Native Village Youth and Education News

May 1, 2009 Issue 198
Volume 1

Mounties learn about the Cree experience
by Elise Stolte

Condensed by Native Village

Alberta: They carried the rocks on pitchforks that had baked for two hours in a bonfire. Twenty-four stones -- always a multiple of four -- rolled down a wooden plank into a pit. The pit was inside a willow-frame hut made by lashing young trees together, then covering it with canvas.

They closed the flaps on each end.  Herbs were scattered on the rocks and an acrid smoke stung the lungs.

The 12 men and women in the circle were RCMP [Royal Canadian Mounted Police] finishing a two-day cultural training workshop. The sweat lodge was optional, but the rest is a requirement for all 175 members of the Battle River RCMP District.  w

Sweat lodges are an ancient and traditional cleansing ceremony run by recognized elders. Canada had banned sweat lodges for decades to suppress native spirituality.  Now they're gaining popularity again.

The lodge recreates the womb of the earth, says John Crier, elder at the sweat lodge.

The men wore swimming trunks and towels. Women wore loose cotton dresses or nightgowns. Jewelry was  removed so their bodies were closer to the state in which they were born. It also prevented the metal from burning the skin.

Inside the sweatlodge, prayers were said, and the pipe was passed around the circle. They burned sweetgrass, the Crier threw a buffalo horn full of water onto the hot stones -- grandfather rocks, Crier called them. The steam floated upward, carrying prayers. The heat and steam made it hard to breathe. The officers' gasps for breath were the only sounds in the darkness.

The sweat lodge ended the fourth and final training RCMP training session this year.

"It's been very positive," says district superintendent, Darcey Davidson. "We're not trying to convert anyone. It's just an awareness. If nothing else, that aspect of respect."  Two community members, Roy and Judy Louis, led the training sessions. They talked about local history, the impact of residential schools, and proper protocol for approaching chiefs and elders.

Each officer left with a card full of Cree words -- tanse (hello), tawaw (welcome), pihtokwe (come .)




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