Our Diplomatic Hospitality Group was welcomed to the new Wabano Centre on Montreal Road with a joyful chant, sung by three young women and a man to the beat of a drum, "the heartbeat of Mother Earth." Carlie Chase, Director of Initiatives (on the left in my photo), said, "We want you to get to know us and our culture, not just the building. You can help to tell our story of what's here."
People call it a health centre but there is no word for health in the aboriginal languages, because their word meaning "good life" encompasses emotional, physical, mental and spiritual health, as well as pride in one's heritage and a sense of belonging (prosperity was not mentioned). "A long, long time ago," said Bruce, "the Creator gave us four different medicines." He held them up and passed them around, to show us: sage, sweet grass, tobacco and cedar. Sweetgrass grows all over North America and has a purple root. They braid it for various purposes. Cedar leaves are used to make a tea full of vitamin C that has been used as a cure for scurvy. Tobacco is their ceremonial incense, used when making a prayerful request from other people or from Mother Earth.
We were introduced to the Smudge cleansing ritual, reminiscent of what happens at the incense burners in Buddhist temples. The sacred herbs are burned in a shell, a symbol of water, and the smoke fanned towards the supplicant with a feather, representing the wind, so that she can pull it across her head, her ears and eyes, and breathe it in, thus taking away negativity and encouraging kind thoughts. It "reminds us to be quiet." Silence is important in the aboriginal way of life. "We don't have a religion. There's no dogma. We only offer what's needed."
By contrast, Carlie Chase was critical of mainstream Canadian society that's "set up in silos."
The Montreal Road Wabano Centre has enough room for a reception of 500 people, exhibition space, a rooftop garden where traditional medicines will be grown and used for teaching, a sewing centre where women can use industrial-strength machines and take sewing classes, a catering business, likewise offering people the chance to learn employable skills, a medical clinic, youth programs, day care for young children, mental health and homelessness care, and a "maternal wellness" centre. While we were there we saw a very young baby being carried home, after a check-up. Since 1998 the Wabano health care providers have been helping to deal with the marginalised people in our city. Bruce, for example, had spent 11 years locating and helping homeless aboriginals on the streets. At present they have a 6-member outreach team for the homeless and a team visiting vulnerable seniors as well.
|The Conflict Between Good And Evil|
donated for $200 each, is part of this fundraising campaign. $400,000 has been raised so far, and by renting parts of the building to visitors for meetings and celebrations such as weddings, more money will be made. The board room is an impressive place for meetings, with tongues of flame on the table.
|"Fire" in the board room|
We were shown inside the washrooms, even the Gents', decorated with wampum belts. The Ladies' featured a strawberry mosaic, strawberries representing the heart.
the Sky Woman brought corn, beans and squash to Mother Earth.
|Andrea decorating a stick|