N.B. First Nations dealing with provincial fire bans

The province has no exemptions for religious or ceremonial fires, leaving to question ceremonies like sweat lodges and sacred fires.

Province offers no exemptions for sacred fires but willing to work with groups

A sacred fire is lit at many First Nations events, and elders say it brings in good spirits at gatherings. (CBC)

Hot weather season in New Brunswick can mean fire bans, and that's causing some difficulties for First Nations that use sacred fires for spiritual ceremonies.  

The entire province is currently under a no-burn order, to be updated Wednesday, and since April 18, there have been full bans for 37 days, and restricted hours for 34 days.

The province has no exemptions for religious or ceremonial fires, leaving to question ceremonies such as sweat lodges and sacred fires.

Its our culture and our culture has been (around) for a long period of time, and if we don't do that we lose our culture.- Joe John Sanipass, Elsipogtog Elder

"There are no provisions in the Forest Fires Act that allow for exemptions for category 1 fires during a burn ban. Of course if this situation were to arise we would try to work with any group that is having a fire for a religious ceremony," said Jean-Francois Pelletier, chief spokesperson for the New Brunswick Government's Energy and Resource Department in an email.

Pelletier did say that ceremonies could be carried out if they were 60 metres away from forest land, if they were in cities then they would fall under city laws.

Powwows and sweats 

The province has issued a complete no-burn ban. (http://www.gnb.ca/public/fire-feu/dbpmap-e.asp)

Many of the ceremonial fires for sweat lodges and sacred fires are held on traditional lands and powwow grounds, and can't be moved to different locations.

New Brunswick will play host to a total of 12 powwows this summer and each one has a sacred fire. Joe John Sanipass, an elder in Elsipogtog First Nation, sees sweat lodges and sacred fires as a necessity.

"After the gathering at the sacred fire, and the closing of the powwow we send our prayers so everyone has a safe journey home," said Sanipass.

He hosts his own sweat lodges but doesn't know how many he'll do this summer, because it depends on when people need them: "When you're in the sweat lodge and you're sweating out all the chemicals and the worries come out of your system," said Sanipass.

Fire-keeper

"Not permitting our people to conduct our spiritual ceremonies using fire is like asking a priest or minister not to use their bible," said Ron Tremblay. (CBC)

Sanipass pointed out that someone is always watching the fire during the ceremony.

Wolastoq Grand Council Chief Ron Tremblay said that's the case in his community as well.

"The fire-keeper who sits and watches the Sacred Fire remains at the fire at all times and watches it with intent. He is not allowed to leave it until someone else is there to take his place if he needs to leave for a particular reason," said Tremblay.

He said a fire-keeper's job is held in high regard and equated not allowing fires to not allowing a priest or minister a Bible. 

Sanipass said he's hoping more people will attend the sweats.

"Its our culture and our culture has been (around) for a long period of time, and if we don't do that we lose our culture," said Sanipass.