Melaney Gleeson-Lyall: A Bridge Between Nations

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SEEKING EVE MONDAY

“I want to see changes, and I have to be a vessel of change; this is a spiritual act of worship.”

By Christina Crook | Twitter: @cmcrook

Melaney Gleeson-Lyall spent a recent Saturday learning how to put together a gillnet for the fishing season ahead, hulling and freezing 20 pounds of freshly picked strawberries, and picking up grocery supplies to cook for the Saturday dinner at the c̓əsnaʔəm protest site. Melaney’s Coast Salish roots are from Musqueam and Lyackson/Nanoose Nations, and she and her people are calling for protection of an ancient village and burial site.

Fostered at 10 days old and considered part of the “60’s scoop of First Nations children,” she says, Melaney was raised by a non-native single mom before being adopted as a teenager into a blended family. In her adopted family, she’s the youngest of 10 children and, upon meeting her biological parents later in life, she learned she has 17 siblings altogether.

It’s a history she’s been seeking and a family she embraces.

A First Nations entrepreneur and self-described “Jill-of-all-trades,” Gleeson-Lyall has worked in operations, admin and is currently developing a product for the Aboriginal Tourism industry. She is also a consummate cook who cut her culinary chops at the prestigious Dubrulle French Culinary School, leading her to land a winning spot on HGTV’s Recipe to Riches (Episode 4). Her Savoury Bannock-topped Pie, brim with butternut squash, roasted hazelnuts and a sweet potato crust, is now a President’s Choice product in stores across Canada.

“I have often sensed the presence of God in my life,” says Melaney, “though it took me a long time to become a Christian. Even though I had been involved in church all of my life, I really needed to see people live congruently with the words they shared about Christianity.”  

“It took a camp counsellor to fall ill with leukemia, live her last months in a hospital and share the love of Creator God and the words of Transformer Jesus for me to see the way, the truth and the light. Since then, I have always been searching my heart for more;  to open my heart to more of who God is.”

In her own words …

Faith to me means … knowing that the Creator is all encompassing. There is one Creator, and I am learning to discover and see him through the cultures of the world.

What I mean by that is I trust and acknowledge the Creator of all things. He has made every grain of sand, every raindrop, every weed, every mosquito, every tongue, tribe and nation. Sometimes I question why, like, what is the purpose of a mosquito? Those moments of wonder intrigue me! Although, I know a First Nations story that explains their creation! That’s for another day.

I have often sensed the presence of God in my life. And I have also had experiences of evil spirits too. Some may call that intuitive, but those are times I cannot ignore the presence of the Creator and the destroyer. I have faith that the Creator of the universe has my back!

Creator God, Transformer Jesus and G.S., the Great Spirit, touch our lives and are present always. It is in allowing my heart and my hands to be open to their presence that I discover and love. I am not a mistake, nor are any nations, or tribes in this world. I am blessed by two worlds, being fostered and adopted into a non-native family and having an earthly heritage in the Coast Salish peoples of Southern British Columbia. Our cultures reveal Creator God and his creativity and his heart!

Transformer Jesus is a tribal man and discovering my roots and biological families has opened a door to a new outlook and an ancient lifestyle of a very spiritual tribal nation. Creator God, Transformer Jesus and The Great Spirit revealed themselves as three and as one to the First Nations before any European contact. I love the traditions and the oral stories of the Great Flood, the three Chiefs who came and the One who returned, the cleansing ceremonies and the rebirthing ceremonies, the dances and songs to the Creator. We are not a mistake, and God granted the same Spirit to every nation. It is only through an open heart and open hands to tune into the heart of the Creator that we will see the beauty in cultural diversity as intended from the beginning of time.

When I was little I … was fostered and lived in a non-native home. My foster mother was a widowed, single mom with six children and brought me in as her seventh, chosen!  (Another amazing story.) In elementary school I participated and excelled in many sporting activities. I understand now that it was a way of proving my personal value. I understand my emotions as an adult: I was wounded by feeling unwanted by the family I was born into; I excelled to receive the accolades. I never wanted my foster family to come watch any events as a child because I was aware of our differences in skin colour. I didn’t want to know where I came from as encouraged by my foster mother.

I was eventually adopted and blessed within this family, with a new Dad, and I chose my new last name and had nine siblings and a large extended family. My Mom always encouraged me to find my biological families, to delve into the First Nations Arts and kept a door open for me to find my way home, physically and spiritually. My Mom was a warrior and prayed and, I’m sure, conversed with Creator God on behalf of all of her children! I’m so thankful for her legacy of strength and courage and a home welcome to diversity. I am now blessed with two worlds, two cultures and I now get to be a bridge between them.

My days are filled … with discovering my place in this world. Each day unfolds with dreams and imagination. They quickly turn to the mundane tasks and time wasters of cooking, cleaning or watching TV. But my heart skips a beat when I think of creating art–discovering my culture through creativity.

I have recently begun renovating a space for a studio in my birth father’s home on the reserve, the traditional place of my ancestors. I want to learn how to make cedar drum frames, and mold and string leather to make traditional First Nations hand drums. I want to learn to draw and design the images that represent my indigenous roots. I want to put a carving tool to a piece of aromatic yellow cedar and tell a story of the moon. I want to sit beside master artists and absorb as much as I can.

I want to continue learning the traditions and protocols of the Coast Salish peoples. I desire to discover the intent of Creator God in our ceremonies and traditions. I long to hear the history of my biological families and weave my own story into their timelines, blending my two worlds! This is my living faith, knowing and trusting Creator God and the big picture of a majestic masterpiece as it is woven within time and eternity.

And I am learning to stand up and use my voice.  

One of my elementary report cards had a statement from my teacher “Melaney has a sense of justice for others.” I was five years old! Protesting injustice in the world has become an everyday event. This means educating myself and passing on information to others.  Presently, I am standing on guard for an ancient village and burial site of the Musqueam People so that my ancestor’s unearthed bodies can be put to rest, and condominiums not built on top of them. It is attending screenings and reading articles on the tar sands and oil pipelines that plague the face of Mother Earth. It is standing with others fighting against human trafficking and modern-day slavery.

I want to see changes, and I have to be a vessel of change; this is a spiritual act of worship.  


The thing is… the Earth is the Creator’s and everything in it! Our blood will one day return to the waters, our bones will return to the earth and our spirit and souls will return to our Creator. I will be held accountable for each and every day, action, thought and the state of my own heart. I hope that I can be refined by a prayer life that reflects the heartbeat of the Creator. May I welcome the stranger into my life and weave together a story that honours those who have walked the earth before me. That I would walk in a good way from the rising of the sun to the cresting of the moon. I hope I will be attentive to the presence of Emmanuel, God with us, with every breath of life and every prompting of the Great Spirit.

A Native Prayer by Lakota Chief Yellow Lark 1887

Oh Great Spirit,
Whose voice I hear in the winds
and whose breath gives life to all the world,
hear me.
I am small and weak.
I need your strength and wisdom.
Let me walk in beauty
and let my eyes ever behold the red and purple sunset.
Make my hands respect the things you have made
and my ears sharp to hear your voice.
Make me wise, so that I may understand the things
you have taught my people.
Let me learn the lesson you have hidden
in every leaf and rock.
I seek strength not to be greater than my brother or sister
but to be able to fight my greatest enemy–myself.
Make me always ready
to come to you with clean hands and straight eyes
So when life fades as a fading sunset
my spirit may come to you without shame.

Great Spirit of love,
come to me with the power of the North.
Make me courageous when the cold winds of life
fall upon me.
Give me strength and endurance for everything
that is harsh,
everything that hurts,
everything that makes me squint.
Make me move through life ready to take what comes
from the North.

Spirit who comes out of the East,
come to me with the power of the rising sun.
Let there be light in my word.
Let there be light on the path that I walk.
Let me remember always that you give the gift of a
new day.
Never let me be burdened with sorrow by not
starting over.

Great Spirit of creation,
send me the warm and soothing winds
from the South.
Comfort me and caress me when I am tired and cold.
Enfold me as your gentle breezes enfold your leaves
on the trees.
And as you give to all the earth your warm,
moving wind,
Give to me so that I may grow close to you in warmth.
Great life-giving Spirit,
I face the West,
the direction of the sundown.
Let me remember every day that the moment will come
when my sun will go down.
Never let me forget that I must fade into you.
Give me a beautiful color.
Give me a great sky for setting,
and when it is time to meet you,
I come with glory.

And Giver of all life,
I pray to you from the earth,
help me to remember as I touch the earth
that I am little and need your pity.
Help me to be thankful for the gift of the earth
and never to walk hurtfully on the world.
Bless to love what comes from mother earth
and teach me how to love your gifts.

Great Spirit of the heavens,
lift me up to you
that my heart may worship you
and come to you in glory.
Hold in my memory that you are my Creator,
greater than I,
eager for my good life.
Let everything that is in the world
lift my mind,
and my heart,
and my life to you
so that we may come always to you
in truth and in heart.

Today I give myself permission … to feel the emotions of joy, fear, anger and sadness. But with every deep breath I acknowledge the Creator in my life and all of the gifts before me. It is a new day and my journey continues, and there are God-incidences wherever my feet take me! May my eyes, my heart and hands be open to all Creator has for me today!

_________________________

About Christina: 

Christina is a Toronto-based writer whose articles on culture, religion and technology have appeared in Vancouver, UPPERCASE and Geez magazine. She, her husband and two young children attend Grace Toronto Church. Christina Crook is founder of SeekingEve.ca and author of Letters from a Luddite: What I learned in 31 days off-line, now available at Blurb.com.

 ___________________________

DISCUSSION

Dear SheLoves friends:

I love how Melaney calls Jesus “Transformer Jesus.” I find her story is helping me find new language for my own faith experience. I’m definitely going to try on the word “destroyer” too!

  • How does Melaney’s story and experience of God inform yours?
  • What stands out for you?
  • Do you have any questions for Melaney?

I’d love to hear! -idelette xo

__________________________________

Would you like to add your story to Seeking Eve Monday?

We’d love to hear your story. Please share it by emailing Christina at seekingeve[@]gmail.com

To find words for your story, try following these lines, as Melaney did:

Faith to me means [community / hope / food / sacrifice / art / etc] …

What I mean by that is …

When I was little I …

My days are filled with …

I wish …

The thing is …

Today I give myself permission …

____________

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Comments

  1. Thank you everyone for your comments, I just replied to you all, but they disappeared as I registered. I am working on copper pendants so I need to get back to the work table. But, I wanted to share that because of this article, I am sharing at St Joseph the Worker in Richmond at the Elder’s (senior’s) meeting with Cheryl Bear for a 2 hour session to share my life experience and story this coming week! Prayers appreciated!

  2. Melaney!
    When I was a young teen, she was my camp counsellor. Even throughout the year, she would pick me up and take me out for popcorn shrimp at Red Robin. She would listen to my teen blabberings and just love me with the love of the Lord. Melaney is love in person-form. She is a beautiful, selfless, woman, who can really get-down and groove:)
    Love you Melaney, and I’m so happy to see you on here!

  3. April Lee Taylor-Vance says:

    What a great article!

    We are new friends and last spring I got to spend a day with Melaney at the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in Victoria. You know in hotel rooms where there is are double doors between two rooms? It takes both being opened to create access and enlarge the space. Melaney is the invitation to both non-First Nations and First Nations peoples to unlock the doors and to enter into open spaces for living, loving and learning from each other. She did that for me and others that day and it has changed my life not only for what I have learned and what I can teach but to also receive more healing for my own heart. Canada needs women and men who will lead us on our journey of truth and reconciliation and above all, friendship.

  4. What a complete pleasure to read this this morning. Melaney paints a picture of God’s love for culture that is truly stunning and rings true in every fibre of my being. And that prayer, wow. Thank you so much, Christina, for introducing us to so many inspiring women of faith.

  5. What an incredible woman! I want to meet you in person (someday) Melaney.

    Christina, what an important story to write.

    And that prayer….!!!

    “I seek strength not to be greater than my brother or sister
    but to be able to fight my greatest enemy–myself.”

    “Make me always ready
    to come to you with clean hands and straight eyes
    So when life fades as a fading sunset
    my spirit may come to you without shame.”

    Straight eyes. Without shame. [hands unfurl]

    WOW.

  6. This is fantastic, absolutely fantastic. I have been longing to read something like this for ages, and now here it is! I love this space, I love how SheLoves makes room for all of our voices and experiences. Melaney – you are loved! thank you for your work and for sharing with all of us. Truly.

  7. I love how Melanie is integrating the stories of her adoptive roots with the stories of her biological roots. This post draws me to want to understand more about different cultures spiritual ties. Intriguing. Thank you Christina! Amy

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