Bonding in Vehicles

Bonding in Vehicles by Torri Airhart

During our Winnipeg week there was a lot of driving from point A to point B. I was using my uncle’s CRV for the week and if I remember correctly we put over 900 kms on the vehicle over the course of that week. The necessity of all this time on the road created a lot of time spent together in the vehicles.

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In the HtH schedule we spend many hours together over a year – that time is mostly spent in rehearsing, performing, and discussions. Within that context relationships are developed over time, but they mostly remain professional, with the director-chorister-leader dynamics and boundaries in place. What’s interesting is how quickly those dynamics change within the confines of a vehicle and how much other “learning” takes place. Suddenly the discussions are no longer about vocal technique, dynamics and phrasing but rather about families, childhood memories of schools and pastimes, favourite tv shows, food and endless other topics. It’s these discussions, this bonding, which provides a new context for relationships and friendships. Moving forward we have new relational currency and trust with each other. I was amazed in these travels at how little I actually knew of some of these singers, and how much there was to know. From late night gas stops (and impromptu performances for gas jockeys), to getting lost on reserves, to side of the road bathroom breaks in bogs – it all added to the shared experiences that created new context for doing music and life together.

And all of which goes to prove T S Eliot who mused “The journey not the arrival matters.”

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Day 6: An Unexpected Privilege, May 30

Thursday morning with Ovide Mercredi… by Vicki Ross

Thursday was our last full day in Winnipeg, and we already had a full day planned. The plan was to visit the drop-in at the Winnipeg Centre Vineyard Church and hear about their school of justice in the morning, head straight to Forward House for the afternoon, and then get ready for our awareness concert that evening. By this point I honestly thought our trip couldn’t get any fuller and that God had set-up more than enough learning opportunities for our little choir…but I was wrong! Beth got another phone call from Steve Bell on Wednesday afternoon asking us if we wanted to hear from Ovide Mercredi, an Aboriginal Elder with a long list of accomplishments. A simple google search of his name brings up dozens of sites that describe his involvement as a Canadian First Nations leader and politician, and he is described as a Cree, a lawyer, a negotiator, a poet, an author, a lecturer and an activist. He has dedicated his life to advancing social and economic justice for Indigenous peoples, and has made significant contributions to his community. We knew we couldn’t pass up an opportunity to hear from a man like this (I felt a bit like I was going to meet a Canadian celebrity…I guess I was!). So we decided to fit him into our schedule on our last day.

Thursday morning we had to have all of our bags packed into the vehicles before the meeting, so I’m guessing I wasn’t the only one who felt a bit sleep-deprived as we sat there in the conference room, waiting for Ovide to arrive (thankfully coffee was provided!). I must admit, I didn’t really know what to expect, but I definitely felt a certain amount of anticipation to see what he would be like and what he would say.

I think the first thing that I noticed about Ovide was the way that he carried himself. To think of all the things he had been a part of over the course of his life, things he had experienced, and the way that he had fought for his people, you might expect him to be up front, loud, full of outrage at the injustices that have been done, or even bitter that little change has occurred. Yet Ovide was none of these things. He had a quiet, polite demeanour that was somehow a perfect balance between humility and confidence, which made what he had to say that much more powerful. He was clearly well-educated, full of passion and deep conviction, and had a strong sense of what justice could realistically look like for his people. I instantly had huge respect for him, and was very intrigued to hear what he had to say, particularly his vision for the way forward.

I recently completed my Masters in public policy and health inequalities, and during my program I had the opportunity to give a presentation about the Canadian Aboriginal people. The majority of the people in my program were not Canadian (I studied in Scotland), so I had to provide details of our history, including the residential school system, as well as give statistics for the current situation (ie. the number of people living in poverty, addictions, living conditions, etc.). It was incredibly sobering for me to reveal the extent of the injustices that have occurred and continue to occur. During my research I came across a video called ‘Third World Canada’, a documentary that depicts what life on a reserve can look like, and gets to the heart of the reality of what many Aboriginal communities across Canada struggle with. From a health perspective (I am a nurse after all), it is clear that Aboriginal people are at a disadvantage- they have drastically higher rates of suicide, abuse, addiction, chronic health conditions, mental health issues, and a much lower life expectancy than average Canadians. Considering the fact that Canada is widely considered a country that promotes justice and a good standard of living the reality of the situation is, in many ways, embarrassing.

So why do these problems continue? Whose fault is it? What can be done about it? These are the hard questions, and the problem is that there are no easy answers. The underlying causes of these issues are complex and multi-layered, and people have a wide range of opinions. Personally, I think some of the contributing factors include: inter-generational impacts of trauma (ie. the cycle of abuse and addiction), lack of understanding and public education (which leads to racism and distrust), and an unbalance of power (especially in the political realm). I wanted to hear from Ovide’s perspective as I believe the most important place to start is to hear the truth from someone who has lived it (way better then reading it in a textbook that was most likely written by a white person). Ovide spoke to a lot of these issues while he spoke (I believe Beth took notes while he talked, so her blog should provide more details on what he said!)

Sadly, we only had an hour with Ovide- I’m pretty sure we could have spent all day learning from his past experiences and knowledge. But in that hour I felt hope. Hope that someone like Ovide was fighting for the justice of his people, that he had a vision and was living it out. I felt excited to hear of Ovide’s plans to meet with the Queen of England, to demand that the United Kingdom uphold the promises they made over a hundred years ago (because Canada won’t). I couldn’t help but wonder if there was some way the Canadian church could get behind them, to actually support the cause of justice like we are called to. We are called to be courageous; we are called to bring light into dark places. We are not only to speak the truth, but act it out. There have been many times in the past when I have thought about the current situation, and wondered if there ever would be any change, or what the church could do about it. I spent two years working for the Mustard Seed in Edmonton, which serves high numbers of Aboriginal people, and witnessed the seemingly hopeless patterns of abuse and addiction. While I did have the privilege of seeing some lives changed, I couldn’t help but feel an ache in my heart for the hundreds of children still born into broken families across the country. Church programs that are designed to help individuals can only go so far- there needs to be change at a systemic level for any lasting difference to be made. I believe the church has a role to play in that, and it begins with a willingness to learn about what has happened, and to partner with and pray for those that are actively involved- like Ovide Mercredi. Justice is very close to God’s heart- I believe the more the church gets involved in it, the more doors will be opened to bring Jesus to those that need Him most.

It Takes a Team

Team Roles by Becky Timmons

In the HtH mission statement, there are four components: build community, expand worldviews, develop leaders and fight for justice. When we travel, we seek growth as individuals and as a community in each of these areas. One of the newer initiatives this trip included the disbursement of leadership roles.

The goal was to give all the travelers a greater sense of ownership in the trip, build community internally, expand the worldviews of what is involved in organizing teams and trips, and give opportunity to exercise leadership skills on peers (not an easy task)!

The very first night in Winnipeg we had a team meeting and among other business, roles were outlined and then each traveler had the opportunity to volunteer for a role. In very few cases did we resort to nominations, for the large majority members were excited and eager to take on a specific challenge! Where necessary we elected one champion and a crew to help with the task, for example Ben was our navigator, but since he could not be in 4 different vehicles at once, he had a navigation crew to direct each driver.

Since our trip was segregated into two legs, we imagined that we would choose roles for the first week and then switch everything around for the second week, however we found that people were excelling in the role they had chosen and so we simply traded out roles between people who were only doing one leg of the trip.

Here is a snap shot of each role and who filled it:

Food coordinator: create a meal plan for each day that includes allowances for allergies and preferences, snacks and hydration. Plan shopping trips and organize a team to facilitate taking and placing orders in restaurants.
Champion: Kelly/Peter (Beth, John)

Equipment Manager: ensure that all tech (ie. music stands, ppt or drums) and promotional material (ie. banners, pamphlets) brought on tour is well maintained and taken care of. Organize a team for the set up of tech and promotional equipment. Be the contact person for any ‘on-site’ technical people, collaborate with them to facilitate the tech needs of HtH for any concert or event.
Champion: Shaun (Becky, Ben, Kate K-promo)

Packing Guru: responsible for the efficient and careful packing of all HtH tech, promo material, individual baggage and personal belongings. Create a team and system of packing that ensures all belongings have been accounted for.
Champion: Winnipeg leg-Torri (Christina, Sebastian), Ontario leg-Mitch D. (Ben, Barron)

Navigator: in collaboration with the drivers, the navigator will plan efficient routes for the day’s activities. This person must prepare by bringing maps that can be accessed without an Internet connection. This person will also ensure the integrity of the van convoy.
Champion: Ben (Peter, David, Kelly, others with smart phones!)

Schedule Keeper: this person must coordinate with Beth on the schedule of events for the day. This person will then communicate that schedule to HtH participants. Note: this person does not create the schedule for the day, but is responsible to know enough to answer questions about it. This person will also be conscious about time required by each event for travel, prep and other time concerns so that they can consult with Beth on the schedule.
Champion: David

First Contact: this person will be the first contact for any HtH event. They will meet with the contact person of the event to determine the details of the event (ie. where are dressing rooms, what time is sound check, etc.) this person will also act as the point person for any HtH members questions. Champion: Alanna (Beth)

Keeper of the Purse: for any monies collected for HtH purposes, this person will keep a detailed accounting of the money received and for whom. This person will also keep track of money and receipts where costs incurred will later be charged to HtH participants. A detailed accounting of all the tour’s financial dealings will be required upon return from the tour.
Champion: Winnipeg leg-Sebastian, Ontario leg-Mitch

Fun Director: this person will work with the schedule keeper to find time to release the tension of the group through fun and uplifting activities (ie. van games, tour secret santa, wide games, etc.) keep in mind that these activities are purposes to bring the community closer together relationally.
Champion: Peter/Kelly (John, Christina)

Billet Coordinator: when billets are required, this person will assign HtH members with host families and coordinate with the host home providers. This person is also responsible to communicate all pertinent information to the host home (ie. what time they need to be back, what they need to fees them, make sure they have contact info, ect). This person must be fair and impartial as they make their billet assignments, making sure there is variety in HtH members who stay together.
Champion: Christina (Jen R)

Thank you Cards: this role takes on the responsibility to get the cards signed AHEAD of time. Must be prepared with blank cards at all times as there will often be ‘spur of the moment’ opportunities. This person will also present the cards on behalf of the group. Make sure that the billets get a card as well.
Champion: Winnipeg leg-Vicki, Ontario leg-Jen D

Complaint Director: this person will be the point person for all complaints in the group. They will keep track of complaints that happen through out the day. They will brainstorm 3 possible solutions to the problem with the person presenting the request. At the end of each day, this person will present the concerns and solutions to the lead team for final decisions. Complaints that require immediate response and action will be brought to the lead team at the appropriate time.
Champion: Winnipeg leg-John V, Ontario leg-Jen R `

Chaplain: the Chaplain is responsible for creating appropriate times of spiritual formation. This can take the form of devotional times (led by the Chaplain or others), worship time and prayer time. The Chaplain will also advocate to the lead team for extended times of spiritual connection, quiet times or journaling.
Champion: Reid (Kelly, Alanna, John F, John V)

Chronicler: this role is crutial to our extended network who are following the progress of our trip via facebook, blog, ect. This person is responsible to find people in HtH to journal their experiences for the Blog. This involves having a good idea of who was profoundly affected by an experience and encouraging them in the right way to share that emotion. This person is also responsible to work with the group photographer to collect and post pictures of relevant experiences. The final task is to post the material being sure to collect permissions from the sited organizations and people.
Champion: Winnipeg leg-Vicki (David, Reid, Becky), Ontario leg-Katie P (Jen D, Reid, Barron), Calgary wrap up-Beth, Facebook – Jen D

Last Man Out: generally a solo role, this person makes sure that all people and belongings for HtH are cleared from any given room or building after HtH has entered it. The role is as it sounds, be the last person out of everywhere we go to make sure nothing is left behind.
Champion: Jon F.

As I reflect on this new initiative, I really feel as though it really allowed for developing leaders to exercise those muscles through a task and an in an environment where they would not normally lead. We saw great leadership shine through our team and it is exciting to think of where these skills will take us in the future!

Day 5: CMU, May 29

Canadian Mennonite University by Beth McLean Wiest

There are many Mennonites in Winnipeg and in southern Manitoba (and southern Saskatchewan). Mennonites follow the teachings of Menno Simons, an Anabaptist religious leader in the early 1500s (hence the name Menno-nites). They are a people who fled persecution before ending up in Canada. I don’t know what you know about Mennonites, but (as a gross generalization) they are wonderful people who highly value peacemaking, social justice and living out faith in every moment. They try to live very frugally and simply.

I had the privilege of teaching in a Mennonite school for 5 years and my sons now attend that school. While my husband and I are not Mennonite by heritage or by Christian denomination, we share the same core values. We love that the values our sons are taught at school are the same as those they are taught at church and that we teach at home. When we decided to take Harmony through Harmony to Winnipeg, we spoke with some of our Mennonite friends for suggestions of accommodations… and that led us to choosing Canadian Mennonite University to be our headquarters for our stay in Winnipeg.

CMU is a very bare bones campus. It was an excellent economic decision for us to stay there. We rented out apartment suites giving us the option of making breakfasts and bag lunches instead of eating out all the time. We were able to rent a classroom for our day with Marcel Hadisty and Steve Bell and with Ovide Mercredi. The staff worked to accommodate our every request.

From the start, we viewed the trip across Canada as a “ground tilling” trip to make connections and build relationships. As such, we didn’t book any venue for an HtH concert. Our one big pre-booked performance in Winnipeg (May 30th) was a fundraiser at a venue with an audience that always meets at that venue at that time- a sure audience. We figured God would open doors for us to sing wherever and we would step through those doors whenever they opened.

Once we arrived in Winnipeg, there ended up being friends and family who couldn’t attend the May 30th event but wanted to see our group perform… so we approached CMU to see if it would be possible to rent their chapel facility for a performance.

To our surprise, not only was it available but it was very economical!

With a 48-hour window, we decided to put on a concert. We let our connections know, sent a few notes home to people in Calgary for their connections, Steve Bell posted it on his site and we waited in faith for an audience.

We were thrilled to have a very attentive audience of about 20 people show up. They were family, friends and two Steve Bell fans! Our audience of 20 ended up giving us over $300, covering the cost of the facility rental. Perfect! Next time we are in Winnipeg we will hope to plan a concert at CMU and encourage our new Winnipeg HtH fans to help us fill the house!

Day 5: A Tour of North Point Douglas, May 29

by Reid McLean Wiest

After lunch, we were led on a walking tour of North Point Douglas, one of Winnipeg’s oldest inner-city communities, featuring (among other things) some of the city’s oldest houses and the nation’s oldest post office building. This mostly residential area is triangular in shape, with Main St. running north-south on one side, the CP rail tracks running east-west on another side, and the Red River forming the hypotenuse. These three borders, we were told, have created an enclave of sorts, and its people have been plagued with familiar problems to inner-city communities across North America: low economic development, high crime, high levels of drug and sexual abuse.

Our tour guide was Trevor Berg, the pastor of Grace Point Church, a group that seeks to be good friends and great neighbours in the North Point Douglas community (www.gracepointdouglas.ca). Trevor seemed a good pick to lead such an effort. A tall, skinny, soft spoken man with a winning grin and ready handshake, Trevor seemed most at home on this walking tour, frequently stopping to greet old and make new friends. He was also under no illusion of the challenges in bringing light to this area of town that frequently has seen darkness.

Pastor Trevor

Pastor Trevor

We met Trevor over lunch at a restaurant / grocery / gift shop called Neechi Niche, touted as a good news business started and run by aboriginal people. Many of us enjoyed some yummy bannock and stew from the menu. Upon leaving the restaurant, Trevor was quick to point out the contrast of the few other Main Street businesses nearby – pawn shops, run down hotels with active pubs, walk-in clinics, pharmacies, and ‘street missions’ (including Winnipeg Vineyard Church). It was a sobering reflection on this part of the city to see that these were the only kinds of businesses to thrive here.

touring the 'hood

touring the ‘hood

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a striking poster on a bulletin board as we left the restaurant

a striking poster on a bulletin board as we left the restaurant

some of the typical businesses on Main St. Winnipeg

some of the typical businesses on Main St. Winnipeg

Walking past the quiet residential streets of North Point Douglas on a clear afternoon, with its big trees, playgrounds, and low traffic, you wouldn’t get the initial impression that there are many social challenges here. Trevor pointed out one street where three murders had taken place the year before, pointed out a couple of houses where illegal drugs were known to be sold and consumed. Hard to tell these things from a view of the front door and lawn – makes you aware that lots of injustice goes on behind closed doors.

When we got to the church and while Trevor was telling us about some of the ministry outreach that happens there, he was interrupted by one of his church community members arriving on a bicycle with a bag full of bread loaves. Grace Point hosts a weekly community potluck meal, and this guy’s job was to get bread from big grocery stores that was a day past its best before date, but still OK to eat. When Trevor introduced us to him as friends visiting from Calgary, he surprised us by giving us one of his loaves of bread! As if we needed it more than the community potluck did!

sharing his bread with us!

sharing his bread with us!

It was heartwarming to receive such generosity, as well as to meet people like Trevor who are committing to spend their days in becoming friends and neighbours to people living in inner-city environments. Trevor also noted that the outlook for North Point Douglas is improving with the gradual moving-in of artists into the community. This idea, that a group of artists can lead a culture change in a community, certainly found some affinity and got a lot of wheels turning among our HtH gang.

Day 5: A School Worth Supporting, May 29

A School Worth Supporting by Beth McLean Wiest

I am trained as a teacher. I have taught grade two through twelve with the majority of my teaching being grades 4 – 12. When we were in the Winnipeg area, I was very eager to go and visit the school of a lifelong friend and mentor, Tricia. Tricia has a deep passion for the arts and has provided the Winnipeg school division with tremendous leadership in arts integration over the years. She has invested deeply in my teaching and leadership skills despite us living in different cities. I have long wanted to see her at work n her world. I knew Harmony through Harmony would benefit from time with Tricia in any teaching context. It just so happened that Tricia had recently moved to a new school.

The library with a rug that captures the 7 Laws.

The library with a rug that captures the 7 Laws.

Over the years I have taught a wide spectrum of children and youth with varying emotional, mental, physical and spiritual needs- every teacher does. Some years are more challenging than others, some classes more trying. While I expected to be inspired by seeing Tricia at work in her new environment, I was not expecting to be completely blown away by the challenges she and her colleagues overcome each day.

Wednesday morning, following a learning session about the school and its community from Tricia and the principal, we were invited to take a tour of the school. This school is a public inner city school. There are more than academic challenges to deal with. On a daily basis they address the physical needs of their students… They have a breakfast and lunch program. They have a washer and dryer on site to deal with lice and bed bugs. They have clothing drives to help outfit the students for the various seasons. To help improve the nutrition of the students, they even host a monthly vegetable and fruit market for the families. In case you haven’t been in an elementary school recently, the above services are not found in most schools…

In my opinion, at the heart of a good school is the attitude that educators and parents are on the same team. Together, they are working to ensure the best possible future for the child and that the child is raised with the same values.

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Sadly, this is where economics too often plays into education. The very real challenge of how to run a school on budget can take the focus in schools in under-privileged communities. An excellent read on education and economics is One Day, All Children by Wendy Kopp, the founder of Teach for America.

It was inspiring to hear the principal and vice-principal share of the creative ways the staff and parents work together. One such way is The Parent Room.

The Parent Room is inviting and full of resources to help set families up for success: important information about school / community events, resources for employment, training, housing information, education and important internet sites. They offer weekly parenting classes and do nutrition bingo. There is a computer, fax machine, phone, sewing machine, library for the parents’ use. They even will provide the tools, tips and strategies to build the portfolio and resume “to help start your journey towards education, training and employment.”

I walked out of the Parent Room blown away by the intentionality of this PUBLIC SCHOOL to address the community’s challenges with compassion, dignity and excellence. It was clear to me that the challenges of the community were high and the staff were committed to doing their part to ensure their students have the best future possible.

As we began our tour of the building, I found my teacher self carefully examining bulletin boards, reading work, checking out the resources available to the students. One would never have guessed the economic challenges of its students. So often when a school has budget needs to make, the arts are cut. This school proudly displayed the artwork of its students, took its students to the symphony and opera, and had even taught the kids how to make flutes. I was so encouraged!

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Throughout the school there were images reminding the students of their heritage. This community has a high First Nations population and so naturally, so does the school. We were all impressed to see the intentionality of honouring their culture and values.

This school has 210 students: 108 girls and 102 boys. Serving this community are15.5 teachers and 19 educational assistants. Of the 210 students, there are some who live in a shelter and many who are in the care of or involved with Child and Family Services. As I mentioned earlier, many need help with their physical needs (food and clothing) and so naturally, there are academic and social challenges as well.

The staff of this school made me proud of my profession. We are committed to our children and will sacrifice for them. For some teachers, the sacrifice is primarily in time. In this school, the sacrifice was in any way imaginable. The teachers even feed the kids out of their own money.

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Later over lunch, we circulated a thank you card for Tricia and her school. On the top of the envelope I wrote a simple note on a napkin “consider including a donation to the school”. By the time the envelope got to me, it was already full of $10s, $20s and even a $50 bill. I was moved by the spontaneous generosity of our group.

We went to the school to see Tricia at work and learn about an inner city school. We expected to discover a school facing many challenges. We were delighted to discover not just Tricia but a staff committed to changing the world- one student at a time.

Day 4: An Impromptu Concert, May 28

An Impromptu Concert, by Reid McLean Wiest

A funny and unplanned event of our Canada trip happened during our return travel from Hollow Waters reserve. We had rented three SUVs for the week in Winnipeg (not the original plan, but came as a complementary upgrade after a long wait at the airport), which made us look like a mafia or secret service group when our caravan traveled together.

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After more than four hours driving that day alone, we needed to refuel the vehicles. We stopped at an Esso visible from the highway. We soon found out we were fortunate to see it at all, as we arrived 5 minutes before closing time! As we all got out of the cars, one of the gasoline attendants noticed that many of us were wearing the same logo-imprinted jackets and asked the usual question: “Are you guys all in some kind of sports group?”

I replied that we were a singing group, a choir that mostly sang a cappella. This gas station guy’s response was unexpected: “Are you kidding? That’s awesome! Have you seen the movie ‘Pitch Perfect’? It’s, like, my favourite movie! Ever since I saw it, I’m totally into a cappella music!” (For those of you who may not have seen the movie, it was a low-budget 2012 feature film about a cappella clubs on a U.S. college campus. Kind of like a more crass version of the TV show “Glee”, but where the music was all a cappella.)

HtH singing "Give Me Your Eyes" in the gas station

HtH singing “Give Me Your Eyes” in the gas station


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Sounded like an invitation to put on an impromptu concert! So after we paid for the gas and a whole bunch of convenience store snacks for the road, HtH sang for the three gas station attendants working that night. And while the music that HtH sings would likely not be heard on somewhat racy shows like Pitch Perfect or Glee, our concert at the gas station was definitely well received! It highlighted some of the advantages of a cappella music – it’s portable, needs no special setup, and can make someone’s night!

Day 4: Moon Time, May 28

“Moon Time” by Becky Timmons

One of the more remarkable elements of our Winnipeg time was the invitation to join Marcel in a Sweat. Unfortunately a few of us ladies were unable to participate because we were on our ‘moon time’. At first we were all quite disappointed but we made the decision to join the rest of the group on the 3 hour drive out to Hollow Waters Reserve.

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Once we arrived we were introduced to Marcel’s wife who would hang out with us ‘moon ladies’. After the preparations for the sweat were complete we watched the group complete the smudging and enter the lodge. It was then that our real learning time began. We began to chat with Marcel’s wife and she explained why women on their moon time are not allowed to participate in the sweat. It seems that during this phase in the woman’s cycle she is more powerful and therefore her prayers are heard directly by Creator.

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This was a shift from our mindset, often women are deemed ‘unclean’ during this time and they were restricted because of impurity. This mindset was totally the opposite, we were restricted so that our prayers would not interfere with the offerings of others. After hearing this we felt quite a bit better about the situation!

It also proved to be a wonderful time of processing and community for those of us outside of the sweat. We had a quiet, calm space to verbally express what our hearts and heads had been wrestling with over the past few days. For me especially (an introvert) this was a very valuable time.

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Our final discovery was that the women of Hollow Waters are wonderful quilters! Each year around graduation the women make a quilt with a turtle (significant for their tribe) on it to give to each student. This year they had a significant number of students graduating which meant a lot of turtle quilts! Each lady works on a part of the quilt until it is complete, and that night it was pinning the layers of fabric and batting together for the final sewing. We were blessed by the wonderful work they did and it showed how their community loves each other. It wasn’t only the parent of the child who celebrated the life events, but the whole community celebrated together with that child.

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Even though we ‘moon ladies’ didn’t get the sweat lodge experience, we had a unique and meaningful experience of our own.

The Powerful "Moon Time" gals

The Powerful “Moon Time” gals

 

Day 4: Reflections on a Sweat, May 28

In Memory of Ruth MacKay by Kelly Schmidt

Dear Gran,

I’m writing you because I know you would have wanted to experience this with me.

Marcel, the elder who taught us about Anishinabe philosophy yesterday called us today to invite the whole crew to join him in a sweat. Like in a sweat lodge. We were extremely honoured to be invited to such an event and honestly, how many people get invited to something like this? We accepted, of course, and prepared ourselves for the three hour journey North to Marcel’s home in Hollow Waters. The whole trip I tried to imagine what it would be like. I knew certain bits about sweats from a friend of mine who’d participated in one. I knew to expect sauna like conditions, to wear cotton because it’s natural and will continue to breath when it gets water logged, that there is some type of ceremony that goes throughout the sweat, and that it would be uncomfortable. Some people experience hallucinations because of the intensity. But other than that, I didn’t know much. It seems like explanations are vague. Besides, each tribe does the sweat ceremony differently.

After some right and some wrong turns, we arrived in Hollow Waters. We met Marcel at a community house. The sweat lodge was out back. I was anticipating a large building where lots of people could fit in and it would be the whole community having a sweat together. I have no idea where this idea came from because it wasn’t close to reality at all. The sweat lodge was a small one room round cabin built of logs with carvings on the corner gables, like something we’d find at home in Millarville.

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At the lodge doors we gave a gift of berries and loose-leaf tobacco to Marcel – traditional gifts to present the elder at a sweat. These items are also used during the ceremony. We then took a sprig of cedar and a pinch of tobacco each, going up to the fire, offering up a prayer, and placing the cedar and tobacco in the fire. It made a crackle and smelled so nice, sending off a delicate smoke puff. We then proceeded into the lodge. To my surprise, there was a second shelter inside the lodge made of heavy canvas on a willow frame, rather low to the ground. We crawled in through a small opening to sit in the smaller shelter. It had a large pit in the center and we sat around it, women on one side, men on the other. It was a tight fit. I don’t think that many people normally do a sweat together as we were shoulder-to-shoulder, not even enough room to cross our legs.

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Marcel began the ceremony by passing around the peace pipe. We could either puff it or just cross it in front of us. I puffed a bit to taste the tobacco, but don’t worry, Gran! I didn’t draw much into my mouth. I’m all healthy here! The pipe went around the circle three times. Then the heat began. Red hot, glowing rocks were placed in the pit, each one represented something that Marcel explained. The women had a special role in this part. After each rock was placed, a woman (we got to take turns) would sprinkle a bit of ground cedar over it. The cedar would sparkle and the smell soon surrounded us. Once all the rocks were in place, the canvas hut’s door was closed and it was dark inside. Pitch black. I couldn’t see anything except the glowing rocks in the center. They didn’t cast enough light to see anything else. I was cold at this point because the ground was cool dirt. I snuggled up to the rocks for warmth. Marcel then took a cedar branch bundle, dipped it into a bucket of cedar water and sprinkled it onto the rocks. The sweat had begun true and proper. The steam felt like a warm hug. You know how much I like warm hugs! It was heaven for me. Marcel explained that this round was for giving thanks. He sang a song accompanied by his drum and many different rattles, each one representing something in the ceremony. Each rattle held personal significance to Marcel, giving me the feeling that Marcel had invited us into something that was personally intimate with him. I was being invited into closer community. During the song, I closed my eyes and felt the pleasant warmth encircle me, having no particular thoughts. It was soon over and the door was opened to let some light in.

 

Taking one of the rocks out of the fire to use in the sweat

Taking one of the rocks out of the fire to use in the sweat

More glowing rocks were placed into the pit while Marcel talked about the next round. This was to give thanks to the women in our lives. That’s when I really thought of you, Gran. I began to cry. I miss you and I am so thankful that you were in my life. I realized that a sweat is a lot more than just a ceremony for the sake of ceremony. These were some deep emotions I was beginning to have. I thanked God for you and for my sisters and my mother. The man who was helping Marcel put some Bear Root onto the rocks, sending off a spicy, comforting scent that felt like salve to my sad heart. I breathed it in deeply as Marcel sprinkled more cedar water to create more steam. He then sang another song that penetrated my soul, allowing my sorrow to have a voice. My body was ready for this round to be done. It was struggling against the heat. My mind was freaking out a little, wondering if for some strange reason oxygen had stopped seeping into the room. What if nobody noticed I was passed out? My soul wanted to continue though.

 

The sacred cleansing fire

The sacred cleansing fire

The door opened for more rocks to be heaped on, giving a respite from the heat as cold air rushed in. This was short lived, as there were now a lot of hot rocks in a small space. This third round was for healing. A pot of bear grease (real bear grease) was passed around. We were to rub this wherever we felt we needed healing. I was even encouraged to put a touch into my mouth to heal the insides as well. So I did. Never shy away from the adventure! It tasted like bear… my favorite…. I rubbed it on other places and soon smelled rather wild. I couldn’t tell what was grease, sweat, or condensation by this point and I didn’t really care either. During this round, we each got a turn to wipe a bird wing over spots that needed healing. This round was the most intense yet. There were waves of heat washing over me, almost unbearable but really comforting at the same time. I cried some more. I prayed for healing for people I love. I prayed for healing for others in the room. The heat seemed to penetrate all my sore aches. More waves, more song. Some of us were singing along by this point but I couldn’t. I kept crying. And crying. Would I stop? I imagined death by crying. I think my soul was being healed. I seem to bottle up pain a lot. I wish I wouldn’t but I do. I asked God to heal my soul. The man helping Marcel was going through a rough time. He was crying and coughing the whole way through this round. After he said that he wasn’t expecting to have a very emotional time of it. He thought it would be a pleasant sweat but sometimes the Spirit has other things in mind. I think the Holy Spirit definitely had something in mind for me.

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In between this round and the final round we placed some berries on the hot rocks and got to eat some of the berries and drink some cedar water. By this point I’d come to think of the water as medicine. That’s what Marcel called it and it sure felt healing as I was drinking it. Cedar has lots of vitamine C in it and I’ve heard it has antibacterial properties. It was a refreshment. And then… The final round.

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The rest of the rocks were piled in. It was so hot, Gran. So much steam. But by this point my soul, mind, and body were ready to accept what was. I don’t remember much about this round other than feeling a peace. Not just the soul peace that we usually talk about but an everything peace. Emotional, Physical, Mental, and Spiritual. The four parts that Marcel had talked about in Anishinabe philosophy that were important to reconcile. Heart, Mind, Soul, Spirit. It is so familiar to me. It was coming together. We sang, we prayed, we worshipped God. Marcel isn’t a Christian but he understood us and allowed us to worship God. Isn’t that wonderful? How wonderful to be free. He was a wonderful example of respect for others.

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After this sweat we left as we entered, burning a sprig of cedar and tobacco. I felt such peace and serenity, like my journey was not alone, surrounded by my friends, new and old. Beloved of God. Loved by you.

You encouraged me to explore new cultures. You inspired me to travel and really learn from the people, not just go for what I can see. You taught me to ask questions and learn from new communities. And that’s what I was doing. Thank you for sharing your life with me. I hope that I’m able to help others learn to love others like you taught me. I love you, Gran.

Love,

Kelly

 

Day 4: A Pivotal Moment, May 28

A Pivotal Moment- by Beth McLean Wiest

There are times in every person’s life that are crucible or pivotal moments. I believe this is also true in the life of an organization. One such moment for Harmony through Harmony came in the form of a phone message on Tuesday, May 28th.

When we had finished our day (day 3) with Marcel, the elder from Hollow Water nation, I had asked him if there was anything he felt we should “experience” while we were in Winnipeg. His eyes had lit up and then he simply said, “I’ll get back to you on that tomorrow.”

We came out of our learning session at Winnipeg Central Vineyard and I checked my phone for messages. There was a call from Marcel. The message was pretty cryptic. “I have an experience that may interest you if you are able to drive up here to Hollow Water.”

When we create a schedule for a trip in Harmony through Harmony, we intentionally create a structure that allows for the Holy Spirit to lead us to opportunities beyond what we could have imagined for the trip (Ephesians 3:20). As I went to return his call, I figured this was going to be one such moment…

I was right. A rare invitation and a moment of decision awaited us.

Would Harmony through Harmony be interested in driving up to Hollow Water to participate in a ceremonial sweat?

Had the decision been solely up to me, I would have made it in an instant, however, since our mission is to build community, expand worldviews, develop leaders and fight for justice, I knew I needed to include the rest of the group in the decision making process.

The factors to consider:

  • If a woman is menstrual, she is unable to participate in the sweat. How many of our women would this affect?
  • Hollow Water is a three hour drive from Winnipeg. We would be driving up and back in one day.
  • The sweat lodge experience would last about 2 hours.
  • A ceremonial sweat is a sacred ritual. Would there be objections from a faith perspective from within our group?
  • It was raining. If the rain continued, the wood would be too wet to light and a fire to heat the rocks for the sweat would be impossible. We could end up driving up there and be unable to participate in the sweat.

The answers to those questions were ones for each participant to consider and weigh in on.

Then there were the more macro questions. The answers were of which I was most interested in discovering…

  • When we say we are about “building community” and we are given an invitation like this, do we accept it?
  • When we say we are about “expanding worldviews” and we are presented with an experience that will definitely expand worldviews, do we embrace it?
  • When we say we are about “developing leaders”, what does that look like in this scenario?
  • When we say we are about “fighting for justice”, do we look at injustice in our own country?

I thanked Marcel for this incredible opportunity and asked him to hold while I explained the invitation to the group.

Of course, it was a “gut decision” making moment. There was no time to think about it, discuss etc. I outlined the points to consider and then asked everyone to close his/her eyes while I asked for decisions. I began with “Who would like to go?” and then “Who would prefer to stay?”

Of our 16 travelers, there were 12 “I would like to go” and  5 “ I would prefer to stay”.

When I shared the responses with the group, there was immediate clarity from the five… Three were ladies who were menstrual and couldn’t participate. All said they would like to go for the drive even though they would be unable to participate. One “I could be swayed” and was and the fifth had family in town and decided to postpone the get together in order to not miss this experience. Remarkably, in a few short minutes, we had 16 travelers ready to spend 6 hours of their day on the road.

I returned to my phone call. “Marcel, we are honored to have been invited and we would be delighted to come. What do we need to bring and what do we need to wear?”

In less than an hour we had gone back to our dorms, picked up supplies and were on the road. We had cotton to wear (nightgown, shirts, pants, shorts, skirts), towels and tobacco and berries to give as an offering. Thankfully we had packed lunches for the day and then been fed lunch at the drop in so we were set for food.

We were off on an adventure.

What amazes me about this moment is that there were only two of the group, myself and another traveler, who had ever participated in a sweat lodge. In other words, fourteen travelers were committing to an invitation, one where there was a chance we wouldn’t even be able to do the ceremony part due to weather, and they didn’t really have any idea of what they were getting into.

So what is a “ceremonial sweat”?

Marcel had given us a very brief teaching on it the day before. 

A sweat is a cleansing ceremony. There are five rocks that are heated in the sacred fire. The sacred fire activates the healing energy of the rocks. The first rock represents Creator and is placed in the centre. The 2nd to 5th rocks represent the helpers and are placed East, South, West and North. Medicines are placed on the rocks or in the water (cedar, sage, sweet grass, tobacco). Water is placed on the rocks and the steam that comes is the breath that the fire has activated to cleanse the body, the mind, the spirit. The healing energy of the rocks, sacred fire and water work together with the fire of the participants.

There are four door ways: East, South, West, North. Each door is considered a sweat and so after four sweats, the people participating in the sweat have lost their toxins. They look different. The four doorways call on the clans of the Eagles (East), Wolf (South), Bear (West) and Buffalo (North). The door ways are spaces that talk about stages of life.

The sweat begins with an honor song to the ancestors and to Creator. We thank them for their support and their love and their teachings. Thank Creator for all the gifts.

Throughout the ceremony, ceremonial tools are used. There is the rattle, the pipe and the drum.

  • The rattle uses medicine, earth, quartz, and connects with the power of the universe. It is surrounded by the kindness and gentleness of the deer hide.
  • The pipe is made of three parts: the tree represents honesty, the bone represents faith, the medicines that go in there represents all the plant life.
  • Most people when they hear the large drum for the first time they want to cry, they feel something. It reminds their spirit of the heartbeat of the mother. The heart beat is the underlying rhythm in the universe so the drum represents the universe.

And that was the extent of our teaching on a sweat lodge ceremony. Considering how much we learned in that day (please read the blogs on Day 3 if you haven’t already done so), there’s a high chance that there was little retention about the sweat lodge. You’ll have to read the blogs over the next few days to learn what we actually experienced.

“Would Harmony through Harmony be interested in driving up to Hollow Water to participate in a ceremonial sweat?”

For me, the decision of our community to accept Marcel’s invitation was a defining moment of “we walk our talk”. As a community we wanted to say, ‘we value your people Marcel, we respect you as a leader and we trust you to expand our worldviews, we are seeking to understand.”

And to God we were saying the same things. Driving up north, I was one proud executive director. I could feel God smiling.