National Indigenous Peoples’ Day at YW Calgary was a special one. Elder Jackie Bromley from Awo Taan Healing Lodge came to lead a group smudge ceremony for the residents of our YW Transitional Housing program. This important Indigenous spiritual practice involves burning sage, tobacco, and sweet grass and using the smoke to cleanse one’s body and soul.

Elder Bromley was a ray of sunshine – fitting, as we were hot on the heels of the first day of summer. With restrictions loosening and the season officially starting, there is much to be excited about, especially for our Transitional Housing residents who are looking to socialize more and re-explore the city. It was refreshing to see so many (masked) faces, particularly after many months of limiting gatherings.

Elder Bromley’s light was much needed after the past few emotional weeks following the heartbreaking discovery of the remains of 215 children in Kamloops, which reopened wounds from which many continue to heal.

In the outdoor courtyard, residents gathered around to listen to Elder Bromley as she shared personal stories while passing around a photo of her younger self in traditional Blackfoot regalia. She highlighted how her culture has always been a big part of her life, even when it was discouraged. “I was at residential school as well,” explained Elder Bromley. “When I arrived at the school, they cut my hair short and I was forbidden to speak my native language.”

Despite the painful past she endured, she spoke of how continuing to practice her culture and sharing it with her children, grandchildren, and community has helped her heal. She proudly passed around another photo of her young granddaughter, also in traditional Blackfoot clothing. She said, “I will tell you an important piece of advice: whatever you do in life, think of the Creator. When you walk and see the trees, the sky, the animals… be thankful for what is around you. That is what it is all about.”

After Elder Bromley’s moving words, residents lined up to have personal items like dreamcatchers, plants, and jewelry blessed. A quilt, donated by our friends at the Inglewood Community Garden was also blessed, and will be displayed in the YW smudge room.

Having an Elder connect with our clients at YW Calgary is integral in our path to learning about, and taking action on Truth and Reconciliation. When asked about what they thought of the session, a resident responded, “It was so great. I really needed it. I was struggling for a little while but being able to smudge and listen to her just made me feel so much better.” Indeed, that is what it is all about.

Written by Freshia Corpus, Client Engagement Coordinator, YW Calgary