Thursday October 27, 2016

Sweat lodge honours missing and murdered Indigenous women

The Current's Anna Maria Tremonti participates in a sweat lodge ceremony that she says is a humble and important experience.

The Current's Anna Maria Tremonti participates in a sweat lodge ceremony that she says is a humble and important experience. (Elizabeth Hoath/CBC)

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"A very important experience." That's how The Current's Anna Maria Tremonti describes her first sweat lodge ceremony. 

In October, Tremonti was in Prince George to host a forum on murdered and missing Indigenous women. It was also the launch of The Current's virtual reality documentary, Highway of Tears.

While she was in town, Lheidli T'enneh elder Marcel Gagnon invited Tremonti to take part in a women's sweat.  

Sweat Lodge 4

The prints from the sweat lodge ceremony hang on a prayer tree on Tumuch Mountain. (Marcel Gagnon)

Traditionally, the ceremony was just for men. But lately, more and more women are using it as a way to get grounded in tradition and for healing from trauma. 

Gagnon organized a "humble" sweat for eight women.

"It's for prayers, for families of the missing and murdered Indigenous women and men."  

The sweat lasted four rounds — with fresh hot rocks dug out of the large fire outside of the sweat before each round.

There were prayers, the women shared stories and sang songs. Pieces of cloth — called prints — were brought into the sweat lodge one by one and prayed over.

"That's our energy, and our concern, and our love for the families and victims represented there" says Gagnon. The prints now hang on a prayer tree that sits on Tumuch Mountain, just east of Prince George.

"They will hang up on that mountain until they just fade away" 

Sweat lodge 1

Indigenous sweat lodge ceremonies are traditionally for men but recently they are being used by women as well. (Elizabeth Hoath/CBC)

Gagnon says it's necessary for Indigenous people to do these ceremonies.

"I call it awakening the medicine man or the medicine woman within — we were born with it, it will never go away."

"We just hear that drum and something inside us is alive and we're connected to our past and everything — it's beautiful." 

Listen to Marcel Gagnon and the women who participated in the sweat lodge ceremony.

This segment was produced by The Current's Liz Hoath.