Honouring the Elders

Last week, the BC Elders Gathering was held in Campbell River, near where I live. As part of the Gathering, they set aside a space for pampering the Elders. There were people cutting hair, giving manicures and pedicures, cedar brushing, and giving readings. All of these were free to the Elders attending the Gathering. I was invited to participate as a tarot reader.

All I can say is wow. What an amazingly powerful gift I was given.

I used to be one of “those” people. I didn’t understand why there was such animosity between Aboriginals and Whites. Yes, White people took their land, and confined them to reservations and broke promises and… but that all happened generations ago, right? Can’t we just get over it already? Move on from today? I used to compare Aboriginal/White relations to a scene from Babylon 5:

Please forgive me my ignorance.

Now I’ve learned more about the horrors of residential schools. I’ve learned more about the cultures of the people around me. Understanding brings respect.

Over the course of the three days of the Gathering, I met a lot of Elders. I sat with them and witnessed their joys, their struggles, and their pain, as it was shown to me through the tarot, and through what they were comfortable sharing with me. And let me tell you, there is a lot of pain.

These people have had their entire culture, and their entire way of life, vilified and squashed. There are beautiful customs and language that are remembered by only a few. And those few are working hard to bring them back.

I saw a lot of wands. The wands represent the passion these Elders have for their people and their culture, as well as the struggle to bring it back, and to bring healing to their communities.

The 6 of cups came up frequently as well. This is about nostalgia, looking backwards and missing the way things used to be. I experienced this not so much as missing their own childhoods (because no one wants the residential schools back!), as missing the way things were for their ancestors. Life was simpler, the land was respected, and communities looked out for one another.

The Hermit, The Emperor, and Judgement came up in quite a few readings. The Hermit is about dealing with your “stuff” – working on your own healing so you can be a brighter light and help others better. Pulling all the skeletons out of the closet and determining what you need to accept, what you need to change, and what you need to forgive. (I’ll come back to forgiveness…)

And Judgement is about letting go of the baggage of the past, letting each day be new, and making your choices and decisions be made from today, and not what happened yesterday or 5 years ago or 20 years ago. It doesn’t discount what happened. Just like forgiveness doesn’t make what happened ok. It means taking back your power and making choices consciously and not from a place of reaction.

The Emperor is about authority and boundaries. Some Elders have a strong sense of their own authority and healthy boundaries, and others struggle with that because they were punished if they did not obey. So there is a sense of reclaiming their power, and not allowing others to dictate their circumstances just because they are in a perceived position of authority.

Some Elders aren’t ready to forgive yet. Given the horrors they have experienced, I can understand. Forgiveness isn’t always easy, especially when the pain runs generations deep. It is a process, much like grief, and it takes as long as it takes.

Speaking of grief, there is so much grief in the First Nations Elders. There is grief about what has been lost – language, land, customs, and culture. There is grief because parents are burying their children, whether because of alcohol, or drugs, or depression, or suicide, or violence. There is grief about the effort of healing, and being the ones left behind to do this work.

I’ve spoken a lot about the pain, but I also witnessed a lot of joy and healing. Many of the people who sat with me for readings are incredibly strong, talented and gifted. They were beautiful in their wisdom. They were so grateful to be able to come together with family and friends from near and far. And even through the grief and the pain, they have a strong desire to be a part of the solution, to find ways to bring healing and reconciliation to their loved ones, as well as the greater community.

I am truly humbled and honored to have been able to witness and serve this beautiful group of people.



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