Cleansing and purifying with sacred sweetgrass

By Nigel Gordijk  Wednesday, July 20, 2022

Indigenous educators in New Hamburg teach about traditions and the healing properties of one of the sacred medicines

Métis educator Tammy Gagnon, holding a bushel of sacred sweetgrass that she harvested the previous day. (Photo: Nigel Gordijk)

Métis educator Tammy Gagnon, holding a bushel of sacred sweetgrass that she harvested the previous day. (Photo: Nigel Gordijk)

More than 20 people learned about the traditional use of sacred sweetgrass at an Indigenous teaching session in New Hamburg’s William Scott Park on Thursday. Presented by Tammy Gagnon, who is Métis (French and Algonquin), and Haudenosaunee Elder Nina De Shane, the presentation was hosted by the Wilmot Family Resource Centre as part of its Coffee House Talks series.

Attendees sat in a circle and were invited to participate in smudging, a cultural practice that precedes Indigenous-led activities. The ceremony involves burning of traditional medicines – tobacco, sage, cedar, and sweetgrass – in a shell, and the smoke is wafted over the body to cleanse it.

Gagnon said that she harvested 21 strands of sweetgrass the previous day, and then she laid tobacco – the first medicine from the Creator – in the place where it was growing. “When we take, we give back,” she explained.

Coffee House Talks committee member Lynn Osborne-Way helped Gagnon to make a braid from the sweetgrass. “This represents family and community,” said Gagnon.

The first seven strands represent the previous seven generations, she said. “We are who we are because of them.” The next strands are for the Seven Grandfather Teachings: love, respect, honesty, courage, wisdom, truth and humility. The final strands are for the next seven generations.

“I hang bushels of sweetgrass at home to purify it,” said Gagnon, as she shared some of its other uses, which include braiding and weaving it into baskets that are used to carry freshly-picked berries or Indigenous medicines.

At the end of the session, attendees were treated to calming sweetgrass latte tea, and a type of bread called bannock, with crabapple jelly and honey. Everyone received sweetgrass seeds, to be planted in an area with full sun, in soil that is kept moist.

Morningside Village resident Bob Knechtel, who was presented with the sweetgrass that was braided during the presentation, enjoyed the teachings. (Photo: Nigel Gordijk)

“I’m pleased I’m here, because it was a great experience,” he said. “I have a great deal of interest and learning to do, involving trying to have an understanding with other cultures and other ways of life, particularly with First Nations, Métis, and Indigenous people.”

He added, “Education is critically important, for all of us, no matter what the background is. I think it’s a matter of showing up and doing things together. There’s a great deal of fear about, in various cultures, whether it be the U.S., Canada, whatever. People don’t understand each other, and there’s no curiosity to find out. I’m trying to learn not to be judgmental, and to have more curiosity.”