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This article was published 13/8/2016 (1194 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
It wasn’t the first pop-up pipe ceremony on Main Street, held in the shadow of the CP rail yards and just steps from some of the city’s most notorious watering holes.
And it won’t be the last.
A group of North End youth and residents from Point Douglas brought indigenous ceremonies briefly to the pavement Saturday.
About 20 people, joined by chance passers-by, sat around a nylon comforter laid out just by the crosswalk at Main and Jarvis Avenue.
Four people smoked indigenous pipes, the kind most people might see at indigenous gatherings held outside the city, on a patch of ground in the boreal forest or the prairie parkland. Smoking a pipe this way is an indigenous form of prayer. One pipe made it halfway around the circle until it went out.
'I've been going to sun dances and fasting ceremonies all my life. But here, in the city, we're losing our way of life'— Ninondawah Richard
Three people brought personal hand drums, and the leader of the ceremony, a 23-year-old member of the Bear Clan volunteer safety patrol, brought a powwow drum from Ndinawe, a North End youth resource centre located on Selkirk Avenue.
It was the first time Ninondawah Richard had agreed to lead a pipe ceremony on Main Street.
"For me, my mom taught me this way of life. I’ve been going to sun dances and fasting ceremonies all my life. But here, in the city, we’re losing our way of life. So we are coming together in the city, on the street, to celebrate. It’s about getting together and praying," he said.
The pipe ceremony Saturday was one of a series of such occasional events. They are partly the brainchild of Winnipeg’s Aboriginal Youth Organization and shared with half a dozen grassroots community groups.
"We want to celebrate young men like Ninondawah who are pipe carriers who want to share our traditions with everyone," said North End indigenous community advocate Michael Champagne.
"This is a youth pipe ceremony, #prayers on Main," he quipped, but he wasn’t really joking. Social media such as Twitter and Facebook are the communication networks for youth and grassroots leaders.
Champagne is best known for community-building, Friday evening gatherings at the Selkirk Avenue bell tower, called Meet Me at the Bell Tower.
Others who attended Saturday said bringing indigenous ceremonies to the streets is a way to counter the violence, addictions and despair in the heart of some of the city’s most impoverished neighbourhoods.
The ceremony lasted about two hours, drawing curious stares from passengers in buses, friendly honks from motorists and more than a few people walking by who accepted handshakes and sat down on the pavement to take part in the ceremony. Strangely, nobody had to ask what to do, they just took it in.
The pipe ceremony began with a sage smudge carried around to participants who gathered in a circle, sitting on the bare pavement around the comforter where the pipes and drums were placed. Waving the smoke from the sage is done as a purification rite. One by one, people introduced themselves and said a few words, passing around a wooden talking stick, buffered and polished from being passed around hand to hand in countless sharing circles.
Only then were the pipes lit and the prayers said silently, the pipe stems pointed up, down and around to take everyone and everything into a sacred circle of life.
"I was just walking by," said a woman who introduced herself as Lisa.
"I think it’s really good to bring these ceremonies out here."
Another was introduced as a man who’d stopped a man from jumping off the Salter Street bridge.
Aaron Stevens drew smiles with his response, delivering a short speech in a strong voice about how discovering his ancestors’ culture was helping him stay sober and drug-free for the first time in his life.
"I can’t wait to hear what the judge has to say about all this," he added, drawing a burst of laughter.
Stevens faces break-and-enter charges and the prospect of jail time, another first in his life.
"It was the police who told me I was a good person, the people I feared and hated the most. And they saved my life," Stevens said after the pipes were bundled back up in their bags of cloth and beaded leather.
"I’m 37, but I feel like I’m a 13-year-old scared little kid who’s growing up."
Alexandra is a veteran news reporter who has covered stories for the Winnipeg Free Press since 1987. She held the medical beat for nearly 17 years, and today specializes in coverage of Indigenous-related issues. She is among the most versatile journalists on the paper’s staff.
Updated on Monday, August 15, 2016 at 6:45 PM CDT: Changed number to four from three