Every Tuesday and Thursday, I am grateful for the opportunity to connect with my dear friend and Culturally Committed Mentor Daniel Elliott of Stz’uminus First Nation – Dan and I both offer our services working in the Stz’uminus Health Centre on these days. He and I regularly seek time to connect: Dan often brings me a steaming mug of his special medicine tea, or we venture out for a walk amongst the cedars over our lunch breaks. For the past months, the conversation has centred around a project that has been clearly centred in Dan’s heart and mind – the implementation of a Sweat Lodge that has been constructed on Stz’uminus Land.
Daniel has shared with me how for him, participating in his first sweat in 1998 marked a moment of spiritual transformation for him as an Indigenous man. Since then, he has participated in over 1800 sweats with Nanaimo Correctional Centre under the apprenticeship of an Elder, until one day the Elder unceremoniously pronounced, “you run the sweat today”. Following that sweat, Dan came out of the lodge to discover a dozen eagles roosting in the trees that encapsulated the lodge: for him, a sign from the Creator that he was on the right path. As a Sweat Lodge Keeper, Daniel is excited to integrate this healing tradition into his programming with Stz’uminus. Today, he would like to share with you his own personal transformation experience.
“My whole life, what I knew about sweat lodges was learned through movies and photographs, but it wasn’t until 1998 that I got to experience my first sweat. At that time, my beliefs were still entangled with the dogmas I carried from my assimilation: ‘don’t do this’, ‘that’s Indian stuff’, ‘it’s not from God’. As I stood at the lodges entrance and peered into the dark interior, I could feel a cold sweat forming on my body and began silently praying for protection from what lie ahead. As I moved into the lodge, the Elder looked at me and I could feel him reading my thoughts. He gently said, “I want you to pray to the God of your understanding.” As he said those words, I felt relief wash over me, pulsing through my veins – I was being welcomed back to who I am.
Sweat Lodges are not part of Coast Salish tradition, and so we have designed our Snawayalth (Sacred Teachings) Lodge to be connected to familiar aspects of our culture. Rather than a traditional round dome, we have constructed our sweat to mimic the styling of a traditional cedar longhouse. My prayer is that this lodge will provide healing and rebirth to those who enter, just as I experienced.”
I am currently navigating a lot of life changes, and Dan has been so kind in checking in on me regularly. Last Thursday while in the community, he sought me out to let me know that the fire was burning in the lodge, and invited me to sit with him a while. Despite the warm temperature of the lodge, I was wrapped in a cold chill when I sat down on the bench. I positioned myself right next to the stove, on top of which were boughs of cedar steaming away. Slowly the chill began to melt away, and I felt the warmth begin to blanket me. I became so relaxed I could not resist the temptation to lay down. I closed my eyes and began drifting, only stirring when I felt Dan slide a rolled up blanket under my knees to make my position more comfortable. I lay there and listened to Dan and another Elder share stories and teachings, and felt the most profound sense of peace and relaxation that I've felt in a long time. I am deeply grateful for Dan, and for all the people in my life who nurture me when I'm feeling depleted - it is truly a privilege to share in these traditions and experiences.
Kim at Culturally Committed