I want to begin this blog with much gratitude for allowing me to be a part of this. I’ve been reading it since the beginning and it’s inspiring and humbling to see so many Indigenous women doing so many great things. It’s a beautiful feeling when you see your own people succeeding, sharing that light and love with everyone and knowing you aren’t alone in your struggles.
My name is Charlene Menacho. I am K’áalǫ Gotine Dene which means Willowlake in North Slavey. I am a mother, fiancé, daughter, sister, aunty, friend and cousin to many. I am from Tulita, located in the Northwest Territories. The population is about 500, small but a beautiful place. My family and I are currently residing in beautiful Victoria, BC while I attend school. I am currently enrolled in the Indigenous Studies program and once I complete this program, I will be continuing my education to attain my Social Work degree.
My late grandpa Victor said that you are powerful when you have the best of both worlds, meaning an education and knowing your traditional way of life. My grandpa is right, when you have an education that contributes the betterment of your people – everyone succeeds and when you know your culture, and traditions – you have a sense of belonging and there is this deep connection where you can’t help but feel strength and find healing within.
I miss my grandpa every day and thankful for the dream visits. I know that he’s with me every step of the way.
I am very fortunate to have my grandparents Victor and Charlotte Menacho (Yakeleya) who were born and raised on-the-land along with my mom Cathie to help guide, teach and show me the importance of culture, land, family, traditions, and what it means to be a K’áalǫ Dene. This worldview has had a profound impact on my life and the way I see things today. I have always been proud of who I am and where I come from. Growing up in a small community wasn’t always easy especially being raised by a single parent who had to be a father and mother at the same time. I am thankful that I had K’áalǫ Túé as an escape, a place that I feel nothing but peace, gratitude and love.
K’áalǫ Túé is my family’s ancestral land, we have lived there for generations – it is a place that my family goes every year whether that is for the spring hunt, hunting for geese or summer, going for the fish run, fall for hunting moose or caribou and winter for trapping. The women are usually with the men during this time helping with the cutting up the meat, making dry fish, plucking the geese, cleaning the fish, making dry fish and so on. This place has so much meaning to me and my family, it’s where I’ve gone every year since I was toddler and now my daughter gets experience that.
It’s a traditional way of life in K’áalǫ Túé because there is purpose when going there, it’s not a “vacation” – the men are going out to hunt, fish, and trap while the women help the men to clean, cut and package what has been caught for that particular season. We are doing everything that our ancestors did except we have added modern technology.
The women and men both have equal roles and there is always something to do.
It’s a beautiful place to be, one that offers healing, purpose and belonging.
That’s what the land does, gives meaning and a purpose. The land is healing in so many ways, it’s like it fills that hole in your heart and makes it whole again. Not only are you healing yourself by one the land, you are doing something for others and not for the benefit of yourself. You are working to provide food, keep the camp running and helping others. It’s a good example of self-determination.
I am thankful and grateful for K’áalǫ Túé and I can’t wait to go back. I have found my second home, a place where I do feel connected and I am happy that I get to learn and live In Victoria, on the traditional territories of the Lkwungen (Esquimalt and Songhees), Malahat, Pacheedaht, Scia’new, T’Sou-ke and W̱SÁNEĆ (Pauquachin, Tsartlip, Tsawout, Tseycum) peoples.
The Indigenous studies program has brought many teachings into my life that have changed my perception and has given me strength and knowledge to move forward in a good way. Every day I am learning something new – it hasn’t been easy though because I am learning more about Canada’s dark history that has a tremendous effect on Indigenous people that is still being felt today. I have a better understanding of our people today and why there is struggle, loss and pain. I’ve gone through many emotions being in this program, a lot of tears have been shed for all of our Indigenous brothers and sisters, one of our elders Vic always says, “if you can cry, you can heal” – he is right. I am healing but I am being given the knowledge to be able to make changes for the betterment for our people and I think that’s a beautiful thing.
I’ve been on my healing journey for some time now, I’ve had to take the necessary steps to work on my own issues. Healing is not an easy thing to do, It forces you to look deep within and face the truth, it’s easier to run than to deal with things. Pushing the hurt, pain, shame, and guilt to the side didn’t make my life any better, it only caused me to be depressed. I know I was in a place of hurt and my choices reflected that. Thankfully I had some amazing people by my side and an amazing counselor who helped me through it. In retrospect, looking back at my struggles – I am thankful for it because it helped shaped me into the person I am today and I know that some of the experiences were lessons that I needed to learn. It’s easier to be negative than happy and I had to learn to love myself and become my own best friend.
Self-love is so important, we are all worthy of love even if that means we have to give it to ourselves. I had to learn to take care of myself in a healthy way and that meant self-care. Some days I would just lay in bed, take a nap… maybe one too many, do a face mask, paint my nails or bead. I was around 11 or 12 when I first learned to bead, I was taught by my grandmother and slavey teacher Rosemary. When I bead, I think of my grandmothers before me who beaded for their family and provided beautifully made clothing that lasted for years and kept each person warm and protected from the harsh climates. It has connected me to my culture, mom, grandma and ancestors. Beading just isn’t about making pretty things but it’s a way of life for most indigenous people, as what you are beading on comes from an animal that not only provided food but clothing to help sustain the indigenous population. You aren’t sewing for yourself but looking after your family and maintaining a sense of identity through working on hides and making clothing out of and adding a beautiful design from beads. I am proud that I am able to carry on this tradition and that it has become more than just beading but a place of healing that has been in our culture for generations.
Not only is beading something I love, I learned how to tan hide at the hide tanning camp in Lutsel k’e last June, 2017. This is something I loved doing. People have talked about blood memory and that specifically relates to Indigenous people as memory stored in the cells and passed on genetically. That is something I felt while scraping away at the hides, I’ve never done it before but it came naturally and I felt like that was exactly where I was supposed to be. It’s hard work and takes time but I couldn’t have done it without all the patient, trusting and kind teachers that shared their knowledge generously.
It’s funny how the universe works and gives you exactly what you need and each time I found myself saying “this is exactly where I am supposed to be” and you know when you are on the right path is when you aren’t questioning it.. you feel it.
These are a few things about my life, I could go on but I will keep it short and hope that you find some inspiration in what I had to say or the photos I’ve shared.