Sharing Appreciation for the Outstanding Contributions of Elder Mary Fayant

Today is National Indigenous Peoples Day! Taking place each year on June 21 – the summer solstice – National Indigenous Peoples Day is a day for all members of our community to recognize and celebrate the unique heritage, diverse cultures, and outstanding contributions of First Nations, Inuit, and Métis Peoples.  

Today and every day, we appreciate the amazing Elders at the heart of First Nations communities for their vital role in supporting and imparting knowledge, education, tradition, culture, values, and role modelling.  

One of the Elders at the very heart of the JHS Community is Elder Mary Fayant, and today we’re celebrating her outstanding contributions to the creation of a safe, healthy, and inclusive community for all: particularly for Indigenous people, their home communities, and the First Nations on whose land they reside on if not their own.

Let us introduce you to Elder Mary

Elder Mary Fayant provides Indigenous spiritual guidance, traditional teachings, counseling, life skills support, and leads ceremonies for JHS service users (among many others in the community) walking a traditional Indigenous life path. 

Elder Mary works with all Nations – for over 30 years she has extended her teachings and healing work to include all peoples who follow traditional practices, regardless of their race, ethnicity, beliefs or backgrounds. Elder Mary honours the ways of life of all Indigenous cultures, respecting both their regional uniqueness and the sacred binding which connects all indigenous peoples together. 

This way was taught to her by own teacher, Elder Sam Moosecamp, a Wichasha Wakan (Medicine Man) of the Lakota people – of whom she is formally adopted by. She has a long history of ritual fasting at Sun Dance for many years, has earned the right to pour water, and is also a sacred pipe carrier.

Elder Mary
A photo of Elder Mary with a shadow of the Sasquatch spirit behind her

Elder Mary is originally from Saskatchewan and is of the Néhinaw (Cree) people – one of Canada’s largest First Nations. She came as an honoured guest to the Ancestral territories of Stó:lō, Sema:th and Matheqwi people many years ago. 

During her time here on the West Coast she has worked extensively with local Indigenous Elders, members of the community, clients in recovery and residential treatment, clients with complex trauma, clients with complex mental health needs, the young, the elderly, and families. This is in addition to her core work with various levels of Correctional Service Canada helping and advocating for incarcerated men and women.

JHS Pacific is fortunate to work with Elder Mary in the continual development and program delivery of one of our community based residential facilities (also known as a halfway house) as well as other Indigenous-focused support services.

She is the heart of the Miyàq’elhà:wetawt program, which is designed specifically to provide authentic Indigenous cultural services to men on conditional release from federal institutions under the jurisdiction of Correctional Service Canada.

Elder Mary and Staff at a community event

Over the last two years the Miyàq’elhà:wetawt program has grown to include a renovated cultural space for group ceremonies, drumming, drum making, carving, painting, bead work, and feasting in addition to the services Elder Mary provides. 

This year the program has partnered with Kinghaven Treatment Centre to create a healing garden to begin growing sacred medicines on site. We’ve also formed supportive partnerships with the Native Courtworker and Counseling Association of BC, the BC First Nation’s Justice Council, and the Community Justice Initiatives Association. This in turn expands the range of services and supports available to our Indigenous service users.

This growth is largely due to Elder Mary herself who continues to guide our programming. She also provides guidance to many other organizations and community groups, and brings us all together to improve our ability to strengthen community.

We are incredibly honoured to work alongside Elder Mary, and are always so humbled and appreciative of the ways in which her guidance supports not only our service users, but our staff and so many others in the community as well.

We are honoured to share some of this appreciation through the lived experience and perspectives of members of the JHS Community. We spoke with staff who work directly with Elder Mary, as well as our service users that receive guidance and support from her. Below you’ll find quotes that provide just a small glimpse into the the importance of Elder Mary’s work, and the immense value and impact that she has in our community.

Members of Our Community Share Their Appreciation for Elder Mary

“She is a constant light in a world of darkness. I first met Elder Mary about seven years ago when I was in Mountain [a correctional facility]. She was the Elder in Kent and would come over to give us men on Pathways Females teachings and share pipe and other ceremonies once a month. She brought a lot of joy, peace, understanding and healing to us men there. I will always remember the times shared there. I have been blessed by Creator to have Elder Mary back in my life on the outside.

When I moved on from Mountain to Kwìkwèxwelhp I lost touch with Elder Mary. Now that I am at Miyáq’elhá:wetawt I have reconnected with Elder Mary. As always, Elder Mary is a balance in my life in an unbalanced world.

This Elder gives so much to a lot of people that makes this world a better place overall. I will be and am thankful to Creator for bringing this life giver Elder into my life and teaching me how to walk the Red Road.”

- Resident at Miyàq’elhà:wetawt

“I was privileged to meet Elder Mary during inception of the Miyàq'elha:wetàw program and we quickly formed a very close working relationship which evolved into a meaningful personal relationship. I’ve gained so much valuable experience from her teachings and insights, as well as from simply observing her work with our clients (and in return I’ve passed along my knowledge of email and YouTube to her). She has helped me navigate difficult situations with our clients and has been crucial in defusing and consoling our clients who are going through tough times in a way that only an Elder like her could do.

I had the honour of attending her Pathways program she conducted in Kent institution and witnessing the oasis she had cultivated that took them away from the negativity of the environment they are used to. She helped the inmates reconnect with their culture and spirituality and she provided a place for them to have fun and bond with each other. (The men in the program) were so polite and respectful of me as a visitor and to her as their Kookum. It is an honour to have her continuing this work with us and I am grateful for the opportunity to work alongside her.”

- Torrie Vogt, Senior Residence Worker

"Elder. Kookum. Grandma. Holy Cow. Many titles, one woman. Elder Mary plays a special role in every individual’s life. I have had the opportunity to firsthand witness how much of a crucial and positive impact she has and continues to make on the men. Her presence is truly a calming factor to all those around her. Over the past two years, I have had the privilege of forming a closer bond with Elder Mary through working together on the weekends. I have gained an incredible sense of knowledge by observing her work and endlessly listening to her wisdom. Elder continuously puts in her greatest efforts to creating a welcoming and inclusive environment at Miyaq’elha:wetawt. She is the foundation of this program, and we are truly blessed to have an Elder such as herself running the program."

- Jasmeen Brar, Residence Worker

“In the short time I have resided here at Tim’s Manor, it was an honour to meet her. She has showed me humility, respect for survivors of day school and residential school. She honoured me with tobacco when I first met her, which tells me I am in the right place.

In our conversations she is fully knowledgeable about native spirituality, and she is open minded. We have discussed native studies across Canada, culture and traditions and she knows all about the medicine wheel and sacred directions and teaches that in her communications. She understands how the trauma in the past has impacted our people today and is always willing to help correct situations we go through daily. She believes that we all need to reconnect with our people and families if we are welcomed back.

I’ve discussed many types of ceremonies with her, and she openly relates. Our spirit communications do not surprise her, she understands what that means. Although she loves art, she is not an artist and that is where I am working along side of her to assist her in any way I can. Food offerings and sacred circle talks are important to stay connected to each other she encourages that. I have nothing but respect for her teachings and how she understands aboriginal’s needs – physically, spiritually, and emotionally.

All my relations,”

- Resident at Miyàq’elhà:wetawt

“Working with Elder Mary has been such a wonderful opportunity. I’ve learned so much by observing Elder through her teachings and her interactions with our clients. Her wisdom, motivation and inspiration has truly helped me, both personally and professionally. Elder Mary's aura, smile and presence continues to bring a sense of calm, security, and happiness in our program.”

- JHS Staff Member

"When JHS Pacific started planning how to create a meaningful, authentic, indigenous CRF (Community-Based Residential Facility) program there was only one name on the list of who we should reach out to: Elder Mary Fayant. I will forever be grateful to Meaghan Poland for connecting me to her, and I am so grateful to Elder Mary for allowing me (as well as JHS in general) to learn from her over the last few years.

Her work with men and women under the jurisdiction of Correctional Service Canada has changed many lives throughout the course her career. We are proud to help her continue her healing work in the community. I told Elder Mary the first time we met that I can put a building around an Indigenous program but, I can't put the heart in it. Elder Mary is the heart of our Miyàq'elha:wetàw program and I am thankful every day for her guidance."

- Adam Strider, Program Manager

"I consider myself incredibly lucky each time that I get the opportunity to sit with Elder Mary (though, largely virtually these days) and listen to her stories, her perspectives, and her expertise as an Elder. She is a captivating storyteller, and I always leave our conversations feeling humbled, proud, motivated, and a little more aware of, and appreciative for, different ways of being.

She is a fierce and supportive leader in our community."

- Brianne Meikle, Communications Specialist

“Thank you Elder Mary for all you do, the wisdom and insight you share to our community is special and we are all so lucky to continue to be in your presence.”

- Jen Hirsh, Program Director

“I will always remember that at our last all staff day Elder Mary hugged me and told me to always remember that I have a very important job and that people count on me. She said that because of that I needed to make sure that I always take care of myself. It was so sincere and it really meant a lot to me. I think this is just one small example of how much genuine care that Elder Mary brings to her interactions, and in all that she does. She advocates for all people to care for themselves, to give back to their community, and supports them along the way."

- Mark Miller, CEO

“Elder Mary has been instrumental in the implementation and the development of Miyàq'elha:wetàwt. Her guidance, patience and willingness to provide us with her knowledge has been invaluable to the program and the organization. Her unwavering dedication to the residents at Miyàq'elha:wetàwt, Tims Manor, and Elliott House [another JHS residential program] is something that I admire and truly inspires me each and every day. It has been my privilege to get to know and to work with Elder Mary over the years, and I am honestly looking forward to the many years ahead.”

- Pam Flegel, Program Director

Elder Mary is a foundational figure in the lives of so many people. On behalf of our entire organization, we want to send immense gratitude and appreciation to Elders across Canada, including Elder Mary, for being the backbone of community, and for being living examples of how we create safe, healthy, and inclusive communities.