Elders and experts educate on importance of water

Freda Huson and Chickadee Richard answer questions following the main presentation at The University of Winnipeg on March 17. THE PROJECTOR/ Jennifer Doerksen

Freda Huson and Chickadee Richard answer questions following the main presentation at The University of Winnipeg on March 17. THE PROJECTOR/ Jennifer Doerksen

Indigenous ceremonies and teachings are being offered to the public in downtown Winnipeg.

Students at The University of Winnipeg Student’s Association planned a pipe ceremony and water teachings event that featured speakers on current environmental and economic issues.

On March 17, the students of The University of Winnipeg and the general public were invited to participate in the ceremony and a community feast while listening to Freda Huson of the Unist’ot’en camp in British Columbia and Winnipeg Elder Chickadee Richard.

The event focused on water. In indigenous culture, water is considered sacred because it is the root of all life. Women are considered responsible for water because of the amniotic fluid that releases during pregnancy.

The speakers shared the traditional teachings and how those teachings influence them to try and stop oil pipeline expansion.

Huson represented the Unist’ot’en camp in northern B.C. that is living off the land to prevent the oil pipeline construction. She shared her story of growing up on the land, moving to the city, and the choice to move back.

“I was part of the economic wheel, I made good money and I had good benefits, and I made a choice to walk away from that in order to protect water, land,” she said. “The river that flows by our cabin is one of the only rivers in all of Wetsu’et’en territory where you can take a cup to it and drink.”

Treaty relations are different in B.C. Some of the land belonging to First Nations has not been signed over to the Canadian government, so the Wetsu’et’en still have full legal control over their land.

Elder Chickadee Richard shared teachings on her experiences with water. She grew up near a lake and loved to swim.

“We would wait for the elders to bless the water before we went to swim,” she said. “Water is one of our first medicines to cleanse our bodies.”

Protecting water and land is part of her culture.

“I don’t want to see my granddaughter on the front lines protecting the waters,” she said. “We’re not protesters. We’re not defenders, we’re lovers of our children and grandchildren.”

One of RRC’s Elders-in-Residence, Mae Louise Campbell, attended the event on Wednesday. She runs Grandmother Moon Lodge, which was built and operated by women. She said she welcomes non-indigenous people into her ceremonies.

“I had a drum circle here [at RRC’s Notre Dame Campus] this afternoon, and of the 15 women who came, only two were indigenous women,” she said.

Campbell said she appreciated the number of non-indigenous people at the Water & Indigenous Women’s Wisdom event.

“This knowledge is really being sought after by many people,” she said.

Local Elder Myra Laramee led the pipe ceremony. Laramee explained the symbolism of the pipe, invited all the women in attendance to join in a holler and shared the water they cleansed through the ceremony with every person in attendance.

She also spoke about gender in indigenous traditions, saying although women are water carriers and usually wear skirts to ceremonies, everyone is on the same level when they sit down.

“We have a different kind of feminism. How many of you have hauled water so you can wash? How many of you have split wood?” she asked, saying indigenous feminism includes meeting basic needs in a traditional lifestyle.

“People have different ideas about being a woman, a water carrier, but I don’t know anyone who doesn’t know that when a certain water flows, new life is coming,” she said.

“You’ve all had an indigenous experience now,” she said as she concluded the ceremony.


Top cover photo credit also goes to Jennifer Doerksen.