Meet Coleen Garska, Wellness Elder and Cultural Liaison

Greetings! tansi! My name is Coleen Garska, born Colleen English in Inuvik, Northwest Territories. I am the eldest of six to my parents Mabel and Bill, who are Gwich’in, from Ft. McPherson and of  Irish ancestry, originally from Calgary, AB. As a northerner, I was raised with two cultures and lived between both while growing up, visiting Alberta and British Columbia (BC) for the summers with my parents and then we spent every other summer at fish camp with my siblings and mother and her family on the Peel River.

I left home at the age of 16 and attended Akaitcho Hall, a residential school in Yellowknife to complete my high school education. I travelled to Ottawa at the age of 19 for training in administrative assistance with the Government of Canada. I attended higher education for a year at Lethbridge Community College for a General Studies certificate then spent two years at Carleton University before transferring to complete a Bachelor of Arts degree, with an English Literature Major, at the University of British Columbia (UBC).

I am 62 years of age, working with pipikwan pehtakwan as the Wellness Elder and Cultural Liaison. When I met Shani’s mom, Carolla, as my Nechi Trainer in 2009, I realized that I had met her and Shani almost 30 years ago at the Spring Equinox Gathering, when Shani was a child . I reintroduced Shani to my eldest child and they soon became fast friends. So, I come to this role by invitation. Shani saw in me what I was willing to see in myself. Shani has a vision and I said “yes!”

I am motivated by my own personal healing and wishes for others to feel better as they honour their process. I work in this capacity to encourage and support others. We can be triggered by the happenings in this world and sometimes we need prayer and letting go to come back to a clear perspective that allows us to grieve and release negative thoughts and energy from our body, mind, heart and spirit. I believe that in order to grow and heal while fulfilling our creative, innovative and powerful endeavors, we must respect how we are connected and share the cultural ways to ensure we continue to do good work in a good way.

I also love the simplicity of self care and my focus is on good sleep, drinking water consciously and allowing others to feed me. I have let go of extra weight over the past four years once I received a diagnosis of prediabetes. I encourage others to shift to this simple regimen and to be compassionate with themselves. We are blessed.

As a Wellness Elder, I light the smudge and share with others in circle, together and virtually. We share a prayer each morning and trust that we are guided by our relations in everything we say and share. I learned some Cree Teachings while traveling this good red road. I am a novice as Elder and seek support and encouragement in my memories of the Elders I have met and worked with in the last 30 years. I feel guided and connected by Creator to maintain my humility, love and gratitude.

Every two weeks we facilitate an open Sharing Circle. We recognize that to develop personal trust with others and to visit with each other in a good way, requires good intent. We trust what we share is confidential and we know sometimes sharing our truth can help others who would like to share theirs and need support and encouragement. We are utilizing positive affirmations and good thoughts to ensure we can complete tasks with sincerity and mindfulness.

I am honoured to be able to attend client visits with my coworkers and support their desire to do good work in a good way. We bring something different, something cultural that can be a gentle teacher about slowing down, breathing and sitting together in circle so we can see everyone as they share their placement, who they are and why we are gathered. These meetings shift into visiting and we all can experience a deeper connection, a sense of mutual purpose and trust that a process can lead us to greater awareness.

For me the significance of National Indigenous History month is that it exists. I have noticed that being Indigenous and our concerns, issues and efforts for reconciliation becomes popular every once in a while. When non-Indigenous peoples come to see what we are doing, we become popular for a moment. They come because they are hungry and thirsty for what we know about healing ourselves and this beautiful, sacred planet, our Mother Earth. As someone from a mixed heritage I believe that all people of the Earth were once connected to her and honoured her ways. Now, we have a month to highlight who we are, where we are from and how we work. Ultimately, yes, we are still here. Mussi.

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