28 years ago I participated in my first ever 4-day, 4-night fasting ceremony. I travelled a long way for it, right up to Thunder Bay, Ontario. There was a spiritual twitch deep inside my soul at the time, telling me how important it was that I discover the healing benefits of the fasting ceremony. I would have travelled clear across the country to experience it if I had to.
Upon arrival to the ceremonial site I saw that a sacred fire had already been ignited but also observed that not enough wood was on hand to keep the fire burning for the duration of the fasting time. The fasters were told by the elder’s helper, before he departed the ceremonial site that a truck would be bringing wood soon, assuring the fire would continue to be well fed. The next day with no sign of more wood being delivered to the site, I took it upon myself to draw dried branches from the forest to the circle of the sacred fire. It was good that I did so because the truck delivering wood didn’t arrive until the morning of the fourth day of the fast. There were over twenty people taking part in the fasting ceremony but to my recollection, no one else helped me in bringing wood to the fire. I had laboured without food or water for two days and at the end, I was so exhausted and drained of energy that I was on the verge of physical collapse.
When the elder (Walter Linklater) arrived to complete the fast with a purification lodge ceremony, he approached me and said, “before your return to Ottawa, stop by my house.” When I did so he presented me with a chunk of red pipe stone. It was his way of expressing his gratitude to the person who had kept the fire going.
Years later (1996) I met and befriended Bobby Woods (Lame Buffalo) who was an internationally recognized elder. Bobby, out of respect for me (so he said), carved the piece of pipe stone into a pipe bowl. This was not something I requested he do, it was something he offered. Then in about 2002, another elder (Curtis Hopkins) directed that it would be fitting for me to carve my own pipe stem. By coincidence, my friend Arnold Saulteaux had just presented me with a short piece of dry tamarack. I carved the tamarack into a stem and turned it over to an Algonquin friend (Solomon Wawatie) who slowly burnt a hole through it in a traditional fashion. I was instructed by yet another elder (Raymond Ballantyne) to place the pipe ‘on the land’ for 4 days and nights, allowing the pipe to get acquainted with ‘All Our Relations’ before it would be raised in ceremony.
So, very solemnly, I did as elder Ballantyne instructed. On the dawn of the first day, I placed the pipe on the branches of a spruce tree in Gatineau Park. As it turned out it was in the dead of winter that I did so. The days passed with thoughts of the pipe constantly on my mind. Before dawn of the fourth day I made my way to the spruce tree in the bitter cold, to retrieve the pipe. Around me, the trees cracked loudly, their sap not being able to withstand the freezing temperature without protest. The oxygen in the frozen snow crunched and squished as it was forced out of its bed by the weight of my steps. The wind I breathed into my body froze my lungs only to emerge from my mouth as puffs of white fog which disappeared quickly into the clear motionless dawn. A perfect day, a perfect season, a perfect time to begin a spiritual journey I thought as I lifted the pipe from the embrace of the spruce. The pipe is in my sacred bundle. I light it in ceremony for my family, community and nation. It gives me strength and guides my deeds and actions.
Keep the Circle Strong,
South Wind (Albert Dumont)