North End traditional pipe ceremonies continue supporting youth
Jen Doerksen, BEAT REPORTER
Indigenous youth are bringing ceremonies to the streets of the North End, mere metres from some of Winnipeg’s most notorious bars.
Ninoondawah Richard and Jenny Roulette have hosted traditional pipe ceremonies each Saturday for the past five weeks. The first two took place on the corner of Salter Street and Selkirk Avenue. Two took place on the corner of Main Street and Jarvis Avenue, across the street from the Northern Hotel. The most recent was on Flora Avenue and Charles Street. Each event gathered about 20 people.
“We need to pray for our young people in the community,” said Ninoondawah Richard, an Aboriginal Youth Opportunities! organizer who leads the ceremony. “They have lost the way of life, but I think when they see what I’m doing on the street, they’ll come and think ‘what is this?’”
Richard said that the ceremony is important to the health of Indigenous people.
“I’ve been carrying this since I was a little kid. I was in fasting ceremonies, Sundance ceremonies, drum practice ceremonies,” he said. “I’ve been taught by people around me saying ‘one day you will be carrying these ceremonies around,’ so I’m a young person who wants to bring change.”
Darrien Morton, who has attended each event so far, said the ceremonies have been fairly self-sustaining and powerful for attendees.
“People open up. I remember Resource Assistance for Youth brought some kids out, and they talked about alot of general issues they face like CFS and addiction,” he said. “They really opened up, and to be there, hearing those hopeful stories about how far they’ve come, people broke down in tears.”
On August 13, community members laid a thick comforter down on the sidewalk of Main Street for Richard and Roulette to sit down. Two attendees had also brought their pipe bundles and asked to join Richard and Roulette.
Richard started by explaining why they had gathered the community.
“In our North End, there’s too much hearing about people committing suicide,” said Richard. “So I was thinking, what can I do for everyone who is out here?”
Everyone present had the opportunity to share their name and some thoughts during the introduction.
One attendee shared a story about talking someone down from the Salter Street Bridge earlier that month. He then explained how ceremonies have helped him stay sober since being released from prison.
After introductions, the four with pipes unpacked their pipe bundles and drums onto the blanket, lit some sage for a cleansing ritual called smudging, and began their prayers.
People walking by stopped to check it out during the ceremony. All were welcomed to join, and a few asked for a smudge. One woman took a place beside a big drum Richard had placed on a stand. She pulled out a cigarette to offer tobacco to the drum. Offering tobacco is the most common form of prayer in Indigenous tradition.
One of the four pipes was passed around the circle. If they wanted, people spun the pipe in the four directions and prayed before taking a puff.
After about 20 minutes, the pipes burned out and the group began drumming and singing. The event closed with a feast of donated food including berries, stew, bannock, salads and chips. More people walking down the street stopped to join in on the feast.
Making the ceremony public meant a lot to Richard.
“For a long time, these ceremonies were banned. If you were carrying a pipe, you were thrown in jail,” he said. “But now it’s okay to do, so it’s important to show our kids and our young people. If we don’t do it now, it’s like saying we’re going to give up.”