Indigenous peoples are vastly overrepresented in Edmonton’s homeless population. Forty-eight percent of people experiencing homelessness identify as Indigenous, compared with only 6% of Edmonton’s general population. We recognize that that Indigenous homelessness is a colonial legacy and as such requires conscious action from all of us.
Earlier this month, we were happy to welcome Harry Watchmaker to lead a smudge-making session with 18 Housing First staff representing 7 different agencies. Harry is a knowledge keeper from Kehewin Cree Nation who has been a cultural support with the Indian Residential Health Support program, and he has supported homeless serving agencies and community members for many years.
Smudging is a practice common to Indigenous peoples in North America. It is a traditional form of cleansing – ridding ourselves and/or our surroundings of negative energy through sacred smoke created from burning medicinal or sacred plants. Many, but not all, Indigenous cultures in Canada smudge, and may have different beliefs associated with the smoke, as well as different ceremonies and protocols.
The smudge-making day was a culmination of medicine picking trips that were held throughout the summer and fall. Everyone who attended the session was given teachings on the various medicines and herbs that were then ground up and combined to make the smudge. At the end of the day, each participant had a smudge that they were able to take with them.
Reconciliation is a key focus area in Edmonton’s Updated Plan to Prevent and End Homelessness. A vital part of moving forward is ensuring that we in the homeless serving sector have ongoing, consistent access to Indigenous ways of knowledge and learning to inform our practice. This smudge-making workshop allows Housing First workers and partner agencies to experience Indigenous culture and ceremony, and how to understand the ways we can better engage those experiencing homelessness in cultural conversations. As expressed in the Definition of Indigenous Homelessness in Canada, cultural connections are a way we can help those experiencing homelessness reconnect culturally, spiritually, and emotionally with their Indigeneity lost through colonization and racism that have displaced and dispossessed so many.