Storytelling school

Kelsie Kilawna shares her storytelling intentions for 2022

Content Disclaimer: This article contains content about the discovery of children in residential “schools”, depression, wildfires and the loss of COVID-19. We lovingly ask that you read carefully and listen to your body for clues that you need to walk away from the content. As always, take care of the mind first.

Thinking back to 2021 comes with its sorrows.

2021 has been a year where my loved ones syilx and Secwépemc have been challenged again and again. We endured enormous pain with the discovery of our loved ones at the Kamloops Indian Residential “School”, with the fires that scorched my home community of the Okanagan Indian Band, and then later devastating floods, while losing several relatives in the nation to COVID-19.

The responsibility I felt as a storyteller in the days and weeks following the identification of 215 unmarked graves at the Kamloops “Indian Residential School” is difficult to describe in words. It was spring. When I tried to write, I was emotionally amazed. I couldn’t put words or thoughts together. I felt like a complete failure.

This feeling of inadequacy eventually turned into a visit with depression. I befriended and befriended my depression. Knowing that he was just a visitor in my life and would eventually leave. This hope is what kept me going through each passing day.

My visit with Depression taught me a lot in 2021.

My children watched and witnessed him as he visited me every day.

As a single mother, I have a responsibility for my children, and as a Syilx and Secwépemc woman, I have a responsibility for my people as a whole. My role is to carry love for all, to bring empathy and understanding, and to uplift the hearts of our people and others. However, nowhere in our teachings does it say that I should lower myself as part of my responsibilities.

From great pain comes growth

My children reminded me to take care of myself during my visit with depression, a practice they continue to this day. During my darkest hours and my deepest heartaches, my son, Skookamina, would grab his drum and sing songs to me, day after day. Even though I was physically stunned, unable to leave my bed, and also spiritually blocked, his songs vibrated through me and stirred my spirit as it needed to. My eldest son, Kolet, also spent many days doing household chores, cooking dinners and reading to his little brother. My youngest son was also patient with me and lovingly accepted his older sister’s care while I recovered in my room. At that time, I requested a lot of time from each of them.

Then, in the summer, the fires hit. My darkest days were when I had nowhere to go to do the ceremony because fire surrounded my home community. My children are the reason I was able to get through these weeks.

Through these difficult times, I recognized that changes needed to happen within myself. Something had to give. I ended up leaving my homelands and spending three days off the grid in a cabin in the mountains of Tsilhqot’in territory. I had no contact there with the outside world. I sat on the shores of the lake, cried and prayed with every ounce of energy I had left. I begged to be released from this visit with depression.

It changed me. I finally had days when I could hear my own thoughts again and regain control of my identity.

When I returned from the hut, at the beginning of October, my visit with depression ended.

I felt a renewal of life in my body. That’s when I reached out to my sisters at IndigiNews and shared what I was going through. Although they knew I was surviving a visit with depression while doing my best to show up for work, I don’t think anyone other than my sisters and my father knew how bad it was.

Alicia Marchand, my older sister, has been supportive throughout my visit with depression and has always been more of a mother and caretaker to me, here at 2 years old she wipes my face after a meal. Photo by Denise Marchand

My IndigiNews sisters then allowed me to learn from that experience and write stories that nurtured my spirit. They allowed me to write stories that would heal my spirit, because in doing so, I strengthen the collective and also write for those who are going through similar things. The power of knowing you are not alone can mean the difference between life and death.

My counselor told me, “The more people who know your pain, the bigger your circle of protection,” and I felt that deeply with my sisters at IndigiNews.

‘No. Is a complete sentence’

Later that October, I attended a ceremony at the source of the Columbia River. I shared with my aunt and uncle some of the challenges I had in fulfilling my storytelling responsibilities while taking care of my mind.

My Uncle Bruce Manuel and Aunt Tricia Manuel shared words of encouragement and loving advice.

I told them about the discomfort I felt in reporting and sharing certain types of stories – mainly those that reflected trauma and lacked my energy. Uncle Bruce shared his wisdom with me while we were nestled in the Columbia Mountains.

“‘No.’ Is a complete sentence and still a valid answer.

“You can’t take care of others if you can’t take care of yourself,” he said.

Aunty Tricia and Uncle Bruce, whom I turn to for spiritual guidance and cultural insight, often share that self-care is not a selfish act, but a necessity if we are to be able to show up for our people. .

Flower picking for children

Fast forward to January 2022. I wake up from a dream, a very vivid dream. In this one, I walk down an aisle of bright lights. The shining lights are in human form, and I can feel strong energy emitted from the characters. This energy is pure love.

As I walk down the aisle, the Lights hand me flowers, one by one.

By the time I get to the end of the aisle, I have a full bouquet of flowers and there’s a group of kids there. They also come in the form of light energy, but are more easily recognized by humans. I hand each a flower and they light up with happiness. I can feel the joy vibrate from their being.

I interpreted this dream as my ancestors and guides working with me this year to give me offerings of love that would nurture those to be (children and future generations) on their journeys. I also saw it as a way to honor the children who never came home and as a commitment to them that we will continue to bring them home in all the work we do.

Everything was beautiful, joyful and light. I know that this year I will be divinely guided in my work, and this dream has confirmed that to me.

My vision of the future

As an act of love for myself and as an offering of that love to the nations for which I am responsible, I will fill this year’s newsfeeds with beauty, love and genuine reflections of who we really are.

I’ve always said it’s important to go beyond using our trauma as an identity and move beyond the trope of ‘resilience’, to show our beauty that has always been there. Our identity should not be based on how we tolerate pain and abuse.

This year, I will focus on storytelling in three areas: profiles of people, places and companies; stories of generational knowledge; and stories that amplify the traditional teachings of the Syilx and Secwépemc lands. My goal is to elevate the heart.

As I always say, my obligation is to bring joy to people and make life a little sweeter for sqilxw kin and People to Be, while creating space for non-native parents to come into the collective consciousness. A place where everyone’s heart can come to love the people and these lands as much as we do. After all, it is the responsibility of all, indigenous and non-indigenous, who live on these territories to support all life.

Let us never forget our sanctity.


Dear cuzzins, if you or someone you know is going through a visit with depression, suicidal thoughts, or attempts, we want you to know that help is available at the KUU-US Crisis Line Society.

​Adults/Seniors (250-723-4050), Children/Youth (250-723-2040), Toll Free (1-800-588-8717), or the Métis line (1-833-MétisBC).

And if you just need a reminder of the love you embody from an aunt, please hear the prayers in this video. Poem spoken by Helen Knott.