Driving around Listuguj (Busteed area) last week you could see a group of volunteers working the tipi poles, bringing firewood and preparing the site for the four-day ceremonies organized by Families First Support Services.
“We have many programs, and over the years many people asked us to do workshops about traditions, ceremonies, traditional medicine and teachings,” said Christine Metallic, Community and Cultural Support Coordinator for the FFSS.The ceremonies we are preparing now is to respond to these needs.”
Among the ceremonies there is the Sweat Lodge, a purification ceremony where participants enter a dome shaped lodge constructed of willow and covered with material to provide a semi-tight enclosure and complete darkness. The Lodge represents the mother’s womb.
When the ceremony starts the Elder pours water on the heated rocks (Grand Fathers) and participants pray for themselves, their families, their communities, they chant and take turns to speak. The duration of this ceremony varies depending of the number of participants, the Elder who leads it, and the reason for the Ceremony.
Taking part in this sacred ceremony has different impacts on different people. Those participating for the first time usually feel a resurgence of strength and connection with their identity, and for some it’s the beginning of a journey of healing.
“Sweat Lodge is a sacred place where your whole body gets cleansed and what you feel inside is incredible” said Frank Augustine an Elder from Elsipogtog who came to Listuguj to lead the ceremonies with his wife Josie. “There are things you may see, and you may receive teaching because there are spirits there to help you if you care to listen.”
Elders Frank and Josie, married for over 50 years, travel across Canada and Mi’gmaqi carrying these teaching. Frank was around 40 years old when he decided to take the spiritual journey that changed his life for the better.
“We see people following traditional teachings and Native spirituality and we see how their lives had changed” says Christine Metallic, whose experience as a community worker in different communities. “Looking at non-native ways, methods of healing like therapist, meditation, Tai Chi or Reiki are not the only solutions. We need something that works for you, and native spirituality reach us deep and at different levels.”
Following Native spirituality is all about faith. All religions of the world have their ceremonies and protocols that guide social behaviors, practices, determine sacred places, and provide the worldview with teaching about human’s relationship with the world around, above and below.
If in the past the practice of Indigenous spirituality were forbidden, outlawed and associated to devils or superstitious, nowadays there is a certain acceptance. In Mi’gmaqi, and across Canada, interest has been growing.
“Twenty years ago there was a lot of hard work put into bringing back our teachings,” Josie said, while preparing the lodge for the ceremonies. “A lot of seeds were planted and now we see the seed popping up.”
“I see more interest in Listuguj” said husband Frank. “When we used to visit there was a handful of people. Now we see more people. We see that there’s a thirst for our spirituality.”
There are some people who took part in native ceremonies here for the first time.
On Friday afternoon, at around 6 pm. Ala’suinu Barnaby, 11, ended his 24-hours fast while other men and women were continuing theirs. He decided to do his fast with support from his parents on site. “Ever since my auntie Tanya did her four-day fast a few years ago I’ve been wanting to do it as well,” he said. “I also did it because I just lost my uncle Henry (Vicaire) and I did it for him. I did a lot of praying in the Sweat Lodge before I went into my fast. I felt successful, I felt good and proud of myself. It wasn’t easy but I learned a lesson: patience. I think anyone who has a chance should do this ceremony.”
Maybe at the Listuguj Pow Wow this year we will see more Sweat Lodges and we may see again the Sacred fire lit for all those who want to pray for their families, for themselves, and the communities. After all it’s about belief and traditions that are now available in Listuguj and in neighboring Mi’gmaq communities.