Just A Bird

11 October 2016
In the spring, I heard strange noises that seemed to be in the ventilation system of my apartment. Perhaps some sort of rodent? I was pregnant and overwhelmed at the time, and also wondered if I told my landlords whether they would use a humane pest removal service. So I didn’t mention it to my landlords, hoping that the little animal would leave on its own (and not take up residence!). I heard the noises, like scuffling or fluttering, a few times over a two-day period. Then nothing. I hoped this meant that the little creature had left the ventilation system, but something did not feel right. I wondered if I should have done more to investigate the sounds.

feathers on filterThen in September I was replacing a furnace filter because the deadbeat landlords don’t do this. There were feathers all over the filter. Startled, I managed to use a flashlight to peer into the narrow slit where the filter goes. I could see the wing of the dead body of a bird, a starling.

My heart sank. Now the noises back in the spring made sense. Somehow the starling got into the ventilation system, and must have been fluttering at an intake grate, the only light it could see.

I felt terrible. A sentient being had been in need, and I had done nothing.

This morning at 5am, nursing my baby back to sleep, I thought of the bird and performed a kind of inner ceremony. I called upon the bird’s spirit, and visualized a conversation with the bird. I apologized to the bird’s spirit and asked for forgiveness. I promised that the next time someone needed help, I would do my best. I also said that I truly would have helped if I had understood that it was a bird who could not escape without help, versus a mouse or squirrel I thought would be able to get back out of the ventilation system.

The starling’s spirit forgave me. I asked if there was any message the starling had for me. The bird said that the promise to help next time was good. That it was in my nature to help others, and to not let external circumstances cause me to stray from what my heart knows is the right thing to do. (The bird also told me that the message of its death within the darkness of the ventilation system was not to warn me away from darkness. In fact, it is my responsibility to illuminate any darkness I encounter. But that is for another writing project.)

Fast forward to today. I took my nine-week-old daughter to the Mommy & Me yoga class at Bayshore Shopping Centre. I could have driven, but I decided to try taking the bus. It was my first time taking my daughter on the bus. The trip there went well because she was asleep! When I got off and walked in the overpass to the Bayshore Shopping Centre at 9:50am, I noticed a small dark bird with white speckles all over within the overpass, huddled on a beam at the entrance into the Bayshore OC Transpo station. (Thank you Safe Wings for identifying the bird: a European starling in non-breeding plumage.)  The bird flew several times into the windows, trying to escape. Then would return to perch on the beam by the entrance.justabird_11oct2016

I quickly determined that there was no way for the bird to get out except the exit at the other end of the overpass. The windows were open but there were grates and screens on them. Especially given I was carrying my baby in a carrier, I couldn’t undo any of the fastens holding the screens on. I figured it would be a two-person job to free the bird. Two people could shoe the bird gently down the overpass corridor towards the exit. Then one person could hold the door open while the other person shoed the bird through.

The yoga class was at 10am, so I went into the mall seeking help and was directed to the Security Desk. But the young security guard on duty said there was nothing that they could do because the bird was in the overpass, which is OC Transpo’s jurisdiction. He said he would call the appropriate OC Transpo number. I asked to make sure that he would actually do this. He said he would so I went to the yoga class, but was concerned.

The yoga class went pretty well (lots of cute babies!!), my daughter let me do maybe 2/3 of the class. The rest of the time I walked and bounced her. And by the end, she was quite fussy, and I suspected she was having gas pains. So I made a hasty departure, hoping that I could get her back to sleep by the time we got on the bus.

To my dismay, the bird was still in the overpass. It had been over an hour since I notified security in the Bayshore mall, and since they had told me they would notify OC Transpo. My daughter was crying and I was trying to sooth her while simultaneously find phone numbers on my ancient slightly broken cell phone and ask for help from those walking by.

I managed to find the number and call OC Transpo Customer Relations. The representative said he would call the appropriate Department. Once again, I just had a feeling the situation might not be addressed quickly. So I texted my partner to find the number to the Wild Bird Care Centre. When I called the Wild Bird Center a volunteer on the line told me they were a very small charity and couldn’t send anyone to help. She gave me advice on how I could try to shoe the bird towards the exit. I explained I had a fussing 9-week-old baby in a carrier and the ceiling of the corridor was very high, so the bird could fly back over me back to the beam near the entrance that lead deeper into the Bayshore station (versus towards the other exit to freedom). She said maybe I could use a blanket to wave above my head. She told me it was OK to tire the bird out so that I could then capture it in the blanket.

This seemed a dubious approach, but I did have a receiving blanket. So I waved it over my head, trying to convince the bird to fly down the long corridor to freedom. But it kept flying back over me to the beam near the wrong exit.

I knew there was another organization that might be able to help, but I couldn’t remember the name. I kept asking passersby for help, and though initially friendly due to my baby, they were all evasive once I asked for help with the bird, though a few seemed sympathetic to the bird’s plight.

Then I saw a Caucasian man with sandy-coloured short hair and steel blue eyes walking with a young child, maybe 4 years old. A fellow parent! Surely he’d be keen to teach his young one about kindness. I greeted him and quickly explained the situation and possible solution. He looked at me with hostility and said, “It’s not important. It’s just a bird. It flew in here, it will find its way out, too.” And walked away before I could say anything.

This interaction really troubled me. It was obvious to me the bird had gotten itself into a situation that it could NOT easily find its way out of. (Who reading this has not done the same?) And why not say he didn’t want to help or couldn’t? Why make up some story about it, and make a blanket statement? It was not important to him. That did not mean it was not important, period.

It was important to me. Especially since that very morning I had received forgiveness from the starling that had died in my ventilation system. And the reminder to be true to my nature. I do believe I am a kind and responsible person. Some of my favourite adventures were rescues, like a mouse, a vole, a green heron, a puppy, among others. I didn’t mind if I looked a bit silly, there in the overpass waving a receiving blanket over my head with my daughter starting to fuss.

But she started to get more and more distraught, likely gas pains. I had to get her home, and reluctantly headed towards the bus. One came shortly, and unfortunately for most of the ride she screamed. I’ll write more about that some other time, because I would like to use public transportation as much as possible, but I feel bad if my baby is crying.

But back to our story, once I got home I was able to post about the situation on Facebook with a photo of the starling in the overpass in case a nearby bird-lover could help. I called the OC Transpo Customer Relations again, and the man said that he had contacted the appropriate department and that a contractor would take care of the situation within the hour. This time I felt more hopeful the situation would be handled well.

And then I was reminded of the name of the organization I had wanted to call when I was still there: Safe Wings Ottawa. Many people on Facebook had the same thought and suggested I contact them. By 12:30pm I reached a volunteer via Facebook, and they said they would look into the situation and follow up with OC Transpo if needed. I was relieved. My baby needed my attention.

At 2pm the Safe Wings volunteer swung by Bayshore’s OC Transpo station to check the overpass. No bird. So one way or another, the bird was out. I hope the rescue was as humane and stress-free as possible. But I don’t know. All I can do is send the bird blessings.

I wish I had been able to just free the bird myself. Or that a passerby had been willing to help me. But I did my best. I don’t think it was a coincidence that a bird needed to be rescued the very morning I asked forgiveness from the bird I had failed. I believe everything is interconnected. And so every being is important. And I personally believe the world would be a better place if the people rushing by in that overpass had actually stopped to try to help a terrified little bird. I think we all pray for kindness should we ever need to be rescued.

It was not “just a bird.” It was an opportunity to make the world just a little better.

For All My Relations,

I’m always been interested in what readers have to say. Have you been in situations like this where you’re not quite able to do what you thought was right? How do you decide when you’ve done enough to help?

I did not know at the time that Elder Jacob Wawatie was passing to the Spirit World when I was attending to this starling. I now think of the video, below, in which he tries to get the logging industry to see the consequences of their logging: a dying baby bird whose nest was destroyed by the logging machines (see especially 8 to 16 minutes into the video). This post is dedicated to Jacob.

The Little Grief: Losing the Exclusive Relationship of Pregancy

Éléa & me (little grief)I was breastfeeding my 6-day-old daughter, Éléa, side-line (both on our sides) when I was overcome with sadness and love. She is a beautiful, healthy, robust little creature with a hearty appetite, and I could feel the gentle tugs from her nursing. Then she drifted off to sleep, and I thought about how our relationship had already changed since her birth.

For the previous nine months, I held her in a full body embrace. Physically and metaphorically, I held her closer to my heart than I could ever hold anyone.

I will never hold her that close again.

Being her mother will be a profound ongoing lesson that everything changes, and of letting go while still loving fiercely and fully.

But right now I cry and grieve a little for what I had with her. Even though I so wanted to meet her and hold her in my arms. Even though wanting to meet her outside my womb was part of what gave me the strength and determination to push past pain and fatigue and push her into the world.

Before, we were connected by the umbilical cord, and her every need had been met through my body. Now, my breast is the closest thing she has to the warm liquid womb-home she once knew, and this is one way I meet her needs. Another way is by holding her as close as I can.

I realize that motherhood teaches us to be less selfish. My daughter is no longer only “mine.” She can be loved and soothed and cared for by her father and so many other people who love her. By birthing her, I lost the exclusivity of pregnancy. And she gained a whole new world of people and other beings to love and be loved by.

My Little Grief is worth this expanded horizon of love.


Job-Hunt Adventure Series: Overqualified

I began my job hunt in January 2016 with high hopes. I had just handed in my PhD Dissertation. With only my oral defence left to do, this freed me up to finally return to full-time work. This was my chance to pull myself out of poverty and debt. I was stoked!

I made use of every (free) career service and career counsellor I could. I revisited notes I had taken during last year’s Beyond the Professoriate Conference (this year’s conference is on May 7 and 14). I revised my résumé over and over and over. Each job application would take me an hour or two so that I could implement all the best practices: tailor my résumé, tailor my cover letter, somehow keep my cover letter under one-page, research the organization, etc.

With all the career counselling appointments, reading up on job-hunting, actually trying to implement what I learned (upgrading my LinkedIn profile, making a snazzy new format to my résumé and cover letters, networking), and applying to one to four postings a day, I was working more than full-time. It was exhausting. But it was paying off, as I got more and more interviews.

But I just couldn’t seem to land a job.

I’m good at building rapport, and I felt good after all the interviews. Although my PhD is in Education, the majority of my contract and volunteer work over the last eight years has been in communications. So I felt qualified, that I had the right experience, and that I was a good fit for most of the jobs I was interviewed for.

After nine interviews, I had six rejections, and I withdrew from the selection process for two jobs. Only one interview resulted in a job: as a Crew Leader for the 2016 Canadian Census. And I’m grateful for that, and happy to be working full-time. But it is a temporary contract, and not in the field I wanted.

In the hopes of helping other job-seekers, especially those who, like me, did a PhD, I want to discuss the feedback I got from one unsuccessful interview: that I was overqualified.

The person who emailed me the bad news that I had not been selected for the position gave some feedback in the email:

Unfortunately, you were not the successful candidate but that’s only because we felt you are overqualified – you could and should be contributing to an organization at a much higher level than required by this role. You were very impressive and gave a great interview.

This person very kindly agreed to a brief phone call with me so I could clarify the feedback. And later sent me a job posting for a position they felt was a better fit!

Let’s pause for a TIP, job-seekers! See if you can get feedback if you don’t get the job. It can’t hurt, since you already didn’t get it. Keep in mind most people are awesome and genuinely want to help others. And who knows, they might then think of you for other opportunities.

Back to our story: My perspective was that I had been out of the full-time work world for years, and I was willing to accept more junior positions as long as they were in interesting organizations and there were opportunities to grow. This was why I applied for the above position.

I sought feedback from colleagues and career counsellors, and one retired manager told me that if a candidate was thought to be too experienced or too educated for a position, managers felt they wouldn’t stay long in the position.

Navigating "overqualified"
Navigating “overqualified”

And a career counsellor thought that perhaps I had been aiming too low. She said the qualifications listed on a job posting were the employer’s wish list, but some qualifications were more important to them than others. And that was not something I could guess from a job description. She suggested I try applying for more senior positions, and let the potential employer decide if I was qualified or not. In other words, don’t take myself out of the running prematurely.

After this interview, I made sure to prepare more thoroughly for the “so why do you want to work here/have this position?” question we sometimes get asked during an interview that can be such a gift. If asked, I emphasize how much I want to work for the organization, and if it’s a more junior position, that I am happy to accept it because the organization is so awesome and the work sounds meaningful and interesting. Something like that to try to address their concern I would not stay long.

Since I am now working full-time and preparing for my PhD defence (in less than two weeks!) I have not had time to research further how to address the “overqualified objection” a potential employer may have.

So I’m planning to ask about this at the 2016 Beyond the Professoriate Conference, an online conference for PhDs and PhDs-to-be who are looking for a non-academic career. Day 1 is on May 7th, and Day 2 is on May 14th. Check it out!

Then maybe I’ll have a follow-up blog to share!

Have you been told you were overqualified? What strategies have you found effective? I’d love to hear in the comments section!

Shine Bright,

River Dialogue

Dawn on Victoria Island, June 2015. ©juliecomber.comI have a confession.


I talk with rivers.





Mostly with the Kichi Sipi (Ottawa River) because I live near Britannia Beach and watch the sunsets there, and travel from the west end of Ottawa by bus or bike to downtown. A lot of songs and poems have come to me while I watch the river along the Ottawa Parkway. More recently, I started doing a kind of meditation, especially if I’m on the bus. I ask the River if she has anything to say to me. Is there anything she needs from me? What is my responsibility to her? A river in New Zealand, Whanganui, was just granted legal personhood. So let’s get talking!

It has been an interesting process. One of the recurring messages to me is “drop your ego.” Pretty good advice to a member of a species notorious for hubris. I don’t know if I’m connecting with the spirit of Kichi Sipi or with my own intuition or if this is fantasy, but there is something compelling and I feel I need to share what I’ve been hearing from the River.

Here’s the most recent river poem, that came during the bus ride to a meeting about Akikodjiwan (Chaudière Falls, on the Kichi Sipi in unceded Algonquin territory ) on the morning of 13 September 2015. I asked the River for guidance about this meeting, and how to interact with the people at the meeting in a good way.

Kichi Sipi, what do you say?

look beyond egos
including your own
the forces of the false gods of capitalism
are constantly seducing you away
from me
from all other beings on this planet
and into an anthropocentric thrall of technology
You ARE a child of the Universe
no less than the trees and the stars
but no MORE than the trees and the stars
no more than any other species on this planet
your species has gained powers undreamed of before you evolved
you need to grow up and wield these powers responsibly
you ARE subject to the same laws of the Universe as everyone else
the same limits of energy and resources this one mother earth can provide
you need to connect with your heart
people don’t see me
even when they do see me, stand in me, swim in me
still, some don’t connect to me
don’t truly love me
they are somewhere else

but the heart connects even if your brain is deceived
your heart knows me and the light in everyone

connect. drink the water. you are the water.
and so you are Love.


Let me know what you think. Do you talk with rivers? If folks are interested, I’m happy to post more of these river dialogues.

Opportunity to Honour Sacred Chaudière Falls and Nearby Lands

Do you love waterfalls? I know I do! I love being near falls and rapids. Recently, I feel I understand better why I love waterfalls. Of course they are beautiful and powerful and sound amazing. But Elders in Ottawa and in Guyana have taught me that waterfalls and rapids, the places where waters roar, are the places where Spirits gather. Here in Ottawa, we have a very special waterfall that has been mostly hidden from view by industrial development: Chaudière Falls. Now there is a proposal to redevelop the area, which offers an opportunity to make wise decisions about the future of this sacred area.


For thousands of years, the ancestors of the Algonquin people prayed and offered tobacco at “The Kettle of Boiling Waters”, the mighty Chaudière Falls. But over the past 200 years, the islands and shores nearby were developed for industry. The Ottawa River’s flow was dammed up to operate paper mills and power stations. This place of Spiritual Power was harnessed to yield Hydroelectric Power.

Though in a weakened state, you can still feel the Spiritual Power of the Falls. And late Algonquin Elder William Commanda had an inspiring Vision, a Plan for the area, that would restore it as a spiritual place. A place for peoples to converge and learn about Indigenous Peoples. A place where people can heal.

Turning this Vision into Reality has so far been a slow process. But now there is an opportunity – if we all get engaged and work together!

Current Situation

Windmill Development Group recently signed an “Agreement of Purchase and Sale” for Domtar’s property, which includes Chaudière Island and part of downtown Gatineau. Chaudière Island is right next to Chaudière Falls, and was part of Commanda’s overall Vision for the area. Windmill Development Group also has a Vision for the area, expressed by co-founder Jonathan Westeinde: “Our vision is to create Canada’s most sustainable mixed-use community right here in the nation’s capital.”

Are these two Visions for this area competing or compatible? Let us take a look by going through the four main aspects of Grandfather Commanda’s Vision:

Elder William Commanda's Vision for the Chaudière area1. Free the Chaudière Falls. I think that is a separate process, and could happen regardless of Windmill’s proposed development. What do you think?

2. Create a City Park and Historic Interpretive Centre. For me, this is the point of potential conflict, because the Park and Historic Interpretive Centre were envisioned to be on Chaudière Island. I feel this is a very different use of the land than Windmill’s proposal to build a sustainable mixed-used community (with residential and commercial areas) on Chaudière Island. The only remaining condition of the “Agreement of Purchase and Sale” is that the area be rezoned for “a mixed-use community-scale development”. Personally, I think the area should be rezoned as “Sacred”!

3) Build a Peace Building Meeting Site; and 4) Build an Indigenous Centre. Both the Peace Building Meeting Site and Indigenous Centre were envisioned to be on Asinabka (Victoria Island). Asinabka is not part of Windmill’s proposal for the area, and could still go ahead regardless of what happens with Chaudière Island.

Quick recap: Windmill’s redevelopment sounds great and green, but would be on sacred land next to the sacred Chaudière Falls. What impact would the redevelopment have on achieving the Grandfather Commanda’s Vision for the area? What are Algonquin leaders, elders an community members saying? In my humble opinion, this project requires genuine, fair, and thorough consultation with Algonquin communities. It means really listening to what Algonquins want for their Land and Water. And then supporting their decision. Below are a few Algonquin views that I know of, please add more in your comments on this blog!

Some Algonquin Views

Windmill Development held a Public Consultation on 11 December 2013. Claudette Commanda, Elder William Commanda’s granddaughter, opened the Consultation event and spoke powerfully about her Grandfather’s Vision for the area. I have not been able to find any quotes in the media about what she said. Here’s what I recall. She told Windmill Development: “Now you know who we are. You know how to reach us.” And invited Windmill to meaningfully consult with the Algonquin Community about the proposed redevelopment.

Kitigan Zibi Algonquin Chief Gilbert Whiteduck stated in the Citizen that “I don’t believe this project should go forward without the indigenous centre. It should be the jewel in the crown” of any redevelopment of the area. Chief Whiteduck also said he and his community members are concerned about the future of Chaudière Falls, and “we will ensure to the best of our ability that our voice is heard.”

Algonquin Elder Albert Dumont just released a blog post about the sacredness of Chaudière Falls. One of his key concerns is that no matter what happens with the Windmill proposal, people need to have better access to the Falls to perform Ceremony, to pray, and to offer tobacco.

What You Can Do

This is the time to seize the opportunity to reclaim the Chaudière lands and waters that have languished under the toxic weight of Industry. It is a time to honour the spiritual power and importance of the Chaudière Falls and adjacent lands. It is time for everyone to express our views, hopes, and Dreams for this sacred place, right in Canada’s Capital. Will Canada’s Capital also be Canada’s Heart? It is a time to listen deeply and then act in solidarity with what the Algonquin community wants for the area.

Windmill developments is inviting feedback about their proposed redevelopment, called (for now) “The Isles/Les Îles”, until 31 December. Rodney Wilts from Windmill Developments (rodney@windmilldevelopments.com) responded to my question about whether there would be future opportunities for input after 31 December: “Regarding additional opportunities for input, we see community consultation as an ongoing process. Much of our ongoing consultation is happening now with direct meetings with groups such as Ecology Ottawa, the Ottawa Riverkeeper, Heritage Canada, Just Food, the Algonquins etc. Our next full public meeting will be sometime in the spring.” Do send in your views now (see below). And please stay tuned!

Keep Shining,

Please send your feedback to Windmill Development Group about the proposed “The Isles” redevelopment of areas near Chaudière Falls to Rodney Wilts at: rodney@windmilldevelopments.com
Or snail mail comments (postmarked Dec 31):
Attn: Sheena Whitten
PACE Public Affairs & Community Engagement
Suite 201, 145 Spruce Street
Ottawa ON K1R 6P1 

PS – I would like to share a lovely note Judith Matheson posted on FB about sending in feedback to Windmill:

“Please emphasize the importance of honouring the history, the sacred and the spiritual significance of Chaudière Falls not just to the Algonquin people but to the deep spiritual needs of these times to remember the wisdom of our own ancient ancestors. Who lived in harmony and connection with nature and the Earth. If you wish contact Rodney Wilts of the Windmill Development Group as they welcome constructive feed back. Suggest he check out http://albertdumont.com/the-kettle-of-boiling-waters-chaudiere-falls-algonquin-territory/ and express how what you read made you personally feel around the significance of how this project is done and its affect on our world.

View of Parliament Hill from AsinabkaPlease share this info on Facebook and via e-mail as the old year ends and the new era begins. This project is not just about us. It is about our future generations and how we can play a role in helping Windmill and our own society relate to and in some way also experience by reading and being reminded of the true history, spirituality and sacredness of this area, as shared by Elder Albert Dumont. To relate to and ourselves connect with a deeper understanding of what he is talking about is what we have all lost. In nature the great healer we must strive to create deep spiritual understanding that all original peoples keep hoping we will remember.

That what we do to the Earth is reflective of what we are doing to ourselves. It is time we work together towards bringing back the harmony and flow of nature and this project has extraordinary potential and possibilities for Canadians to do just that.”

#TarFree613 Song & Video Project!

I was minding my own business, diligently doing data analysis, when a Song came along. And one thing lead to another. And now its a project I hope you can help with!

Like many people in Ottawa, I first heard about the risk of the Tar Sands coming to Canada’s capital from an Ecology Ottawa email on 25 June:

“It has just been reported that TransCanada Corp is hoping to build a massive $5 billion pipeline that will transport 850,000 barrels a day of tar sands oil through the south end of the City of Ottawa and across the Rideau River. The plan is to retrofit a natural gas pipeline into a pipeline that will carry crude oil from Alberta’s tar sands to the East Coast of Canada and they want to run the pipeline through our city!” – Ecology Ottawa

This is a Terrible, No Good, Very Bad Idea. Go to http://tarfree613.ca to see why.

While sitting in Ecology Ottawa’s first public forum about the pipeline on 15 July, I was already writing a song. Then it was announced the twitter hashtag for this campaign is #TarFree613. I thought, “That’s a great song title!”

A few days later while making curry for Kevin Guerette and Rebecca Lantz, we jammed on the #TarFree613 Song. In walked Fedor Ilitchev, who just happens to make videos. Kevin just happens to be a music producer and gifted guitarist. Rebecca just happens to be awesome. We realized in that one kitchen, we had all the ingredients for an awesome project: to record the song and make a music video that will support Ecology Ottawa and other fabulous organizations with their public outreach about the proposed pipeline. Well, all the ingredients except one: cash. So a week later, we shot the live demo of the song for this Indiegogo funding campaign: http://igg.me/at/tarfree613song/x/1011401

The lyrics and demo video are below! NO to the Energy East Pipeline is YES to the future WE define!

Keep Shining (& Stay Tar Free),
UPDATES: We got our funding! And released the track. See below! 

#TarFree613 Lyrics – Vela, August 2013

Open my email
And what do I see?
Energy East is
Heading towards 613

BC stopped the pipelines
Heading out West
Big Oil’s new target
Is the East Coast instead

I don’t know about you, but me
I just wanna be TarFree
Its our chance to stop the flow
Raise our voices, and here we go!

Chorus: TarFree613! TarFree613! TarFree613! TarFree! X2

No to this Pipeline
No to all Pipelines
Dec-Line 9
Step away form the fault lines
We don’t have time
For this crazy climate Crime x2

Chorus: TarFree613! TarFree613! TarFree613! TarFree! X2

1.Cuz’ we don’t want
Tar Sands kills
and Pipelines spills
2. We don’t want
A Canadian Mordor
And all of its horror
3. We don’t want
Dead wildlife
And Indigenous strife
4. We don’t want
Corporate greed
And manufactured need
5. We don’t want
Fossil fuel addiction
And all its afflictions
6. We don’t want
Toxic leaks
And poisoned creeks
7.We don’t want
Climate Chaos
That will surely slay us
8. And we don’t want…

Bridge: More things, more bling, more rings, more cha-ching X2

Cuz’ what we want is blue skies above
And what we want is endless fierce love
And what we want is clean energy
And what we want is a green economy
And what we want is sustainability
And what we want is reciprocity
And what we want is Ecojustice for all
And what we want is to answer the call

And we get what we want….

Video Credits: #TarFree613, by Vela (Julie Comber) Aug 2013. Guitar composition by Kevin Guerette. Performed by Vela, Kevin, & Rebecca Lantz. Video by Fedor Ilitchev.

We released the track on 10 October!

Raspberry Placebo

I gently pick each raspberry with gratitude and with the Intention that the berry will be Medicine. A delicious, natural, side-effect free Medicine for me and anyone else who consumes the raspberries.

I’m taking Dr. Lissa Rankin’s “Take Back Your Health” teleclass, which allows students to go deeper into the Six Steps to Heal Yourself described in Lissa’s bestselling Mind Over Medicine. In the first call of the teleclass, Lissa talked about the placebo-effect. Most of us have heard of placebos, but few of us realize just how exciting the placebo effect is! Its not just something Big Pharma needs to control in their Gold Standard double-blind placebo controlled trials. Its something YOU can harness to potentially avoid Big Pharma’s drugs!

A placebo does not have to be prescribed by a doctor. The healing relationship you have with your doctor, acupuncturist, shaman, or Elder is very important to help any kind of healing strategy to work. And if a doctor lovingly gives you a sugar pill or saline injection, you’re probably off to the healing races! But you can also prescribe your very own placebo to yourself. For Lissa, this is Green Juice. And the more often you take the placebo, the better. The Green Juice is a good example, since Lissa drinks that 4-5 times a day.

In the first call, I was delighted to hear Dr. Anne Davin (Lissa’s co-pilot for the teleclass) speak on Indigenous ways of understanding health & dis-ease. I was so excited, I just had to call in and say so! I had the privilege to interview Algonquin Elder Albert Dumont about Lissa’s book (guest blog post here), and I deeply value Indigenous ways of understanding and healing illness. Albert was ideal to speak with about Lissa’s book because he is living proof we can heal ourselves! Whenever I get discouraged about my symptoms, I just remember that Albert recovered from a broken back, including healing his paralyzed arm that “experts” said he would never move again. With that example in mind, I know anything is possible!

Given the first teleclass talked about placebos, I thought it would be helpful to write a bit about a beautiful suggestion from Albert that I just tried out. Albert told me that according to his tradition, wild berries are very healing. They are Medicine. And a way to make them an even more potent Medicine is to pick the berries as a Ceremony, with the Intention that each berry will be Medicine.

add salt lamp goodness to those berries!If you like the idea of berries as your placebo, here’s what Albert suggested. Go find a patch of wild berries. If laying tobacco down or calling in the four directions is meaningful to you, go for it! And of course you can Pray and set your Intention before you start picking. Then as you pick each berry, stay with that Intention that the berry will be Medicine. Acknowledge everything around you, such as the birds, bugs, plants, and rocks you encounter while picking. Gratitude is the attitude. When you get home with your berry treasure, make jam or freeze them. You can freeze them individually on a cookie sheet, then put them in ziplock bags. Then you can savour a few berries whenever you need your placebo-hit. They are a frozen flavourful healthy alternative to a sugar pill you can take many times a day! And who needs an apple a day when you can have berries many times a day?

To make even more Marvellous Medicine for myself, I combined the raspberry picking with a Ceremony my brother and I do every year to honour the memory of Edna, our beautiful Guyanese nanny whose unconditional love is with us always. We make jam each year, adding a bit of the last year’s batch to the new year’s batch. And so we stay physically and spiritually connected to the last batch of jam she made for us in 2009.

As I sit and write this, I am savouring a few frozen berries. They remind me of that day picking, both under clouds and then under strong sun. They remind me of All My Relations with me then, that Albert told me to acknowledge. The trees, chokecherries, butterflies, flies, thorns, sun, clouds, breeze, and stones. The raspberries remind me of Edna’s unconditional love. Of Albert’s Ceremonies. Of Lissa’s advice. And each raspberry reminds me I will heal.

Keep Shining,

Mind Over Medicine: Time to Renew My Prescription!

outside my wooden window. ©juliecomber.com
Beautiful Rupununi just outside my wooden window. ©juliecomber.com

I lay in bed crying, under my mosquito net, one infected knee so swollen and painful I could barely walk, my ear infections aching, small abscesses in my armpits and other places I won’t mention, my guts also feeling unmentionably icky, and covered in a dry irritated and irritating rash. Outside the closed wooden windows was sunlit savannah grass, red dirt trails, countless birds, and the nearby emerald rainforest. And my Rupununi friends. My tears were not due to the physical pain and discomfort, but my frustration of being sick, alone, inside, wondering when I would finally, really, live.

Today’s release of Dr. Lissa Rankin’s new book Mind Over Medicine: Scientific Proof You Can Heal Yourself prompted me to revisit that dark time. Part of my intense frustration back then was I felt I “got it” about having the power to heal myself, and truly believed in my ability to heal. But I was still sick. Why?

It was October 2011, and I had hit rock bottom with my health. Again. Even in my beloved Guyana paradise. I was finishing up data collection for my PhD in beautiful North Rupununi communities full of beautiful Makushi Amerindian friends who were very concerned about my health. I had my laptop, and the generator happened to be on that day, and the slow satellite Internet was working. So one thing I could do in the dim indoor light was check my email. In sailed Lissa’s Newsletter. I had started following Lissa’s blog on OwnignPink.com because her posts about health really resonated with me. And then I got hooked on her “Inner Pilot Light” daily messages.

When I read the Newsletter about Lissa putting her one-on-one consults on sale, I managed to dig my credit card out of my packsack and paid up. I was an exhausted PhD Candidate out of funding, and not quite sure how I’d pay off my credit card purchase, and I didn’t care. My health was worth it. If I could have figured out on my own how to heal myself, I would have done it already. Time to get help.

I had my phone-consult once I was back in Canada and my doctor had some labwork done beforehand. It was lovely to talk with Lissa, healing vibes just emanated from the phone. I had filled out a very thorough and holistic patient intake form, and Lissa had gone through my labwork, too. It was possible that I had mild hypothyroidism, but more interesting to Lissa was this PhD thang, because it was clearly the source of much of my stress.

“Do you really have to finish your PhD, Julie?” She asked.

Wow. This was a difficult and very important question. Of course I had asked myself this very same question many times before, but there was something about Lissa asking that made me go deeper and be more attentive to my answer. I had lots of reasons why I felt I should keep at it. I felt a sense of duty towards the communities in the Rupununi that I had worked with. I was so close to finishing, how could I stop now? And I felt that the PhD would help me achieve my Dreams.

“OK,” said Lissa, “since you are determined to finish, what if you absolutely knew that for the next four or six or twelve months that it takes you to write this Thesis, you’d have these symptoms you described. And as soon as you finish, you will heal. Would you still want to work on it until you finish?”


The rest of the consult focused on what to do so I would be able to finish my PhD and still be happy and healthy. The final step was for me to write my own Prescription – and act on it! So that was my introduction to The Prescription, which you can now read all about in Mind Over Medicine.

As a recovering scientist (my first MSc is in genetics; Yes, folks, I know how to wield a pipette), I appreciate Lissa’s careful and thorough review of the scientific literature on our ability to heal ourselves. As someone with chronic allergic and digestive illnesses that I knew in my bones, in my soul, could not be fixed with a pill, I appreciate her message that yes, oh yes, we can heal. From almost anything.

In the third part of Mind Over Medicine, you learn how to write your own Diagnosis by answering a series of questions. These are the same questions I filled out in my patient intake form for my one-on-one with Lissa. Then, you write your Prescription. While your Prescription may include following your doctor’s conventional medical prescriptions, it will likely include holistic changes that will bring about the relaxation response, which will allow your body to heal. A key thing is to have unshakable belief you can heal, just like Algonquin Elder Albert Dumont had when he healed his paralyzed arm (Albert is a poster boy for self-healing!).

I dug up my Prescription from January 2012, and had things like “take one day off a week for my music and writing”, “eat more veggies and diversify the kinds of veggies by juicing”… and “commit to getting my Thesis deposited by 31 August 2012.”

Ouch. Its May 2013, and guess what I am still working on?!

While it does not make me particularly happy to own up to the fact I have not kept some key commitments to myself, perhaps my story may be helpful for others to hear. I still have nagging illnesses and fatigue, and I will write more in a future post about my ongoing conversations with my immune system (AKA my Inner Warrior) and my work to re-program my subconscious mind.

For now, three tips to get the maximum benefit from Lissa’s fabulous book:

  1. Once you write your Prescription, act on it!!!
  2. Make sure your Prescription is written down and posted where you can see it.
  3. Be honest with yourself if it is not working for you. If you are still sick, did you really follow your Prescription? If you did, does it need to be revised?

The next best thing to a consult with Lissa is her book. Whether you’re sick and know you can heal, or are healthy and want to stay that way, Mind Over Medicine is the best medicine! An now, I have my own Prescription to renew…

fire danceKeep Shining Bright,


You can get Mind Over Medicine online, and it was launched in bookstores on 7 May. To learn more about Dr. Lissa Rankin and her work, go to http://lissarankin.com.

Do you have stories about self-healing? What do you think about our power to heal ourselves? Please share your comments!

Hungry For Our Landscapes

We humans are adapted for the sensory world Nature provides. The sun-dappled non-linear entanglements of a forest, the feel of the sun on our hands stroking tawny blades of savannah, the scents and sounds of a rainforest teeming with Life. Contrast this to the lines and rectangles and grey asphalt and mechanical noise and pollution-stench of many Cities. According to Lee Maracle and others, there is a connection between violence against the Land and violence against women. She argues we are hungry for the landscapes our Ancestors lived in, and when we cannot satiate this hunger in cityscapes, we act out. We inflict our maladapted rage on others.

102_0023I got the news on the Spring Equinox that Kokom Louise Wawatie had passed to the spirit world. This Wonder Woman Warrior had dedicated much of her life and irresistible energy to protecting Mother Earth, to fighting for these Landscapes that keep us humans sane. (This blog post is about one of Kokom’s recent campaigns.) As I sat on a OC Transpo bus barreling along the Parkway, watching the still wintry snow and tree-lined Ottawa River, the song “Hungry for Our Landscapes” came. The chorus and title are inspired by Lee Maracle’s talk at the fabulous “First Voices! First Women Speak! 2012 Gathering“. The bridge, that every People formed circles and had drums, is from Elder Albert Dumont. And the song is dedicated to Kokom Louise. May we carry her bright light in our hearts always. Migwech.

Hungry For Our Landscapes
by Vela, composed on Equinox 2013 (not recorded. yet.)

stick cracks under my bare foot
i feel the land under me
dreaming my way forward
how could i never hug a tree?

we walk on the Turtle’s back
connect to the Light above
sit grounded on Mother Earth
centered in seven directions of Love

we are hungry for our Landscapes
for Earth, Water, Wind, and Sun
we are hungry for our Landscapes
beneath the Great Sky we are one

if you find someone in rage
if your friend is in despair
take them to the Forest
they’ll find their balance there

when i see a tree it calls me
every blade of grass knows my name
every berry an explosion of flavour
and the river sweeps away my pain

we are hungry for our Landscapes
for Earth, Water, Wind, and Sun
we are hungry for our Landscapes
beneath the Great Sky we are one

every People formed a circle
every People had a drum
every People honoured their Land
can you remember where you’re from?

honour the Land you walk on
ask guidance from those who know
whoever has tended this Land
they can teach you how to flow

we are hungry for our Landscapes
for Earth, Water, Wind, and Sun
we are hungry for our Landscapes
beneath the Great Sky we are one

(other songs at http://juliecomber.bandcamp.com)

Sacred Fire: Song for Chief Spence

I had the honour of singing “Sacred Fire” to Chief Spence yesterday. I hope it gave her Spirit energy, and gave her yet more evidence of all the Love and Light being sent her way. I hope many songs will be written to honour her and the Elders fasting in solidarity with her, Raymond Robinson and Jean Sock.

IMG_20130109_104132At “Camp Spence”, I’ve had the privilege to spend time at the Sacred Fire getting to know the wonderful wise people there. I helped tend a Sacred Fire for the South March Highlands in 2011, so this Sacred Fire felt like a natural entry point to get to know the community on Victoria Island supporting Chief Spence. While praying at the Sacred Fire, I got the first stirrings of the song in honour of her, below.

I learned so much and will write more later, but for now would just like to mention that what Chief Spence is doing is more accurately called a ceremonial fast, not a hunger strike. I changed the lyrics of “Sacred Fire”, below, thanks to Thomas explaining this to me. Greg MacDougall also touches on this in his article about the meaning of Chief Spence’s fast.

I would also like to encourage everyone to pray for Chief Spence.  Pray that the meeting between Prime Minister Harper, the Governor General, and the Chiefs tomorrow truly is a baby step towards meaningful change. And whenever you can, counter the vile negative press and racist remarks about Chief Spence and about Indigenous peoples. Drown out the hate with Love!

Keep Shining,

Sacred Fire – 4 Jan 2013 (not recorded yet)

The brave warrior woman waits
In a Teepee on Sacred Land
The North wind outside so harsh and cold
But inside her strong heart brilliant to behold

Chief Spence is a new true Leader
While Harper is stuck in colonial ways
Personal attacks and negative press
Cannot dim her courage and goodness

warming fire at Camp Spence 9 Jan 2013 (pictures should not be taken of Sacred Fires)
warming fire at Camp Spence 9 Jan 2013 (pictures should not be taken of Sacred Fires)

Sacred Fire
Sacred fire burning bright
Sacred Fire
Sacred fire day and night

She gets physically weaker
But her spirit and heart grow strong
Her message is calling for Unity
Love is the answer, love is the answer!

Chief Spence, in ceremonial energy
harnessing ancient earth mother wisdom
The Creator wants us happy and grateful
Work with the Land, work with the Land!

Sacred Fire
Sacred fire burning bright
Sacred Fire
Sacred fire day and night

What if it was all up to you?
What if fasting was all you could do?

Would you sacrifice
roll the dice
pay the price
risk your life
for the ones who needed you?

Silver Frost at Camp Spence 9 Jan 2013Sacred fire on Victoria Island
You can hold that flame in your heart
The world is changing and shifting around us
With our hearts and souls connected, we can trust.

Sacred Fire
Fire burning in my heart
Sacred Fire
Fire burning in your heart
Sacred Fire
Fire burning in our hearts
Sacred Fire
Fire burning in one heart.