ABI (to be home in Ojibwe) is a project funded by The United Church of Canada’s Healing Fund that collaborates with other outreach ministries to offer programming for residential school survivors and intergenerational survivors in Winnipeg, Manitoba. The outreach ministries welcomes individuals who need support and access to basic needs, healthcare, programming, and community. It was a cold and snowy day when I visited the Sharing Circle at St. Mathew’s Maryland Outreach Ministry. Minister Josh Ward welcomed me in and led me to an open space downstairs where it was festively decorated in holiday colours and ornaments. Josh introduced me to the volunteers who were busy preparing lunch for the participants. I learned that the site opens the sharing circle to Indigenous and non-Indigenous participants as part of reconciliation and building good relations. Josh explained that the sharing circle is a safe space for everyone to gather and led by an Elder to learn about Indigenous culture and traditions. The site also brings in Indigenous healthcare practitioners who incorporate Indigenous healing methods as part of their care.
The Elder Vicki Catagas opened the sharing circle with a prayer. Vicki proceeded to light some sage and it burned openly within a shell. Sage is one of the traditional medicines used by Indigenous peoples. When sage is burned, the smoke cleanses a person’s body, mind, and spirit so that one may put aside worries and be present. Also, it is believed that the smoke from the sage can carry a person’s prayers to the Creator. Once the circle opened, we all took turns introducing ourselves as well as to share anything we wanted to let the participants know about. The Elder led us in a teaching about the Anishnaabe Creation Story and later we shared what we learned about the teaching.
From observing the sharing circle and participating in it, it felt like a very friendly place to be. The sharing circle reminded me of community events that I attend and I felt a sense of belonging and familiarity. After the sharing circle, there was a closing prayer and we moved the chairs to bring in some tables so we could have lunch. The bannock was delicious! I was happy to chat with one of the Indigenous participants who was a long way from home in the west coast of British Columbia. The participant shared that she first came to the St. Mathew’s Maryland three years ago looking for services. The participant found that the staff were kind and friendly and it encouraged her to return for programming. Since then the participant has made relationships with other people, attended community events with other participants, and learned a lot about her health. Eventually, she started to volunteer and built her confidence as a helper. The participant shared that the sharing circle participants and staff at St. Mathew’s Maryland have become an important part of her community.
It was wonderful to visit the sharing circle. The friendly environment and positivity really warmed my heart and I was grateful to them for providing such a safe place for the participants to build relationships, learn about health issues, and support their goals for health and wellness.
— Honarine Scott is Cree from Fort Albany First Nation and is the Healing Programs Coordinator for the Aboriginal Ministries Circle in The United Church of Canada.