Humans of Campbell River: Keetah Sarah
Humans of Campbell River is a collaboration between Destination Campbell River and Bluetree Photography. Showcasing the stories of those who call our coastal community home. Each week we deep dive into a new story and the connections between people and place. This week we’re sharing the story of Keetah Sarah.
Nugʷaʔəm Hanusəmega. Haw-wa-cla-lee-jun-ja Keetahƛən (Powerful woman – Meaning ). Gayuƛən lax̌ C̓ aqʷəlutən λu Xʷəsam λu Ǧʷayi λu Memk̓ ʷəlis. Gukʷwəlen lax̌ C̓ aqʷəlutən. Hem̓ ən λiλəλola Billy λu Wilson λu . I grew up on the Rez with my grandparents Daniel & Alberta Billy. They are commercial fishermen who have lived in the village all their lives, growing up on “Susan Laverne” and loving the ocean life. My papa is a storyteller of our people; he holds so much knowledge of the lands. I love being with him and learning all I can to keep his teachings alive. He has been a commercial fisherman all of his life, and being on the water is his life. He would say it’s “haywire the way us poor fishermen have been treated” he always taught us to have a voice for our rights. Wild salmon for life. For me, Being able to cut k̓awas the way he was taught from the auntie = Goals! Keeping our smokehouse alive and hopefully full of fish for years to come. My grandparents need their traditional foods and it’s hard to come by these days. My grandparents are my world, my support system.
I have been a healthcare assistant for 10 years. I am a wanderer of 17 countries backpacking solo around the globe. “Working to travel,” as my gran would say. I grew up with unconditional love and support through anything I ever dreamed of. My grandparents raised me as their own, and I owe them the world for that. We take care of each other, as my gran would say. They are the reason I became a health care provider. Loving what I do for over a decade is beyond measure. I have learned so much over this past year working in my field at the Campbell River Hospital. I take my hat off to all the staff working so hard during these difficult times.
My grandparents taught me to love where you live and who you are at a young age. I am grateful for my upbringing with traditions, culture and taking it back. I grew up Indian dancing with my sisters (cousins ). We grew up very close, doing everything together. We are family first, We are our grandparent’s grandchildren, and we all hold that very close to our hearts. “Alberta and Dan Billy’s grandchildren, we say.”
Credit for clothing, earrings: @islandpinecreations @therezlifestyle @decolonialclothing
I am 5 years sober by choice and have had everything fall into place for myself as a strong First Nations woman, I use my voice for good, to be heard, to be loud, and to be clear. I am a First Nations woman who wants to see change for our people, our people need healing, healing the good, the bad, the ugly. The messy world we live in needs understanding, unconditional love and support to heal the demons our people suffer from residential schools and intergenerational trauma. My gran has always used her voice, I remember riding in the back of her car while she drove across Canada to speak on this topic. She has long been a voice for our people, a while back she told me “It’s your turn to use your voice now”. I love to garden and watch my veggies grow in the village, my papa and I built this big garden box. Papa goes, “you can grow lots of tomatoes here because I love them”. I love where I live I have many childhood memories of playing kick the can and being out till late being a rez kid. We would try breaking into the pool after hours for a swim but would be caught every time by my uncle. Haha. We jumped off the dock every summer, fished and ate fish every day if I could. I love to walk the trails to ( TKL )Tsa -Kwa -Luten, and hike all over Quadra Island. My favourite is walking with my Nula bean. My beautiful Siberian husky. Who came into my life at the right time. My cat ( BOOTS ) has been with me my entire career. Queen B we call her. My gran didn’t want her but my sister (cousin) Jules penny cat had kittens and I had to have her. I came home one day and my gran was looking out the window going, oh you, no ears and now they are the best pals. I feel most connected being in mother nature we live in paradise and are so lucky to have it in our backyards I love my everyday view of the ocean and beautiful mountains behind. I live for the ocean, sunsets, sunrise, nature and being under the moon. Being one with our ancestors in the forest. I can never pass up living in cape, my home, my village, my childhood, and now taking care of my grandparents where I grew up.
The sunsets on our porch are so beautiful it is the best spot in the cape. I always said I leave paradise to go find paradise around the globe when I travel. I have that adventurous soul that needs to see what the world has to offer for my own eyes it is a big part of who I am.
I am a First Nations woman who got up at the age of 25 with this strength like no other. It was time, my time to see the world. I travelled alone and here I am booking a 3-month ticket to Southeast Asia but first Mexico, Belize and Hawaii with my family to get me ready to backpack in 2015 for my big adventure, the journey I’ve waited for. I am a world traveller who can’t travel but all these memories I am blessed to share. I have always worked to travel and leave for the winter months to find the education you can’t get from a book. Being on the open road of the unknown. The anxiety and excitement of a new city, town, village, beach town. What kind of new people you’re going to meet. The unique vibes each place had. “I had this journal where I haven’t put down my thoughts on paper forever and here I am journaling daily”. I was told one day I probably could write short stories with all my travels. Being a First Nations woman travelling to countries you don’t go solo but here I am at the age of 25 with my backpack and left. It was the best experience I could have ever had. Three months in the Philippines, Thailand and Indonesia. Travel was everything to me at the end of this journey I took. Staying in hostels, hammocks, living the island hopping life. The backpacking dream. This got me ready to leave for Australia the year after in 2016. “Working holiday visa” they called it. I got a job in Queensland as an HCA overseas. First I travelled and loved every minute of it I went from Sydney to the east coast of Queensland.
From sailing the Whitsundays, feeding white eagles and sharks off the back, to fishing squid under the milky way. Jumping out of an airplane was the most exhilarating feeling of my life. Flying through clouds to see a shark and a turtle, feeling completely free. And swearing the whole go pro video. Go figure.
Saying “f**k ya this is awesome”. And gave fair warning to my grandparents before watching. On May 5, 2016, which happens to be their anniversary, I sent them a postcard saying jumping out of the plane, love you. Happy anniversary. lol. If you haven’t jumped out of a plane you must. While waiting for the skydiving guides to finish so we could hop a bus to Cairns I treated myself to a steak meal in Arlie Beach, Queensland. Cairns was my final destination to work and live. Where you couldn’t swim in the ocean. Only Lagoons. Drinking goon haha and crocodiles are coming on the sidewalk from time to time. What got me was the homeless people, the aborigines. Everywhere. Made me miss my home. I was missing my grandparents after three months. I booked a flight home and got my job back. Flying through Hawaii first. A family vacation where I grew up going for years. A second home on Waikiki beach. Never the same without the fam jam though!
South America: 2018: where that was a journey itself. This was my first sobriety journey. It was scary, amazing, highs and lows but most importantly, at peace with myself and my decision to stay sober. Seeing how powerful the Indigenous women are all over the world is what kept me going through the hard days of travelling solo but you’re never alone. Being told I was too beautiful to be alone by every Indigenous woman. And most didn’t believe I was from Canada. I blended in nicely everywhere. So many moments of my travels but one that stuck out to me the most was The great Machu Picchu, Peru. The reason I backpacked South America for three months. I couldn’t decide on what Inca trek I wanted to do… I was in Cusco for days. Where I then decided to trek Rainbow Mountain first I did this hike in 1 day. We started in this cute little town of the Incas. I suffer from asthma so this trek was everything. Each step learning to breathe and not panic breathing because you are 5,000 metres above sea level and going up these insane steps to this Rainbow Mountain was so beautiful I was trying not to swear, and “say what did I get myself into “. Reaching part of the summit and seeing the view of these amazing colourful mountains it’s, a, take your breath away moment, to say the least. A few more steps and you’ve reached the summit of 5,000 metres and enjoying the best part of this journey, this trek. I couldn’t even grasp what I had just done to get there. I was trying to take in the view while taking so many photos because if you didn’t it didn’t happen. Haha. Seeing the Inca Indigenous, so happy with less than nothing on their feet. Colourful outfits, “mountain Incas” The woman carried baskets bigger than them on their heads and balanced them so well. Going up and down this mountain like nothing. Daily. It makes you want to complain less in this world and do more to help people. I needed to see everything with my own eyes. So here I am in Cusco back at this hostel and booked a 2 day 1 night trip to Machu Picchu. It was time.
Going in and around the mountain was powerful, the rivers that flooded through the mountains as we were driving through, all you can think of is how beautiful and lucky they are to have this. I shed some tears, as I had waited more than a decade for my eyes to see “Machu Picchu”. We trekked in through the train tracks and jungle, it started to rain a little, go figure jungle life To this little town called Aguas Calientes, so beautiful and so peaceful. This is where we would start our journey at 5:00 am the next day. The trip had me reflecting on my cultural teachings, we are taught to give back and let go through nature. I have been through a lot in my life, I love nature and everything it has to offer. As I walked up those 2,000 steps to Wiñaywayna Inca site Machu Picchu, I thought of my life, let go of the things I couldn’t control and focused on the beautiful journey I have been blessed on. This healing journey of my sobriety. Truly having it all. Being happy with myself, loving myself and wanting to get to the top so badly. I Listened to my guide and the stories behind how the Spanish tried to take over and the Inca Indigenous had to hide in the mountains of Machu Picchu into the forest to survive. How beautiful these happy Inca Indigenous are. After a few hours, I was cold from the mist coming through the crisp air that morning, I broke free to take photos but with the mist coming over these ancient ruins you couldn’t even see. I sat at the top, took my smudge out and prayed to my ancestors because I had waited so long to see this beautiful scenery it had to be captured and not just in my memory. How powerful smudge and prayer are to our ancestors. my prayers were answered and the mist lifted and I did NOT filter my photos. A magical moment and 2,000 steps up and down to the great Machu Picchu. Taking it all in and being so grateful I just did what I did.
Loving each part of the places I got to see on this solo journey. I took a fast boat from Panama to Colombia to start another part of my journey. Staying with the Kunala Indigenous peoples, where they take turns sharing and making money.These village people are so happy, living off the land, fishing daily for their food, and providing for their community. Each person takes turns to make money and survive as a family. 4 days. Off the grid. Seeing a happy small community thriving on nothing but unconditional love and support from each and every community member. Living like a queen on their Caribbean islands. I spent the time sleeping in hammocks, eating fresh lobster, fish and all kinds of amazing salads. Not a care in the world but my burnt body. My bawakm(Indigenous ) self thought I didn’t need sunscreen. Haha, needless to say, sleeping in the hammock, fun. But the best way to start a journey was disconnecting from the world and resetting from all the HCA work. During this journey, I enjoyed seeing the indigenous markets all over South America, and the world I love. The handmade items, beautiful work and colourful. Colombia, Santa Marta, these beautiful mountain indigenous peoples. Wearing the sheepskin outfits with long black beautiful hair living in nature through Tayrona park, staring at me, as I am in, aww of them. So many amazing memories and now just these photos I hold close to my heart.
My last journey was in 2019 back to the Philippines for my 30th bday. I went swimming with whale sharks, saw beautiful waterfalls and stayed on this witch island called ( Siquijor Island ) for my 30th, I stayed in a hostel that belonged to a local friend I met on my first journey in 2015. I met a medicine man in the mountain where he did boolu traditional medicine on me to clear the evil and all I am carrying from me. So amazing, he didn’t speak any English at all. Living in the outskirts of this beautiful jungle where I later met a medicine woman, which was what I had set out to do, Turning 30 was such an adventure. from staying in hostels, my own apartments, to sleeping in hammocks, to ringing in 2019 in Buenos Aires, Argentina, feeling the fireworks debris on my head with millions of people, happy dancing, chanting and very full from this 12 spread meat Argentinian dinner with friends I had met in Australia. So much meat. Good steak! So crazy, the people you meet from all over, the friends you make become family. My heart was so full of adventure, culture, language and love and understanding of new surroundings. What my journey was all about. From Panama, Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, Chile, Argentina, And ending in Uruguay. By land, bus, van and by plane. I had this powerful sobriety journey. I was ready for home after this big three-month trek and it was probably my last hostel life experience. From now on it’s my own room kinda travels after this. And the normal amount is like 3 weeks.
Growing up with all my teachings of smudging, being one with nature, knowing who you are and where you come from is are essential to my core values. Family first, knowing my culture and taking it back. Being Alberta Billy’s granddaughter I strive to use my powerful voice for good and to change the stigma for our people. Our Indigenous peoples are suffering and in need of help. I come from a strong woman who speaks our language and who is taking it back. Strong role models who teach our language and create change for our children are so important as they will be the leaders of our people one day. I have benefited from strong women who are in the medical field, nurses, doctors who I can look up to and who have proved advice and support when needed. Surrounded by strong bawakam (Indigenous) women helped me become the woman I am today and I am forever grateful. I have been in the health care profession for 10 years, I have worked in long-term care facilities, home support and acute care. For the next phase of my career, I will be focusing on mental health and addictions. I want to be the best role model I can, I will be 5 years sober this May 2022. I am thankful for the teachings I have from my gran Alberta Billy, she challenged the United Church for an apology to our indigenous peoples 30+ years ago, If you don’t, please google search my gran. The trauma my people have suffered at residential school is real and, “Canada needs to catch up”. As my gran would say. Educate yourself and be the change with us, for us, as Canada is built on genocide and took a lot from our First Nations peoples.
As a First Nations woman, I value my experiences as a healthcare provider, world traveller and animal owner (they are my world, my cat, boots and my husky, Nula) my family support. And most importantly my sobriety. In the years to come, I want to see changes for our people: we need proper support, treatment centres, land to come back to after you heal your trauma and addictions. Come full circle in a society that heals you, loves you and helps you create this new version of yourself.