On September 29, the members of St.Amant’s community gathered around a sacred fire to prepare their hearts, minds and spirits for Orange Shirt Day and National Day for Truth and Reconciliation.
A number of people supported by St.Amant are Indigenous or of Indigenous descent and receive services throughHealth and Transition Services (H&TS). St.Amant and the Winnipeg Regional Health Authority (WRHA) shared in the opportunity to host a sacred fire ceremony at 440 River Road. The people St.Amant support led us in this ceremony and were involved with every aspect throughout the day. “There was a gentleman who played his drum at the ceremony. At the exact moment he began playing and singing the sacred fire ignited. There was another gentleman who brought his guitar and began to sing for those who were attending the fire. Marda, who is on a journey to become an elder, is one of our Fire Keepers. So is Sam. Being a Fire Keeper is a big responsibility and there are many teachings associated with this role. When the fire needs more wood, it’s our Fire Keepers who take care of us,” says Suzanne Mozdzen (Little Rock Standing Hawk Woman), Social Worker at St.Amant. “The people we support are leading this ceremony.”
At the ceremony, there was a small feast of bannock and jam; people brought donations of non-perishable food items which were later delivered to The Bear Clan Patrol’s North End Den in Winnipeg to support that community; a smudge was offered to all who attended the fire; everyone sang and drummed; St.Amant’s CEO read The Orange Shirt Story written by Phyllis Webstad; and members of the community, including St.Amant staff and volunteers, and children from River Road Child Care (RRCC), offered tobacco, berries, and notes to the fire. “The idea behind offerings is that the smoke will carry them into the spirit world to our ancestors,” explains Stephanie Van Haute (Circling Hawk), Director of Patient Services for the Indigenous Health Program at WRHA. “So if we think about the children who never came home from residential schools, our offerings will reach them. Some people even believe that the care we give to them today, will reach them back in time when they were suffering. It’s on a soul-level. We’re taking care of their souls.”
The sacred fire touched many people for different reasons. “My aunt was dishonored for who she was for so many years,” says Verna Eyers, employee at St.Amant. “She took abuse from people who said she wasn’t good enough. She, herself, believed she wasn’t good enough. But she was always good enough. I’m here today to honour the history, to honour ten thousand years or more of people who were here long before settlers. I’m here to honour my aunt.”
For Andrew, the sacred fire was a way to honour the truth of people who were separated from ceremony in residential schools and across Canada for years. “I learned today that Indigenous ceremony was banned for 70 years in Canada,” says Andrew David Terhoch, Spiritual Health Practitioner at St.Amant. “The children from River Road Childcare Centre, St.Amant School and our autism classrooms who attended the ceremony, they are part of the first generation who will grow up knowing Canada’s whole history and truth. Their presence was important. It reminded us of the truth for the children who came before them—who were forbidden from sitting at a sacred fire.”
For Roeio, the sacred fire was an opportunity to reflect. “I feel very emotional to participate in this significant ceremony. All people must be involved in this journey to reconciliation. We must learn from the past. This very sad past must not repeat again,” says Roeio Farje, volunteer at St.Amant.
The 4Directions Group and the Knowledge Keepers team at St.Amant thank the community of Tootinwaziibeing for gifting us with medicines and a beautiful Grandfather Rock that was used at our fire, the McTavish Family for the antler that will be added to our sacred bundle, and Bonnie Murray from the WRHA for the natural tobacco she grew in her garden and gifted to us for the fire and our sacred bundle.