Healing through Breath, Land & Culture, Indigenous Speaker

Avis O’Brien

April 13th 2022 1:30 pm Imperial Ballroom 5

Session Description

This 1-hour presentation offers education around the history of assimilation policies & residential schools and how these colonial genocidal tools created loss of connection to Indigenous identity, mental health & addiction struggles for Nalaga (Avis O’Brien). Avis highlights the intersectionality of sexual abuse rooted in the residential school system and how that created a dysregulated nervous system, which in turn lead to her turning to ways to regulate her nervous systems: self-harm, eating disorders, dissociation, and then the ultimate form of regulation – substances.

The presentation also touches on the spirit of suicidality and this epidemic that plagues Indigenous communities, how we can start to externalize the pathologies that are placed on us by the mental health system; and in turn, centre the strength, connection to land, spirituality and ceremony that was there prior to all that was placed on us by colonial genocide.

Learning Objective

1) Strengthen our knowledge of how breath, embodiment & land-based cultural forms of healing can help folks to heal from addictions and mental health struggles

2) Learn the importance of externalizing the pathologies that have been placed on us by the mental health system, and in turn centre the strength, resilience and connection to land and culture that was there prior to colonization

3) To create a culture of belonging amongst Indigenous folks

This work aims to highlight the collective struggle we are all in as Indigenous people to help folks know they are not alone.

Indigenous folks in this country were once connected and anchored by a sense of belonging: to the land, their clans & families, their communities and their cultures. This was systematically severed with the goal of assimilating us into the dominant white society. We see the impacts of this today in the rates of suicide: suicide being the leading cause of death of our people

This work aims to highlight the collective struggle we are all in as Indigenous people to help folks know they are not alone.



The work of Dr. Michael Yellowbird thoroughly explains how engaging in Indigneous contemplative practices heals our brains from the impacts of colonialism and stress. Practices such as dancing, singing, drumming, praying & sitting in ceremony are studied extensively and brain wave patterns are compared to a brain prior to engaging in our contemplative practices, and the brain during and after engaging in our practices.

2) https://jps.library.utoronto.ca/index.php/ijih/article/view/33223
In this article, Riel Dupuis Rossi explains the importance of Indigenous folks externalizing the pathologies that have been placed on us by the mental health system, and when we do that, we create space to Centre the wisdom, connection to our territories, ancestors and ways of knowing that was there prior to colonization. Riel talks about the importance of Centring Indigenous ways of knowing and culture in the promotion of health and well-being for Indigenous clients

3) https://vikkireynoldsdotca.files.wordpress.com/2021/03/2020-reynolds-jft-trauma-resistance-hang-time.pdf

In this article, Vikki Reynolds quotes Riel Dupuis Ross extensively, advocating that centring of Indigenous wisdom and knowledge (drumming, singing, dancing, connecting to land) and all forms of our culture are healing.


Nalaga (Avis O’Brien)
Land-Based Cultural Empowerment Facilitator
She / her

Nalaga / Kaaw Kuuna (Avis O’Brien), a Haida/Kwakwa̱ka̱’wakw artist and Land Based Cultural Empowerment Facilitator, was born in Alert Bay, British Columbia. She belongs to the Kaa’was Staa’stas Eagle Clan from the Village of K’yuusda in Haida Gwaii and the Geegilgum Namima of the Lig̱wiłda’x̱w people of Cape Mudge, one of the 18 Tribes of the Kwakwaka’wakw. She is also Scottish from her Grandfather, and Irish from her Fathers side.

She is a weaver, teacher, singer, dancer and land based Cultural empowerment facilitator. She started her company, Nalaga Consulting in 2013 as a way to share the cultural knowledge and beauty of cedar bark weaving with the world. Avis is 14 year on the Red Road in recovery, and now dedicates her life to helping others who suffered with the same struggles as she did. She has a background working in the mental health/addictions field for 10 years.

Avis offers Community Land Based Healing Workshops that are rooted in Decolonization, Reconciliation, Indigenous Land Based Healing & Breath & Embodiment Practices. Her work aims to highlight the intersectionality of Colonialism, Impacts of trauma, Indian Act, residential schools and how we can utilize Ancestral forms of healing to regain a sense of balance and harmony in body, mind and spirit. Drumming, singing, dancing, medicine harvesting, ceremony, weaving, breath & embodiment practices are utilized as self-regulation tools, guiding folks down the path of neuro-decolonization. Her work within Non-Indigenous communities has a focus on building Allyship and dismantling racist stereotypes against Indigenous folks