Published on June 20th, 2017 | from CAMH

A new day for First Nations, Inuit and Métis Peoples at CAMH

by Kahontakwas (Diane Longboat), Senior Project Manager, Aboriginal Engagement and Outreach, Provincial System Support Program (PSSP)

History was made on June 23, 2016 when CAMH celebrated the grand opening of the Ceremony Grounds with Medicine Gardens, a Sweat Lodge and Sacred Fire.  As the first operational Sweat Lodge at a hospital in Ontario, these Ceremony Grounds now offer First Nations, Inuit and Métis clients and patients the opportunity for empowerment and recovery from addiction and mental health challenges utilizing their own ancient techniques.

Kahontakwas (Diane Longboat)

Since the opening in 2016, the Ceremony Grounds has received over 400 clients, patients, staff members, guests and international visitors for traditional teachings and ceremonies.

Clients continue to express their joy at having such a powerful place of healing that complements their hospital care.  Today, the rich ceremonial life of First Nations is celebrated as a standard of care and forms part of the treatment plan of every Aboriginal client or patient who chooses to seek the services of the Traditional Healers in Aboriginal Services.  Comprehensive policies guide the ceremonies so that they can be offered safely in inpatient rooms, on the ceremony grounds and during visits of guests who contract with CAMH to use the Ceremony Grounds.

On National Aboriginal Day, and always, it must be understood that such freedoms were not always possible.

Canada is evolving from its colonial past when the Indian Act outlawed traditional ceremonies of First Nations beginning in the 1880’s, continuing until the revision of the Indian Act in 1951.  Increasingly coercive government regulations empowered Indian Agents working for the Government of Canada to seek out, name and have arrested by the RCMP, those First Nations peoples who were continuing to practice their ceremonial and spiritual life.

For a period of 71 years, generations of young people grew up without the transmission of culture and ceremonies and were impacted by the residual trauma of being disconnected from their identity and history.

Recovering culture and history

Today, Aboriginal peoples are engaged in the stages of Nation Building to recover those cultural and political institutions that were once banned. Historical trauma passed through the generations, can become intergenerational trauma, causing long-lasting impacts on the well-being of Aboriginal peoples. We now understand how trauma can play itself out in the mental health and addiction challenges faced by First Nations, Inuit and Métis peoples.

A sacred fire at CAMH’s Ceremony Grounds

It’s a new day when the very best of First Nations ceremonial life can be shared widely.

As the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada released its Calls to Action (2015), CAMH took special note of Recommendation 22: “We call upon those who can effect change within the Canadian health care system to recognize the value of Aboriginal healing practices and use them in the treatment of Aboriginal patients in collaboration with Aboriginal Healers and Elders where requested by Aboriginal patients.”

Work began to prepare the Ceremony Grounds, and today, CAMH continues to prioritize cultural programming and ceremonies as part of a wholistic approach to care for First Nations, Inuit and Métis Peoples.

Image credit: Sacred Fire Foundation

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