The beginning of a sacred pipe ceremony — an Indigenous tradition that was repressed during the residential school era — is happening Saturday morning in the small community of Dettah, N.W.T., just outside Yellowknife.
This is the first stop of four during the pipe's tour across the country. It starts in the North then goes east, south and west.
The pipe, a specially-made tobacco pipe built of stone and white wood, was commissioned by the Circle of Elders, a group of leaders from across North America, during a meeting in Ottawa in December.
Dave Courchene, a Sagkeeng member of the circle and the selected holder and caretaker of the pipe, says the group talked about the health and wellbeing of Indigenous people across the country and knew a sacred pipe ceremony had to be part of the plan to heal.
"It [the pipe] has the power to evoke the Spirit," Courchene said, adding that the Spirit is what helps his people heal, and that's what they need following years of oppression and condemnation.
Courchene says the sacred pipe ceremony used to be a very popular Indigenous tradition, but was dampened by colonization and what he calls the "cultural genocide" of Indigenous people for hundreds of years.
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The pipe represents life; the ceremony is about taking back that life or culture that was lost during the residential school era.
"These elders are saying we've got to stop crying about what we've lost, what has been taken and stolen from us, and we have to take back what is ours; whether it's our land, our language, our children, or our way of praying," said Stephen Kakfwi, an elder from the N.W.T., who helped organize Dettah's contribution.
The ceremony starts at 9 a.m. MT at the Chief Drygeese Centre in Dettah. It will be followed by a water ceremony as well as a "sharing circle," where the public is invited to talk about how they are "taking back what's ours" and learning how to thrive with the help of their Indigenous culture.