Hola! Buenos Dias Amigos. Running a bit behind on updating all of you, but do not fear! Today we are going to let you hear about some of the crazy experiences we had the privilege to partake in while being welcomed on the Roseau River Reserve.
During this week we were staying at Roseau River Bible Camp which was about a 30 minute drive to the reserve. Each morning we loaded up our vans with bag lunches in hand and set out for the reserve to take in all they had to offer. This was quite an exciting time for the community due to the fact that we were joining them in the midst of their Winter Festival! This was just as exciting for us, because there was so many interesting ceremonies and traditions that we got to participate in throughout the week.
The first day of arriving at the reserve we met our liaison Colleen who toured us around the community, showing us the different traditions and allowing us to see different glimpses into the Anishinaabe culture through interactive experiences. We listened to a variety speakers from the community who told personal testimonies as well as what it was like to live in the Roseau River Reserve. Amongst these speakers, we had a young mom come and share with us her personal testimony and the difficulties of living on the reserve. This was hugely eye opening experience for us as she touched on the struggles of drugs, alcohol, peer pressure and getting out of the cycle of poverty. Getting out of the cycle of poverty is quite a difficult task and for her it is something she is still working towards.
One thing this women really stressed to us as a group was to spread a “good rumour” about the her people. Many of us came in undereducated about the culture, however this opportunity of seeing the community first hand broke down barriers we had up before visiting. It has allowed us to diminish stereotypes and see the progress as they work towards ridding the community of various temptations such as alcohol on the reserve. One lady shared her story about how alcohol is so very damaging to people she loved in her life and she stated “Alcohol is not our friend”. This is was encouraging statement to us, because it is frequently found that many are so quick to judge that it is a problem on reserves, and that they’re not working towards fixing it. Through this experience we are able to confirm that the perspective you gain from looking in from the outside is not an adequate representation of how things really may be.
The second day of being on the reserve we got to do more hands on things and show our love to the community through acts of service. As a group we assisted in setting up tents and helped prepare different elements for the upcoming winter festivities. That was the day many of us were anticipating, as we got the opportunity to participate in a traditional sweat lodge. Sweat Lodges are a fairly big deal in the Anishinaabe culture as they have high spiritual and purifying elements. A Sweat lodge is a small dome structured hut that is entirely covered in tarp and blankets to hold the heat in, with a small pit in the centre where we placed heated rocks, which are hugely symbolic in the ceremony of the sweat lodge and are referred to as ‘grandfathers’. At times it can reach up to 42 degrees celsius once the door is closed. Once the sweat lodge begins they close the small opening and all participants sit in a circle around the heated rocks. Going around the circle, each person shares a prayer to the Creator or a song, which often ends in loud eruptions in shakers, banging on drums and joyful shouting. This experience was a huge learning opportunity in how the Anishinaabe people worship their creator as well as cleanse and purify their bodies. They stressed to us the importance of this tradition in their culture, and was quite an honour to be accepted into it and even have the privilege of preparing the sweat lodges that we participated in.
On Thursday morning we woke up bright and early to attend a traditional sunrise ceremony that kicked off the winter festival. This was a significant event in the community as the fire would be maintained for the whole duration of the four day festival. Later on our team’s women worked alongside the local women of the reserve to help prepare traditional food for the ceremonies. This experience was such an honour for our women as we were welcomed into local homes without any hesitation. They took us under their wings and showed us the ropes of preparing some traditional indigenous food, and through this we were able to to bond and find similar ground in how we interacted with a new culture, realizing how the indigenous people aren’t so different than we are. Later on we had a few fierce warriors from our group who tackled the task of skinning a deer. The natives showed us how to gut it, sort it, and educated us on the importance of an animal giving its life for their use, which is hugely stressed in the Anishinaabe culture. Afterwards we joined the community for a ceremony celebrating their hunters. This consisted of a variety of traditions including dancing, singing and celebrating life. To end our day we went to the K-8 school on the reserve and participated in different interactive activities, as well as having a various information sessions on the culture and values of the Anishinaabe people.
Friday was day we said goodbye to all our new friends made in the Roseau River community. We started off our day by going on a driving tour of the reserve and different significant sights in the area. We stopped at a place where they would perform a Sun Dance, as well as another sight where more ceremonies happen during the summer months. During this time we explored the grounds of the ceremonies and had free time to climb trees and hang out by the river. Creation is dear to the Anishinaabe people’s hearts, so through this time of reflection we seized the opportunity to take in the beauty around us and spend time in God’s creation. From there we proceeded to the school for the last time, where we had ladies from the community come in and teach us how to do bead work. We gained a new appreciation for their hard work once we began to try and master the art of beading ourselves. Many didn’t have that great of an outcome, however the experience was greater than the art that came out of our efforts. At the end of the school day we had the privilege to sit in on the closing ceremony that happens at the end of each day. This is a time where they end their day in song and send the kids off with a prayer to the Creator. During this time they had 5-7 young boys alongside a teacher playing the music on a large drum in the middle of the gym. It was so encouraging to see the young boys being taught how to the play the drum and sing, displaying the importance of their culture living on in the generation to come. So simple yet beautiful.
All in all this was hands down one of the most impacting and eye opening experiences thus far. We learned so much and will take away so much more than just the information we gained. As they made us feel apart of their community for this week, it began to give us a new understanding of Anishinaabe people. This has allowed us to understand what working towards reconciliation looks like and how we can go about building a bridge of understanding for the many generations to come.
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