just acted as if it was okay.

After I attempted suicide at 23, my doctor came to see me and told me that I didn´t have to live in pain anymore. That one sentence was my glimmer of hope. I saw that tiny little piece of hope that maybe I don´t have to be in pain anymore. I slowly started working on health and wellness and, along with that, came dealing with why I did things to harm myself. It took me another seven years before I was able to actually get sober and stay away from alcohol. October 10th was my thirteen-year sobriety birthday. I still focus on my healing every day because things come up constantly with the way I interact with people and the work I do. It is a priority for me to focus on that. If I didn´t focus on my healing, I wouldn´t be where I am at today, and my children wouldn’t be with me. I probably wouldn´t be here either. It´s been a really long journey, and I don´t expect the healing journey to end, but it is definitely easier today than it was fifteen years ago.

Lacuna: This is the personal trauma you had to heal. What about intergenerational trauma that is passed on between generations? Do you think you inherit trauma from your parents and grandparents?

Elaine: Definitely. My mom was a practicing alcoholic, and she got sober when I was ten years old, but I had already been exposed to all the negatives while I was developing as a young girl. I had that from my mom. Both of my parents went through residential schools where it was taught that our language and culture was bad. We were punished for speaking our language. There was a lot of punishment and sexual abuse that happened in those schools. A lot of those children didn´t come home, and a lot of those children were murdered. I live with that. I live with the trauma my mom and dad went through and why they were the parents they were. The things my grandparents went through when the missionaries first started coming to our communities and cutting off access to our land where we would do ceremonies and gather our food and our medicines. We were disconnected from certain places, and we were not allowed to leave our reserves unless we had a handwritten note by Indian agents. There is so much trauma that is put on our families because of the desire to have land. Trying to disconnect our people from our land and these colonial approaches were used to hurt us and kill us. We are still healing from that, and we are still living under the same laws that were put in place to get rid of us.

Lacuna: It´s also cultural trauma because I think, they didn´t just try to cut you off your land but off your culture.
How do you use your healing to heal your communities and your people?

Elaine: My work is based on a foundation of healing, and I promote healing in communities as the first thing we need to do. But people don´t hire me initially to do the work. Usually, they are working on governance, community, or health planning. They want somebody to come in to mediate the conversation because there is a lot of disconnect between our families, our communities, and nations. There is a lot of violence that happens because we are living in communal trauma. All of our people have this same story. We are all coming out of that really dark period. Often, our leadership will try to move something forward and don´t understand why they can´t move something forward or why the families are fighting and we can´t come together. I am usually brought in to mediate and do circles, and, in a lot of that work, I am asking people, “What is in your heart? What are the things that are holding you back? What are the hurts you are carrying that´s holding you back from trusting each other?” We have a lot of hard conversations, but, once we have those conversations, we are able to let go. We are able to heal. We are able to trust each other a little bit more.
You can see that when communities put healing in front of their agendas how much further they are able to move forward. Whether it is economical development or governance or whatever it is the community wants to move forward in, they are much more successful when they focus on healing. The way I support it is by sharing my own story. The moment I introduce myself to people, to an organization, to a community, I share my story, who I am and where I come from. I am really honest about my journey and I feel it shifts the energy in the room, and it opens up other people to share their story. Sometimes, they have never heard each other’s story and when they hear each other, their heart opens up a little bit more and they are a little bit more compassionate and maybe a little bit more forgiving. I think I contribute to healing by sharing my own story.

Lacuna: It´s funny that you´ve said they don´t hire you for healing, but, actually, they don´t know they´re hiring you for healing. Healing is what they are seeking with those other questions. How can we connect better? We can connect better when we are vulnerable. So you show up bravely vulnerable, and that allows them to let down their guard too. I think that´s really powerful.

Tell me about your book, “Calling My Spirit Back”.

Elaine: I have wanted to write a book since I was ten. I really started to focus on writing about ten years ago when I was in my early 30s, and I just couldn´t do it. I would write, then I would stop and I thought, “This is never going to happen.” Last year, I worked in the province of British Columbia talking about missing and murdered indigenous women and girls and what we can do to create safer communities to protect our women and girls. We had some really hard conversations, but there was so much beautiful work that was done by the people who showed up. One of the questions that they asked was how to create a safe space to have these conversations. We realized we did not have enough capacity in our communities for people to facilitate those conversations. We started talking about training and resources and how that might look like. I went home after that summer, and I kept thinking about it. Then I got phone calls from other parts of Canada asking me to come in and do the same type of work. I have been traveling for a long time and spent a lot of time away from home before COVID hit. I wanted to stay home more, and I knew I wasn´t able to continue doing this type of work. I wanted to start training people and help people to do what I do. I kept wondering what this could look like, and so I thought the very first thing that I could see as a goal was to write a book.

The question of how do we heal and how do we create safe space, I can´t answer that in ten minutes. It is a long story, and it is a personal process people have to go through to create a safe space. My husband says, “You can´t create a safe space unless you are a safe space.” How do we know if we are a safe space? So, I wrote a book about that and for people who ask that question. It starts off talking about my history, my life, the traumas, but it also entwines the teachings of my grandmother into those stories. Then it talks about the things I have gone through to get where I am at, building my business, being a mom, getting sober, focusing on my health, and dealing with forgiving myself. It then talks about the four necessary conditions needed to create and cultivate a safe space. There are four protocols that you can use. You can only do those things if you have gone through the rest. That´s what the purpose of the book is for. I was going to share it with planners, universities, and people who want to be facilitators. I didn’t expect it to go anywhere else. Then, Black Lives Matter happened and people started talking about anti-racism and diversity and inclusion. People started picking up my book and were saying that the book talks about how to promote diversity and inclusion in everything, and it talks about understanding indigenous people. A lot of people in Canada said, when we are talking about Black Lives Matter, we have to start talking about indigenous peoples and the things Canada has done to them. I had so many people reaching out to me asking if we can do a podcast or an interview. It´s done fairly well for a self-published book. It´s only been three months since it has been out, and the support has been amazing.

Lacuna: Are you working already on your next book?

Elaine: In my head! I got three that I want to branch off from my main book. The first book was an overview, and then I want to stem off and talk deeper about some issues. But I also realized there is a lack of indigenous literature aimed towards middle school and high school students. I love Young Adult fiction. One of the things that really helped me get through my younger years is reading. I want to write a trilogy aimed towards students and talk about the things I went through as a young indigenous girl and hide some teachings in there for them. I wanted to write the other three books first, but I am really excited about this one now.

Lacuna: Will you add some magic or fantasy elements?

Elaine: No, but we do have some teachings, and I had some experiences in my younger years that are almost supernatural. The things you talk about in communities, like the Little People or Ogopogo, are about experiencing spiritual encounters. There are a lot of stories that I have heard that I could include to give it that effect.

Lacuna: Would you share one of your experiences or rather not?

Elaine: We have stories of Little People, and we have stories of Sasquatch and some of our communities talk about how they are the same person. They are shapeshifters and can move between those two spirits. Where I come from, they are two separate things. Often people tell scary stories about Sasquatch, but my mom always said that they were watchers and that they lived underneath in their own villages in the mountains, and that they only came out to check on the state of the world and only then you will see them. They come out to take care of us when the time comes. When the end of the world is coming or war happens, our stories tell us that Sasquatch is going to come to gather people and bring them back to their villages in the mountains to keep them safe. My mom told us that they were protectors. Then, the Little People are tricksters. You can´t always see them, but they are different sizes of different people that live in the woods and in our gullies, and they like to hide things or move things around. Growing up our parents used to say, “Oh I lost my keys,” and somebody else would say, “The Little People took them.” They always come out to remind people when their life is going off-track.

So, when I was about fifteen, I was sleeping in my room, and I heard whispering. I was half-awake, and I thought it was my sister. I heard them walking down the stairs because my room was downstairs. They were talking around my bed, and I knew their voices were lower to the ground than my sisters and so I froze. I knew that they were Little People. I kept my eyes closed and tried not to panic and they kept whispering around my bed, and then, all of sudden, I felt those little hands at my ankles and I jumped up, screamed, ran upstairs and jumped in bed with my mom and told her what had happened. My mom brought an elder in the next day and they smudged my room, and the elder talked to me and said, “You know you´re doing something you´re not supposed to be doing, and they came to you to remind you to get back on the right path.” That was when I was really struggling with my drinking. I knew that that was what I had to pay attention to. Since I was twelve when I started drinking, I would drink and then try to stop. I´d go six months or a year not drinking, and then I´d start drinking again. After that experience, I think I was able to stay sober for another year.

Lacuna: Thank you for sharing. It is a really powerful story.

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Website: Elaine Alec 

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