PEI

'It does get hot': A peek inside a Mi'kmaq sweat lodge

In a small enclave at the far end of the Abegweit First Nation reserve, about 20 kilometres northeast of Charlottetown, sits a tent-like structure covered with a green tarp and heavy blanket. It’s the local sweat lodge, where Mi’kmaq elder Junior Peter-Paul and others gather every Sunday for a ceremony.

Ceremonies are held every Sunday, and you're invited

Sweat lodge ceremonies are held every Sunday at around noon at the Abegweit First Nation reserve in Scotchfort, P.E.I. (Shane Ross/CBC)

In a small enclave at the far end of the Abegweit First Nation reserve, about 20 kilometres northeast of Charlottetown, sits a tent-like structure covered with a green tarp and heavy blanket.

It's the local sweat lodge, where Mi'kmaq elder Junior Peter-Paul and others gather every Sunday for a ceremony.

Inside are large lava rocks respectfully referred to as grandfathers — "because they are the oldest on Mother Earth," said Peter-Paul. He politely asks me not to photograph the rocks while they are inside the sweat lodge.

Outside are a couple small wooden structures with a welcome sign, a Mi'kmaq flag and a fire pit surrounded by chairs.

Anyone from anywhere from any culture can join any Sunday, Peter-Paul said. No invitation necessary, and there is no cost. 

Junior Peter-Paul points to a sign at the lodge that says pjilasi, which means welcome in Mi'kmaq. (Shane Ross/CBC)

"It's open to everybody," he said. 

"When you come over here the first time, it doesn't mean you have to come in with us. You can stay here and experience the whole thing and maybe after that you'll feel like, you know, have that temptation to come in with us."

The rocks are heated up for a couple hours over the fire pit, then carried inside the sweat lodge with pitch forks.

It's similar to a sauna. Men generally wear just a pair of shorts. Women generally wear long skirts and a T-shirt. They bring towels and bottles of water.

The sweat lodge is about 1.2 metres tall and just over three metres in diameter. (Shane Ross/CBC)

The sweat lodge is about 1.2 metres tall and just over three metres in diameter, but Peter-Paul said he's had as many as 24 people in at once.

"It gets a bit crowded but I can't say no to them. If I get 24 people in there, they're all going to come in."

Junior Peter-Paul performs a smudging ceremony outside the sweat lodge. (Brian Higgins/CBC)


Inside the sweat lodge, they find strength and healing by saying prayers, singing and thanking Mother Earth. 

Peter-Paul offers water to the "grandfathers" four times.

"It does get hot at times," he said.

Abegweit First Nation is located in Scotchfort, about 20 kilometres northeast of Charlottetown. (Shane Ross/CBC)

The ceremony also includes smudging, where sage is burned and the smoke fanned with an eagle feather. 

People leave the sweat lodge feeling cleansed and rejuvenated, physically and spiritually, Peter-Paul said. 

"It's part of the commitment that I took to take care of the lodge, take care to people that need to go to sweat lodge ceremonies for healing and guidance and the strength they need to continue on a good life," he said.

"It's a routine thing that we do every Sunday. Everybody looks forward to it."

More P.E.I. news

About the Author

Shane Ross is a former newspaper and TV journalist in Halifax, Ottawa and Charlottetown. He joined CBC P.E.I.'s web team in 2016.

now