+ SPOTLIGHT | Aleta Poste
Good day to all of my relations- My ndn name is Deep Water, I also go by Aleta Poste. I am from the Squaxin Island Tribe located in Washington State. My mother is Charlene Krise. My family is also connected to Coville, through my grandmother Dorthy Nanpuya’s side, as well as Puyallup and Nisqually on my grandfather, Harvey Krise’s, side. I am 28 years old.
What are the first 3 words that come to mind when you hear the word healing?
Connection, strength, and Investment are the first three words that come to mind when I think of the word healing.
A connection to others on a social, emotional, spiritual, and physical level. Appealing to the social beings that we are and the interconnectedness we know exist between indigenous communities. Engaging with others beyond the confines of texting, email, chat, or messenger. There is a recognition that happens between indigenous people that is unspoken, without uttering a word there is much being said. Some might call it intuition but I truly believe it’s an ancient language that has allowed our people to communicate with each other, and the other nations of beings, for centuries. Listening, and connecting, through this manner is honoring an ancestral bond which upholds our knowledge, our science.
Strength comes to mind when I think of the journey on the path oto healing. Its not an easy task to confront the things or people that have been the cause of suffering. It takes courage to speak out about an experience that has caused grief and to keep move forward. At times the only thing that can be done is to keep putting one foot in front of the other. For myself, I have found strength in pulling in the canoe. I fell back to what I knew, what my body instinctively knew to help me in times of despair. In the canoe there are times of pulling through treacherous waters, times when it’s impossible for a safety boat to get to the canoe to relieve its pullers. It’s in those moments that we call on the protection and strength of our ancestors, it is when we “dig deep” into ourselves and into the water to help propel us forward. Our bodies may feel weak but as we call for strength we are reenergized. These practices on the water have translated into my everyday life and have helped me to maintain control and balance.
The practice of investing into others, into yourself, into the future plays a huge part in my definition of healing. Giving time and good energy to a another person is an investment in their quality of life. It can be done in the form of teaching a new skill, or sharing knowledge about plants, or simply being present to listen to their story. Personally I strive to improve the future by spending time with children and teenagers by developing strong relationships. As a youth I know I greatly benefited from adults who took time to listen to my thoughts and ideas. It helped me to better understand the reciprocity that exists within our culture and how healing it is to give back in this way. It has also showed me the importance of self-care. At times it seems selfish to “take time” for myself but over the years I have found it to be completely necessary to invest in my own quality of life so that I can continue to give to others.
Can you tell us what you do and a bit about how you came to it?
Who I am and what I do are often intertwined. I am a mother, a skipper, a teacher, student, a weaver, and a manager for a community garden. As part of a close knit community I play a lot of different roles. My most valued roles are ones that allow a deep connection to others.
I am a mother to a rambunctious, inquisitive four-year-old boy who challenges and reshapes my interaction with the world around me daily. He inspires me to dance freely and unashamedly. I call him grandpa sometimes because he says things I swear are coming from an older generations knowledge. A year ago I was also caring for two young girls placed in the foster care system, relatives of mine. I had the opportunity to share an unforgettable year with these two brilliant children before I realized I gave all that I could as a single 26-year-old mom. Within that scope I am still able to step in as the “big cousin or ally” to help mentor these two young ladies, and others. There were two factors that brought me to making the decision to become a foster parent at 26. The first was hearing my own mom’s childhood experiences of foster care and her ache to return to her family, her culture, her home. The second was the impact one woman had on my life when I was a pre-teen on canoe journey. She acted as a mentor, teaching myself and several of my friends the importance of praying, of singing, of knowing our own language, and of self-respect. She was the mother of these two young girls. Her teachings helped solidify my involvement in many aspects of my culture and I felt I had a moral responsibility to offer my knowledge, my house, my skills, and my love to her girls.
Secondly, my roots are strongly intertwined in the canoe society that is heavily present in Northwest culture. Through my mother’s involvement in Tribal Canoe Journey’s I was impacted by the teachings that were reawakened with the resurgence of the canoe ways from a very young age. In 1996, at five years old, I stood next to my mom to greet canoes during the “Healing of the Waters” canoe journey. A few years after, Squaxin secured a canoe and I spent every summer on the canoe since I was 10 years old. I was at the forefront of a generation who had the opportunity to grow up knowing what it was like to travel the ancestral highways of our people. The canoe reconnected ancient relationships and trade routes that existed pre-contact, beyond the borders of the U.S and Canada. As a young adult I was challenged by my mentors to sit in the skipper’s seat of the canoe, a role I felt unfit for. The responsibility of the skipper is to navigate the canoe and its pullers from one host community to the next. Some years the journey can take up to 5 weeks and over hundreds of nautical miles. At times the skipper needs to make quick decisions to avoid life-threatening whirlpools or dangerous currents. At 19 I routinely shied away and tried to avoid the huge responsibility of being a skipper. Yet my mentors were persistent that our canoe family/tribe needed a female to sit in that seat to honor the equal representation of our people, and as a matriarchal society. Through years of guidance from several mentors I humbly accepted the role. In this role I have a lifetime of learning ahead of me. I try to use my time in the skipper’s seat listening. Listening for the songs that move across the water, to the movement of the canoe, the experience of other pullers, and most importantly listening for the guidance of our ancestors. In the quiet moments I have time to reflect on the beauty that is our people, our tribes, our identity, and the resiliency of us all. The unbreakable truth of our mothers, fathers, and grandparents to endure all that was laid upon them for the security of our future, to once again tap into the ancestral memory of our sea-faring people. I joke that saltwater runs through my veins but there are times I question the intense magnetic pull i feel to be in its presence. Its as if my mind, body, and spirit need to recharge and the water knows it. To bathe in the sea is my medicine and to sit in the skipper’s seat is one of the greatest honors I know.
Apart from my other roles I also represent the Squaxin Island Tribe’s food program as the Community Garden Program Manager. Three years ago I helped organize a small group of tribal members who were passionate about creating a sustainable, cultural connection back to our food and to fight food insecurity within our community. After receiving a generous donation of camas bulbs, an important ancestral food to many indigenous communities throughout the Northwest, and Ozette potatoes, a once rare potato grown in the very wet climate of Ozette near Neah Bay, we set out to start a grassroots effort in food justice. During this time a few of us visited other tribes with known community gardens to seek their advice in approaching our tribal government to assist in the creation of a food garden. After speaking at several tribal gatherings about the importance of accessible, healthy, culturally relevant foods I was asked to help organize, plan, and implement a program for a community garden. Today the Garden Program offers classes in cooking cultural and adopted healthy foods, harvesting ancestral foods, harvesting and preparing traditional medicines, workshops in food preservation, and engaging the community in conversation about future goals for improving food security.
How do you heal?
As a kid when I got in trouble with my parents I had to run laps around our house for my punishment. Little did I know the lasting impact that would have on my life. Throughout every stage of adolescence to adulthood I found myself running when I was stressed, angry, or hurt. Running gave me an outlet to channel my negative energy. It allowed me to decompress from difficult situations and return home with a clear mind. Later on I would come to understand how exercise releases chemicals in your body called endorphins, endorphins reduce pain and increase a positive feeling in your body. It was naturally healing.
A few years ago I experienced the darkest times I have known with the loss of several friends and young family members, the string of betrayal of once-close friends, and the threat of deadly cancer within my family. These were all compounded into a few months, leaving me emotionally raw. I found what helped me heal from these experiences was to carve out time for myself to be in solitude. My favorite running spot was through the forest to the nearby bay about 2 miles away. So I would run down this path, with no phone so I would not be distracted, to sit by a stream of water and pray. In those silent moments of prayer, I found release, strength, and a deeper connection with the creator. In time I came around to appreciate those experiences for the lessons I gained from them.
My own journey of healing may be different from others but it is what I found to work for me. As an introverted person I find my time to recharge happens in solitude. While I love being social, if I’m not operating at full capacity I find it to be very draining. Even a half hour of some form of exercise helps me to feel replenished.
What is your calling right now?
I have a deep reverence for our earth and a very intimate connection to the land and water. With all that is happening in our world today I strive to make intentional choices to counteract the destruction and the pollution of our home. I do my part to have a soft impact on the world around me and encourage my son to make similar decisions. The pursuit to further my relationship with the world around me is what is calling me right now. To participate in the preservation of vulnerable ecosystems. Which I believe is ultimately an investment in the future of our children and the security of our cultural practices.
Do your ancestors affect what you do, how you live?
A few years ago I met a woman who worked for her tribe’s garden, we started talking and found out that we were distantly related through my great grandma and her grandma, they were sisters. The sisters were known healers who worked expertly with different medicines and were called on as doctors. Many of the teachings I grew up hearing from my mom came directly from my great grandma and her family of healers. Today, I believe I carry a part of that knowledge that was passed down through several generations of women. It inspired me to seek further understanding of these medicines. Which lead me on another journey to work with an amazing herbalist who I have had the opportunity to apprentice with for four years. Acquiring this knowledge transformed the way I live. It provided a platform from which I can help my own family with different ailments, as well as helping me to understand the deeply rooted connections to our ancestors through plants.
Who are your mentors, role models?
My biggest mentor and role model is my mom. While pregnant with each of my siblings and myself throughout the 80’s, she fished with a beach sein and gillnets alongside my dad. At times having to defend her right to fish in her ancestral waters to angry home owners, in front of her children. As a historian she has been called upon to sit as a key witness in court for different environmental and shellfish proceedings for our tribe. She has held dual positions as a Tribal Council Representative and Executive Director for our tribal museum for over 14 years. All the while still maintaining a balance to be an engaged mother, and now a very active grandmother. She displays acts of unconditional love even to those who wish her ill. Through all of her life’s challenges she could be a very resentful, bitter person but she carries this infectious joy around with her. It’s her constant optimism that often raises the question “Does your mom ever get mad?” and yet as her child who has tested the line, I know she does. To list all that she has done and why I admire her would take several pages. I know I am fortunate to have the opportunity to speak to my mom on a daily basis, to listen to hear stories and to continue to learn from her life’s work.
What drives/inspires you to keep going?
Faith in the future generations. Becoming a mother and realizing that I would not easily forfeit a prosperous life for my son. More than anything else, it is the life I helped to create that has brought out a furiousness in me to secure the future. I believe it’s the same energy that kept our ancestors from giving in when the future looked bleak.
If you could relay a mantra, message, wisdom, ism, food for thought to Indigenous 20 somethings from the US and abroad what would you say?
I read something like this one time, it’s not word for word, but it made me think of our indigenous communities and the way we should strive to be once again.
The trees are many nations of people. They stand tall with one another, they respect their neighbors’ boundaries and support them by bringing up important nutrients and water to share collectively. They know to lose one, is to lose part of their collective strength. So they continue to support even the weak and old because together they have established this community of roots in which each has a responsibility to provide nutrients, water, and to warn of pests or damage.