N’alag̱a / Kaaw Kuuna (Avis O’Brien), was born in Alert Bay, B.C. She belongs to the Kaa’was Staa’stas Eagle Clan from the Village of K’yuusda in Haida Gwaii and the Giga̱l’ǥa̱m Namima of the Lig̱wiłda’x̱w people from Cape Mudge, one of the 18 Tribes of the Kwakwaka’wakw.
N’alaga is a weaver, teacher, dancer, singer and a Land-Based Cultural Empowerment Facilitator who also comes from a family of notable snowboarders. Her Kwakwaka’wakw name N’alaga translates to “woman of light”, or “bringer of light”, and that is exactly what she does through her work—which includes introducing Indigenous people to their traditional arts, land and culture through workshops that focus on topics including addiction, inter-generational trauma and suicide prevention.
In the latest ML podcast, she offers many insights into the historical and current plight of Indigenous people. “The Indigenous side of our family was successfully colonized and assimilated, in the sense that we didn’t grow up with a positive connection to our Indigenous identity… or a connection to land, culture or ceremony in any way. And those are the things that make us strong as a people.”
She speaks candidly about her struggles with addiction as a youth and the complex forces behind it. “Addiction is a normal response to carrying the burdens of genocide, and to trauma. Trauma overwhelms our nervous system and as a result, we live with a dysregulated nervous system. So we’re oscillating between a fight-flight response and disassociation. And that’s where depression lives, and anxiety. Those are the symptoms that lead people to use substances—to regulate their nervous system.”
In her wide-ranging conversation with host Feet Banks, N’alaga also notes examples of reconciliation, starting with her hometown: “Alert Bay is still very divided in that you’ve got the reserve and the non-Indigenous community. But the connection between the Indigenous and non-Indigenous communities is really a beautiful thing to witness.”
Learn more about N’alaga Avis O’Brien at N’alaga Consulting.