On Saturday afternoon at the South Hill Spokane Public Library, Donell Barlow, author, health coach and member of the Ottawa tribe, shared her personal journey of healing from trauma by connecting to her culture and Native American spirituality.
Her talk was part of the Spokane Public Library’s Religions and Philosophies Series.
Born and raised in Spokane, Barlow’s healing journey stems from when she was 17-years-old when she lost her older sister to breast cancer and was struggling with organized religion and her connection to spirit.
“Losing her was kind of like the last straw for me and at that time I had chosen that I needed to disconnect from spirit and for me that meant disconnecting from my culture because culture and spirit are intertwined,” she said.
The grief reopened wounds from her past, resulting in Barlow losing who she was for a while and wanted to escape reality through any means necessary, she said. This included not doing the things that kept her close to her culture and spirit, cutting her hair and stop dancing. She chose the path that she felt would bring her the least pain.
After several years of self-destruction and numbing the pain, Barlow slowly found ways of connecting back to spirit through culture, which included forms of medicine such as smudging, dream medicine and sweat lodges, among others. Eventually her journey led her to New Zealand where she experienced a huge part of her healing process in discovering her ancestors and spending time with the Maori people.
With dream medicine, she described how it became an integral part of everyday life for the tribes, with the Iroquois, in particular, talking about their dreams to each other in the morning. Through dream medicine, Barlow said it was an incredible way to heal and bring closure with people both living and deceased.
“The dream medicine is a very important part of that connection to spirit, it’s also your subconscious. So you’re finally able to tune out and in a way to be present, and they say your subconscious tells you of your true heart’s desires,” she said.
She described how the medicine will, “always find you when you need it the most,” and that journaling had been a useful tool for self care.
“Journaling is my go-to for self care because, really, all it takes is some time and being present. It doesn’t cost you anything, you don’t have to go anywhere to do it, but it’s a really good way to check in,” she said. “When I start journaling, and I start putting it out on paper and getting it out, that’s when I can kind of start reflecting and seeing and coming back to.”
Native American Culture, Spirituality
Throughout her presentation, she also spoke about various aspects of Native American culture and spirituality including a North America creation story, prophecies, the medicine wheel, creature teachers, sacredness of hair, the importance of storytelling, relationship to Mother Earth and multiple forms of medicine used by the tribes, particularly the ones she used to heal herself. Also, she read excerpts from her memoir “Medicine Tracks,” as well as poems from her recent collection “Words Have No Meaning,” detailing sections of her life and Native culture and spirituality.
A brief Q&A was held at the end of her presentation.
“I hope that attendees start to think about what their relationship is to Mother Earth in a little bit more intimate way and that the choices that they make and how it affects not just them and our community but all Indigenous people,” she said after the event.
Spokane Public Library will be holding other Religions and Philosophies events throughout this month and next month at the South Hill location:
- Saturday, Feb. 15 at 3 p.m.: “Views on the Divinity of Christ.”
- Monday, Feb. 24 at 6:30 p.m.: “Introduction to Judaism.”
- Saturday, March 7 at 4 p.m.: “The Continuity of Life in African Traditional Religion: An Illusion?”
- Monday, March 9 at 6:30 p.m.: “Is Buddhism a Religion?”
- Saturday, March 21 at 11 a.m.: “Vedic Philosophy of Hinduism.” 2 p.m.: “What it Means to be an Atheist.”
- Monday, March 23 at 6:30 p.m.: “Catholicism in Modern Society.”
- Sunday, March 29 at 5 p.m.: “Speed Faithing.”
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Matthew Kincanon is a former Digital Content Producer with a journalism and political science degree from Gonzaga University. His journalism experience includes the Gonzaga Bulletin, The Spokesman-Review, Art Chowder magazine and SpokaneFāVS. He said he is excited to be a freelancer at SpokaneFāVS because, as a Spokane native, he wants to learn more about the various religious communities and cultures in his hometown.