MacEwan U: Exploring the power of meditation in decolonizing trauma
On February 24, the MacEwan University community gathered online for Decolonizing, Mindfulness and Transformations, the second forum of the 2021 Interdisciplinary Dialogue: COVID-19’s Calls to Reimagine Relations in collaboration with MacEwan’s ahcâhk maskwa osihcikêwina – Spirit Bear Dialogues and University nuhelot’įne thaiyots’į nistameyimâkanak Blue Quills.
Led by 2 Crees in a Pod hosts Amber Dion (assistant professor) and Terri Suntjens (director of Indigenous Initiatives), the forum featured a presentation by Dr. Michael Yellow Bird, dean and professor of the Faculty of Social Work at the University of Manitoba.
“My hope is that folks who are listening will have had an opportunity to think about how our communities have been impacted [by colonialism] and how deeply they’ve been impacted,” said Dion, who teaches social work. “And how when we’re out practicing as social workers, specifically, that we be so mindful. There is no quick fix that is going to make this go away. This is a long history of learning, unlearning and teaching ourselves and others about how to do this well.”
Dr. Yellow Bird’s research focuses on the effects of colonization and methods of decolonization, ancestral health, and Indigenous mindfulness and contemplative practices. He began his presentation by talking about the Medicine Wheel – its role in traditional Indigenous knowledge and science, its intersections with Western science, and how it can be used as a tool to guide decolonization strategies aimed at wellness and healing.
“Decolonization and mindfulness are an important aspect of the work that I do with Indigenous communities, in particular, I share the science of how healing from trauma is possible using contemplative practices such as mindfulness,” he says.
Colonization can be defined as any unwelcome intrusion and oppression of one group by another (from European settlers colonizing Indigenous Peoples and their lands in North America to COVID-19’s unwelcome invasion and colonization of our bodies and health). Invasive colonization, he says, can happen to our brains and bodies, right down to the molecular and cellular levels and can present as chronic stress and diseases.
“Chronic stress can make a home in our lives due to the industrialized, rapid-paced lives we all live,” says Dr. Yellow Bird. “However, the stress that comes from colonization adds another layer of strain creating more feelings of being unsafe, fearful, oppressed, pressured and sick — and hormones such as cortisol (nature’s alarm system), which is helpful in some instances, can be continually unleashed and incessantly flood our bodies and brains, such as the prefrontal cortex, which will cause greater anxiety and can result in impairment of our brain’s capacity for learning, memory and planning.”
Indigenous People who live healthy traditional lives that incorporate lots of physical activity, emotional wellness, healthy diet, intermittent fasting, dancing, singing, proper rest and a curious flexible mind, he says, are much more likely to be healthy, happy and cognitively resilient, are less likely to have runaway levels of cortisol or cognitive disorders, and that mindful practices, such as meditation and laughter, can help to build that resiliency in our lives.
“Laughter is such an important protective factor against stress,” he says. “Those of us who come from collectivist cultures not only are more likely to have a higher number of people who love to laugh, tell jokes, tease, smile, pull pranks and tell amusing stories, but the research shows that we are also more likely to have humour hardwired into our genes.”