Indigenous lodge rises at The Forks

For Indigenous people, a lodge is a meeting place.

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 07/05/2021 (631 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

For Indigenous people, a lodge is a meeting place.

It’s for teaching, sharing and gifting.

It’s a place where we raise our children, perform ceremonies and forge relationships.

MIKE SUDOMA / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS This week, for the first time in over two centuries, a lodge is being built at Nestowaya (formerly named South Point of The Forks).

It’s a place where respect is paramount and everyone is expected to contribute in some way.

A lodge is place where we welcome newcomers and create treaty, share food and create bonds that can last forever.

Nearly every Indigenous nation has a lodge of some kind. Some are more permanent than others, while some are built year-to-year and even season-to-season.

A lodge is for everyone, human and non-human. It is a place where the best is possible and reconciliation is an everyday practice.

This week, for the first time in over two centuries, a lodge was built at Nestowaya, where the Red and Assiniboine rivers meet — also called The Forks.

It was built from intellectual and creative principles found in the Midéwiwin, a society amongst Anishinaabe people tasked with healing, leadership and growth.

It’s a beautiful and welcoming place.

It’s also not completed yet, with an official opening set for June.

Visitors to The Forks can see it though, just don’t go too close. Construction is still taking place on the nearby feast tables, stairs and signage in the area.

MIKE SUDOMA / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS Jason Parenteau, a member of the build team, is looking forward to the role that the structure will play in educating Manitobans about Anishinaabe history and reconnecting Anishinaabe people’s with their roots.

Enjoy how beautiful and remarkable this lodge is: it’s one of the most important places Indigenous peoples gift to themselves and all of creation.

For Indigenous peoples like myself, this lodge represents something else: home.

It represents a place we have lived, thrived and built our nations since time began.

It’s a revitalization of a space where teachings, voices and songs — once considered illegal and almost forgotten — can grow again.

It’s a place where Indigenous peoples lead and others are welcomed; how life operates best in this place.

This lodge is the newest addition to Niizhoziibean, formerly named South Point of The Forks.

For the past three years, the area has seen a radical overhaul, with the creation of new and accessible walkways, security lighting, the planting of medicines and a handful of projects recognizing the rich presence and contributions of Indigenous communities.

They’ve all been created as part of the work I do as Indigenous curator of The Forks National Historical Site — one of the many hats I wear.

Working with the leadership at The Forks and about $2 million in funding from sources including Manitoba 150 and the Winnipeg Foundation, the space can (finally) tell the story of Indigenous life in this place.

MIKE SUDOMA / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS Andrew Atkinson (left) and Kirby Nelson tie the structure together.

Visitors to The Forks can see Niimaamaa (“my mother’), the huge sculpture at the Main Street entrance designed by Indigenous artists KC Adams, Jaimie Isaac and Val Vint.

They can read Cree, Ojibway and Michif signage explaining the history of Winnipeg and treaties. They can listen to a walking app (I did the voice on that, too).

There are art installations, such as Vint’s 12-foot bison statue named Education is the New Bison, made out of hundreds of steel books written by Indigenous authors.

There’s also Adams’ recently unveiled sculpture near the Canadian Museum for Human Rights entitled Tanisi keke totamak — Ka cis teneme toyak, which means “what can we do, to respect each other.”

There’s also a future installation near the Oodena Celebration Circle by Isaac that will recognize the Anishinaabe prophecy of the seven fires.

All of these works add to others, like the murdered and missing Indigenous women and girls memorial and the residential school monument, in what has become one of the largest collections of Indigenous-led public expressions in any historical site in Canada.

I’ve consulted with hundreds of Indigenous historians and leaders who have told me stories of The Forks. One was about the Cree and Lakota community that inhabited the area until a devastating 1783 smallpox epidemic opened the way for settlers to enter — the last time a lodge stood there.

This week, the lodge returned, as Indigenous men, women and children rebuilt the space our ancestors fought so hard to protect — and even took underground for a while.

But now there’s no need to go underground.

MIKE SUDOMA / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS Atkinson works on the lodge, which will have an official opening in June.

The Forks invited us to lead, re-enter our home and show Winnipeg what has always been here.

Thanks to the work of an entire community, Indigenous life lives again in a place we call home.

The lodge.

Biindigen. Welcome.

Niigaan Sinclair

Niigaan Sinclair

Niigaan Sinclair is Anishinaabe and is a columnist at the Winnipeg Free Press.

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