Two Indigenous healers will be honoured for their exemplary work by Canada's largest mental health and addiction teaching hospital later this month.

Elder Little Brown Bear of the Aboriginal Healing Program in Toronto and Liz Stone, executive director of Niijkiwendidaa Anishnabekwag Services Circle in Peterborough will be honoured by the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH) Nov. 27. The pair were part of a group of 150 honourees chosen from 3,700 nominations across Canada.

Elder Little Brown Bear oversees the Aboriginal Healing Program with the Toronto East Health Network, blending mainstream information with traditional teachings, he said.

Elder Little Brown Bear

Elder Little Brown Bear, who runs Aboriginal Day Program with Toronto East Health Network, was inducted into the Order of Ontario this spring and will be one of 150 CAMH difference makers this fall. (Submitted by Elder Little Brown Bear)

Blending traditional and mainstream knowledge

"Being an Aboriginal program, it's very traditional, so the people are considered as community members when we come in here - even the family members," said Elder Little Brown Bear, who was inducted into the Order of Ontario earlier this year for his work.

"They aren't clients or patients. That's too clinical," he added.

Sacred medicines, sage, sweetgrass, tobacco and cedar for smudge ceremonies are used, said Elder Little Brown Bear, and they also incorporate lavender to ease anxiety for community members.

Mainstream medical treatments focus too much on addictions and mental health and don't take into account the trauma that might be influencing these factors for Indigenous people, he added.

"A lot a people don't understand that big grief in somebody's heart means big anger outwardly. So helping to deal with that grief and understanding that grief. Also it's not your fault. This is a result of intergenerational impacts," said Elder Little Brown Bear.

"Once you start dealing with trauma issues, a lot of this other stuff starts to go away."

The blending of traditional and western treatment methods is also something Stone incorporated into healing practices at Niijkiwendidaa Anishnabekwag Services Circle (NASC).

"We're dedicated to helping Indigenous people and Indigenous community healing work. So a lot of that comes through a therapeutic place connecting to ceremony, working on individuals, working in groups, working with the community - combining western and traditional methods of healing," said Stone.

Liz Stone

Liz Stone is the executive director Niijkiwendidaa Anishnabekwag Services Circle in Peterborough, Ont. and will be one of 150 CAMH difference makers this fall. (Submitted by Liz Stone )

Stone has been working with NASC for about ten years and has been working in addictions and mental heal with urban Indigenous communities for 25 years.

She grew up struggling with her own mental health and addictions identifying with the intergenerational impacts of residential schools. In the early 1990s, she moved to Toronto from her home, Aamjiwnaang First Nation, where she met Vera Martin at a Toronto friendship centre.

Part of an Indigenous way of life

Martin brought a young Stone to ceremonies and showed her how to connect Indigenous and western methods of healing, something that she now brings into her own practice at NASC.

Where western medicine looks at addictions and mental illness as something to be cured, often creating stigma and embarrassment, Stone said the traditional knowledge system teaches that people's struggles become part of who they are.

"Areas like mental health and addictions can't be compartmentalized. Both things can't be separated from us as people, Indigenous ways of looking at things are rooted in spiritual, cultural, language, mental, and physical -- all of those things [together]," said Stone.

"It's a way of life as opposed to something to accomplish or overcome to be healed from or be cured of," she added.

"One of the things I always teach is this: being Aboriginal or Indigenous is not a lifestyle, being Aboriginal or Indigenous is a way of life. This is our way of life," said Elder Little Brown Bear.

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