BC Association of Community Response Networks

BC CRN Spotlight: Belinda Lacombe, Regional Mentor – Northwestern BC


(Photo: B. Lacombe)

BC CRN’s team of Regional Mentors helps communities establish Community Response Networks (CRNs). Mentors provide ongoing local support in the coordination of responses to abuse, neglect, and self-neglect, and community development initiatives. Some Mentors are also community development partners who collaborate with local agencies and organizations to respond to the needs of their people.

Belinda Lacombe is the Regional Mentor for the province’s Northwestern region. She is also a counselor with the Northern Society for Domestic Peace, which is located on traditional Wet’suwet’en territory where she has lived for the last 30 years. She is a mom of three grown children and a grandmother of three, a seasoned practitioner and instructor of Indigenous Focusing-Oriented Therapy (IFOT) and Indigenous Tools for Living (IFTL), a community developer, a social activist, and a survivor of cultural genocide.

Belinda is a member of the Métis Nation[1]. Historically, Métis were labeled as “road allowance people” after they were dispossessed of their land through the scrip process, and then forcibly moved to settlements located along the sides of roads and railway lines[2]. The Métis, like their Indigenous and First Nation sister communities across the country, were also directly impacted by residential schools.

“Fair-skinned children got to stay home, while dark-skinned children had to go to residential school,” she explains. “Residential schools separated brothers and sisters, and tore families apart.”

The history of residential schools, the acts of abuse and genocide inflicted on thousands of children, and the residual complex trauma that continues to be felt even in today’s generations of families. The “blood knowledge” that comes from the unique experience of Métis peoples in Canada has steered Belinda’s life choices.

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“I come from the Fishing Lake Métis Settlement in Alberta. Growing up, my Métis identity was drilled into me. There was a time when I resisted being Métis. I was determined to be just me.” Belinda recalls. “I fled the child welfare system at 17, only to find myself back in it when I got to BC.”

Because she was already in her late teens, Belinda aged out of the BC child welfare system quickly. At 27, Belinda chose to go back to school. “There was an interesting distance course offered through what was known then as BC Open University called ‘Sociology of Crime’,” she says. “I took it, even though it was a fourth-year course, I did not understand the meaning of the course numbers, so I signed up for all the fourth-year courses (They were so interesting to me!), and then was told by the university to go back and do the first-year courses, which I didn’t want to do.”

Eventually, social work called out to her. Belinda was balancing motherhood and her studies simultaneously. “I got into social work and counseling because of my kids,” she says. “I wanted to do something to make this world a better place for them.”

(Photo: B. Lacombe)

A trip to Vancouver for a workshop opened Belinda’s eyes. “The workshop was about residential schools,” she says. “I remember becoming sickened after hearing about the Métis history – our history, my history. I was physically ill. The experience put me on a journey to finding my cultural roots.”

Belinda would then enroll in Indigenous Studies, immersing herself in everything she could about Indigenous culture, healing, and improving relations. She incorporated what she learned into her programming and counseling practices. “I looked at the feast system, participatory research projects, and explored what it meant for Indigenous peoples to feel safe in a community,” she says.

Becoming an instructor in Indigenous Focusing-Oriented Therapy, or IFOT, was transformational for Belinda. IFOT is a therapeutic approach that is specific: it is genocide-informed, land-based, and body-centric [3]. It is an all-my-relations type of understanding.

“It was eye-opening. As an instructor, I have been able to see the strength and resilience of my people and to grow the awareness of Indigenous peoples’ strength and resilience collectively,” she explains. “It’s about learning how to stop reliving the trauma story and to have a relationship with it. We set the story into the land and observe sensations in the body in order to sit beside the trauma and grief. We find wisdom, connection, and healing in setting the story down, understanding the collective nature of the story, and then we explore, with bright eyes, what the body (blood knowledge) is about, what we set out in the land. There is no ‘fault’, judgment, or pointing of fingers, just a path to ancestral knowledge and medicines.

“When we do this, we make space for ancestral wisdom to come forward. When several people do this, we see collective social justice. Social justice comes from grief. It’s a movement that happening right now.”

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Her successes and the impact of her work, although numerous, have also been sadly marred by racism. “There was so much of it in the community,” Belinda says. “I’ve been assaulted at work by people who were angry that I was ‘bringing the effing Indians out’. I’ve had people petition to remove a community garden behind my house, claiming that speeding cars made it unsafe. (The claims were false.) The racism became so blatant that Indigenous people stopped coming out. They weren’t feeling safe anymore. When I asked for help, my employer asked me to take a personal leave from my job.”

Ultimately, the exit became permanent.

“Once I was gone, my work was whitewashed – all the Indigenous content was erased from it. Unfortunately, this happens all the time.”

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Today, Belinda bases all of her work on principles that slowly and surely decolonize spaces, and uncovers and dismantles the white colonial structures and systems that perpetuate systemic violence.

For the past 16 years, Belinda has worked extensively with the Northern Society of Domestic Peace counseling women who are living in poverty, or who have experienced violence, or both.

As part of a larger IFOT team, she has also traveled the country counseling chiefs of several First Nations communities, as well as families of all cultures and make-ups. She has collaborated with community non-profit and support agencies and played the important role of statement taker in the Murdered and Missing Indigenous Women (MMIW) inquiry, documenting stories and accounts from people whose loved ones disappeared with little to no trace.

(Photo: B. Lacombe)

Belinda joined BC CRN’s team of Regional Mentors in 2014. Since then, she has been bringing the IFOT and IFTL lenses to community development in her region.

Magical Backyard Medicines, a program now in its second year and a shining example of how she has helped translate IFOT/ITFL principles into a tool kit to connect people to the land. To date, over 500 kits have been shared all over BC’s North West, embraced by Indigenous and non-Indigenous community members[4].

Magical Backyard Medicines, as with the IFOT approach to community development, is about connecting ourselves to our other relatives – the earth, the rocks, the air, the trees and plants, the water, and the animals,” says Belinda. “Human relatives aren’t always reliable. The land is always there. Always. If the land becomes unreliable, something is going wrong for everyone.”

“Within the BC CRN, there is an opportunity to expand the existing space for other forms of wellness and culture exchange,” she says. “Trauma is trauma. Rather than focus only on what’s wrong with an individual, we can focus on what’s right, share collective wisdom, reconnect, and move forward together in a good way. We can call on people to be kind for the well-being of the individual and the community. This collective community awareness is critical to decolonization and making right relations.”

***

Belinda has a lifetime of stories – some of them are ancestral, others belong to the people she’s worked with, a few are hers alone. In the years searching for her cultural roots, Belinda found her wellness. She is making it her purpose in life to help others find theirs. In the process, she also found her Indigenous name.

“My GST name is Belinda Lacombe[5]. My Indigenous name is Sipikisoo, Moostoos Iskwew, which means ‘Blue Buffalo Woman’” she says. “I received my traditional name 10 years ago and it’s taken that time and more to understand what it means, and how I need to move in this world with it. My herd, my matriarchs, we walk across the land that we love so much to make space for everyone to lean into it, to heal, to celebrate, and to witness it all. Sipikisoo, Moostoos Iskwew: Blue Buffalo Woman is who I truly am.”

For more information about how you can get involved in CRN work in BC’s North West, Magical Backyard Medicines, IFOT, or IFTL, you can connect directly with Belinda at belinda.lacombe@bccrns.ca

[1] Learn more about the history of BC’s Métis: https://www.mnbc.ca/about/metis-history/

[2] Source: https://www.cbc.ca/radio/unreserved/from-scrip-to-road-allowances-canada-s-complicated-history-with-the-m%C3%A9tis-1.5100375/forced-to-live-on-roadsides-the-dark-history-of-m%C3%A9tis-road-allowances-1.5100660

[3] Learn more about IFOT.

[4] Read more about Magical Backyard Medicines.

[5] GST stands for “Goods and Services Tax’. This terminology is used somewhat sarcastically by First Nations, Indigenous, and Métis people to describe their treatment by colonizers and colonial systems throughout history.

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(Header Photo: Belinda with her children, daughter Alexandra and son Colby. Photo: B. Lacombe)