By Tim Kalinowski on February 15, 2018.
Snow was falling, a holy drum was beating and a sacred fire was burning Wednesday morning, as prayers for reconciliation were given up to the smoke to rise to the Creator.
Medicine Hat College, in partnership with local Rotarians, the Miywasin Friendship Centre and the Blood Tribe Department of Health, kicked off its four-day “Journey of Reconciliation Conference” with a sacred fire ceremony at the Saamis Tepee.
About 100 Hatters attended the traditional ceremony, presided over by Elder Harry Watchmaker, and accompanied to the drum beat of Maple Creek’s Buffalo Calf Drum Group from the Nekaneet First Nation.
The ceremony began with the lighting of the fire itself, no easy task in the snowy weather. This was followed by prayers from Watchmaker as four volunteers stood around the fire signalling the four directions, each placing a pinch of tobacco in the flame in turn at Watchmaker’s signal to send off earnest prayers for reconciliation between First Nations and other Canadians.
Watchmaker then called on the drummers to play and everyone in attendance to dance “with the joy of being alive under the big teepee in Medicine Hat.”
This was followed by a round dance circling the sacred fire as all present locked hands, and a harder snow began to fall in big sloppy flakes through the air. Watchmaker called on those present to dance through the snow, “which is good, as it comes from Mother Earth.”
Following the conclusion of the round dance and the fire ceremony, Medicine Hat College’s Indigenous student specialist Whitney Ogle called on some prominent Hatters to come forward to be recognized for their earnest efforts to help bring the message of reconciliation to the area. Rotarian Sandy MacKay was signalled out for special praise by Ogle, and given a Medicine Wheel painting by local artist David Manyberries, sacred sweetgrass and a medicine pouch. MacKay was also presented a special Miywasin sash on behalf of Medicine Hat’s Métis community by Elder Donna Kennedy.
“I am quite overwhelmed by these gifts,” said MacKay. “I believe in these last four or five months (working with the College on this conference) I have become more educated as to what has been happening in our history, and I am hoping we can reverse some of the mistakes we have all made.”
The Journey of Reconciliation Conference continues at Medicine Hat College through Feb. 17.
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