Balance. Academic, language and cultural advocate, mother, sister, friend, aunt and even grandmother and wife, Laura Grizzlypaws has gained education and cultural knowledge, broadening her understanding of the significance in maintaining personal wellness based on the notion of wholeness and inter-connectedness, celebrating the fundamental Indigenous concept of balance.
Now she travels, teaches, dances, sings and shares with others.
Describe your Mission
I am on a mission to advocate powHERfully for the cultural survival of distinct identities by honoring self-determination, empowering individuals through political leadership, and demonstrating resilience as a woman.
Why do you do what you do?
I honor my own self-determination through cultural traditions, education, politics, and leadership and my own personal health and wellness. Breaking the stress of oppression means living through our values, beliefs and philosophies. Culture is not in the past. It is now. It is not stagnant. It is alive. It is not in a museum. It is vibrant, full of stories, experiences and knowledge systems.
My mission is to advocate for the rights of Indigenous peoples in their self-determining expressions for cultural and even political survival:
It is my hope that people will demonstrate an understanding, awareness and appreciation of Indigenous relationships with both land and natural resources; and, that awareness and appreciation for Indigenous cultures and values will grow.
Individuals will have the opportunity to understand cultural practices of a unique Indigenous culture, participate in cultural practices, understand the significant value of Indigenous languages, understand Indigenous people’s relationship with nature, and also then have the ability to reflect on themselves and their relationship with the world and each other.
Cultural survival is a shared vision of my people, my family and my community. It is about empowering, living, feeling, breathing and bringing it to life. Cultural survival for all of us should be a vision of a future where we – as a people – live through our inherent rights, deeply woven into the landscapes of our territory through our language, song, dance, art, oral traditions and spirituality. We must uplift, empower and encourage one another to walk in balance in this world in which we live, balancing ancestral ways in a modern world that we have been conformed to.
What is your ultimate dream for your Mission and where you would like to take it?
My ultimate dream is to honoring our ancestors. Grizzly Bears, according to our creation stories, taught women how to give birth, how to raise their young, and how to live in harmony with the natural ecology. The St’át’imc way of life is inseparably connected to the land. The lessons of living on the land are a large part of the inheritance passed on from countless generations. The Grizzlies were selected as an appropriate species to protect the web of life in the St’át’imc Territory because they require large areas to meet their needs. If we look after our Grizzlies, everything else will be looked after; therefore, taking care of the Grizzly is like taking care of our ancestral footprints. It means protecting cultures, heritage and ecology of the land.
As I dance, it is an expression of the creative metaphorical relationship of the spirit of the bear and the art of walking in two worlds, balancing the physical with the spiritual.
“I walk where the Grizzly Bear dances. I feel his pleasure, excitement and freedom on the earth and in the wind that carries his ancient messages from the past. I dance where the Grizzly Bear danced. His steps united with mine, and he leaves his ancestral footprint on the land like a cellular memory in my blood. His face is a shadow that calls to me. The Grizzly, he sings his songs as we unite under his skin. I hear his prayer. I feel his pain. I am his anger. I am his hope. I am his faith. He dances upon the earth, only where I leave my ancestral footprints.”
My vision is to ‘Dance around the world’! I pride myself in the role that I carry, and I dance for the Grizzly Bear in honor of my ancestry and the natural ecology. I dance for the children, and for my Xwísten Bear Clan community. I also dance for you and the ones in need, that we (Grizz and I) may share enlightenment, joy and healing with you. I celebrate the joy of culture and travel the world to instill the hope of cultural survival for present and future generations.
It is time to move forward within an ethical space and with a common understanding of urgency. Accelerated efforts are required as is shared responsibility of all people through engagement; the Indigenous and non-Indigenous placing accountability onto individuals, families, communities and organizations through gained knowledge and a cultural experience that are equitable by all members of society.
Biggest Career Highlight thus far
The biggest highlight of Grizz is rooted in community engagement. Realizing the positive impact we are having in communities as they are culturally responsive and uplifted through our oral traditions, real life stories, health and wellness example and interactive dance. We are witnessing a willingness of individuals to commit to improving their personal wellness and cultural standards and/or to revitalize their own ancient understandings and the traditional practices of their origin.
Greatest Joy in Our Work
Our (Grizz and I) ability to:
- Promote the development of knowledge and competencies that enables individuals to adapt the knowledge base of their own social and cultural practices;
- Teach and transfer knowledge through all forms of learning, including formal learning, non-formal learning and inter-generational learning;
- Travel the world and meet new people from all walks of life and experiences;
- Create awareness and understanding that cultures are diverse and distinct, each with its own uniqueness; and,
- Share common understanding of the challenges and obstacles encountered as we revitalize and restore Indigenous values.
One thing that you feel has been most pivotal or useful thus far in your work?
Critique and feedback from community individuals. This has been most pivotal in my development as a cultural advocate, storyteller, singer, songwriter, even as a mother and educator. People who are kind enough to provide feedback and share their stories in return. The more I present and engage with community, the more I improve with confidence and courage. It doesn’t matter what your work is, outside influence can and will help you to hone it. The more I share my work, the more it grows powHERfully, both personally and professionally.
How do you find balance in a busy life?
St’át’imc Law #1 is Health.
I have learned and practice maintaining my personal wellness based on the notion of wholeness and inter-connectedness which leads to the fundamental Indigenous concept of balance.
This notion represents the inclusion of all aspects of one’s inner and outer life and implies the requirement of a balanced attribution of energy, attention and care between all components of a human being – physical, emotional, mental and spiritual – and all related systems. From balance emerges justice, peace and harmony. Living in harmony is perceived as a necessity, and failure to do so puts people and the environment in positions of vulnerability and danger. This is important inquiry process that I must always reflect on and make adjustments when needed.
According to the St’át’imc laws of life, Law #1 is focused on Personal Health: Maintain mental, physical, spiritual, emotional balance.
Guiding questions of inquiry:
Physical / Material Aspects:
1. In what condition is my physical health?
2. What are my physical needs right now?
3. What does my body language tell me?
4. What are my priorities to improve my physical well-being?
5. What positive activities can I do to enhance my physical well-being (such as nutrition, sleep, personal hygiene, exercise, appearance, posture, rest and relaxation, clothing, home tidiness, finances)?
Emotional / Social / Relational Aspects:
1. In what condition is my emotional health?
2. What are my emotional needs at this time?
3. Am I able to express my feelings, and do I have someone I can confide in?
4. Am I maintaining healthy relationships (examples: with my life partner, family, relatives, friends, co-workers, neighbors, etc.)?
5. What are my coping strategies?
Mental / Intellectual / Cognitive Aspects:
1. What is my self-talk or inner dialogue generally like (affirmative, positive, optimistic or self-deprecating, generally negative about others)?
2. What are my general intellectual activities?
3. What are the mental stimulators in my life? (creative activities, reading, writing, studying, puzzles, crosswords, etc.)?
4. What are my creative abilities, and how do I foster them?
5. Do I take time to reflect and analyze what is happening in my life?
Spiritual / Ethical / Cultural Aspects:
1. Do I live up to my principles, beliefs and values?
2. What are my spiritual / religious beliefs and practices? Do I have any?
3. Do I take time out for prayer, fasting, silence, meditation, enjoyment of nature?
4. Am I honest, loving, caring, sharing, respectful, trustworthy, humble and helpful?
5. Do I feel a sense of connectedness to and pride for the values of my culture?
Following this reflection, I am prepared to identify a set of positive activities to be taken in each quadrant of the wellness wheel. I am able to decide which attitudes and behaviors I must avoid on the path to maintaining balance and wellness. Wellness is not just a set of action plans and strategies. It is continuous and always requires reflective practice. Once balance is achieved, the truest form of happiness will occur.
[Editor’s note: We called this practice the Practice of PowHERful Living. And, it is a practice.]
Women’s Role in Spiritual Philosophy
As Indigenous women, we have an important role to preserve and maintain our cultural practices. The role of a woman and a mother is to maintain the ways of our ancestors. We produce and reproduce. We are the first teachers in our homes, in our families and in our communities. As women we hold an important role to ensure our families and communities continue to move forward through health and wellness.
Energy UP (!) and Consistently Focused
Our actions are deliberate and recognized by my family with importance placed on consistency and focus.
I maintain strong connections with supportive relationships and even how I relate to myself. Having meaningful relationships, respecting myself and others, and creating a support system that includes family members and friends plays a major role in my overall social wellness.
Physical wellness is also important for my body and mind. It is maintained through weight training and other physical activities. My strength as a woman is developed through a combination of beneficial physical activity – primarily weight-training – building muscular strength and endurance, cardiovascular strength, and healthy eating habits.
As the Education & Training Manager at the St’át’imc Government Services, my position allows me to continue learning and pursuing my interests and values as an educator and academic advocate. My career and livelihood provides meaningful work for the St’át’imc which focuses on strengthening the collective capacity of our St’át’imc organization to collaborate with other communities to exercise greater control over education and sustainability.
Internal Assuredness and Self Awareness
My strengths are rooted in my history. My history has shaped me into who I am today and how I accept my own unique personality, motivation, gifts and confidence. I understand my values and belief systems.
“I have a purpose in my life; and I am integrating my beliefs and values into ACTION. This integration helps me to focus my energy and activity. I remind myself that as a leader, stepping forward with an ‘I can and I will’ mindset impacts situations and systems for the greater good.”
Unplug to Plug into Creativity
The key to sustaining balance both personally and professionally is the ability to ‘switch off’ the conscious filter and allow the creative organism – our unconscious – to explore all of the powerful, beautiful, creative things to emerge through shape-shifting. Before presentations, I prefer to seclude myself into quiet meditation. This is important as meditation calms the mind and temporarily switches off the conscious filter long enough for me to prepare and create without censorship. The Creative flow is often blocked by the conscious filter.
If I am feeling un-grounded or uprooted, meditation teaches me to go with the flow and keep my roots strong when my branches are whipped by the wind. Weathering the storm, I maintain my balance and focus. Through meditation, I learn that I can remain unaffected by another’s energy. Through a regular practice of this ceremonial quietness, I am able to intentionally integrate strength and focus into my daily life.
Top 3 Consistency Tips
- Motivation is simple. Treat your audience as you would want to be treated. Get it? Got it? Good! To motivate others, you have to be motivated first! #engagetoengage
- Passion. Do what you love. If you love what you are doing and are passionate about it, you will have great strength and confidence.
- Hope. Always have hope. Believe in yourself and your work. Hope is vital to the interests of people and communities. Demonstrate how your work/mission matters and create pride in your vision.
Describe Collaboration and what it looks and feels like on the ground?
To effectively collaborate, you must know WHY you do what you do. You must be prepared to know why you dance, why you sing and or why you express with your art and creative skill. I believe that in every human being there is a need to dance or to express oneself through art or story. We dance to the music. We dance to the beat of the drum. The drum is the heartbeat of Mother Earth… every song is for a reason. The beat of the drum makes our bodies and our minds join together in harmony. It allows us to connect to Mother Earth and to each other. Dance aligns our minds with our Spirit. Dancing to the drum is a healthy way of life! True collaboration is a dance.
Favorite energy meal or healthy snack
Steak, baked sweet potato and brussel sprouts
Favorite indulgence or treat
PIZZA, fully loaded meat lovers, and chocolate!
Top 3 things on your bucket list
1. Compete in a muscle & fitness physique contest.
2. Have a baby girl!
3. Write a book!
Currently on your night stand?
St’át’imc Framework Work Book! Muscle & Fitness magazine
Current Favorite App?
I am not a real techno girl so I would have to say Instagram.
What does giving back/fulfillment look like to you?
The art and compassionate act of giving back to your community. I have done a number of annual gatherings giving back to my community as a coordinator and/or host. Each event is coordinated and hosted to promote unity, healing, health and harmony for the purpose of bringing the people together to celebrate through traditions and practices of health and wellness.
A cultural gathering is a place where young people are exposed to the language, values and teachings of our Elders and Elder Mentors. From fun social events to family reunions, each provides a setting for cultural enrichment through traditional values and individual reflection.
Serving the nation is rooted in the art of compassion. “Compassion through the act of selflessness.” The outcome or reward of this act is the ability to witness laughter, tears and love expressed; and, to receive and experience the gratitude of human expression of individuals young and old.
I never leave home without my …… gym bag!
Even if I just so happen not to make it to the gym, at least I still have it! Just in case!
Describe a favorite hobby or adventure.
I love taking the horses out to the river and swimming with them. Throughout my life, the land and the water have been important elements. I love seeing the surrounding area in its natural state. Many people only see their surroundings from a vehicle driving by on a highway. Some consumers have the best-looking homes, cars and clothing; however for me, I like to have a great horse and feel the earth and the water. I feel that horseback riding brings me closer to nature. I have all the wide-open space around me with a beautiful blue sky filled with clouds, the cool fresh air and the mountain landscapes. Horseback riding and swimming are very relaxing for me. The pressures of everyday life seem to disappear on the back of the horse. It brings me complete joy and exhilaration especially when the whole family are involved.
Recently a First Nations woman was crowned Mrs. Universe. Since that time, Ashley Burnham has been vocally using her new platform in a real meaningful way. Do you comments?
It is time to break the culture of silence, the future of women in leadership is now. We are here, and we are ready. If we want to move forward and empower the young, we need to take a critical look at what’s really holding us back. People need to get involved and gain a better understanding of the role Indigenous woman have in their families, communities and society at large. As Ashley says, we are not just a pretty face, and our bodies were certainly not made to be manipulated or misused. Speaking up is just the beginning of a process.
The organization Chiefs of Ontario have recently announced the groundwork to hold a provincial inquiry into missing and murdered Aboriginal women. What are your thoughts on the WhoIsShe.ca initiative?
Measures must be taken to make it known that forms of violence against women exist, such as domestic violence (psychological, physical and sexual violence), stalking, sexual violence (including rape), forced marriage, female genital mutilation, forced sterilization, forced abortion and sexual harassment, and to suggest what individuals communities, and governments can do to prevent it from happening or to assist women and girls at risk. The fight for gender equality and for the missing and murdered women in Canada is and has been of a great concern. We need a strong female leaders to speak out against the violence, and discrimination faced by women and girls in Canada and around the world. It is up to each state party to decide on awareness-raising activities on these forms of violence. It’s an unwillingness to engage in conversation over the issues that only perpetuates the problem.
What is not being said or questioned in this interview?
Many communities book me for the Grizzly Bear Dance. However, most do not select my offering described as ‘Life Transformative Stories based on real life evidence’. I want to share part of that story with you now.
My haunting story describes transcendence. It is about my experience with repeated sexual abuse and marginalization to healing, and how my voice was shattered by a culture of silence around sexual abuse in Aboriginal Communities, especially my own.
Mine is a narrative story of the strength it has taken to regain balance in the face of severe trauma. It serves as an account of hopeful survival and optimism for the future for those that no longer have to suffer abuse in silence. All sexual abuse is destructive to the victim, the perpetrator, and the entire community. There is no form of sexual abuse that can be tolerated—it is all unacceptable.
Whatever the personal experience might have been, as victims we must prepare to participate in the recovery process in the hope of gaining justice and peace. Survivors in recovery and healing are reclaiming their identity, esteem and self-worth, and they will tell their stories without any shame, denial or blame.
Dark secrets of sexual abuse that are buried deep within can now come out. Once exposed to the sunlight of the Spirit, our dark past becomes an asset that helps us bond with other survivors, and leads us to empowerment. All of which develops strong leadership, but also the skills to teach our children how to live healthy balanced lifestyles – mentally, physically, spiritually and emotionally. With healthy familes, we will have healthy children, which lead to healthy communities and positive socialization skills.
[Editor’s note: At PowHERhouse our motto – our why is: Strong women build strong families. Strong families build strong communities. Strong communities build a strong future – our future!]
Recognizing the value and importance of my story, I am a powerful, educated and resilient role model representing a positive voice in the darkness. Humbled and grounded by my experiences, I have asked myself, “Imagine if everyone knew my story?”
I was able to accelerate through my education and found a way to remove false beliefs of self-loathing, hatred, skepticism and racism from my belief window. I replaced these with new goals, thoughts and ideals.
My healing journey is not static, as a matter of fact, it continues today. Facing challenges with the court system and a second trial to convict my abusers (taking place in October for final sentencing). Navigating all of the challenges in my life: death, rape, abuse, neglect, being destitute and living on the streets, being labeled and dismissed from schools and incarcerated, I am able to keep perspective. My strength and power consistently reinforced. Pain is strength, and looking back at these traumas from a place of power reminds me that I am safe and okay. I am worthy. I am loved.
I had been blessed with resilience factors that have helped me throughout my journey – from my loved ones within my own family to followers I have built through social media connection – in whose circles I dance, drum and pray to find strength and balance. Daily.
PowHERhouse talks a lot about the ‘intentional integration’ of Lifestyle + Leadership. However there is another integration that we are also very passionate about, and that is the integration of Aboriginal women and leaders into our work and our mission of building strong women. What are your thoughts on this integration?
In our culture there is a word “Ucwalmicw” meaning people of the land. We are all people of the land. It does not matter where we come from, what ethnic origin or religious practice, there is only one race, and that is the human race. We need to look to our sisters with an open mind and heart and bring to the circle the unity of all and one. There is no tool for development more effective than the inclusion and empowerment of all women.
We must be inclusive leaders in our practices to be productive, loyal and to motivate and give voice to the strong leadership of women and authentically lead by example. EmpowHer inclusive leadership creates cultural change, and on the ability to be sustainable highlighting women of diverse backgrounds and experiences. This inclusive leadership is a journey, and can be tough but will build on the trust, influence, collaboration and diversity needed for the wider community.
In realizing and understanding the values, issues and challenges women face Indigenous or non-Indigenous, it is clear that women with strong leadership potential are determined to affect change in their life situations, their communities and society for the greater good. Despite the years of discrimination and oppression, women from all walks of life – in the grassroots, women of our locals, women in our centers, women in leadership seats, women volunteers – are all determined to make sure our voices and concerns are being heard at the decision tables. The fundamental belief that given the opportunity, women will determine for themselves the appropriate courses of action as we strive to work together to eradicate the struggles and challenges we face in the hope of moving forward with strength, success and powHER in unity.
About the photographer:
“I didn’t set out to be a photographer… It just kind of happened. I bought a camera to take pictures as an avid amateur photographer. I admired the workings of Larry Price, Eli Secody and the works of the Women of Navajo Nation Calendar. What I can tell you is that I really love what I do and I spend a lot of time refining, and perfecting my work… it is a passion and takes a lot of patience.” – Wolfn Photographies
Levi BlackWolf is a photographic artist who specializes in evocative images of the Indigenous living world. Born into the Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs, he first used the camera to document life images in 2005. He has travelled the West to the East Coast in the United States and beyond with a camera in hand. In the early years, Levi began photographing true beauty of Indigenous culture and people, and within a short time he had swapped his Survey Technician career for the precarious life of a travelling photographer.
He is one of the leading photographic and graphic designers in Indian Country. With the use of pioneering digital techniques, he quickly built up an Indigenous client base from photographing pow-wows, models, landscapes, adventures, wildlife, events, weddings, graduation and senior pictures.
Levi’s passion for Indigenous culture is strongly evident in his work. He strives to capture the spirit and energy while bringing in graphic designs to add depth, symmetry and beauty. He pioneers the process of morphing images into each other. His photographs of culture reveal a compassionate understanding strength.
Levi has managed to pursue his ambitions. His artistic background current projects consist of the following works: St’át’imc Government Services: Prenatal Education, Health Care, Skills & Training Images & Graphic Designs; Videography works in Education & Training, St’át’imc Eco Resources, Archeology, Anthropology, Fishing Technicians; Nisqually Tribal Canoe Journey to Bella Bella BC 2015- 2016 Calendar; Cover photo for the Navajo book “Her Land Her Love”(2014) by Evangeline Parsons Yazzie; Twenty-First Century Skins Calendar (2014); “The Best Calendar of the Year Award” at the North American Indigenous Image Awards in Albuquerque, NM (2011); Seattle Art Walk (2011); Museum at Warm Springs Exhibit (2011). Levi currently lives in Lillooet, British Columbia with his life partner Laura Grizzlypaws, when not working on projects or travelling to powwows he enjoys the quality time he has with family.