Promoting resiliency through physical activity

Ivy Richardson and Elder Stella Erasmus Johnson want Indigenous people to care for themselves through physical activity.

For 75-year-old Stella Erasmus-Johnson, a Métis Elder, physical exercise is a crucial part of personal and community wellness. Johnson co-hosted a webinar this month called ‘Promoting Resiliency Through Physical Activity.’

“I am not an active person but I do try to do as much as I can, because I know I need to. I want to be around another 30 years, so I’ll be 105,” Erasmus-Johnson said during the webinar that was a part of the Xpey’ Wellness’ Promoting Resiliency series

“I want to be around for my grandchildren and great-grandchildren. I want to do things with them, teach them my culture and language.”

Erasmus-Johnson believes in the importance of a holistic approach to wellness.

“The mental, the physical, the spiritual, emotional — if one of those isn’t doing well, we have to work towards finding a way to heal that part,” she says. 

“You should work on all four parts, they all connect.” 

Movement as ceremony

Erasmus-Johnson co-hosted the webinar, which took place at Force Boxing and Fitness in Nanaimo, B.C. with Ivy Richardson, a boxing instructor of Nuxalk, Gusgimukw and European descent, and the founder of ‘Red Girl Rising,’ an initiative that provides “safe, low-barrier and professional movement programs.”

Through her work, Richardson highlights the importance of uplifting others in community when building resilience. 

“Indigenous people, we’re very collective, community-based, we don’t really do anything on our own,” says Richardson. “It’s super important that I’m not just elevating myself, but that we’re doing it as a community.” 

“I think it’s great to share what you’re doing,” Richardson said during the live-streamed event. 

“Indigenous people are underrepresented. Representation really matters. So when I see you doing something really well, it inspires me.”

When Richardson was really little, she took change from her mom’s change jar and went to a garage sale. She came back home with her first pair of boxing gloves.

The motivation was with her from a young age, but physical activity is about more than competition for her. She says movement is also a kind of ceremony.

“It helps me to walk in a good way,” says Richardson. “It gives me teachings and that strength to walk with deep cultural teachings.”

Healing through physical activity

During the workshop, after sharing their thoughts and answering questions from the audience, Richardson led Erasmus-Johnson and participants through a 30-minute workout, based on the “seven fundamental movements,” which included deadlifts, squats and lunges. 

The pair warmed up like boxers, punching the air, and doing jumping jacks. Erasmus-Johnson offered modified versions of each exercise for those with varying mobility needs.

When Erasmus-Johnson was younger she was a “fighter,” she explains. 

She can speak of her struggles today because she has learned how to work on “using her words,” she says. While she promotes physical strengthening, she hopes more people learn how to use non-violent communication. It’s part of why she feels the need to spread her message.

“I reach out to people because we’ve all had trauma of some sort,” says Erasmus-Johnson. 

“We have to find what the trauma is and hopefully walk forward with that. We don’t want to forget, but we want to forgive.”

By promoting resiliency through physical activity through outreach and education, Erasmus-Johnson and Richardson are encouraging other Indigenous people to find ways to work through their struggles and care for themselves. 

“When you have something bothering you, you’re not healthy,” says Erasmus-Johnson in the webinar. “Instead of using all that energy in hatred maybe put it towards [learning] to love yourself.” 

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