Gathering Our Medicine


GOM Schematic


Week 1 is important in terms of setting the tone for the time we will be spending together. The primary objective is to establish a relationship in which they feel warmly welcomed and supported. As a facilitator, our tone, facial expression and body language speaks volumes, and it is important that we convey safety first and foremost.

We convey a warm invitation to exist in our presence by showing a twinkle in our eye, warmth in our voice and safety in our body language. Gathering the eyes, the smiles and nods of those we are wanting to invite into relationship with us is the first step in the dance of relationship. Until this step has been honored, we cannot proceed as to do so will only end up causing frustration. Sitting in a circle, going slowly and mindfully with the intention of developing meaningful relationships within the group is the main purpose of this session.

SESSION OBJECTIVES — Participants will …

  • Be warmly welcomed, and invited into a space that is safe and restores confidence and dignity
  • Be provided with a program overview
  • Be introduced to the program schematic and approach that empowers and restores care to the kinship circle


Rituals exist across all cultures and often characterize our particular orientations towards life, our worldview and beliefs, and our spirituality. Rituals can facilitate transformation by shifting our state from one of stress and work to one of relaxation and rest. Today, neuroscience confirms that in order to grow, recover, and heal, we must experience safety in our relationships. This allows us to experience true rest in our nervous systems. 

Rituals have the power to shift us out of the work mode and into a space where time, and cognitive noise, stops. They are a place where it is possible for us to recover our connection with each other and our children and youth. They are a space where we can recover and express our most vulnerable emotions in an indirect way without having to talk about them. We have always had rituals that protect the important from the urgent, that preserve time and space for togetherness, safety, expression and rest. 

Colonization has resulted in parents always looking outside of themselves and the community as the answer when things are going wrong with their children and youth. However, we know how powerful it is when our adults look instead to their place-based culture and begin to bring ritual alive. When ritual is awakened in small and big ways within family, relationships are strengthened and the expression of emotion that is necessary for healing takes place. 

Rituals ensure that we have time and space set aside to strengthen our connections with each other, the land, the animals and the ancestors. They are the way tradition gets passed on and it the way we ensure that our youth’s spirit is fed and their heart protected. This is how we gather our medicine!

SESSION OBJECTIVES — Participants will …

  • Be introduced to the healing power of ritual
  • Gain insight in to and discuss how rituals can heal their relationship with their youth most naturally
  • Reflect on and share rituals from their own traditions and families that they grew up with and / or have carried on with their family


Relationship is like a dance: someone leads, and someone follows. The dance is a beautiful and fluid one when our youth is relating to us in a dependent mode. Looking to us to care for them, depending on us and orienting themselves around us. 

The instincts to care and be cared for must be awakened in us. Trauma can cause these instincts to go dormant if our energy has gone into surviving and taking care of ourselves as children, as was the case for those who attended residential school. As a-result, many of our youth are more attached to their peers than their adults, which makes it challenging and frustrating to provide the care they need. Peer culture is tough competition (Neufeld G. a., 2004). However, kinship circles must be supported to find it in themselves to rise to the challenge of getting their youth back. 

Gathering and awaking the instincts for togetherness with adults is essential for rendering our youth vulnerable enough to receive care and nourishment from us. Gathering Rituals will depend as much on the family and community culture one is from as it will on the disposition of caregiver and youth and the nature of their relationship (MacNamara, 2016). Gathering is something that must happen at the beginning of a new relationship and after every period of separation. This includes separation that occurs when we allow our youth’s behaviour to alienate us or when our youth goes into a state of defensive detachment (Neufeld G., Intensive II: The Separation Complex (, 2003). We can feel intuitively whether our youth is receptive to us or if they are resistant. We know we have successfully Gathered them when we feel the warmth and receptivity. Our youth gives us their eyes, ears, smiles and nods. They want to be with us, they talk to us and seek us out. 

Eating rituals can be incredibly powerful with youth who have experienced wounding. Food is a very basic way of inviting someone into a dependent relationship with us. It is our way of saying, “Let me take care of you, I am here and I’m not going anywhere, you can trust me”. Appealing to a youth’s senses with creature comforts or finding something simple in common is a good place to start. Adults today often only approach youth with an agenda, or with the intention of disciplining, correcting and teaching. Our youth need adults who prioritize togetherness and relationship. 

Gathering is happening all the time in our day to day lives. We are simply unaware of it. This session is about making conscious that which we intuitively know to be true. Giving a language to that which we were never supposed to discuss but now have to with the loss of culture. Culture is made of rituals that are intended to take care of the relationship dance. Rituals built into the day-to-day lives of our people in the long ago that ensured our relationships and our need for togetherness was taken care of. If we proceed with our youth without honouring the dance of Gathering, they will most likely resist us and we will be following them instead. This is the dance of frustration and sometimes the dance of disaster. Set the intention to Gather before directing. Incorporating rituals into your daily life is a paramount step towards healing the relationship between kinship circle and youth.

SESSION OBJECTIVES — Participants will …

  • Be introduced to Gathering Rituals as a universal human way of establishing connection
  • Explore how and when Gathering Rituals are most helpful
  • Reflect on Gathering Rituals that exist in community and family traditions


Mother Nature is responsible for growth and development. The life-force energy that animates both human and more than human (Abram, 2012) life is what grows and heals us all. Growth happens spontaneously in the context of interdependence and inter-relationality amongst all things. An indigenous worldview sees relationship and kinship as the context in which we exist, learn, grow, and heal. A relational and developmental approach to raising children honors Mother Nature and our need for togetherness across the life span and the context of kinship. As our relationship needs evolve our developmental destiny unfolds (Neufeld G., Intensive III: Becoming Attached (, 2011). 

Indigenous peoples since the beginning of time have, in essence, lived relationally and developmentally. This means that we live our lives in synchrony with everything in the universe and trust that nature has a plan for all living things. When relationship needs are met at each stage of life, our development unfolds and we grow into emotionally mature, adaptive, reflective, empathetic, and cooperative beings. This is in stark contrast to the belief that has been widely adopted in mainstream society that children are a blank slate meant to be shaped, pruned, filled up and taught how to fit into society. 

Our first and most important role as adults in the lives of Indigenous youth is to provide for their relational needs unconditionally so that they are freed up to emerge and become all that they can be. First, we must recognize what stage of development a youth is at and what their particular needs are at any given time. In a world where separation is inevitable, reducing the stress response that can cause developmental stuck-ness is essential. 

Healing, growth, maturation, resilience, and our overall well-being is a result of our need for togetherness being fully met. Classical attachment theory is based on physical attachment; however, what about when we cannot be together? What about when we lose a loved one, or when a youth cannot have access to their parent because of divorce, addiction and neglect? What does a youth have to hold onto then? Indigenous peoples’ definition of togetherness extends beyond the human world to include the land, animals, ancestors and cosmos. Our kinship circle provides a sense of continuity no matter what losses we face throughout life, giving our youth, children and families an unconditional sense of security and hope. If we understand how the capacity to hold on in the face of separation develops, we can provide our youth with a sense of continuity and connection that gives them a sense of togetherness even when physical proximity is impossible.

SESSION OBJECTIVES — Participants will …

  • Be provided insight into nature’s role in human development and healing
  • Reflect on the roots of attachment
  • Explore and discuss the role of cultural rituals in providing for the conditions for healing and growth to occur naturally


As social creatures of attachment we are wired for togetherness first and foremost. Our instinctive drive for closeness with the one’s responsible for our care has ensured our survival and evolution as a species. We are born incredibly vulnerable, and our survival depends on the adults responsible for us. When we are young, we are ill equipped to face separation, and too much separation to soon can have harmful effects on our development. However, separation is inevitable at all stages of our life and the impacts of those separations requires our care and leadership so that stress does not overwhelm us. 

We are so fortunate as Indigenous people to emanate from a worldview that provides us with so many ways to hold on in the face of separation. Not only do we have our family and extended family who make up our kinship circle we have the land, animals, ancestors and place-based wisdom and ways of knowing and being to help reduce the impacts of stress. Regardless of what kinds of separations are faced by our youth we can provide them with a way to hold on, and therefore reducing the harmful impacts of stress. A youth may be facing separation as a result of their behaviour, a divorce, death, illness, moving, going to school, foster care and/or a parent struggling with mental health challenges. Regardless, we must give them something to hold on to in order to ensure their development unfolds as nature intended.

SESSION OBJECTIVES — Participants will …

  • Explore the impacts of too much separation
  • Reflect on cultural rituals that reduce separate and stress
  • Identify when Continuity Rituals are most helpful


The definition of resilience is the capacity to bounce back after a stressful event. The inability to bounce back is rooted in a loss of resilience which has often been compromised long before the event. If we know what to look for we can see whether our youth is resilient or is lacking resilience. Tears are one of the key indicators of resilience alongside playfulness and feelings. The expression of vulnerable emotions such as sadness and disappointment are essential for emotional health and well-being. Tears are also a symbol of adaptation. The loss of tears is linked to not only a loss of resilience but an escalation of aggression, the inability to adapt to life’s circumstances and a hardening of the heart and loss of emotion in general leading to depression and anxiety. So how can we get a child’s feelings back? Rituals are a beautiful, indirect way if accessing one’s sadness without risking the provocation of defences. Rituals contain us, our relationship needs are met, we are in a suspended time and space and as a result the defences are lowered sometimes just long enough for us to feel our sadness. Instead of teaching resilience or working at resilience, rituals can have direct access to our sadness and as a result healing can occur. 

A youth who is stuck, with a hardened heart or suffering from anxiety will find some rest and relief once tears are restored. Instead of talking about their wounds directly ritual can provide what is needed indirectly. I only have to think about the ritual of listening to certain songs being sung or participating in certain dances or even going to the water, common in many cultures, when we feel stuck. The water symbolizes movement and cleansing and can help us to move and feel the emotions that need restoration in order for healing and growth to occur. This is the magic of Indigenous ways of knowing and being. Nothing is approached directly. Everything is done in a sacred, indirect manner with wisdom and faith.

SESSION OBJECTIVES — Participants will …

  • Be introduced to the neurobiology of tears
  • Explore cultural and family rituals as the most indirect and safe way to recover resilience
  • Discuss examples of grieving rituals


During Session 7 we discuss the emotional roots of some of the most prevalent challenges our youth have today. We will be looking at root causes and exploring practical ways that caregivers can look to the relationship as the answer. This runs contrary to the medical and behaviour models that seek to treat and shape behaviour. We will be supporting caregivers to reflect on how their youth’s relationships can be the best medicine available to treat problems of aggression and anxiety. Youth today who are highly sensitive or who have not had their need for togetherness met are more likely to develop emotional problems including trouble with learning and behaviour. Often these emotional and development problems are rooted in a lack of maturity or developmental stuck-ness. 

There is no pill for immaturity and there is no pill for providing for a youth’s essential need for relationship and togetherness. This is challenging for youth who have been wounded as they are not easily led into caring relationships with the adults responsible for them and often peer attached — yet, this is the only way to truly lead our youth to reach their fullest potential. Kinship circles must be confident and strong of heart in its function. Full of faith and willing to be a mid-wife to the grieving, healing and adaptive processes in which one often sees things getting worse before they get better. Recovery of a youth’s ability to feel and express their vulnerable emotions is the only way they can develop the capacities for self-control, courage, and empathy. Problems rooted in emotional defense are complex and can be perplexing. However, if we can see the emotional roots, kinship circles can find a way through in relationship led intuitively by their heart.

SESSION OBJECTIVES — Participants will …

  • Be provided with a new perspective on the importance of emotional expression
  • Reflect on the power of emotion to heal
  • Discuss how cultural rituals provide the context in which emotional expression can be facilitated safely


In Session 8 we explore the importance of creating a village of attachment for our youth. Family members, community, teachers, and others who are already a part of a child’s village of attachment are most naturally and best equipped to provide for their needs. For too long we have conditioned Indigenous people to prioritize the opinions of experts where our youth are concerned, and this has been to the detriment of the relationships that our youth need most. Regardless of what challenges a youth has or how difficult their journey caregivers who are part of our youth’s community are their best bet. Having said that relationships don’t just happen automatically. They need to be developed and facilitated by the adults in a child’s life. Relationships develop organically and a youth will be most receptive to other adults who have an existing relationship with the youth’s closest attachments. Attachment begets attachment. We too often make the mistake of assuming that our “role” with a youth should render them automatically receptive to our care, however, this is not true. We are creatures of relationship and togetherness. Our youth do not care about our role or credentials. The most natural way to build a village of attachment around a youth is to introduce and matchmake them with other caring responsible adults. If it is a teacher or another caregiver or a coach, then the adult that the youth is already attached to is in the best position to pass the relationship baton to other adults that child needs to have a connection to. WE do this intuitively with each other all the time. We have cultural rituals in which we introduce each other and help build connections and relationship. Our potlatch system on the coast is a wonderful example.

The same is true for our youth. When we introduce properly, we are saying to our youth “we like this person, they are good, you can trust them, they are my friend,” then a youth will be more receptive to them. Children need to have a relationship with many adults in their life. These are lifelines and it is our role to ensure these relationships develop. A child who is not attached will not be receptive to care regardless of how much love the adult has for them. It will not sink in until the youth’s brain deems it safe to connect. Introduction Rituals can make this process of connecting our youth to adults in their life more natural and render them more likely to be open to receiving the care those other adults are able to provide for them. Without introductions a youth will often polarize in their attachments. They will push new people away due to protective instincts to resist coercion by a stranger or to protect their existing relationships to peers or an absent parent. This is a simple but essential practice that kinship circles are best suited to enact. Matchmaking rituals can support this process in a way that is gentle, natural, and indirect which ensure defences don’t get evoked and the youth does not get spooked.

SESSION OBJECTIVES — Participants will …

  • Be introduced to protective instincts such as shyness that render them unreceptive to strangers
  • Explore Introduction Rituals as a natural and organic way of helping build the kinship village
  • Reflect on the importance of a strong village of relationships for children, youth and their families


Session 9 is a celebration our togetherness and an opportunity for the kinship circle to honour their youth and to live out all that they have learned. The intention of this session is for kinship circles to collect their youth in the context of a ceremony and/or ritual of the facilitators choosing. Whatever it is that you plan simply ensure that caregivers receive an acknowledgement for the care they provide to our youth and that youth are acknowledged for who they are. 

The idea is that youth would be given a touch of being with, being like, belonging, mattering, love and being known and understood. The ceremony should include matchmaking youth to their caregivers in a safe contained way. The beauty of ceremony is that it is usually witnessed and all who participate enjoy the healing benefits. It is important that whomever is invited to help facilitate or lead the ceremony is able to ensure the seven healing properties are present … safe, contained, allows for expression, not work, set apart from the day to day, engaging, and entered freely. There are so many lovely traditions that comfort and invite emotion. Anything that melts the heart, generates warmth between caregiver and youth and assists in deepening the attachment and lowering the defences will be a powerful experience for both participants and witnesses. This may be the last session, but it is far from the end. It is the beginning, and you are acknowledging not only the journey leading up to this but the journey ahead.

Facilitators will be supported during supervision to discuss and explore options for session 9.


  • What kind of ceremony would be appropriate for the caregivers and youth in your territory?
  • Which elders and teachers would you like to consult and include?
  • What materials might be needed?
  • Who will be invited to attend the ceremony?
  • Where will it be?
  • Will invitations be sent out and to whom? Extended family, workers…?
  • How will youth be prepared for this…this may be a very vulnerable experience for them?



  • Sharing of a meal
  • Opening – Welcome & Blessing (singing & drumming)
  • Calling of Witnesses
  • Walking in of caregivers
  • Walking in of youth
  • Collecting and Matchmaking Ritual
  • Call speakers to share what they have witnessed
  • Singing and Drumming
  • Closing


SESSION OBJECTIVES — Participants will …

  • Participate in a cultural ceremony intended to hold them and their youth up
  • Be acknowledged for the important work they do raising our youth and children
  • Gather and acknowledge their children and youth