Raven smudged through pain and woe, then went home

COFFEE WITH WARREN, with Warren Harbeck
Cochrane Eagle, May 17, 2006

The 19-year-old woman from British Columbia's Sunshine Coast was bullied and mocked for much of her teen years because of her epileptic seizures. She finally found peace and respect during her last two years while living among the Stoney Nakoda community at Morley. In those two years, though not a preacher or missionary or evangelist – or anything more complicated than just being a teenager on a journey of self-discovery – she communicated far more effectively the meaning of Jesus' words, "Blessed are the pure in heart," than I ever have in all my 41 years with the Stoney Nakoda First Nation as a linguist and Bible translation consultant.

On May 12 we laid her to rest along side elders whose lives defined the beauty of the Stoney way. Let me tell you about this amazing young lady.

Nadeen Carolyn Stubbs – affectionately known around Morley simply as "Raven" – was the daughter of Roy Stubbs, of Nova Scotia, and Teyjah Xaveriss, of Medeira Park, B.C., where Raven lived from age 12 to 17. Medeira Park is just north of Gibsons Landing, made famous in the CBC TV series The Beachcombers, a program that did much to bring down walls of discrimination between aboriginal and non-aboriginal Canadians.

Raven is famous in her own right for bringing down walls of discrimination. This was abundantly clear from a conversation I had with her common-law husband, Warren Twoyoungmen, and her surrogate "Papa," Helmer Twoyoungmen, of Morley.

"She accepted everyone, regardless of race," Warren said. "She never judged others."

Raven came to Morley in 2004 at the invitation of her aunt, Aylieh Xaveriss, who lives with Helmer. There, within an extended family that understood the Stoney traditional values of ûsiginabi, wîdâgabi and ahopabi – "kindness," "gentleness" and "respect" – she found support instead of ridicule in her pain; and in turn, she practiced those same values to the benefit of all she touched.

"She taught me to love animals," Warren said. She had a mixed-breed dog she named Lily. It just showed up one day, pregnant. Raven helped deliver her puppies and the two adopted each other.

"Then there was that time Raven found a ladybug inside my truck as we were going down the road," Warren continued. "She made me stop, and she took the ladybug down to the stream and set it gently among the leaves."

All the kids loved her, Warren said. "Whenever they saw her coming, they'd call out, 'Raven! Raven!' She always had time to sit down with the kids and read with them."

Raven was one-fourth Sioux. Living with the Twoyoungmen family in their Rocky Mountain foothills rural setting allowed her to explore that part of her spirituality – but with a growing sense that her time in this world was limited.

Helmer introduced her to sweat lodges, the four directions, and the round dance. In particular, he helped her embrace the practice of smudging. (Smudging with certain herbs, such as with smouldering sage, is a traditional practice associated with the cleansing of the soul before the Creator.)

She got into the habit of walking down to the nearby stream alone for smudging and prayer at sunrise and sunset.

In the garden-like quietude by the stream, amidst poplars, evergreens and willows, she'd feed the birds and hear the babble of the water, Warren explained. "I think the water made her feel free from her pain and epilepsy."

Thus it was that Sunday morning, May 7. She rose early and went down to the stream as usual. During the day, she made stew and frybread for dinner. As evening drew near, she washed the dishes, then went down to the stream once more.

But time passed and she didn't return.

The family found her facedown in the water. She'd apparently had another epileptic seizure, this time alone by the stream where she'd come to cleanse her spirit and visit with God.

Her funeral was an intimate family affair at Helmer's home. Because of the respect she had shown for Stoney tradition, the chief and council paid respect to her by permitting her burial on Stoney land.

As we said farewell, the last verse of that old gospel hymn "In the Garden" was sung, but now with special meaning because of Raven's example:

I'd stay in the garden with Him
Tho the night around me be falling;
But He bids me go – thru the voice of woe,
His voice to me is calling.

And He walks with me, and He talks with me,
And He tells me I am His own,
And the joy we share as we tarry there,
None other has ever known.

© 2006 Warren Harbeck

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