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Anishinaabe grandmothers seek funds for ceremonial teepee

Teepee used by Batchewana First Nation elder and firekeeper Clifford Waboose for traditional ceremonies in Indigenous communities has fallen into disrepair. Here's how you can help
A grassroots group of grandmothers is raising funds for Mishomis Clifford Waboose, an Anishinaabe elder and traditional firekeeper from Batchewana First Nation, to replace his teepee that's used for ceremonies in a number of Indigenous communities. Left to right: Grandmother Isabelle Meawasige, Waboose and Grandmother Marlene Day.

An Indigenous grassroots group has launched an online fundraising drive to replace a teepee used to facilitate traditional ceremonies in Anishinaabe communities along the north shore of Lake Huron. 

For years the teepee has enabled Mishomis (grandfather) Clifford Waboose, an Anishinaabe elder and firekeeper from Batchewana First Nation, to keep himself and others warm and dry when he’s called upon to work as a traditional firekeeper for his people.     

“He’s kind of like our go-to guy when we need a ceremonial fire — but I mean, he’s also everybody’s go-to guy when they need a ceremonial fire,” said Jacqueline St. Pierre, who is helping to steer the fundraising drive. “He’s super-reliable, and unless he’s booked to do a fire somewhere else, you can call him up if you have a morning ceremony for somebody that’s passed or if you need healing for the people, or if you’re having a celebration.

“We often rely on Clifford Waboose.”

St. Pierre currently resides in Serpent River First Nation with Isabelle Meawasige, an Anishinaabe grandmother who works with fellow grandmothers Marlene Day and Allison Recollet in a traditional grandmothers council that works in the realm of human trafficking prevention and healing for survivors. 

Waboose’s work, she says, is critical for the grandmothers council in helping survivors of human trafficking and sexual exploitation through ceremony. 

“Part of a firekeeper’s duties is that he holds this space for the ceremony. So that sacred fire is central to all of our ceremonial life,” said St. Pierre, who regularly helps Meawasige and the traditional grandmothers council with their work. “Typically for a big ceremony, you would keep that fire burning for four days to honour the four directions, the four seasons, the four different times in our lives. 

“It’s a really big responsibility to keep that fire burning in a good way — to provide the wood, to hold the space for the grandmothers to do the ceremonial work.”

St. Pierre says Indigenous women and children represent over 50 per cent of domestic trafficking cases in Canada, and the grassroots grandmothers council has seen a spike in human trafficking involving Indigenous Peoples since the COVID-19 pandemic took hold. 

But when the Ontario government committed to address human trafficking, St. Pierre says, the funding announced by the province in 2021 didn’t allot funds for culturally-specific work carried out by the Indigenous community, despite an over-representation of Indigenous people in human trafficking cases. 

“It’s up to us to do grassroots work. We can’t wait for some money to come from some outside agency,” she said.

The grandmothers council wants to raise $6,600 through its social media fundraiser in order to provide Waboose with a new teepee, which includes the exterior canvas, pegs and paying someone to harvest the poles used to keep the teepee upright. 

The fundraiser has brought in just over $2,900 in donations since it was launched a little more than a week ago. 

“Teepees are not inexpensive — canvas is expensive, having it sewn correctly is expensive,” said St. Pierre, adding that a lot of work goes into selecting and harvesting wood for the poles. “A lot of work goes into traditional teepee making.”

The group also plans on lining the inside of the teepee for inclement weather.  

“It’s absolutely necessary, specifically because when we are called to go out and do our work it doesn’t matter what the weather is — it doesn’t matter if it’s snowing, it doesn’t matter if it’s raining. You know, once that fire gets started burning it’s got to burn for four days, or if we’re doing a one-day ceremony it’s got to burn from the beginning all the way to the end," said St. Pierre. "We can’t let weather stop us." 

St. Pierre says the teepee will ultimately benefit all Anishinaabe communities along Lake Huron’s north shore. 

“It’s not just a teepee for Clifford, it’s a teepee for the community,” she said.

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James Hopkin

About the Author: James Hopkin

James Hopkin is a reporter for SooToday in Sault Ste. Marie
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