Meet Lorraine of the Gitxsan Nation in Northwestern BC. (“My Indigenous name is Baby Skin.”)
She is a well-respected traditional medicine woman in her community, a mother to a young daughter, a longtime partner and spouse, an avid outdoorswoman (“If you were to get lost in the bush, you want me there with you.”), and a longtime practitioner and helper of Indigenous Focusing Oriented Therapy (IFOT) and Indigenous Tools for Living (ITFL) in Houston, BC. She works extensively in mental health, trauma, and addictions and is also playing an integral role in supporting elders in the Wii O’o’m Niin Hazelton Community Response Network since the CRN was established in 2013 using traditional Indigenous ways.
In our interview, Lorraine shared story after story of transformation, healing, recovery, and reconnection.
We are very pleased to be profiling Lorraine Baby Skin Half as our volunteer of the month: thank you, Lorraine, for your extensive contributions to the CRN and the community. Thank you for allowing us to share part of your story.
Lorraine is a National Native Alcohol and Drug Abuse Program and the Mental Health National Native Addictions Drug Prevention Program worker with the Gitxsan Health Society and regularly works in the society’s addiction and mental health programs and the National Native Alcohol and Drug Abuse Program. “Mental health issues resulting from trauma are of particular interest to me,” she says. “I got into this work because I’m, myself, a recovering alcoholic and drug addict, sober for 21 years. When I quit drinking, I learned that I needed to rediscover my identity and find a sense of belonging.”
She credits her recovery and reconnection to her roots to learning how to lean into the land, a principle that is foundational to IFOT and ITFL. Interestingly, however, Lorraine resisted several requests to participate in IFOT and ITFL at first. “Belinda (Lacombe, BC CRN Regional Mentor – Northwestern BC) asked me for months to take the training,” she adds. “When I got around to doing it, it was beautiful and such an honour to take it. Things don’t burden me as much anymore and I try to take care of myself in a good way.”
In 2012 after completing training, she continued with IFOT and ITFL as a helper. “I was able to sit in on several sessions with elders. It was such a gift, hearing their stories and learning from their
knowledge” says Lorraine. “The experience brought forward so many emotions for me. Growing up, we didn’t have a lot of anything, but we did have a strong connection to the land and territory. I remember my mom and dad and I were always on it, hunting and gathering. It also reminded me of the wonderful gifts offered to me when I was young. Picking berries, gathering flowers, going into the bush – I saw them as only chores then.
“I also remember making tea with my aunt from the flowers she asked me to pick. She always sat beside me, never reprimanding me, and always teaching. These are the medicines – the land, the plants, the trees, love, kindness, stories – that are passed from elders to young people. This connection to the land and its spirit was big for me – it was that sense of belonging that I never had.”
Lorraine threw herself into culture camps, caring for, and supporting her community’s elders, working with people affected by addictions and trauma, and raising her daughter with her husband. “I want to give her what I didn’t have – security, spirit of self – through tradition and culture. I want to nurture the spark in her, show her how to be humble, teach them how to be with the land, and help her understand that the land has everything to help us through anger and hurt, and the body tells us what we need to do to help ourselves. We need to ask: ‘What are medicines?’, and then listen to what the land tells us. I don’t think we do this enough.”
When working with clients, Lorraine approaches each person with respect and kindness. “Getting to know myself through the land and finding where I belong drives me to work with our young
people, our elders, our community members who have disabilities or mental health issues. Helping everyone I can help themselves without any judgment on who we are supposed to be and what we’re supposed to be doing get me going,” Lorraine says. “All the medicines we need are all around us and in us. They are also always there for us to gather when we need them. This wisdom goes back generations. There is something really beautiful about that.”
Lorraine was also key to the development and to the growing popularity of the Magical Backyard Medicines program. She and her husband, Ross Fire Squirrel Chaser McCrae, are the team of traditional medicine people who share their knowledge of local plants and traditional medicinal recipes with the community, and now with the world. “It made sense to involve Lorraine right away,” says Belinda. “She has always looked after the elders from a land-based place and was already making and using traditional medicines.”
“The collective of people who made the project happen, and of medicine and information are things I feel that have really been helpful to others,” Lorraine says. “I’m on the program’s Facebook page once, maybe twice a day and I’m amazed by the sharing. I didn’t realize how big it was going to get. It’s such a gift.”
Magical Backyard Medicines has been integrated into IFOT and ITLF and since last Spring, the team at the Gitxsan Health Society has been looking at how the tools can support people affected by abuse and neglect. “There are lots of opportunities,” says Lorraine. “The IFOT and ITFL approaches shone a light on what we need to do.”
When she has a moment, Lorraine tries to squeeze as much time as she can to be outside. “People tell me I’m a busy body,” she laughs.
Lorraine plays golf, enjoys driving, and spends whatever free time she has in the forest and near water to gather. Much of what she gathers are ingredients that become elixirs, teas, and tonics that she shares with the community’s elders.
“I love taking my shoes off to walk in the dense moss. I gather feathers. I sit next to the river, throwing rocks in the water. I always fill my pockets with rocks and carry them everywhere. The land is always with me. The silence, tranquility, and being present with myself with no one else around are vital for me.”
Belinda says: “Lorraine and I have known each other since our teens. It’s been an honour to be part of her family circle that witnessed her transformation. She is a rock: she shows up, walks right into trauma and pain, sits next to them, and then puts her feet up. People around her shift and change without knowing it. Wellness is vicarious and it comes forward when one person changes and makes space to bring forward their medicines for others to see. This is the gift of this work. Lorraine’s wellness helps others find theirs.”
“I’ll go wherever I’m needed,” says Lorraine.
For more information about the activities of the Wii’ O’o’m Niin CRN, Magical Backyard Medicines, and IFOT/ITFL, please contact Belinda Lacombe (firstname.lastname@example.org) or Lorraine Half (email@example.com).
(Header Photo: Lorraine and her husband Ross. All photos courtesy of L. Half.)