RRC hosts sweat lodge ceremonies


Elder Mae Louise Campbell explains the importance of traditional culture in an educational institution. THE PROJECTOR/ Andrew Bart

Tied with strips of colourful fabric, the bent willow framework of a sweat lodge stands atop a quiet hill on the northwest corner of Red River College’s Notre Dame Campus. For Mae Louise Campbell, one of the elders in residence at RRC, the structure symbolizes the college’s growing acceptance of an indigenous perspective.

This spring, the indigenous support centre at RRC will begin holding regular sweat lodge ceremonies for faculty and students. Elders Campbell and Jules Lavallee will lead the ceremonies.

Snow begins to melt from the willow framework of a sweat lodge at NDC where
ceremonies are expected to begin in late March. THE PROJECTOR/ Andrew Bart

“It’s been a long time coming,” Campbell said. “The community of non-aboriginals is becoming much more open. I can see more acceptance and empathy than ever before. This is an opportunity to learn about our culture and traditional ways through the ceremony of the sweat lodge.”

She said many of her students had never been exposed to traditional and cultural ceremonies before the inaugural sweat lodge ceremony in November 2016 and explained how important it was for them to be involved.

“You cannot be successful if you have no sense of who you are,” Campbell said.

Chantelle Ranville, 29, a student in RRC’s aboriginal self-government administration program, was one of 15 people who participated in the sweat. It was her first time attending a sweat lodge ceremony, and she described the experience as rejuvenating.

“In the city, it’s hard to find a sweat sometimes,” Ranville said. “I think it’s important for the college to have.”

Weather permitting, the indigenous support centre plans to officially launch the sweat lodge ceremony program in late March, to coincide with the spring equinox.

Rhonda Klippenstein, the acting indigenous centre coordinator, said some ceremonies will be open to all faculty and students, while others will be held by special request. The centre is working with the elders in residence, writing a policy on how to operate the program, Klippenstein said.

“This is a traditional ceremony run within an institution,” she said. “It’s all new ground, and there are a lot of logistics points to work out.”

The college has focused on acknowledging this new perspective since addressing issues of reconciliation and acceptance at the indigenous education blueprint signing ceremony in December 2015. Indigenous achievement is one of four main points in RRC’s 2016-2021 strategic plan.