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'We are storytellers': Native Friendship Centre takes storytelling from sacred fire to microphone

'We haven’t had powwows, social circles or even funerals in the last however many months. Today is a way to help with all that,' says official

The Barrie Native Friendship Centre (BNFC) hosted a sacred fire Thursday with the goal being to honour all the grief and loss that have been experienced in the past couple of years. 

BNFC executive director Samantha Kinoshameg said today’s fire was important not only for the physical act of seeing people, but more so for the mental aspect and keeping Indigenous traditions alive.

“Like many people, our people have been having a rough time for the last two years with not being able to gather and share stories," she told BarrieToday. "I know it has affected everyone but that is a big part of the Indigenous social circle. We are storytellers, we gather as family, even when not blood we are family.

“We haven’t had powwows, social circles or even funerals in the last however many months. Today is a way to help with all that," Kinoshameg added. 

The sacred fire was burning in the back of the BNFC parking lot on Bayfield Street.

Sacred fires have been used for generations as a way to heal, bond and begin sacred ceremonies, events or rituals. Not only do the fires have a variety of unique benefits, but the sacred fire itself has traditions and protocols that are followed in order to uphold the integrity and sacredness of the fire.

Anyone is welcome to pull up a seat and listen to stories being told or join in on some conversation. The fire runs from sun-up to sundown.

Kinoshameg says her people are resilient and adapt to situations, but she has heard on a weekly basis about people having a difficult time with the constant issues brought on by the pandemic.

“Those little things like eating at a restaurant keep getting taken away as does the ability to meet and travel,” she said. “But when you take life’s little pleasures and compact them with the deaths, the uncertainty, it can get heavy on the mind and soul of those dealing with it.”

Another way BNFC is helping people cope with social distancing all while trying to keep stories being shared is with the new podcast put on by the centre. The first episode of the podcast, titled Shining Waters, is available now on the BNFC YouTube channel.

Kinoshameg told BarrieToday it's a new way to do traditional storytelling.

“We tossed around the idea for the last year and everyone we talked to about it thought it was a great idea, especially when we all had no idea when the social distancing would be over with,” said Kinoshameg.

“The really fun part about a podcast is not knowing what stories you’re going to hear when you start talking and asking questions," she added. "Our first episode, I sat with three people from the centre, and not only was it informative but just really fun to do and listen back on.”

The podcast and the sacred fire are two examples of the new way of storytelling and the old way being used to continue traditions, especially for the younger generation.

“Obviously, technology is a big thing for the kids and it is what they are most familiar with," Kinoshameg said. "My six-year-old son loves the fact that he can see his friends' faces with the online schooling. So a podcast and using YouTube is a major goal for us.

“But even more traditional things like the sacred fire remind them to pause and reflect. We have had a fire at my home whenever someone has passed away over the last two years; we kept that tradition going even when it wasn’t a big gathering," she added. 

"Both ways of storytelling are very important.”