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Published on June 28th, 2017 | from CAMH

Creating Ceremony Grounds at CAMH

A Journey of Integrating Tradition with Care for First Nations, Inuit and Métis Clients and Patients

By Kahontakwas (Diane Longboat), Senior Project Manager, Aboriginal Engagement and Outreach, Provincial System Support Program (PSSP)

The genesis of Aboriginal Services began in 2000 when Dr. Peter Menzies boldly sought three years of funding from the City of Toronto to create a culturally responsive service to meet the mental health and addiction needs of First Nations, Inuit and Métis clients at CAMH.  The next decade was formative, as the service grew with core funding to employ an Aboriginal Manager of the service, Aboriginal Social Workers, and include an Elder on staff for client cultural care. As time progressed, more Aboriginal clients and patients across the hospital requested healing ceremonies including the Sweat Lodge in order to break old patterns and to empower the journey to well-being.

By the spring of 2015, meetings with the CAMH Redevelopment department yielded a land allocation dedicated to the development of a Sweat Lodge.  In order to prepare for the sacred work ahead, two ceremonies were offered by the Elder and staff members of Aboriginal Services  and Aboriginal Engagement and Outreach.

The first was a ceremony for Mother Earth, seeking permission to build and for Her blessing on the healing that lay ahead for clients. The message received from Mother Earth was to ensure that Medicine Gardens would be present on this land with sage, cedar, sweetgrass and sacred tobacco growing for the benefit of First Nations, Inuit and Métis clients and CAMH staff members.

The second ceremony was for the Ancestors – to enlist their guidance and to ensure that they were at a state of rest given the long history of CAMH on this land, beginning as the Provincial Lunatic Asylum in the 1850’s.

Once the ceremonies were completed, the land was ready and construction began on the grounds in Spring of 2016.

Accommodations in established policies also supported the changes to CAMH fire code protocols, and the writing of new policy to ensure safety on the Ceremony Grounds.  It was an exciting time for CAMH, and required a lot of coordination between CAMH staff, construction contractors, delivery companies for wood and rocks, Redevelopment, and the Toronto Fire Department.  Throughout the process, good humor and long hours of work with the involvement of many supporting staff members helped pave the way.  New friendships and new relationships formed that serve the greater good to this day.

As we come close to the one year anniversary of the opening of the Sweat Lodge, it is wonderful to report how approximately 400 people have now used the grounds for Full Moon ceremonies, healing ceremonies at the Sacred Fire, traditional cultural teachings, grieving and loss ceremonies, naming ceremonies, and the Sweat Lodge. At Aboriginal Services, we are witness to the transformation of our clients and patients as they become empowered with culture, song, ceremony, and prayer for their healing journeys. Aboriginal clients and patients can now integrate their care with hospital services and traditional healing.  Traditional healing is now part of the treatment plan for every First Nations, Inuit and Métis client who requests it and is considered part of the standard of care at the hospital

We have received First Nations, Métis and Inuit clients and patients, CAMH staff members, as well as visitors from Toronto hospitals, international visitors, medical students, Toronto Central LHIN, Toronto Public Health, First Nations spiritual leaders, Salvation Army, and the Governor General’s Leadership Council among others.

The Ceremony Grounds of CAMH holding the Sweat Lodge, Sacred Fire and Medicine Gardens is the first operational Sweat Lodge at an Ontario Hospital, and the Traditional Aboriginal Ceremonies policy is offered as complementary comprehensive policy covering ceremonies in inpatient rooms, ceremonies conducted on the Grounds and ceremonies for guests and visitors using the Ceremony Grounds under contract.

As Aboriginal History Month comes to a close, we look forward to sharing the importance of Traditional Aboriginal Ceremonies and their role in the wholistic healing of our clients throughout the months to come.

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