By Jonathon Wilson
Thunder Bay Chronicle-Journal

A peaceful event aimed at teaching aboriginal healing was turned on its ear by violent winds blowing Sunday atop Mt. McKay.
About four dozen participants banded together to save a traditional longhouse built out of birch saplings. The structure, covered with a nylon tarp, nearly took to the air at about 2 p.m. when wind gusts reached nearly 80 km/h at the Mt. McKay lookout.
“That was very scary,” said Cindy Crowe, a Lake Helen First Nation member who helped organize the four-day event.
“We can‘t have the lodge falling on the sacred items in here, or the elders.”
Crowe said the five elders and the drummers were about to move into the sweat lodge when the winds picked up.
“I was asking if they were going to be doing a song or a prayer to ask for some assistance,” she said.
“The wind is definitely a challenge right now.”
A decision was made to remove the tarp and resurrect the lodge‘s birch frame. Crowe said the saplings will be returned to the forest when the event concludes.
The spiritual ceremony was organized by Blue Sky Teaching Lodge, with support from Fort William First Nation‘s Thunder Mountain cultural committee.
About 300 people have attended the gathering since the construction of the longhouse began last Monday.
Crowe said many participants are focusing their attention on personal healing.
“People will come with all kinds of things,” Crowe said. “It may be grief, it may be a medical condition.”
The event drew participants from Lake Helen, Gull Bay and Fort William First Nations. Crowe said many non-aboriginal participants, along with people from First Nations as far away as Kettle Point on Lake Huron, and Shoal Lake near Winnipeg, also showed up.
The event includes a daily feast, but some participants have chosen to fast for several days instead.
The fasters are tucked away in the nearby bush with no food or water. Crowe said it‘s an aboriginal custom meant to cleanse the soul.
“The fasting is sometimes done in the spring, as part of getting ready for the year,” she explained.
“They target to go for four full days and four full nights and they hope that they‘ll have a vision during that time.”
Crowe said there‘s a growing interest among aboriginal people to return to ancient traditions. The difficulty, she said, has been convincing people to open their minds to the ideas.
Some people, she said, might be embarrassed to admit that they don‘t know their culture or traditions.
“It‘s been a challenge for Anishnawbe people in the last 100 years, because their spirituality was basically underground,” Crowe said.
“We‘re very fortunate that we still have some elders with the original gifts, that are able to share it with us.”
The five elders attending are Albert Mandamin, Ronald Mandamin and Mary Rose Scott from Shoal Lake, Tommy White from Whitefish Bay, and Nancy Jones from Nicickousemenecaning First Nation.
The event concludes Tuesday afternoon.