One by one, area residents tossed handfuls of lavender, sweetgrass and sage onto crackling flames outside the Dena’ina Wellness Center as they remembered their loved ones.
Dozens of participants gathered to comfort and support one another on Wednesday at the event called “Nen shi ela,” or “You and Me,” hosted by the Kenaitze Indian Tribe.
Julie Dravis, director of behavioral health for the tribe, said healing gatherings are held throughout the year when residents experience hardship, usually driven by vocal community members and the tribal council.
Wednesday’s event was tailored to those affected by suicide.
“As long as I’ve worked for the tribe, whenever there’s been some type of loss or tragedy in the community, we always try to come together as a community, which usually involves drumming and food and people getting together,” Dravis said.
Before listening to an array of healing songs performed by a drum circle, participants could enjoy food, company and the warmth of the fire outside at the Raven Fire Circle.
The plants provided to throw into the fire are selected for their healing and cleansing properties, said J.R. Myers, of Soldotna.
Dravis said the gatherings are especially helpful to people who may have just lost someone close to them because they use the creation of bonds to spur the healing process, something, she said, is supported by both traditional practices and modern science.
“We know that mental illnesses and mental disorders… when people are having behavioral health needs, that they often feel disconnected and isolated, and so helping them to become connected to others is known in the community — traditionally as well as in science and the field of psychology — reconnection, it creates healing for people,” she said.
Reach Megan Pacer at firstname.lastname@example.org.