Oujé-Bougoumou’s Redfern Mianscum just days ago witnessed his community tear down a sweat lodge he built with his bare hands earlier this fall. The community did so under a new bylaw that was passed in late October banning all traditional spiritual practices within reserve limits after a petition was passed requesting it.
Mianscum said he had built the sweat lodge in the backyard of his friend, Lana Wapachee, on October 5 because he felt there was a need for a source for traditional healing within Oujé.
“The reason why I built it was because I have seen a lot of drug and alcohol abuse and people going through different problems. I have been there in my own community and I have also faced these problems. So I wanted to take part in the healing process and help people in the community. This is what I do as a sweat-lodge carrier – I try to help people change their lives,” said Mianscum.
Mianscum said the sweat lodge helped several people within the community who came to him in search of a traditional means of therapy. He said he saw the sweat lodge give these individuals a sense of identity as the practice has been lost in some Cree communities for quite some time.
While Mianscum was never approached by any community members who were in opposition of the sweat lodge, he said he was aware that it was being widely discussed amongst them. Not long after the structure was erected, a petition began to circulate to get it torn down.
“There were 123 signatures on the petition to take the sweat lodge down but I think that there were six or seven signatures that were invalid, one of them signed twice and some were minors and outsiders,” said Mianscum.
The petition however sparked a community meeting from October 27-29 where it was decided that all Cree traditional spiritual practices would be banned in Oujé-Bougoumou.
The resolution reads that the Council of the Cree Nation of Oujé-Bougoumou:
– must exercise its inherent rights of self-government and self-determination and will be exercising it right in governance to provide services solely based on community needs and common interest;
– exercises its collective rights of the members who have expressed their concern with the type of traditional practices being done in the community;
– hereby declares that the sweat lodge along with any form of Native Spirituality Practices such as Powwows, Rain Dances et etcetera do not conform with the traditional practices and teachings of our Elders.
The resolution also stated that the community was founded under the Christian faith and values of the community’s Elders and past leadership and that the community will continue to uphold its faith in guidance with God.
With that bylaw in place, Wapachee was informed on November 11 that the sweat lodge had to be torn down.
The bylaw was passed in spite of the fact that at the 2010 Annual General Assembly of the Crees, a resolution was passed at the request of Cree Elders from different communities and NNDAP workers throughout the Cree Nation to protect Native spirituality and its practices in all of the Cree communities.
In that regard, Mianscum said there is a growing movement of individuals within his community and other communities who have been angered over both the ban and the fact that the sweat lodge was torn down. In the wake of this, a series of letters have been submitted in support of Mianscum to the Oujé-Bougoumou Band Council with one even coming from an Anglican minister who has served the Cree communities since 1994.
As for Mianscum, he feels he was not given the opportunity to explain what the lodge was about to those who disapproved of it. He said their arguments were that the practice was not in fact part of Cree ancestral practices and that this was something taken from other Native cultures out west or down south. He also believes that the whole debacle is out of line with Cree culture and values.
Since the sweat lodge was torn down, Mianscum said he is currently researching his next move, will be seeking legal council and has even written Grand Chief Matthew Coon Come to look for direction. At press time he had not yet received a reply.