Indigenous community hosts full moon ceremony to heal Chedoke Creek

The ceremony members stood shoulder-to-shoulder in a wide circle, smudging, singing and beating their drums as candles burned around them to represent their prayers for the health of Chedoke Creek and Cootes Paradise.

'Pray for this water. The spirit of this water is suffering'

Hamilton's Indigenous communities prayed for the state of Chedoke Creek during a Full Moon Ceremony on Feb. 10. (Bobby Hristova/CBC)

Kristen Villebrun and Wendy Bush hoped they wouldn't have to pray for Chedoke Creek, but four years after they first raised alarm about the water's condition, they were part of an Indigenous full moon ceremony to do just that.

About 50 people showed up near Princess Point on the dark and frigid Monday evening for the monthly ceremony, which was particularly special as it focused on Chedoke Creek.

The body of water that runs into Cootes Paradise had about 24 billion litres of sewage and storm water runoff leak into it due to a gate being left open.

"I still haven't seen anyone [from the city] down here and haven't heard anything about preserving the area or how we're going to go about fixing what's left behind," says Kristen Villebrun, who is Anishinaabe and also known as Shining Water Woman.

The group at the Full Moon Ceremony touched a bowl of water which was later spilled into Chedoke Creek as a way to heal the creek's spirit. (Bobby Hristova/CBC)
Jackie Labonte, who is Haudenosaunee, led the Full Moon Ceremony to pray for Chedoke Creek. She says its spirit is hurting. (Bobby Hristova/CBC)

The members stood shoulder-to-shoulder in a wide circle, smudging, singing and beating their drums as candles burned around them to represent the water's spirit.

Jackie Labonte, who is Haudenosaunee and works with the De dwa Da Dehs Nye's Aboriginal Health Centre, led the ceremony and prayer for Chedoke Creek.

"Pray for this water. The spirit of this water is suffering," she pleaded with the group.

After Labonte spoke with the group, members walked toward a bowl of water in the middle of the circle.

Each person dipped their fingers in the water as a blessing.

Then, as the group drummed and sang, Labonte and Villebrun carried the bowl to Chedoke Creek and poured it in, as a way to heal the water with medicines and prayers.

City didn't listen

Villebrun and Bush know about the creek all too well.

In 2015, after checking on Inuksuks being built nearby to raise awareness about missing and murdered Indigenous women, they came across a "horrifying" discovery on the shoreline — one they could see and smell.

"We found needles, tampon applicators, raw sewage," Bush, a settler and Indigenous ally, says.

They sat on a raft and floated on the water in protest.

They both say they brought up concerns to city officials, but their pleas for change "fell on deaf ears."

"It's history repeating itself," Villebrun says.

Group members drummed and sang to help heal Chedoke Creek at a Full Moon Ceremony on Feb. 10 (Bobby Hristova/CBC)

The city now puts out alerts whenever wastewater treatment plants are bypassed or combined sewer storage tanks overflow, but Villebrun and Bush feel it isn't enough.

They plan to host a demonstration, called a water walk, in the spring around Cootes Paradise.


Bobby Hristova is a journalist with CBC Hamilton. He reports on all issues, but has a knack for stories that hold people accountable, stories that focus on social issues and investigative journalism. He previously worked for the National Post and CityNews in Toronto. You can contact him at bobby.hristova@cbc.ca.