Thunder Bay, Ontario, Canada

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St. Joseph's Care Group

St. Joseph's Care Group


Spiritual Care

Indigenous Peoples

The charism of the Care Group's founding community, the Sisters of St. Joseph of Sault Ste. Marie, is RECONCILIATION. This disposition and ethic undergirds all of the components on which the Care Group's Mission statement is predicated. The Spiritual Care Department is one dimension, within the many comprising the Care Group, which perceives that advancing "the healing ministry of Jesus," entails an explicit posture of hospitality towards and right relationship between the other than Indigenous and the Indigenous People(s) of this context. Likewise, health and healing from the perspective of all known Indigenous Spiritual Traditions, has indispensably involved the imperative of harmonious relationships.

For many traditions, the phenomenon of disease was attributable to a person and/or community as somehow declining to a state of being not in-tune with harmony. This does not necessarily implicate a person as being at fault for this having occurred, although it can, and often does, involve an invitation from the Great Life Presence for persons to actively seek, and to embrace what is required to be restored to wellness again. In this regard, the Sisters' predominant charism of Reconciliation is in complete concurrence with a core healing and health value of Indigenous Peoples.

by Rev. Hugh Walker

"Great Spirit is Alive.
Wonder is afoot.
Wonder is Alive.
Great Spirit is afoot.
Wonder is Alive.
Great Spirit is Alive.
Wonder is afoot.
Great Spirit is Alive..."
Buffy St. Marie (Sweetgrass Cree Songwriter)

There is an ancient dictum in the Oral Medicine Traditions of the Algonquian Peoples to the effect,

"A person can put this lesson off for as long as s/he pleases,
but sooner or later, one way or the other,
s/he will participate."

In keeping with this ethic, and its obvious compatibility with the charism of Reconciliation, the Spiritual Care Department offers opportunities for persons to participate and pray in a manner that affirms and celebrates various spiritual expressions that have emerged from the Annishnabic Peoples' Healing Traditions. There is both the space and the personnel available to accommodate this need.

Modern research in a number of highly reputable medical settings has confirmed that persons' spiritual dispositions and practices are invaluable resources in the revitalization and sustaining of their physical wellness. Therefore, as a Department, we are all the more interested in facilitating Indigenous persons to be able to have access to the rich resources inherent in the Indigenous Spiritual Heritages. As a healing setting, we deem ourselves as notably blessed to have Indigenous persons engaging other than Indigenous persons in the ways that they do, from the world views that they have known.

Folk from the Indigenous Spiritual Heritages come into the Care Group's midst with a Wisdom Tradition that maintains,

"When one uses a medicine of any kind,
they are immediately owing to a relationship with that medicine,
as a gift from the Great Spirit (Mystery) Presence."

Medicine is not simply a commodity, it is a living resource with which a person is invited to respectfully participate. For instance, the medicine of Sweet Grass, (one of the medicines burned in a variety of Spiritual contexts), is understood to represent the power in the hair of the Protective Grandmother who watches over the health of the People, like a Guardian Angel. This accounts for why everything is spoken to with the word, and attitude, of Gratitude.

When a medicine resource, such as a drum, a healing Rattle, a Sacred Pipe, a root, an animal part, or leaves, it is enlisted in a relational way. In times past, folk who were other than Indigenous, misperceived such practices to be an indication that the Indigenous folk were "worshipping" these elements. They were not worshipping anything in the creation as such, so much as they were respectfully availing themselves to a grateful relationship to it. As the Oral Tradition of the Cree Medicine Heritage has maintained inter-generationally,

"The medicines (muskeekee) will not work,
unless the Great Spirit (Presence) gives them the power.
We seek.
We trust.
We give thanks."

Indigenous Spiritual Expressions are characteristically mystical and experiential, as opposed to doctrinal, in their operations and manifestations. Dreams, Signs, and Visions are given pronounced reverential regard in a manner very similar to ancient dispositions in early Judaism. Even if one does not believe that snakes can talk, it is, nevertheless, important to be attentive to what the snake said. The helpers (ministering spirits) of the Great Spirit Presence, never tire of listening to the children of the Great Spirit. Sacred Teachings were often imparted through the Oral Tradition in very potently poetic phraseology, such as demonstrated by one historically reputable Chief's final words, on the occasion of his death.

"What is this Life, but the flash of the firefly in the night.
It is the wolf's breath in the frost of the winter.
It is the little shadows that dance across the Sweetgrass fields,
and disappear into the setting sun."
Chief Crowfoot (to Father Lacombe)

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Supported by: The North West Local Health Integration Network of Ontario