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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!

First Nations housing crisis may have a sustainable solution

Imagine living in a house without running water and having to share your room with five or more people. A fire ignites in the kitchen and takes over the home. There are no fire hydrants nearby. The fire consumes the house and takes those five lives with it.

Unfortunately, this is a reality and it is happening in our own province. The Pikangikum reserve in Northern Ontario suffered a huge loss in March 2016 when nine people were killed in a fire contributed by unliveable homes and a severe lack of resources. The First Nations in Northern Ontario are experiencing an affordable housing crisis and the conditions are appalling. According to Statistics Canada, 29 per cent of Aboriginal Canadians live in houses that need repair and 45 per cent of First Nations live in homes on reserves that need repairs.

To help the First Nations build affordable housing, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau promised $2.6 billion during his electoral campaign in October 2015. After the federal budget was released in March, it appears that campaign promise will not be fulfilled unless the liberal government is re-elected in 2019. The budget for First Nations is spread out over four years, and over half of the $2.6 billion is back-ended, with $647 million in 2019 and $801 promised in 2020 after elections.

In short, the First Nations are being put on the back burner yet again. Living in isolated reserves in locations as far as 600 km north of Thunder Bay, it is easy to ignore these suffering populations. Affordable housing often lacks materials that last, and the conditions of the dilapidated homes have increased as years have passed without repairs. The allocation of funds into various First Nations reserves doesn’t tackle affordable housing strategy and it is expensive to build and transfer materials so far north, which leaves people without a way to fix their homes in remote places.

Fortunately, an environmentally-friendly company is taking the problem seriously. Earthship Biotecture has launched an initiative to build a sustainable home in the Six Nations of the Grand River reserve 100 km south-west of Toronto. The company is covering some of the costs, along with thousands of dollars raised through fundraising.

Earthship builds sustainable homes around the world for people in need, and upon hearing of the First Nations housing crisis, set off to build a home in Ontario. Owner Michael Reynolds has built self-sustaining homes out of recycled materials for 45 years. The home in Grand River will use recycled tires, have solar panels and a cistern to collect rainwater. It will hopefully be the first of many sustainable homes for the First Nations in Ontario. Tires are commonly used in Earthship homes and create sturdy and well-done walls.

Toronto Mayor John Tory took a personal trip to Big Trout Lake, a reserve 2500 km north to learn more about First Nations culture on the weekend of July 15th. Thirty per cent of Toronto’s shelter system is used by First Nation’s men and women. Tory reported returning with a better understanding of indigenous cultures, and advocated on behalf of reconciliation for First Nations in Canada.

This particular housing crisis is gaining public attention from non-profits and all levels of government, but more needs to be done. The federal government needs to keep its budget promises and even invest in building more sustainable homes in partnership with companies such as Earthship. The new house in Grand River is a first step, and hopefully many more of these projects will pop up after the construction of the Earthship’s first Canadian home is completed.

“Koneline” documentary teaches non-judgment of northern Canada

In light of the recent wild fires in Fort McMurray, it is a good time to witness Koneline: our land beautiful, a documentary that sheds light on the lifestyle of northerners, and aims to understand rather than judge people who live in the world of oil and mining. The film is being shown in the Hot Doc’s festival on Saturday, May 7 at 3:15 p.m in the Hart House Theatre and is worth watching. As an environmentalist and western Canadian, it shook me to my core.

Koneline, directed by Canadian Nettie Wild, is a documentary about Northern B.C and the confluence of themes that interplay into the life and work of mines, the traditions of the Tahltan First Nations, and the life of the hunter. Wild shows the audience life in northern Canada, and purposefully refrains from taking a specific stance between the polarized opinions of miners and political activists.

Driller at sunset. Photo provided by Koneline.
Driller at sunset. Photo provided by Koneline.

“The north is a foreign land to many people in the south. If people can experience the land in a visceral way, it may mean they read the news in a different way,” said Wild. “There is dogmatic rhetoric flying from all sides. I thought I could bring art. I thought if I could bring a non-judgmental camera, I might be surprised and surprise the audience too. I think people are weary of being told what to think.”

Koneline films multiple perspectives of the miners who work the land, the Tahltan First Nations whose people are divided between working in the mine and protesting it, and experienced hunters who guide expeditions for tourists. Showing various peoples’ connections to the land could easily become an overwhelming experience for the viewer, but Wild uses breathtaking cinematic shots and aerial views that allow the audience to digest the various perspectives of life in the northern part of B.C before leading into the next scene.

Oscar Dennis, member of the Tahltan First Nations. Provided by Koneline.
Oscar Dennis, member of the Tahltan First Nations. Provided by Koneline.

Wild focuses on three main points of view in the film. The First Nations are a key player in Northern B.C and the audience meets Oscar Dennis, a member of the Tahltan who is trying to preserve the language and culture of his people. Some members of the Tahltan are actively fighting the development of the mines and they set up a barricade at the Red Chris mine during the course of filming to protest a tailings pond that was due to be built. Other Tahltan members work the mines so they can afford to feed their families. Hunters are also a key player in the film. It features Heidi Guntfrucht, one of the only female hunting guides in Canada, who is worried about the effect of the mines of wildlife migration in the area. The diamond miners also talk about their love of nature as a reason for working up north.

Wild began the project in 2012, and shot the footage for a year in 2014. During the course of her research and shooting, Wild began to see a common thread between all of her various film subjects. “I was moved,” said Wild. “We are all carrying luggage. We have onion layers and assumptions building up. All of those people have a real love of the land. There is a shared commonality.”

The name, Koneline, is a Tahltan word that has a two-fold meaning. In the Tahltan language, the pronoun “K” simultaneously means “I” and “the land” as one entity. Koneline itself means is beautiful. Therefore, the word means “I am beautiful” and “the land is beautiful” at the same time, demonstrating the deep connection this First Nations people hold to the land as a part of their individual identity.

The power lines. Provided by Koneline.
The power lines. Provided by Koneline.

The cinematography often shows the power lines that have been built in Northern B.C as contrasted to the vast wilderness in the array of aerial shots in Koneline. Wild attempts to show both the man-made technology and nature as essential parts of the northern landscape in her documentary. “There is a real elegance of engineering. It is an insane technological feat. All of the contradictions are there. There are these stark technological structures in the middle of pristine wilderness but they are also beautiful and surreal,” said Wild.

Koneline is a piece of cinematic art that pushes boundaries on what we perceive as compared to what we know. As an environmentalist, I can honestly say that this documentary affected me deeply by showing the value of considering all points of view rather than taking a specific stance that inadvertently narrows my judgment. The film will redefine your definition of being an environmentalist and is worth seeing at Hot Doc’s this year. With Fort McMurray in mind, refraining from judgment and being empathetic to the northern way of life may open your mind in a way you didn’t quite expect.

“We’re in a dangerous place when we have that polarized rhetoric. It is East vs. West and South vs. North. Everyone else is talking about it and the people of the north are living it. It is their jobs that are being won or lost, they are paying the premium on the horrible [packaged] food and their land that is being changed,” said Wild. “Canada is the north and we are defined by it. Let’s see what kind of assumptions we have and question them. We need to step back and say, isn’t that interesting. What does being non-judgmental look and sound like? Art can articulate that in a different way. You can feel that in your gut.”