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Elders share experience through parenting workshop.

The Lloydminster Native Friendshop Centre (LNFC) extended an open invitation to the Lloydminster community to attend five cross cultural workshops held from October 2007 to January 2008.

Doris Lewis, LNFC community and cultural resource worker, explained that "the goal of the workshops was to help close cultural gaps and foster a powerful exchange of traditional knowledge and understanding."

"We are hoping to see Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal cultures coming together.

Many of the younger generation are not aware of what First Nations people have gone through and what has been lost," Lewis said.

November's workshop featured well-known "Grandparent Elders" Walter and Maria Linklater, who shared traditional teachings in a storytelling circle with a large, appreciative audience.

Elders-in-Residence at the University of Saskatchewan, the couple have helped foster more than 350 children, including some with FAS (Fetal Alcohol Syndrome).

Maria opened the workshop with a compelling demonstration of how to prevent "cultural shock" in a newborn Native child. Recreating an ancient ceremony, she wrapped an infant up in a soft blanket and laced her into a handmade moss bag.

"The moss is a gift from Mother Earth. When I tie you up in the mossbag, I am promising to look after and protect you, and then hand you over to your mother to be breastfed. After feeding, I will sing traditional songs that will put her to sleep."

After demonstrating the "wrap", Maria held her audience spellbound with stories and wisdom garnered from a lifetime of experience.

"Once upon a time a newborn baby bison dropped his belly button into the snow and up sprang a tiny purple crocus. When the prairie crocus pushes up through the snow, that is how a baby bison's tummy looks, like the crocus. The spirit of the bison is strong and when we eat it, it makes us strong," she said.

Using an innovative prenatal doll, she shared some traditional facts of life with workshop participants.

"As an unborn baby, your afterbirth is hooked up to your mother and if she smokes or drinks alcohol, it travels through the cord to you. In traditional culture, the afterbirth is buried in the bush with cermony and prayer. A small girl is chosen to jump on that spot and pack the earth to help cover it, so that nobody knows where it is. Then we put a ribbon on a nearby tree. The bellybutton is placed in a small beaded bag and tied near the place where you sleep. When you are older, you can bury it wherever you want to," she said.

Raised in a family devestated by alcohol, Maria explained how she helped raise younger siblings and babies affected by FAS.

"After bringing home a little girl whose mother had been FAS, I thought that I had made a mistake for the first time in my life. I prayed to the Creator for help. I sang to her and sewed a special homemade bag to keep her close and safe. She was as tiny as a newborn child. I looked at her in the incubator and said, "My grandfather's peace pipe is bigger than her little legs!" She was blue and should have died. But she woke up and began to move."

Maria turned to her own Native spirituality to save this little girl, sharing a story that brought tears to the eyes of her audience.

"I decided to give her water therapy. We are all related to the water. Everything we need to survive is in the lake. The water sponge, dried, stops bleeding if you know which plants to pick. The sand, mixed with cedar and heated up in a bag, acts as a warm compress with vapors that open your lungs.

"I went to the waters of Lake Superior, prayed and offered cedar tobacco and said, 'I am going to take what you have to offer and use it on this little girl.' I took a pail of white sand, dried it, and quilted it into little bags to use as weights in her bonnet, to stop her shaking, and sewed a little sand belt to help straighten her tiny spine. We raised her with love, hugs, kisses, herbal medication, goats milk boiled with wild rice and tiny spoonfuls of blueberry mint tea around the clock. On trips to the hospital, interns and doctors watched the process in amazement."

Maria explained how she has helped the little girl cope with her differences.

"I showed her a picture of the day she was conceived and how in the womb, she looked like a little fish. I told her that this was the way we all looked, but during that time, your mother drank alcohol. You are so smart, so intelligent ... but you learn differently. That is the way you are."

[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]

The Linklaters also shared insights about their "cultural boot camp" at White Calf First Nation, an initiative that offers Native families a safe space to reconnect with culture and spirituality.

"Campers are introduced to "the medicine wheel of life" and "the sacred place we come from before we entered our mother's womb". We teach the creation story, that all creation is sacred because the Creator is sacred," Walter said. "We show how tobacco comes from native plants and must be used in a sacred way. We don't inhale when we smoke the pipe. We blow the smoke to the four directions."

[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]

Guided by the Grandparent Elders, campers live in tipis, attend sweat lodges and learn how to live a good life.

"Everything from the Creator is sacred and connects human beings back to the sanctity of Mother Nature," explained Walter.

"We teach that there are proper ways to hunt, that we smudge our rifles, bullets, knives and snares. We ask the Creator to call to the moose, asking one of them to give up their life for us. We hear them talking amongst each other, ah ho, ah ho, trying to decide. After the hunt, we ask the Creator to thank the moose for giving up his life. The hunters ask the women to cook that moose in a respectful way, and take a food offering with tobacco to the north side of a tree, to share with the other animals," said Walter.

"We teach the children that everything comes from Mother Earth. We show them how to be kind and respect their own parents. We teach that cruelty to animals is bad and not to hurt baby gophers. I speak for the trees and teach our children not to rip down branches or disrespect our sacred plants," added Maria.

Another powerful teaching shared by the Linklaters is the rebirth of an ancient Cree ritual, almost lost in time-the sacred name giving ceremony of a newborn child, swaddled, wrapped and laced up in a traditional moss bag.

"In the old days, the Elders would take that baby from the parents to discover which auras and colors surrounded them and which special animal spirits protected them," Walter explained. "In the naming ceremony, the Elders would give them their own distinctive name, and with it, a place in the tribe."

By PAMELA SEXSMITH

Sage Writer

Lloydminster
COPYRIGHT 2008 Aboriginal Multi-Media Society of Alberta (AMMSA)
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Title Annotation:Saskatchewan Sage: Special Section providing news from Saskatchewan
Author:Sexsmith, Pamela
Publication:Windspeaker
Date:Feb 1, 2008
Words:1194
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