Residential school survivor Charlene Belleau has served on various organizations on all levels including provincially and nationally. She currently chairs the First Nations Health Council. (Photo submitted)

Residential school survivor Charlene Belleau has served on various organizations on all levels including provincially and nationally. She currently chairs the First Nations Health Council. (Photo submitted)

Our Hometown: Culturally connected

Health of Indigenous peoples a life-long priority for Charlene Belleau

Seeing First Nations children and youth of today strong and healthy while engaging in cultural activities such as drumming and dancing is what keeps former Esk’etemc First Nation chief Charlene Belleau going.

The chair of the First Nations Health Council and grandmother of two remains a catalyst for change.

“In all of my work, whether it was in community, or whether it was provincially or nationally, health has always been a priority for me,” Belleau, 69, said from her home in Williams Lake.

“To me, that comes from growing up in our communities where issues like residential school and impacts of institutionalization, sexual abuse and violence were at the forefront.”

After acknowledging alcohol abuse as a symptom of trauma, the Esk’etemc First Nation, once known as the “Alcohol Lake Band”, became an international inspiration after the community began a journey towards wellness which was told in the 1985 film “The Honour of All: The Story of Alkali Lake.”

For the past several decades Belleau has advocated for the stories of residential school survivors to be told, and in October 2017 was recognized by the Governor General of Canada with a Meritorious Service Cross for her advocacy for improved health and social programs, and leadership in the campaign to end violence against women.

Read More: Chief urges communities to live violence free

Belleau herself had attended the notorious St Joseph’s Mission residential school located in the San Jose Valley, a few miles from the head of Williams Lake, near the Williams Lake First Nation community of Sugar Cane.

“It’s hard for people to understand how you could be so strong from something so traumatic, but it comes from a place of being able to acknowledge that this has happened,” she said, noting she was a childhood victim of sexual abuse.

“Yes, there were perpetrators, there was violence, but I’m just choosing not to allow that to affect me for the rest of my life, and I’m going to heal from that and move on.”

In 1998 Belleau was among the Esk’etemc First Nation community members, leaders, elders and women to participate in a healing circle at Alkali Lake between the disgraced Roman Catholic bishop, Hubert O’Connor, who was charged with sex crimes, and his accuser.

According to an archived news release by the B.C. Ministry of Attorney General Belleau said the healing circle allowed victims to be in control while having the opportunity to hold O’Connor accountable in their own territory and on their own terms after years of the painful court process.

“Not resolving that kind of historical abuse and trauma whether it be from residential school or abuse and violence within the community to me those are the root causes of why we have high suicide rates, MMIWG, mental health problems, high incarceration rates and our children are in care,” Belleau now said.

“We need to heal and we need to be healthy, and we’re getting there.”

Read More: Human remains found west of Williams Lake near Hanceville Dec. 19

Belleau has also helped lead searches for missing Indigenous people across B.C. including Caitlin Potts whose family had last heard from her in February 2016 from Enderby, and Natasha Montgomery who was one of four women murdered by convicted serial killer Cody Legebokoff. Late last year Belleau assisted with organizing a search for Randolph Quilt before his remains were found west of Williams Lake off Highway 20 near Hanceville.

As she continues to champion for accessible equitable healthcare for First Nations across the province, Belleau believes there is opportunity through B.C. having become the first jurisdiction in the country to pass legislation implementing the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP).

“To me, it is important to keep myself in balance,” she said of traditional ceremonies, allowing her to relax her mind, body and spirit.

“That I don’t just work and not take care of myself because I’ve been doing this kind of heavy work for all of my life and it has its means.”


Do you have a comment about this story? email:
rebecca.dyok@wltribune.com

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Indigenous

Just Posted

Bella Coola Valley. (Scott Carrier photo)
Nuxalk Nation closes recreation, sports fisheries at Bella Coola due to COVID-19 concerns

Nobody is supposed to be travelling, said marine use manager Peter Siwallace

Michelle Jacobs receives her first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine at the Coast Capri Hotel on April 28, 2021. The pop-up clinic was hosted by the First Nations Health Authority. (Aaron Hemens/Capital News)
126 new cases of COVID-19 in Interior Health over the weekend

There are 22 individuals hospitalized due to the virus, and 13 in intensive care

A Cariboo Regional District director and School District 27 trustee, Angie Delainey is also a fourth generation business owner in downtown Williams Lake. (Angie Mindus photo - Williams Lake Tribune)
Angie Delainey appointed Cariboo Regional District representative on regional board

Delainey and Steve Forseth represent the CRD at the North Central Local Government Association

Pauline Schmutz, 75, receives her COVID-19 vaccine from public health nurse Donna McKenzie on Tuesday, April 13 at the community clinic at Thompson Rivers University Williams Lake campus. (Monica Lamb-Yorski photo - Williams Lake Tribune)
Additional COVID-19 vaccine clinics scheduled for Horsefly, Big Lake

Anyone 18 and over who has not received a vaccine yet is encouraged to register

A prowling coyote proved no match for a stray black cat who chased it out of a Port Moody parking lot Friday, May 14. (Twitter/Screen grab)
VIDEO: Little but fierce: Cat spotted chasing off coyote by Port Moody police

The black cat is seen jumping out from under a parked car and running the wild animal out of a vacant lot

Cannabis bought in British Columbia (Ashley Wadhwani/Black Press Media)
Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

Announced Tuesday, May 18 by Public Safety Minister Mike Farnworth, the province added gyms, dance and fitness studios to its list of places where face coverings are mandatory (AP/Steven Senne)
Masks now required at all times inside B.C. gyms, including during workouts

The province added gyms, dance and fitness studios to its list of places where face coverings are mandatory Tuesday

Reinhard “Bud” Loewen of Abbotsford has now been charged with 21 counts of sexual assault related to his massage business. (Facebook photo)
Former Abbotsford masseur now faces 21 counts of sexual assault

Bud Loewen of Bud’s Massage Therapy initally faced three charges

Over the years, police have worked with sketch artists to draw what the boys could have looked like at the times of their deaths. (Vancouver Police Department)
DNA breakthrough expected in cold case involving murdered Vancouver boys, 7 and 8

Forensic analysts are working to identify relatives of the children, whose bodies were found in Stanley Park in 1953

Livestock competitions have been part of the Pacific National Exhibiton for more than a century. (Maple Ridge News files)
B.C. provides $50 million to keep major tourist attractions going

Tour bus companies also eligible for latest COVID-19 aid

Derek Descoteau with his trusty dog Harvey. (Photo submitted)
Friends provide continuing comfort for family in wake of unresolved senseless B.C. murder

Case remains before the courts five years after Derek Descoteau’s abrupt stabbing death in Chemainus

The top photo is of a real carbine rifle, while the bottom photo is the airsoft rifle seized from a Kelowna man on May 15. (Contributed)
RCMP issue warning: ‘Imitation firearms need to be dealt with responsibly’

A man brandishing his airsoft rifle in public had his weapon seized by Mounties on Saturday

Abbotsford Regional Hospital. (Black Press Media files)
Canada marks 25,000 COVID-19 deaths since the pandemic began

6 in every 10,000 Canadians died of COVID-19 since March 9, 2020

Most Read