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Are you watching the 2017 North American Indigenous Games?

The opening ceremony for the Toronto 2017 North American Indigenous Games took place on July 16 and marked another milestone for the celebration of Indigenous culture and heritage in North America.  The opening parade was held at the Aviva Centre at York University in Toronto and featured Indigenous athletes from the various regions of Turtle Island.

Turtle Island is a reference to North America, based on an Indigenous story of creation. The North American Indigenous Games (NAIG) is the largest gathering of Indigenous people in North America for the purpose of sports and cultural activities.

There are 14 core sports that will be featured during the games and they include: Archery, Athletics, Badminton, Baseball, Canoe, Golf , Lacrosse, Rifle Shooting, Soccer, Softball, Swimming, Wrestling, and Volleyball. There will be 13 participating teams from all  the provinces of Canada as well as 13 teams from the United States. The games offer an opportunity for Indigenous youth to showcase their athletic abilities in a series of competitions.

Youth aged 13-19 are eligible to take part in the games. There are expected to be over 5000 participants and over 2000 volunteers for the games. The activities will take place in Toronto and various locations within the GTA, and Six Nations of the Grand River. The games were founded in the early 1970s, but this is the first time in over 25 years that the games will be held in the Eastern Region of Canada.

Lacrosse is one of the 14 sports categories and holds special significance to Indigenous peoples. The game of lacrosse is a traditional game in Indigenous culture. It is often referred to as “The Medicine Game”  and it was believed to be a game gifted to the Indigenous peoples by the creator to encourage fun and active movements and the healing of people. The game is often played by the men in Indigenous culture and was used to train warriors and settle tribal disputes. However, the 2017 NAIG will proudly feature the women’s debut of box lacrosse with teams from six provinces in Canada.

The games will also host various cultural events to celebrate Indigenous heritage at York and McMaster University. The cultural festival is a week long celebration ending this weekend and the festival features Indigenous cuisine, craft, and nightly entertainment. All cultural events are free and open to the public. The festival is also a chance to showcase the award winning talents of Indigenous performers.

The games support Indigenous unity and is a chance to strengthen Indigenous bonds throughout the region. The games run from July 16-23 and will be broadcast via live stream on cbc.ca/sports and the events are free to attend and open to the public. For more information visit NAIG2017.

Remembering our true past when celebrating Canada’s 150 years

Canada is gearing up to celebrate 150 years this summer with several events planned across the country. Fireworks, parades, a ‘ready, set, fire’ event where participants will have the opportunity to shoot a vintage gun in Nova Scotia, and a festival on the confederation bridge in P.E.I. are few of many events planned to celebrate Canada as a unified country. It leaves me to wonder though, what are we really celebrating?

Canada — at that time made up of Ontario, Quebec, New Brunswick, and Nova Scotia — became a confederation on July 1, 1867. The remaining provinces joined over time, with Nunavut as the last territory in 1999. Regardless of the specific timeline of when Canada became a completely unified country, its history has not always been perfect. The destruction of aboriginal cultures since confederation is a very dark part of Canada’s past, but nonetheless must be recognized during this celebration.

Canada is as much a country of amazing feats, as a product of colonization. Residential schools, the destruction of languages, culture, and land, and the continuing ignorance of the plight of many native peoples in our country are few of the many hurts aboriginals have suffered.

On Canada’s 150th birthday, take a moment to pause and meditate on the complex challenges that aboriginals have experienced as Canadian citizens and as a culture. Lead singer of Tragically Hip, Gord Downie, is certainly leading this push to recognize Canadian aboriginal culture, recently putting on a Secret Path performance that focuses on indigenous issues in Canada. He also announced a project for restaurants and public spaces to dedicate legacy rooms to aboriginal issues across the country as a way to celebrate 150 years.

Want to learn more? The National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation opened in 2015, and demonstrates the history of aboriginal affairs in Canada. There are millions of records of violence towards Canada’s indigenous peoples and is a worthy place to visit in honour of Canada’s 150th year celebration.

At the same time, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is making efforts to recognize native issues to celebrate 150 years. Funding of $1.8 million was announced for the Reconciliation in Action: A National Engagement Strategy and focuses on reconciliation efforts. Indspire is a speaking tour that represents exceptional indigenous youth and the government gave 200,000 dollars to the initiative. Support of these projects is included in the overall budget for the 150 years celebration, but there is much left for the Federal government to remediate relations with Canadian aboriginals.

Canada has been a confederation for 150 years, but has been home to aboriginals for much longer. It is important to take a moment to pay our respects to the true forefathers and foremothers of our country, and remember the true history of Canada, including the past we are ashamed of.

Cleansing your new home with a sage smudging ritual

A common Cherokee proverb is “Listen with your heart, learn from your experiences, and always be open to new ones”.

Moving into a new house often feels like the beginning of a new chapter. This can be incredibly exciting, but also incredibly scary. Building a house full of love and comfort is no easy task and rituals often help to make me feel more at home. Each time I move, I have a smudging ritual to cleanse my home and begin anew.

Smudging is an indigenous tradition also known as the Sacred Smoke Bowl Blessing. It has been a tradition for thousands of years in many clans across North America, and I was fortunate to be taught about the ritual from a Cree friend in Western Canada when I was a child.

Smudging has become a popular tradition among spiritualists as well. At the risk of it sounding like cultural appropriation, and with permission of my aboriginal friend, I have also used it for many years. The tradition differs depending on the region you live in. For example, in Western Canada, people traditionally use desert sage, sweet grass, pinion and tobacco. In the East, it is more common to use cedar, juniper, pine needles, cypress, sage, tobacco and sweet grass. Using an Abalone Shell, a traditional bowl in First Nations culture, to hold the sage while it burns is recommended because it signifies water in the ritual.

For my new home, I decided to bring desert sage from a small native arts & crafts shop near Calgary, my birthplace. Sage often comes in bundles, but can be burnt as loose leaf as well. I prefer the bundle because there is less chance of the embers spreading in your home. Find a feather for the ritual and then you are set to begin the smudging. By lighting the sage in a bowl, it releases smoke that is said to soak up all of the negative energy and bad thoughts, cleansing your space.

Once the sage is burning (embers only, no open flames needed), take the feather and cleanse yourself by moving the feather from your feet up to your head. Try to think of all the negative thoughts being dispelled in the smoke to rid yourself of negativity. If the sage lights on fire, blow out the flames and leave the embers burning. The smell of sage is earthy and has an incense-like scent. It is not for everyone, but I personally love it because it reminds me of where I’m from.

There are a variety of smudging prayers that you can say or you can complete the ritual in silence while meditating over the negative thoughts leaving your body and home. I prefer to complete this part of the ritual in silence. Be sure to cleanse anyone else taking part in the ritual. Next, I begin cleansing the home of any negative energy. Begin in the eastern corner, which represents air and the fresh breath of the rising sun each day. Move slowly to the south that symbolizes earth, and the creative inner child within. The west represents sun set and the deep introspection of darkness and water. Finally, end the cleansing ritual in the north, which is the direction of fire and knowledge, compassion, and the future of your home. Continue in a full circle ending back in the eastern corner of your home and be sure to fan the smoke in each direction. I also play drum music, which is believed to imitate the sound of the heart and say a prayer while completing the ritual.

The prayer is as follows:

May your hands be cleansed, that they create beautiful things.

May your feet be cleansed, that they might take you where you most need to be.

May your heart be cleansed, that you might hear its messages clearly.

May your throat be cleansed, that you might speak rightly when words are needed.

May your eyes be cleansed, that you might see the signs and wonders of the world.

May this person and space be washed clean by the smoke of these fragrant plants.

And may that same smoke carry our prayers, spiraling, to the heavens.

After the ritual is complete, I make a feast and have friends and family over to celebrate the ritual and my new home. Because the house is cleansed, it is a good time to create positive and loving energy in the home, with the added benefit that the smell of sage cleanses everyone who attends. Another common custom is to burn sweet grass after the smudging ritual to encourage kindness and peace. I have not tried this before, but may try it this time.

The smudging ritual is a custom that causes one to pause and consider what energy we want to bring and sustain in our homes. Oftentimes, people are so busy trying to move their furniture in and continue their lives that we forget to meditate on how to create love and happiness in our new dwelling. Every new beginning is an opportunity to cleanse and recreate the ever-desirable feeling of peace in the midst of urban life. The peace of mind and renewal that comes from the ritual is worthwhile and leaves me refreshed every time.

Disclaimer: You may want to disengage the smoke alarm temporarily, or it may go off. Don’t forget to turn it back on!

Review: “The Heaviness of Things that Float”

Aboriginal culture is a large part of Canadian heritage and has been a heavily discussed issue in current politics. Canadian aboriginals are often misunderstood, and the true ties to their culture can feel remote and forgotten.

The Heaviness of Things that Float by Jennifer Manuel is a narrative set in coastal B.C that discusses each of these issues in a delicate manner through the eyes of main character, Bernadette Perkal. Bernadette is a nurse stationed for 40 years at a fictional remote native reserve, Tawakin. The novel begins with the disappearance of Chase Charlie, an aboriginal man that Bernadette helped raise when he was a young boy. The community creates a search party and the reader is introduced to the small community of 100 people that live at the reserve.

Heaviness of things that float

As the story progresses, we learn of Bernadette’s love affair with local resident, Frank, and its tragic ending. The reader quickly discovers that Bernadette is retiring and leaving the reserve to live out her remaining days in Duncan, B.C. It also becomes clear that Bernadette feels like she is an outsider and worries that her 40 year commitment to the clan does not matter.

When the new nurse, Wren Weatherstone arrives for training, the separation between the people of reserve and the nurses becomes more pronounced. Bernadette begins to understand the meaning of her privileged upbringing and the historical ties leading up to the distinct separation between different Canadian cultures. Wren also introduces more politicized themes into the novel, mentioning her attendance at a protest in Vancouver for the Idle No More movement.

The Heaviness of Things that Float carefully discusses the assumptions that many Canadians attach to aboriginal culture. Manuel displays a compassionate account of the need to detach aboriginal culture from others to protect it, and emphasizes that coastal aboriginals are not looking for a saviour, but respect. The importance and power of stories is intricately woven into the story and the coastal landscape plays a powerful role in the climax of the novel.

Jennifer Manuel has spent many years invested in coastal Aboriginal culture and gives a very truthful account of her own experiences. She was a treaty archivist and then a teacher for the Ktunaxa, Tahltan and Nuuchah-nulth peoples. Manuel talks about her own novel in the introduction, emphasizing the themes of privilege, and “the nature of belonging, the limits of knowing one another and the stories of arrival that tangle with the stories of contact.”

Though Tawakin is a fictional place, Manuel creates a very realistic story for readers and does not give in to a traditional happy ending. The novel becomes heavier as the plot progresses, but the story retains a spiritual acceptance of fate and its consequences. This novel is a great read for any lover of the ocean and coastal aboriginal culture, and it will transport you to a peaceful place where hidden realities lie waiting.