Gathering Up to Heal

Photos and story by Danny Beaton
In Memory of Alicja Rozanska

After we had all gathered in a Circle at Queen West Community Health Center on Bathurst Street this past spring, Ron Cook did the opening song with a Sacred Drum and opened the sky up to all those attending. Then I gave the Traditional Thanksgiving Address in the Circle to about 20 skins gathered for healing and food being given out to any one who was homeless or anyone in need of healing or help with addictions.

I was hired by Queen West coordinator Vivian Recollet about 6 months ago and I love the staff and Native people who drop in for a hot meal or see one of the nurses or doctors on staff.

Once the ceremony started I explained that one of my friends just came by and that it was a high honor for me to see her visit our circle. Her name is Joanne Vautour and she is working with cancer patients at St. Michael’s Hospital. I explained that as Native people we have such a strong connection to the natural world that when my partner/wife was alive she told me Joanne was an amazing leader for Native Child and Family Services when we were foster parents.

As I continued to give my story to our circle, I explained how in the old days we as Native people relied on our instincts to guide us and protect us. In fact, I said in the old days we counted on the sacred gifts that our Great Creator had given us Human Beings to find the things that we needed - food, animals, medicine, even love. In the old days we as Native people counted on our initiation just like an eagle, deer, wolf or bear, and that our mental, physical, and spiritual make up or DNA was connected to our relatives four legged, fish life, insects and winged ones.

Even scientists have proven this fact. So when Joanne made the surprise visit to our circle I felt it was like a blessing for us. And here was our drummer Ron Cook, someone who I have known for about thirty years. Everything was so good to be giving thanks and I explained we where ‘sharing people’ because I reminded the circle that when the ships, Nina, Santa Maria, Pinta and the May Flower arrived on our shores, our elders and our people fed those visitors because they were starving. We are a sharing people now and before and that is part of our cultural identity and it is in our Indian /native blood.  

In the old days our ancestors passed a way of life on to us and this we can pass   on to our children the next generation. It is apart of our human make-up to share, give thanks and even protect life because that is what I heard over and over again in our sacred councils and circles. With this little bit of wisdom, we can maintain a high standard of living - some thing that they have a hard time doing in the White House and even in Parliament. They need to share our resources to the full extent that our native treaties would give us all a place to live off the street because our people are living off the street.

I explained what my spirit brother McCloud would say -- that what Mac says is good and what Mac says is true and it has to be said. Just like what we all have to say is our truth. We all have a lot in common and we need to let negativity go. We need our native values and culture more than anything now. The only thing that is standing between us and our culture now is drugs and alcohol which is a big issue for us native people. When I finished talking we began to pass the Eagle Feather around for a Talking Circle and every one had a strong story or message to share with the circle. It always makes me feel so good to hear our people share and it makes me so proud to here the truths and wisdom come from our people.

One of our youth smudged the circle and kept the smudge bowl going. We closed our circle with three songs by using rattlers, drums and flutes, and sending thanksgiving to Mother Earth with our Good Minds!

The Circle was full of wounded people including myself because as we talk about life and Mother Earth how could anyone not be wounded even the honey bee is suffering, nothing is being spared but at the same time we have to let the negative energy go out through one ear to the other!. The circle at Queen West Health Center is on going there are many other good elders bringing our people together for healing! The stories shared by our people are the most heart breaking and even devastating, but there is always something sacred and powerful in our survival.

Traditional Circle of Indian Elders and Youth Gathering at Sappa Dawn Center at Janet and Don McClouds’ home Washington, USA around 20 years ago.  Photo by Danny Beaton

Ron Cook said even though our families are broken and not normal they are still good families and Ron says it over again we come from Good Families we have good families and then he tells how his family were taken away and put into residential school and witnessed his people being stoned and drunk on the reserve and city. How he himself struggled his whole life to be free of the trauma, pain and addictions just like everyone in the circle including myself had to struggle to be free and find our way back to our traditional values and healing culture.

Nothing came easy for anyone in the Circle we all carry the trauma but we all carry the blood of our ancestors a blood line that is connected to the blood in Mother Earth from all our Relations and Relatives and we as native people are surrounded by medicine. Everyone in our Circle came from a Good Family like Ron Cook says and Ron says we are also a family in the Circle, we are an extended family of Crees, Ojibway, Mohawk, Micmac, Algonquin, Lakota, Dene, Haida, Seneca, Huron, Oneida and we are from Turtle Island. Then Ron closes his eyes after singing opening song and repeats All My Relations! I am so happy to see Joanne and Ron again.

As the ceremony continued I mentioned one of the greatest elders I ever knew and traveled with was Joe Medicine Crow and that Joe always talked about how Sacred our Sweat Lodge ceremony was to use, to work and heal with the fire, water, air and Mother Earth that this was our best way to be with Mother Earth. That we Human Beings were a part of the earth, air, fire and water and when we were in the lodge we could not be closer to Our Mother The Earth.

Joe said this ceremony could give us Humans a chance to give thanks to the forces that gave all Creation life. The Sweat Lodge was a ceremony for use to purify ourselves and be reborn. Joe Medicine Crow crossed over April 3rd, 2016 at the age of one hundred and two.

There are old ones who still communicate with stones, bones, skulls, feathers, plants, and know the songs to honour the natural world and spirits. Our ancestors worked with the spirits, water, fire, air, earth, the drum, prayers, and songs for harmony and fertility. They walked the Earth in harmony and respect for the Universe, Creation and Great Mystery.

Our Spiritual Leaders have maintained our Sacred Ceremonies, giving great thanks and respect to the life giving forces for thousands of years. We have always honoured everything in the Sky World that moved. Our old stories tell how we traveled from the Sky World to find ourselves a place on Turtle Island. Even today our sacred circles and councils are a way for us to heal and pass our culture on to our children and our children’s children.

Traditional Elders teach us that the Earth is our Sacred Mother and that everything we need to survive is here for us and that we must be thankful for our Sacred Ceremonies and protect what is here for the future generations to come. The old ones can teach us how to heal with the Spirit World and how to find protection, guidance and wisdom from the eagle, bear, turtle, deer, wolf, and our ancestors. We can do sweat lodges and smudging for purification. We can call on to the Spirit World for the healing of our minds, body and spirit.

Our Old Elders have struggled to keep our traditional ways of life alive because they knew the power of the natural world and respect of the natural laws were for harmony and peace. Our women made our chiefs and chose them when they were young. Chiefs belonged to our nations and they gave up their life for the benefit and protection of the People. Healing and solving problems was sometimes done by fasting, sweating, and listening to the Old Wisdom Keepers.

Traditional Iroquois Elders have always taught us that the Good Mind is the way for justice, righteousness, equality, harmony, and peace; that we can do good things with our thinking and be creative when it is for the benefit of all creation and the natural world. We are told by the Old Ones that everything we do affects the Seventh Generation and we must think of the unborn faces looking up from beneath Mother Earth.

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