Family works to raise funds for children’s healing lodge named for girl who succumbed to cancer

·3 min read

Because ceremony was such a big part of Arizona Cardinal’s short life, it is fitting that a healing lodge for children be built in her name, said her uncle Andre Bear.

“She loved ceremony. I think that was the greatest kind of joy in her life was being with her family and being in our sweatlodges, our Sun dances and being a part of our ceremonial family.”

Arizona passed away on Feb. 6, 2021 at the age of nine in Morinville, Alta. She had been diagnosed with brain cancer. She was a member of Alexander First Nation in Alberta.

“When she got sick, initially the first thing we turned to was our ceremonies, traditional medicine. We wanted it to work with the mainstream healthcare system. While she received treatment from the hospital, she was also receiving treatment from our medicine people. It was very tragic, because the doctor, they gave her three months to live, so there wasn’t too much we could do but keep her as comfortable as possible,” said Bear.

The community is building a healing centre and wants it to have her name. Construction is well underway, Bear says, with the concrete poured, framing up and the roof completed. But more work is required.

“We want this to be a community-driven and community-run (project). That’s our goal, to do this and honour Arizona. (There are) so many other young children that deserve access to their traditional ways of healing, to their traditional systems of education. We’d like to be able to provide that,” he said.

There’s a story that goes back 30 years, he says, about how ceremony returned to the Alexander First Nation.

“The Elders had this vision to bring back ceremonies to their community; (to) have rich culture, raise children into ceremony and bring back the rites of passage, everything that was lost due to the Indian residential schools. They managed to complete and attain that vision,” said Bear.

The Elders brought a medicine man who taught the Nation’s children. He outlived those Elders and stayed, becoming a member of the Nation.

“I was lucky to have been brought to Alexander by chance as well and I started learning formally from this Elder, too, and Arizona was an important part of our family over there,” said Bear, who is a law student at the University of Saskatchewan and a member of the Little Pine First Nation.

A GoFundMe page for the lodge has been launched with about $3,000 of the necessary $30,000 raised. The page sports a photo of Arizona.

“We got her makeup done and her hair done for that picture,” Bear fondly recalled. “She was a very, very happy and bright young girl. She was always very light-hearted.”

A golf tournament is also being planned as a fundraiser and Bear is confident that can be carried out safely with social distancing requirements followed.

Bear would like to see the remaining $27,000 raised by year’s end.

He adds that no government, corporate or industry funding will be used for the lodge.

Operating costs to cover programs and deliver services will be accessed through Jordan’s Principle.

Bear, who has been conducting ceremony with Arizona’s family for the last three or four years, says he has gotten his strength from ceremony.

“I feel good. We’re all very lucky we have ceremony. That kind of way of traditional healing has been really effective I think for helping us deal with the grief. The mother is struggling a bit more,” said Bear.

Sharice Cardinal, Bear’s sister, is Arizona’s mother.


By Shari Narine, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, CFWE