For those who attend the longhouse or church, the calls for social distancing may be hard on their spirituality.
“We’ve been participating in giving thanks as a family in our own ways and each time it’s been a boost for our morale,” said Raven Swamp.
“We eliminate all the distractions of the house. burn tobacco and give our personal thanksgiving addresses followed by song. I find it to be more intimate to do this as a family and I am just grateful our son can still be involved in giving thanks to the natural world at home in isolation.”
Swamp and her partner Tiio Hemlock did the wáhta ceremony from home as well.
“It is important to acknowledge creation and to understand that our relationship with the natural world is not confined by four walls,” she said.
Being outside of the Longhouse has its challenges, during an especially challenging time.
“It brings me great sadness! I wanted my son to be immersed at a young age,” she said. “I do the best that I can do with the knowledge I possess but in the longhouse you get to hear different perspectives and new songs and language. At home we’re limited to what both Tiio and I know.”
Tom Dearhouse works at the Family Wellness Centre as a counselor. He has been working at home since before the directive to work from home was given on March 28.
“I was already quarantined because there was a worker who was possibly affected by COVID…so it was a mandatory two weeks at home,” said Dearhouse.
When asked what the hardest part about not being able to attend either church or the longhouse during the pandemic was, he talked about the challenges of staying home and not being able to maintain the routine.
“There’s no church and no ceremonies based on the directive of ‘no gatherings of five or more,’” he said, adding he’s trying to keep up the routine and practice from a distance.
The church has been using social media such as Facebook Live to hold masses and post spiritual motivation, he said, while the longhouse has encouraged people to do things like burn tobacco on their own, outside of the longhouse walls.
“I like that approach because we should be doing that anyway,” said Dearhouse. “Prayers are fine but spontaneous prayer – that’s good also.”
There have been social distancing powwows, drum songs and healing songs available on social media, he said, so these types of things continue to take place, just in a different form.
The Turtle Lodge Centre of Indigenous Education and Wellness put out a call for Sacred Fires for Mothers Day via Facebook.
“They’re asking people to light sacred fires, it’s a way to unite people at the same time, the power of prayer and the intentions going up will be done on Sunday, which is a nice thing.”
The Turtle Lodge asked that individuals light sacred fires all day last Sunday, May 10 “to honour Mother Earth and all the women of the world for being life-givers.”
St. Francis Xavier Mission has been holding mass every Sunday on Facebook.
Father Vincent Esprit said isolation is the hardest part for people who are used to attending service in person.
“We can’t even open the church,” said Esprit. “Some people ask if they could just come and park their cars outside, but they can’t do that.
“We are encouraging people to make a little alter at home and say your prayers. The culture of the people is resilient,” he said.
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Eastern Door Editor/Publisher Steve Bonspiel started his journalism career in January 2003 with The Nation magazine, a newspaper serving the Cree of northern Quebec.
Since that time, he has won numerous regional and national awards for his in-depth, impassioned writing on a wide variety of subjects, including investigative pieces, features, editorials, columns, sports, human interest and hard news.
He has freelanced for the Montreal Gazette, Toronto Star, Windspeaker, Nunatsiaq News, Calgary Herald, Native Peoples Magazine, and other publications.
Among Steve's many awards is the Paul Dumont-Frenette Award for journalist of the year with the Quebec Community Newspapers Association in 2015, and a back-to-back win in 2010/11 in the Canadian Association of Journalists' community category - one of which also garnered TED a short-list selection of the prestigious Michener award.
He was also Quebec Community Newspapers Association president from 2012 to 2019, and continues to strive to build bridges between Native and non-Native communities for a better understanding of each other.