A week before I finished the trail in Newfoundland I was invited to the Bay St. George Cultural Circle in St. George by NAWN, the Newfoundland Aboriginal Women’s Network. The building used to be a United Church but these women bought it from them, removed all the pews and the altar from the front and instead made a circle of chairs in the otherwise empty space.
Powerful symbolic shift because in a circle of chairs no one person preaches from a pulpit, everybody in the circle speaks. In the circle there was a big drum that many people could sit around.
At one time only men in the Mi’kmaq culture played the big drum. But as the women there said, “Was time for a change, it’s the 21st century.
When my co-producer Ann Verrall and I walked in, they were about 40 chairs, only 6 of which had women sitting in them, but soon a school bus showed up and all the chairs were filled with United Church ministers from all over Canada. They were some of the 400 gathered in Corner Brook for an annual church conference. This was a field trip.
The circle was opened up by Odelle, a powerful, strong woman who had the strength of a bear and the heart of a kind and wise grand mother. Everyone in the circle introduced themselves. Then there was a pipe ceremony. Two aboriginal men walked around the circle saging everyone first and then the pipe was lit and everyone in the circle held the pipe. The ritual was to cleanse our spirits and open our hearts.
Then drumming, singing, followed by a shared meal and then back to the circle where again everyone took turns speaking, this time hearts were open and many tears flowed as people shared their pain, their anguish, that hours before was concealed under their skin.
We are all walking wounded and I realized the power of these healing circles. We have medications for emotions, we have psycho therapists for the mind, we have doctors for the body, but we have nothing to heal wounded spirits.
As I left to return to the trail I thought of those women, and of an article I had read by Jimmy Carter.
A few years ago Carter left the Baptist church after a lifetime of being a devout member. He said it was one of the most painful decisions in his life. He did it because he could no longer support a faith that discriminated against women and girls.
“ This view that women are somehow inferior to men is not restricted to one religion or belief. Women are prevented from playing a full and equal roloe in many faiths. Nor, tragically, does its influence stop at the walls of the church, mosque, synagogue or temple. This discrimination, unjustifiable attributed to a Higher Authority has provided a reason or excuse for the deprivation of women’s equal rights across the world for centuries.”
The big drum is a symbol of that change, I think Carter would have felt the sacred as I did in that healing circle. The Dalai Lama said the world will be saved by Western women. The women in NAWN are a symbol of that hope.
You can read Carter’s full article on spiritual equality here