Elder says learning Cree traditions made her stronger

Elsie Paul, flanked by Archbishop Sylvain Lavoie, told the Archdiocesan Catholic Women's League that learning traditional Cree ways helped her overcome a life of alcohol and drug addiction, and violence.


Elsie Paul, flanked by Archbishop Sylvain Lavoie, told the Archdiocesan Catholic Women's League that learning traditional Cree ways helped her overcome a life of alcohol and drug addiction, and violence.

May 2, 2016

On her way to the Catholic Women's League Archdiocese of Edmonton convention, one of Elsie Paul's favourite songs came up on the radio.

"What doesn't kill you makes you stronger," the Métis/Cree elder sang along.

"I thought, 'Wow! What a good reminder!" said Paul, who spoke on the topic Be the Face of Mercy: Through our Indigenous Sisters with Archbishop Emeritus Sylvain Lavoie.

"So there's lessons all the time, everywhere," she said.

Paul, whose parents both spent most of their lives in residential schools, spoke about the ripple effects of Indian residential schools at the CWL convention at Holy Family Church in St. Albert.

Even though it may have happened many years ago, indigenous people are still affected generationally from residential schools, said Paul. "Today, we need to really know the history. And sometimes, that really hurts."

Healing techniques like healing through screaming, talking and listening, all helped Paul through her journey. At one point, she was afraid to even scream because she was in so much pain.

"I thought if I started screaming, I'll not be able to stop. That's how much pain was inside of me."

But at the CWL convention on April 22, Paul did not feel like yelling.

"I'm sorry if you can't hear me, but you know what? I can't scream today," she said. "I don't want to scream today. I'm too high. But in a good way."

Paul used to be stimulated by drugs and alcohol, she said, recalling a life of alcohol and drug addiction.

"I married into alcohol and drug addiction and violence because that's where I came from. We grew up in a very, very difficult way," she said.

She had five children and was a "psycho mom" when she was raising her kids: "I was always yelling and screaming and swearing," she said.

May 27 will mark 39 years that she has been sober.

"So I know that the Creator can forgive us no matter what," she said.

Little by little, she started learning about her traditions. She learned about its beautiful parenting skills that she teaches today in prisons.

Paul is president of the Kohkom Kisewatisiwin Society, a group of retired professional and indigenous women whose goal is to reclaim the traditional ways of grandmothers, or kohkoms, of the past. They support struggling younger women and provide them with knowledge and healing through their Aboriginal roots.

"If you truly really want to understand the effects and the impacts of residential school, just go to the inner city and you will see those people. It's like they're zombies, because they're cultureless. They don't have their traditions and their values and spirituality. They missed out."

Paul did not have any traditional knowledge either when she began her journey of healing.

"I didn't know anything," she said. "I'm a born-again Indian today. Because I had to relearn. I had to relearn my traditions and my values, the spirituality."

So on the morning of the CWL convention, Paul drank her sage tea and she prayed. She found her way to the event with no problem.


"That's what happens in life," she said. "Once we become aware of who we are and we know what to do for the day, we don't get into confusion like many of our people.

"I have learned to journey in a spiritual way. I'm very, very lucky, you know, that the Creator gave me another opportunity to try this journey again."

At a recent camping experience, Paul showed a group of women traditional native food preparation, including how to make a smoke rack, dry meat and filet fish. An 83-year-old grandmother remarked, "I thought I was an Indian but I didn't know this."


"It's because of the fact that we have missed out on so much because of the residential schools, colonization and all of that," said Paul.

"That way of life was so beautiful. We missed out on that. But we haven't died. Like that song says, what didn't kill me is only going to make me stronger.

"Even through that negative impact, the hurt and the pain that happened, we are still here. And we're getting stronger and stronger all the time through education and awareness."

Lavoie spoke about the importance of being present, listening and trying to understand.

"A good way of showing mercy is to try to understand, rather than judge, somebody else," he said.

Some of the things Lavoie suggested for CWL members to think about during the conference were: What are the primary challenges facing indigenous peoples in your area?


"What are the major challenges facing the Church in ministering to indigenous peoples in your area? How can we move forward together?

"We have to be aware that we're ministering to an oppressed people," said Lavoie. "We need to understand the need to grieve."

Since 1951, the CWL has voiced its support for indigenous people with nine resolutions, said Sister Susan Scott, archdiocesan communications and environment officer.

These include a call to include Indian culture in school texts in 1974, a call to provincial and territorial governments to provide and or extend support services for children and families of missing and murdered Aboriginal women in 2011, and a letter to the prime minister to express concern over the current state of living conditions in First Nations communities in 2012.