smudging and smoke

This week I had the chance to participate in a two day facilitator course put on by the Native Women’s centre in Hamilton. The course was to teach social service providers how to work with aboriginal women who have been abused. I was thankful to have the opportunity to receive this training- I love to learn (and not be graded or tested afterward!) From this training I learned a few things. First off- at the beginning and end of both the days an Elder from the community (Grandmother Sara Smith) opened and closed the day with a prayer. We participated in something called “smudging” where medicine plants are lit on fire (sage?) and you take the smoke in your hands and “wash” it over yourself. The point of smudging is to get rid of negative energy and the smoke acts as a vehicle for prayers to be lifted up to the creator. We also got a chance to learn about a basic aboriginal creation story. Each tribe’s story is slightly different I think but this is how the one I heard went: In the beginning the creator made all creatures and all were made equal. Eventually, the humans forgot to live the way that the creator had instructed them to live and they fell out of harmony with the earth (sound familiar yet?) So, the creator sent a helper called “the little boy” (even more familiar?!) and then the people were given the gift of the 7 grandfathers. The 7 grandfathers are love, truth, courage, bravery, respect, honesty and truth. These are the principles that the people were to base their lives on. I found a lot of peace and inspiration in the aboriginal creation story- it is so similar to that of Christianity. It makes me feel like we are all connected to each other- and we’re not as different from each other as it sometimes seems.

The whole premise of this training was to learn how to incorporate traditional aboriginal teachings and values into helping women and men heal from abuse. Very cool. I was really aware of my privilege- as a white, middle class, educated, North American female. Moreover, I was made so aware of how lucky I am to have never experienced violence- not in my family or in my personal life- fortunately, none of my friends has ever expressed to me that they have experienced violence (this isn’t to say that they have NEVER experienced violence- just not to my knowledge). I learned that in some aboriginal communities it is estimated that 70%-90% of women experience violence. I cannot even imagine how much violence can break a person’s spirit- how it can devalue a woman, child or family.
This week I learned that a lot of women are not so lucky and do live in fear and under oppression. But I also learned that there are alternative ways to help women who have experienced such injustices- in a way that is holistic, traditional, and restorative.
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