Sweat ceremonies return to Montreal's First Nations Garden
Sweat ceremonies are returning to the First Nations Garden in Montreal's Botanical Garden this spring after being put on hold at the start of the pandemic.
The city of Montreal announced Wednesday that it would make the space available to the Native Friendship Centre for the next three years so it can organize the ceremonies.
"This responds to a need expressed by some members of Montreal's Indigenous community," said Myriam Landry, cultural officer of the First Nations Garden and member of the Wôlinak Abenaki Nation.
The First Nations Garden regularly hosted sweat ceremonies led by Sedalia Kawennotas Fazio, a Kanien'kehá:ka elder from Kahnawà:ke, before pausing its activities once the pandemic hit. After the lodge fell into disuse, it was demolished.
The Botanical Garden will provide the resources needed to organize the gatherings like wood, a fire ring and storage space. It will also construct a stakewall to provide privacy during ceremonies.
"Because of the spiritual aspect of the ceremonies, we don't want just anyone to access or enter the site," Landry said.
Sweat ceremonies are considered private, spiritual experiences for reflection by many Indigenous communities in Quebec and Canada, and the practice has deep roots in many cultures. Traditionally, they take place in tents in which hot stones are sprinkled with water to heat and steam.
"The idea behind this partnership is to provide a permanent space for communities," said Alia Hassan-Cournol, city councillor for the Maisonneuve-Longue-Pointe district and associate councillor for reconciliation with Indigenous peoples.
"The First Nations Garden has become a territorial marker for the different Indigenous communities in Montreal, so there was really this desire on both sides to make the sweat lodge permanent," she said.
LISTEN | A breakdown of the roles and traditions in the sweat lodge ceremony:
"We are moving into another phase of Montreal's reconciliation strategy because we are really starting to integrate Indigenous practices and traditions by and for Indigenous communities into the structure of the city."
According to Landry, the partnership is unique in Quebec.
"I don't know of other cities or municipalities that support the holding of sweat ceremonies in their facilities like that," she said, adding that a sweat lodge in the city will make it easier for Indigenous people to connect with their culture.
The sweat lodge will be built on a small peninsula, which visitors to the Botanical Garden will not have access to during ceremonies.
Security measures will be taken to ensure that ceremonies go smoothly and peacefully for both the Indigenous participants and Space for Life employees accompanying them, said Hassan-Cournol.
The Native Friendship Centre will be in charge of planning and registration for the ceremonies and those taking part will have free access to the Botanical Garden.