MOUNTAIN LIFE - Ontario | Winter 2016 - page 115

Words by Nicola Ross :: Illustration by Dave Barnes
The flap closes and it’s dark. Disorienting
dark. Dark like when I enter a theatre after the
movie has already begun. Despite the orange
glow emanating from half a dozen softball-
sized stones that fill a tin-lined pit at our feet,
and even though I’m sitting cross-legged in a
semi-circle shoulder to shoulder with ten other
people, I can’t make out a thing.
I sense rather than see a handmovement.
Sizzling sparks dance across the hot rocks,
interrupting the intense blackness for a
tantalizing split second. I feel as much as smell
a pungent, earthy aroma. It’s thick. “With this
mixture of tobacco and sage, we thank and
honour the spirits,” says Glen Sutherland who
built the sweat lodge where I sit and will guide
us through what is a first-time experience for
most of us.
A sweat lodge ceremony is steeped in North
American First Nations culture. It is equal
parts meditation, therapy and sauna. Glen has
been leading sweats for over a decade. He has
completed the Sundance
spending three days
and two nights alone in the forest without food
or water
the requisite four times. “I had a
dream that I would run a lodge,” he toldme
after the two-hour ceremony. An elder from Buck
Island near Manitoulin was his main teacher.
“She didn’t tell me how to run a lodge; she
taught me how to work with energy and spirits.”
A Cree who grew up near James Bay, Glen runs
a sweat ceremony about once a month in North
Bay where he now lives. This is Anishinaabe
home to the Ojibway andAlgonquin.
The lodge is housed inside a simple wooden
building under a canopy of mature maples.
About a dozen feet in diameter, the structure
is domed, igloo-like. It’s meant to recreate a
woman’s womb. Layers of impenetrable white
canvas cover its frame woven with pliable
tamarack saplings. Inside, a dream catcher
adorns the ceiling of the five-foot-high structure.
Colourful ribbons and a few feathers dangle
from the ceiling.
Outside the building, a sacred fire has been
burning for hours to heat the stones that now
glow before me. Tended by the fire keeper,
they represent our grandmothers and
grandfathers who are on their final
journey. Inside, Glen acknowledges the
spirits and offers welcoming words before
splashing water onto the hot stones.
They sizzle. Waves of steam assault my
chin, mouth and face. Humid hot air sears my
nostrils. I inhale throughmy nose and exhale
throughmy mouth as I’ve been instructed.
Glen explains that first we will recognize the
east which represents babies born and as yet
unborn. “Pray for the babies you know and
for pregnant women,” he says. He begins to
drum and we beat along withmaraca-like
“Pray to thespirits,”saysGlenSutherland.
“There isno rightwayorwrongway; just
pray.”Headds, “Theyknoweverything
anyway, but just pray.”
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