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  • Writer's pictureMichael Christian

Elaine Alec calling our heritage back: Leadership in Healing

Photo: Courtesy of Elaine Alec

Elaine Alec is a Canadian-born keynote speaker and advocates for indigenous healing throughout North America and beyond. Her twenty-plus years of social service supporting and leading roles within provincial and Federal positions have led her down a road of personal growth and spiritual awareness. She shares her journey with the world in her new book Calling my spirit back.

Elaine, or tiɬxnitkw, in her Native tongue of Syilx, means "Standing by water". As a young girl, she was sent to the river's edge to reflect on her struggles. Her Mother and Grandmother encouraged this process, sharing that it "opens the small eye".

At the time, little thought went into why she was sent away from the house. Sitting by the water was hardly punishment but Elaine couldn't help but wonder about its purpose, or what was happening at home. Throughout her life on the reserve, she had battled the trauma of loved ones losing themselves to the addiction to alcohol, sexual assault, and the overall lack of education. Only finishing ninth-grade material, Elaine began leaning on the numbing nature of alcohol herself, relying on it to forget the abuse. This is common within the reservation lifestyle across America.

Generational traumas and institutionalized forgetfulness of Native American Heritage push many past the breaking point of sustainable identity. For Elaine, this lifestyle was normal, even if her mother did choose to get sober by the time Elaine turned ten, the pattern was already set and it seemed that history would yet again repeat itself.

Leaving her home city of Penticton, BC, Elaine moved to Idaho to attend the State University. She had always wanted to become a writer ever since she was in the fifth grade. Something as simple as: "You're a good writer" had stuck with her, educated or not.

But long gone were the days when she sat at a small typewriter to journal her day. This was college, and she was going to have to step it up.

Back to the water's edge

It was hard for her to focus. Elaine had left the reserve but her heart was full of prodding. She reflected on her mother and grandmother, her little eye's teaching, and its purpose. At the water's edge, she confronted the privilege of culture, in or out of trauma. The connectedness of bloodlines, her genetic nature, and her family of ancestors. She thought about future children; would they have to fight these battles too? Elaine knew she had to quit the drinking, the avoidance, and the running. She had to call her spirit back.

Starting with the liquor, she initiated her sobriety. The withdrawals brought up anger and resentment. Facing feelings of insecurity and the trauma of pain, she traced back her steps to when she was sexually assaulted.

Confronting the Tribal Elder guilty of her pain, Elaine took back the power over her fears. This incubated the courage needed to work in a capacity that could facilitate more of these conversations and within months, she had run and won the seat for the Woman's Representative at the Union of British Columbia Indian Chiefs (UBCIC).

Over those three years, Elaine listened to and witnessed thousands of Indigenous women and men overcome the struggles of sexual assault. Throughout the next two decades, their stories inspired her to continue in her healing journey, as she began recalling her joy-filled memories from childhood and even portions of her Native tongue.

"We often see story-tellers write themselves in as the hero" Elaine Alec shares. "I had recognized after years of giving others a place to share that in many instances it was my lack of growth that had caused pain to myself and those who were in my life. I couldn't avoid my responsibility or miss sharing this awareness with the rest of my brothers and sisters."

"We often see story-tellers write themselves in as the hero" -Elaine Alec

This time, Elaine wanted to write the stories of the people she viewed as the real heroes; the people who took the space to heal, to look through their little eyes and stand by the water's edge, whatever that meant for them.

"It's when I let go of my pain that I could truly write something worth sharing" Elaine explains.

Self-published, her book "Calling my spirit back" details the comprehensive nature within all of us to self-heal and perpetuate safe spaces. With over thirteen thousand copies sold within the first two years, her title has facilitated immense cultural overcoming and validated her claim that if "One can have the courage to believe in themselves, they can truly become who they are meant to be."


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