Canada's largest mental health and addiction teaching hospital has added a unique service for its aboriginal clients -- a sweat lodge to help promote spiritual, physical and emotional healing.

The Centre for  Mental Health (CAMH) in Toronto unveiled the sweat lodge on a tucked-away section of its sprawling campus, fulfilling a goal set years ago to augment its services for indigenous clients by adding the ceremonial structure.

"Having the sweat lodge on-site at CAMH is going to allow us to offer indigenous healing ceremonies as part of the treatment plans," Renee Linklater, director of aboriginal engagement and outreach, said in an interview prior to Thursday's official opening.

"This is going to be really important in our efforts to address what is appropriate aboriginal client care."

The round sweat lodge -- 1.5 metres high and four metres in diameter -- is constructed from 35 maple and poplar sapling poles, gathered from the Six Nations of the Grand River community. Heavy tarp overlays the frame, with an opening facing a fire pit, where stones for the purification ceremony are heated.

Inside, a second pit has been dug to receive those stones, which will be washed with traditional medicines and the "sacred water" that will turn into a cleansing steam.

Participants sit encircling the pit inside the lodge and engage in prayer, songs and other rituals of healing with the help of a ceremonial "conductor." The process lasts about two hours.

Diane Longboat, an elder with CAMH's aboriginal services, said clients with mental health and/or addiction issues go through a number of individual healing ceremonies before being considered ready for the rituals of the sweat lodge.

Taking part in the cleansing ceremony is meant to cast out negative thoughts and feelings, and to help heal "the wounds in their lives," said Longboat, a Mohawk from the Six Nations of the Grand River territory in southwestern Ontario.

The stones are called "grandmothers and grandfathers," terms reflective of aboriginal Canadians' great reverence for their ancestors.

"When sacred water is placed on them and steam occurs, that's a release of the spirit inside those rocks we call the eggs of Mother Earth," explained Longboat. "Not only is it a physical detoxification of your body, but it's an emotional shift within you.

"It is sometimes a miraculous adventure when you go in because there are profound and everlasting healings that occur inside the sweat lodge. And people will look back on life and say: 'This was a spiritual milestone for me. It was an emotional, mental and physical milestone."'

"It allows me to cleanse myself, especially of those negative thoughts that keep coming back to me from time to time," said the 56-year-old. "So the sweat lodge ceremony allows me to release those.

While the sweat lodge will initially be made available only to aboriginal clients, said Linklater, "we are certainly looking forward to a time when clients from other cultures can participate in our traditional healing processes."

Responses to "Toronto hospital opens sweat lodge for aboriginal patients"

  1. Ersilia says:

    Wonderful initiative, many congratulations to all involved, and best wishes for deeply holistic healing, may spirit be a willing helper!

  2. Hmm wow This is great. Do they have a Aboriginal shaman there too ? I read about this web page some time a go -----> I was thinking about my brother at the time.

  3. Anonymous says:

    Wonderful! We are involved in a Detox residential program here in South Florida and will be building a sweat lodge on the premises soon..both my spouse and I are sweat lodge carriers and will be using this lodge to help detox patients in their purification process. We are blessed and look forward to helping people through their healing.

  4. Redhawk says:

    Great idea ... the problem I have is the cover ... heavy duty tarp ??? .. looked at picture and it’s plastic looks like a pool cover or something .. they need to get a cloth canvas or blankets ...

  5. Anonymous says:

    Greetings and Blessing, Yes, Great idea in theory, yet as mentioned, the plastic covering is Not a good idea. The toxic nature of breathing in heated steam from a non-porus source, in this case, poisonous plastic covering, will cause additional health issues for all who enter it. The hospital should have access to a laundry facility to keep ceremonial blankets clean.

  6. I want to share something about the history of where this Indigenous healing wisdom started, Many people don't know but it was Vern Harper who initiated this healing experience with CAMH and their clients and staff. Vern brought these patients out to our camp in Guelph for many years and engaged many with their first ever experience with Indigenous cultural practise and what some call experiential learning. Blood memory was meant to connect those people with this experience to give a sense of identity as many of CAMH's clients suffered from Residential School experience and also Foster Care trauma. Vern himself was like a magnet to many who might not go into institutions like CAMH but it was his presents that brought a sense of security that allowed those first steps towards healing to happen. I was in many of these sweat ceremonies with Vern and those clients from CAMH over the years along with my sister Jerrilynn and Elaine my brother Gary and Mother Beverly.

  7. Please no plastic covers you will make people sick... any true lodge keeper knows that... I am not sure if I agree with this just yet..will just have to wait and see... publicity should not be made for this sacred healing ceremony..humility is our first teaching...

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