By JoLynn Parenteau on December 6, 2023.
“I thank the sage and my Inner Self, and with this new element of prayer added to my recipe of self-healing, I continue the journey, but now much stronger.”
– author Silver Wolf Walks Alone, from Sacred Sage: How It Heals
A recent City of Medicine Hat Arts, Heritage, & Culture Program microgrant is opening doors to creativity, understanding and new friendships.
Created to promote arts and heritage and celebrate cultural diversity, a microgrant awarded to the Medicine Hat Potters Association has made it possible to host staff of the Miywasin Friendship Centre to get to know and learn from one another. The $500 grant has covered the cost of clay, glazes and refreshments.
The Medicine Hat Potters Association is a city club that has been welcoming hobby potters of all levels and abilities since the 1980s. A membership of 100 keeps the electric and gas kilns firing and clay wheels busy at the club’s bright studio at the Cultural Centre on College Drive.
Since its inception in 1996 and located downtown on Third Street, the Miywasin Friendship Centre offers workshops, recreation, counselling, cultural resources, housing and more for Medicine Hat’s urban Indigenous community. With the goal to train, educate and break down barriers and dispel myths and stereotypes toward Indigenous Peoples, staff facilitate cultural ceremonies and teachings to build greater awareness and understanding of Indigenous culture and the impacts of colonization.
On a cool October night, the Miywasin team is welcomed into the Pottery Association’s studio to share fellowship, fried bannock and to get their hands dirty.
The evening opens in a good way, as they say, with Miywasin team members leading a smudge ceremony. A braid of sweetgrass, one of the Four Sacred Medicines and considered the hair of Mother Earth, is lit and its perfumed smoke wafts over each participant in turn.
Indigenous peoples have burned traditional medicines for centuries as part of a spiritual ritual to cleanse a person or space, and to promote healing and wisdom. The smoke cleanses our mind to have good thoughts; our eyes to see the good in others; our ears to hear Creator’s messages; our mouths to speak wisely; our hearts for healing; and our feet so that we may walk with others in a good way.
Participants shape slabs of clay over molds of an abalone shell and paint them with colourful glazes to create smudging bowls. For time immemorial, abalone shells have been favoured as burning vessels for traditional smudging ceremonies due to the naturally occurring row of small holes along the bottom, which allow airflow to feed the burning sacred herbs. The rough exterior of the shell allows for easy purchase to hold in the hand, and the lustrous nacre or mother-of-pearl interior of the shell reflects the beauty of our intentions. The abalone holds connection to the water, as all Indigenous Peoples have connection to the waterways which sustain Mother Earth.
Pottery club members Dawn Olson and Corley Farough have put much preparation into the evening. Olson used samples of the Four Sacred Medicines – tobacco, sage, sweetgrass and cedar – to create clay stamps to decorate the smudge bowls.
Farough drove from Medicine Hat to meet friends in Swift Current to collect a large batch of bannock. Mother-daughter pair Louisa Reddekopp and Lacey Miller drove from Rosthern, Sask. to meet Farough to deliver the homemade traditional fried bread, which was much appreciated and shared among the busy potters.
“The potters commented on how much they enjoyed learning about and participating in a smudging ceremony. We were also excited to share our craft by teaching our guests how to make and decorate smudging bowls,” says Olson. “Anyone looking in the window would have seen laughter, story sharing, new friendships and delicious bannock.”
The city’s new microgranting program intends to enhance a sense of belonging to the community, and that feeling was palpable in the studio.
“I found the Miywasin pottery night to be really meaningful,” shares club member Jacee Ismay. “The part of the night I enjoyed most was having the opportunity to sit and share stories and connect with all of the participants in an authentic way while making art.”
“The event was really enjoyable, and I think we all came together to create some cool and meaningful art,” says potter Colleen Copland. “Being invited to share in the smudging ceremony was a very special experience.”
This past week, Miywasin staff returned to the Medicine Hat Potters Association’s studio to finish glazing their pieces before they could be fired in the kilns. Enough pottery smudging bowls have been created for take-home pieces, others to be given as gifts, and more yet that will be available for sale at the Tourist Centre, with proceeds supporting Miywasin programming.
This project is strengthening respectful ties between Miywasin Friendship Centre, the community of Medicine Hat, as well as visitors from across Turtle Island (Indigenous North America) and beyond who receive these smudging bowls as gifts, bringing education and awareness of our local and wider regional history, and the importance of Indigenous culture and traditions in healing and moving forward.
They are gifts of thanks and of friendship, gifts to carry our traditions, gifts to receive our prayers and burn our medicines, gifts for our hands to embrace. May we all embrace one another in mutual respect and friendship.
May your hands be cleansed, that they create beautiful things.
May your feet be cleansed, that they might take you where you are most needed to be.
May your heart be cleansed, that you might hear its messages clearly.
May your throat be cleansed, that you might speak rightly when words are needed.
May your eyes be cleansed, that you might see the signs and wonders of this world.
May this person and space be washed clean by the smoke of these fragrant plants.
And may that same smoke carry our prayers, spiralling to the heavens.
JoLynn Parenteau is a Metis writer out of Miywasin Friendship Centre. Column feedback can be sent to email@example.com.