Toronto
2 min

From all the four directions

Burning sage helps the living make peace

A BALANCE. Bobbi Nahwegahbo says good thoughts helped keep her from crying. Credit: Mark Bogdanovic

Minutes after last month’s annual Candlelight AIDS Vigil ended, a group of aboriginals held their own ceremony for the dead.



“We burnt sage to do a spiritual cleansing of mind and heart,” says Bobbi Nahwegahbo, “to clear away negative thoughts and to allow good thoughts to enter.



“I felt good after we did it. The vigil is pretty heavy-duty and if I had gone home without doing it, I would have felt more like crying.”



Nahwegahbo says about 15 people participated in the ceremony, held right after the Jun 22 vigil in Cawthra Square Park, and more looked on. “People joined in as they were walking by, saw what was going on and wanted to be included… First Nations, black, Asian and white people, people from all the four directions.”



Hand drums were played and traditional songs sung from various nations, including a Cherokee mourning song, a Mohawk love song, a song from the Cree that honours fallen soldiers and a “Strong Woman” song that grew out of women’s experiences in prison.



Many of the songs were favourites of those who died.



“After the vigil,” says Nahwegahbo, “we still needed some grounding and spirituality and to honour our people who have passed on from that disease.



“It added a holistic feeling to the event and a feeling of spirituality that is generally missing,” says Nahwegahbo.



It was the second year in a row that this impromptu gathering came together after the AIDS vigil (that’s organized out of the 519 Church Street Community Centre).



“I think the main point of the ceremony was that if we had left without doing anything we would have felt sad, but singing in a group brought us together,” says Doris O’Brien, HIV and AIDS educator with the organization Two-Spirited Peoples Of The First Nations. (Gay men and lesbians are called two-spirited in native traditions.)



Both women say that the best way to ensure that the impromptu ceremony continues is to make it an organized part of the vigil.



“The organizers should approach a member of the community and ask them,” says Nahwegahbo. “They should be asked with an offer of a a gift of tobacco. Tobacco is the traditonal way of to ask someone to take on a ritual role.”



Poeple first began gathering in the park 17 years ago – before there was even a permanent AIDS Memorial.



Fifty-five names were added this year, for a total of more than 2,000.



To add a name, contact the 519 Church Street Community Centre at (416) 392-6878.