‘Grandmother’s lodge’ a place for comfort and guidance

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‘Grandmother’s lodge’ a place for comfort and guidance

We are excited to announce the opening of the ceremonial space at the Edmonton Community Health Hub North and wanted to take this opportunity to share a story from our partners from Alberta Health Services about the importance of the ceremonial space.

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Indigenous ceremonial space an opportunity ‘to walk the talk of reconciliation’

Story by Chelsea Blair | Photos & video by Evan Isbister

EDMONTON — Indigenous peoples can now enjoy the comforts of a safe and welcoming environment with the opening of a new ceremonial space at Edmonton Community Health Hub North.

“There’s a lot of fear, anxiety and stigma that Indigenous peoples often associate with the healthcare system,” says Michelle Knox, program manager, AHS addiction and mental health. “To walk into a healthcare setting with a ceremonial space as the central point sends a completely different message. It’s an opportunity to walk the talk of reconciliation.”

The Health Hub is a collaboration between Alberta Health Services (AHS) and the Edmonton North Primary Care Network (PCN) to provide addiction and mental health supports, health promotion and disease-management programming as well as clinical supports for patients with complex health needs.

“After the space was built, we held a traditional ceremony to receive a name from the spirits,” says Carola Cunningham, an Elder who helped guide the process from initial design to reality. “The name is Kôhkominaw wîkihk (grandmother’s lodge).”

After the naming ceremony, a pipe ceremony took place “to bless the space and open it spiritually,” adds Cunningham. “When I walk in here, I know I’m with my grandmother. The space needs to be respected as a being holy — you’re sitting in your grandmother’s home.”

Indigenous Elders and AHS partnered to design Kôhkominaw wîkihk, with careful attention paid to each and every detail. Resembling a tipi and surrounded by 13 poles, it stands tall in the middle of the Health Hub.

“The poles represent the 13 moons in a woman’s cycle — and each moon gives us direction in what we’re supposed to be doing in our life during that time,” says Cunningham. “As Indigenous people, we’re governed by natural law. So, natural elements such as fire, land, sun, air, and water are incorporated into our design.”

Fire is in the form of a gas fireplace, while plants and a sitting space on the floor represent land, and the sun shines in through a skylight where the poles meet the ceiling. Around the skylight, a medicine wheel —in equal shades of red, white, yellow and blue — represents all races of people. “All are welcome here,” adds Cunningham.

A blue-and-white floral printed fabric hangs from one of the poles inside the ceremony space to signify grandmothers. “It looks after everybody who comes in here. Any prayers that are said will go into that print and, at the end of the year, we’ll take it to the land and let it go back to our ancestors.”

Between the poles, windows allow people to see into the space as they walk by.

“Even though it was built intentionally to do ceremony, I encourage everyone to use it as a space to bring people together and have conversations. I hope it can help break down barriers” says Cunningham. “We want staff and the wider community to feel like it’s a space that they can seek comfort and guidance.”

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