On a day dedicated to aboriginal awareness across Canada, Canmore General Hospital celebrated the raising of a teepee where patients and their families can gather for prayers, smudging ceremonies and traditional healing, Tuesday (June 21).
The 20-foot-tall teepee at the rear of the hospital is ideally located between wings for acute and long-term care, is within view of the Trans-Canada Highway, a route long used by those travelling to Banff Indian Days, and is in proximity to a hoodoo site, in an area known for spiritual properties.
Cecile Calliou, Alberta Health Services hospital liaison, thanked the creator for the beautiful day. Tuesday, which dawned bright and sunny, was perfect for the raising of the teepee, said Calliou, as it coincided with the first day of summer and National Aboriginal Day in Canada.
The raising of the teepee was accomplished after four years of work, said Barb Shellian, Canmore hospital director. “Four years ago, a wise woman named Janice Anderson, a hospital liaison, introduced the idea of a teepee here at the hospital.
“That planted the seed and a care committee here said, ‘are you for real?’ But it never came to fruition. But I believe there is a proper time for everything and we didn’t give up on our dream.
“Then another wise woman, Cecile Calliou, came to us as a gift to us. She was persistent and insistent and carried on with the idea. She knew the idea had importance and meaning for our patients.
“This teepee is in place because of the work and wisdom of wise women and our care committee and the ladies hospital auxiliary, which donated money to purchase this teepee. It was made especially for us, we didn’t have to borrow it or rent it.
“We also had support from Parks Canada. It’s here because of the hard work of many people.”
Nearly one-third of hospital patients are from the Stoney Nakoda Nation.
“Today is a new chapter in the aboriginal world and you all get to see this,” said Jordan Head, AHS director of aboriginal health. “It’s been over 100 years since our people signed treaties with the government. It’s taken a long time to bring the aboriginal perspective and our people want to be recognized as the original people of this country.
“This is a new chapter where we can recognize and bridge the gap between western and our traditional medicine. Western medicine does not recognize traditional spirituality, which for aboriginal people means body, mind and spirit all inter-related and working together.
“This will also help aboriginal people feel more of a sense of belonging in the system. We hope to come together in a good way. Aboriginal people don’t see the colour of people, we see people. We want to let go of some racist ideas and look at each other in a positive way.”
George Calliou, a traditional aboriginal wellness counsellor with the Elbow Healing Lodge, said the day was one to, “give thanks to the creator for the blessing we’ve been given and for the life that’s been given us. And we thank Mother Earth for the abundance of food we have and the medicines used by our people which have been transported into chemical medicines.
“It’s time to put spirit back into chemical medicines through prayer and you can do the same for prescriptions. Prayer can help it go through your body and have it work.”
In speaking on the creation of Aboriginal Awareness Day, Calliou said, “there was a time when the respect was there. We heard stories of there being no need to knock on doors, you could visit the Copithorne and Edge families and just make coffee or tea. But relationships grew apart.”
An important time was when treaties were signed between aboriginal people and the government. “There are people who think the treaties are in the past, but there is a responsibility to keep the treaty relationships alive.
“There are some things people won’t let go, like the British North America Act; you’ll never let that go.
“We’re often looked at as problems by the Canadian taxpayer, but we are partners – the queen, the governement and those with the treaties.
“This is a time to move forward with spiritual embracement of one another.”
Calliou said the notion of an Aboriginal Awareness Day was brought up in 1982, recommended by a Royal Commission on Aboriginal People, then recommended once again as an official day by Manitoba MP Elijah Harper before coming into being in 1996.
“It’s a national day for all of us to embrace each other and understand each other which is recognized by the government and also the people of Canada.”
An awareness day is something Calliou said he’s worked toward since his mother died in 1976 and he vowed to work at bringing people together.
“Sometimes it takes a while to understand, but there is a need to exchange awareness.”
The teepee was blessed in a ceremony by Stoney elder Grace Daniels, who said the hospital site is one which has a spiritual presence in the valley. Indeed, said Daniels, who was on hand with her husband David, the day was one she had seen in a dream more than 30 years ago.
At that time, she said, she was drinking and doing some crazy things. But in a dream, her ancestors, “came to me and told me ‘it’s time for you to take a new step. A new step? I thought that was crazy. And today, when I tell the new generation I dreamt this, they think I’m crazy.
“But all of a sudden, I turned and left everything and I went with a new life.”
Monday’s ceremony, she said, had played out, “like pictures on a wall” when she had a vision in Highwood Pass in March of that year decades ago.
“My ancestors wanted me to change my life,” said Daniels, who has a connection with the hospital, having had an operation there. “Having this teepee here means a lot to me.”