Sr Denise Lirette, Daughter of Jesus in New Brunswick tells us about a visit in September of five members of the Immaculate Heart of Mary parish to the Mi’kmaq community of Elsipogtog (Elsi-book-took). They followed the Mi’kmaq Heritage Path with the goal of learning more about the culture and traditions of our indigenous brothers and sisters.
We received a warm welcome from our tour guides, Michelle Levi (second from the left), Gary Augustine (second from the right), and Anna-Marie Weir (far right).
A little history
The Mi’kmaq people have been living on the land we call the Maritimes (Nova Scotia, New-Brunswick, and Prince Edward Island) for over 11,000 years. There are two main First Nations people in New-Brunswick: the Mi’kmaq and the Maliseet. The first European settlers who arrived on their shores were the French in 1604, in a place called l’Ile Sainte-Croix in New Brunswick. The Mi’kmaq were instrumental in helping the French survive the harsh winters and in turn the French Acadians showed the natives how to grow crops.
In 1756, the Seven Year War broke out between the English and the French in Acadia. The Maliseet sided with the English while the Mi’kmaq sided with the French. To this day there is a lasting friendship between the Mi’kmaq and the Acadian people.
After a brief history lesson, Michelle and Gary taught us a few words in Mi’kmaq and then shared with us the use of the four sacred medicines: Tobacco is used as an offering. For example, if a hunter kills a moose, they will offer the moose tobacco to thank the moose for giving his life so he can feed his family. Sweetgrass is used for prayer, Sage for cleansing, and Cedar for purifying. After a “smudging ceremony”, we proceeded outdoors for a walk on the Heritage Path.
What is a “smudging ceremony?
This traditional ceremony purifies or cleanses the soul of negative thoughts of a person or place. It ccannot be photographed or filmed because it is sacred. A mixture of sage, sweetgrass and cedar are burnt in a shell. The smoke from these three medicines is then fanned with an eagle feather toward each person while the following prayer is recited:
We cleanse our hands
in order to create and be gentle.
We cleanse our minds
to clear bad thoughts and bring good thoughts.
We cleanse our ears
so that we will clearly hear the message of others
and understand the truth.
We cleanse our eyes
to see the beauty in all creation.
We cleanse our mouths
so that when we speak it will be truthful and honest
and said in a caring manner.
We cleanse our hearts
to clean off the resentment and to open up to compassion.
We cleanse our feet
so that we walk the true path and walk closer to our friends and families.
We cleanse our backs
so that we release the anger gathering
and to open ourselves to positive energy and healing.
A unified life
What struck me the most was that the Mi’kmaq, as other indigenous people, have a special relationship with the land and with the Creator. There is no difference between their spirituality and their everyday life. They are part of the Web of Life. Being in harmony with creation is of the utmost importance because they know that if we harm creation, we are only harming ourselves. That is why across Canada and other countries they have been at the forefront of the battles to defend Mother Earth. We have a lot to learn from our indigenous brothers and sisters especially in this time of Climate Emergency.
We hope to build stronger bonds between our parish and the Elsipogtog community. We are all children of the One Creator God and together we can help heal Mother Earth and each other.
Sr Denise Lirette dj
Moncton, New Brunswick