By: Carol Baldwin, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Wakaw Recorder

An Opening Prayer and Blessing was given by Velma Assinewai to start the gathering in a good way.

Roundtable introductions were made by the 21 people who attended in person or via Zoom, representing a diverse group of corporate and business entities such as Prairie Spirit School Division, City of Martensville, Dakota Dunes Community Development Corporation, Station Arts, and Wheatland Regional Library to name but a few. Velma and John co-chaired the meeting and shared that Tracy, the third member of the tri-chair position, has stepped back temporarily because of her new role as Elementary School Principal at Beardy’s Okemasis First Nation and the steep learning curve this new chapter in her life entails.

September 30 is the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation, a day to honour those children lost at residential schools, the survivors who returned forever changed, their families, and their communities. Just as we remember and recognize events such as Holodomor and the World Wars, to ensure they are never forgotten and to acknowledge their impact, so too we must acknowledge this painful part of our nation’s past and recognize how it continues to impact society as we strive to move forward in reconciliation. To that end, a discussion was held regarding the events happening in the area.

Wanuskewin Heritage Park had free admission and parking for anyone taking part in the events held there that day to honour survivors and come together as a community interested in learning from Indigenous artists and educators.

Rock Your Roots – Walk for Reconciliation Saskatoon, hosted by the Central Urban Metis Federation Inc. (CUMFI), started with a pancake breakfast outside their office at 315 Ave. M South, Saskatoon, followed by a walk at 10 a.m. down 20th Street to the Victoria Park Reconciliation Circle at the foot of the “Where Our Paths Cross” installation. A short program was followed by games in the park.

The Saskatoon Tribal Council Every Child Matters Pow Wow honouring youth took over Sasktel Centre on Sept 30 and Oct 1. Saturday visitors were encouraged to wear orange in recognition of the lasting legacy of residential schools, the children lost, and the survivors. Grand Entries were at 1 p.m. and 7 p.m. on Saturday. On Sunday, guests were encouraged to wear red in honour of Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women. Admission was free all weekend.

Great Plains College in Warman had Linden Linklater, a knowledge keeper, speaking on the legacy of residential schools on September 29th at 11 a.m. followed by a Round Dance outside.

Wheatland Regional Library featured Tim Poitras as part of their Truth and Reconciliation Speaker Series. He spoke at branches in Eston and Waldheim on September 29th and at the Warman Home Centre Communiplex on September 30th which was livestreamed on their Facebook page.

Upcoming later in October is “Walk for Wenjack” which is often held during Secret Path Week. Originally organized by a dedicated team of volunteers, Walk for Wenjack started in 2016 and supports the Gord Downie & Chanie Wenjack Fund (DWF). Secret Path Week takes place between October 17th and 22nd as those dates respectively mark the dates that Gord Downie and Chanie Wenjack joined the spirit world. The week’s focus is to answer Downie’s call to do something, to take action and create reconciliACTION, and to furthering the conversation about the true history of residential schools.

Secret Path Week commemorates the legacies of Chanie Wenjack and Gord Downie, and The Legacy Schools Program is part of the DWF. The Legacy Schools of Prairie Spirit School Division organized a walk in Warman last year and will hold one in Martensville this year on October 19th starting at the gazebo in Kinsmen Park.

In May, the Mennonite Central Council held a retreat, Exhale Together, at the Shekinah Retreat Centre near Waldheim. The weekend retreat focused on “recognizing the toll and trauma-exposed nature of anti-racism and reconciliation work” and offered space for rest, reflections, and rejuvenation. From the 21 people present for the weekend, including the presenters, came comments such as restful, supportive, relevant cultural teachings, and that hearing others share their personal experiences helped to process their own trauma/healing/reflection. The PRRC supported the weekend. The PRRC has the funds available to provide up to $500 to groups to help with funding reconciliation events. Requests for support can be made through email and the appropriate form will be forwarded.

It is time to start thinking about the next Conference. People are needed to step forward to begin organizing for a spring conference. Although it may seem far away yet, it takes considerable time to organize with one of the first things needed is a site to hold it. Erika put her name forward as being interested in being a conference organizer.

With the revival of the Zoom option for our meetings, the tri-chair expressed an interest in a Meeting Owl. The Meeting Owl is an intelligent plug-and-play 360° video conferencing camera that coordinates the microphone, speakers, and video for remote meetings. Jamie will gather information for the next meeting which will be held on Oct 25th at Station Arts in Rosthern. The November meeting will be in Aberdeen at the school, and in December the PRRC will meet informally over Zoom and share family traditions and experiences.

The featured presenter for the second hour of the meeting was Janice Linklater who spoke of traditional medicines and their healing properties. Janice is an Anishinaabe Kwe from Treaty 3 territory in Northwestern ON. She has been at the Saskatchewan Indian Institute of Technologies (SIIT) for several years in different roles, such as instructor, program coordinator, and now Dean of Post-Secondary studies. Her passion is watching students learn, grow, dream, and become their best selves. They then get to share their knowledge within communities.

Janice shared that it took many years for her to learn all the pieces of medicine teachings, and she was lucky to have had many cultural teachers over the years even though her parents, husband, and his parents and grandparents all went to residential schools. Upon coming to Saskatchewan, she found spiritual families at Sweet Grass and Makwa Sahgaiehcan but said the land is the biggest teacher of all.

Her parents didn’t speak of it [residential school] so it took her a while to recognize the impact of it. Her father was an alcoholic until he became sober in his 40s and then became addicted to gambling 10 years later. At the time of his passing, he was alcohol and casino-free for 7 years. The cycle of addictions, she said can be broken, but everybody must do their part. Her father quit drinking in his 40s, Janice in her 30s, her daughter in her 20s, and now her granddaughter doesn’t drink or partake in drugs.

At SIIT, she said, they have medicine boxes and will take them anywhere to use as teaching toosl. There are literally thousands of plants (medicines) that can be used for treating many complaints and many of them grow in the boreal forest. The harvesting of the plants is not for the faint of heart as it can be physically taxing, and certain plants only grow deep in the bush and must be harvested at specific times. Never, she cautioned, go picking medicines alone unless you know exactly where you are as it is very easy to get lost and turned around in the bush.

SIIT teaches about medicine chests, as a way of sharing knowledge and helping others, and the teaching also functions as healing for the teachers. Many of these medicines in the medicine chest can be found commercially, but unless they come from indigenous sources who follow the harvesting teachings, the quality and sustainability of the medicine is unknown. Janice acknowledged that some people say that medicines shouldn’t be sold, but as she sees it, not everybody is able to pick medicines and if it is done with a right heart, as a way of sharing, then it is alright. Nicki and Ed, whom she receives some medicines from, went in ceremony to an elder and received a blessing to do this. They do not call themselves medicine teachers either, but rather foragers who collect medicines.

Some of the medicines found in the chest include, naturally, the four sacred medicines tobacco, cedar, sage, and sweetgrass. Tobacco speaks for the person and creates a connection with the creator. Sweetgrass is one of the strongest medicines that helps to calm a person when they are struggling. Also known as “the sacred hair of Mother Earth” it calms the emotions, and its sweet aroma reminds people of the gentleness, love, and kindness she has for the people. (Anishnawbe Health Toronto) Cedar is good for the lungs and the respiratory system, and Janice said she puts some in a pot to simmer on the stove so she can breathe it in. Sage is used to prepare for ceremonies and can be used for cleansing homes, releasing what is troubling the mind, and removing negative energy.

Janice said that medicine picks you and will call you when out on the land, but people need the teaching to go along with the harvesting so that it will reveal itself. She makes her own cloth bags to hold the medicines since they are alive and they die when encased in plastic, but she said to follow the teachings of one’s teacher.

Some of the other medicinal plants include rabbit root, yarrow bear root, diamond willow, wild mint, senna, bee pollen, and chamomile to name but a few. Each medicine can have many different uses and take a few days to take effect but never underestimate the power of these plants. There are many books on the medicinal properties of plants and modern medicine is only just beginning to tap into the wealth of knowledge Indigenous peoples have through their traditional healing practices.