Pipe ceremony kicks off Billings Art and Heritage Trail sculpture design

KAGAWONG—A pipe ceremony conducted earlier this month. Approximately 20 people including this writer sat in a circle and while the weather was cool, the sun was shining and the afternoon was enjoyed by all who attended.

The event was part of a community arts process hosted by 4elements Living Arts to create a permanent public structure that responds to and explores relationships between environmental history, land and reconciliation. The pipe ceremony and pot luck that followed were intended to celebrate, acknowledge traditions and share ideas about the project.

Executive Director for 4elements and facilitator Sophie Edwards welcomed everyone attending and introduced the permanent sculpture project that is connected to the Canada 150 event to take place July 15.

A sculpture trail, including plaques depicting both settler and indigenous themes will be highlighted throughout the summer and fall.

Mr. Eshkawkogan began the ceremony by sharing that as a member of thunderbird clan, he is “the keeper of the medicine and healing.” Ironically while he was driving to Kagawong, a bird flew alongside his vehicle quite a distance down the highway.

Everyone sat on the ground or on a camp stool, bundled up yet enjoying the bright sunshine.

Mr. Eshkawkogan’s partner Tina asked each person to stand and hold out their arms to be smudged. The elder spoke of the Seven Grandfather Teachings: love, truth, respect, wisdom, humility and honesty, bravery and lastly compassion and forgiveness. He linked the teachings to Truth and Reconciliation as “part of the healing process to understand who we are now.”

Tina then asked each of us to take a pinch of tobacco from a small tin held in her hand. She asked us to “make a wish for all the things you want in your life; include yourself first and then anyone afterwards.”

The pipe was a gift from a man in Baltimore, its stem made from an ash tree. There is a lot of medicine in it: food for your liver. The power of the tree is in the pipe.

Tina then asked each of us, after making a wish, to put the pinch of tobacco back in the tin which she held in front of us once more. The elder heated the tobacco in a small bowl over a ceremonial flame, put the tip to his lips, offered his voice in song and inhaled and expelled the smoke from it.

The ceremony was to “focus on what we’re trying to do and bring it to life: help the project out; understand why we’re doing what we’re doing to start the healing process re. Truth and Reconciliation; to bring hope and faith to what this world needs: acknowledge the nature that’s in front of us.”

A cup was given to each of us followed by a strawberry. The strawberry, Tina shared, is in the shape of a heart and tastes sweet. “We want to find sweetness in everyday life. Enjoy your strawberry,” she urged.

Water from a pitcher made from birch bark was then poured in the cup. Everyone was encouraged to drink it: to clean our blood to make it run clear like the spring water.

Following the ceremony everyone was encouraged to share something they were grateful for, give and receive a hug and then enjoy a pot luck meal together.