On Friday, July 9, from sunrise to sundown, Indigenous people supported by St.Amant lead the organization’s community in a Sacred Fire ceremony.
Many of the people St.Amant supports are of Indigenous and the discoveries unmarked graves at residential schools continues to trigger traumatic emotions and grief.
“The purpose of the ceremony was to promote healing and community wellness,” says Andrew Terhoch, Spiritual Health Practitioner at St.Amant. “The Sacred Fire was also an opportunity for Indigenous people supported by St.Amant to provide leadership for their community and to lead us in ceremony as Fire Keepers.”
St.Amant partnered with Life’s Journey Inc. (Miikana Pimatiziwin) to help create an accessible experience; Life’s Journey also supports people with disabilities. White Eagle, a Fire Keeper supported by Life’s Journey, created an introductory video about fire keeping for St.Amant. The video shared the elements used to build the fire such as wood and stones. It also covered the different uses of the elements, what they represent (e.g. stones symbolize grandfathers), and the offerings that could be made to the fire (e.g. tobacco).
“They don’t just learn how to make a fire, they need to understand the meaning behind the fire,” says Allan Constant, a Fire Keeper and Cultural Support Worker at Life’s Journey Inc.
The days leading up to St.Amant’s Sacred Fire, the organization’s Summer Green Team tied orange ribbons to trees and collected stones on site and painted them orange to highlight the path to the fire. The Knowledge Keepers at St.Amant provided the tobacco which the Green Team used to make over 200 tobacco ties for those who wished to make an offering to the fire. The team was also responsible for helping the Fire Keepers to select the ‘grandfather’ stone from the earth which is traditionally placed at the centre of the fire at the start of the ceremony.
Fire Keepers continuously learn about their role through experience and by speaking to elders. Learning is endless, which is why teachings were woven into the ceremony. For example, when the Indigenous people St.Amant supports stepped into their role as Fire Keepers, White Eagle gave them a piece of wood and told them what the wood represents. With the help of their support worker person then placed the wood in the fire and offered tobacco.
Sam was the first Fire Keeper of the day. While expressing how meaningful being a Fire Keeper was to her, she teared up. Marda Bone was the last Fire Keeper.
“I smudged,” says Marda. “I showed others how to smudge with the smoke and I fanned the smoke with my feather to people who couldn’t get close to the fire because of their wheelchairs.” In the evening, not only was Marda the last Fire Keeper, she was the only elder. “I was confident,” says Marda. “I liked it.”
Throughout the day, people St.Amant supports, their families, staff and volunteers made offerings to the fire and listened to the Fire Keepers’ teachings.
“Allan has been awesome!” says Ibijade Ajibade, Activity Worker at St.Amant. “He’s exposed me to Indigenous teachings, many of which remind me of my culture and of how I was brought up as a woman from Africa. I’ve learned a lot today.”
Some members of St.Amant’s community even witnessed a beautiful eagle fly over.
“The fire is the heart of the peoples and the heart of the collective agencies coming together in a good way. And the eagle is a teaching of love,” says Debbie Cielen, Elder/Director of Indigenous Spiritual Care Services at Life’s Journey Inc. “So when that eagle flew over the fire, that was a sign that our prayers have been answered and that we’re in a good direction.”