Indigenous Knowledge Keepers host Ceremony of Relationship at Pinawa Nuclear Site

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L to R: Jesse Courchene (Sagkeeng Anicinabe Nation), Norbert Hardisty (Hollow Water First Nation), T-Dre Player (Sagkeeng), Ray Stevenson (Peguis Cree Nation), and Cody Courchene (Sagkeeng) sing ceremonial songs on the traditional drum at a ceremony at the Pinawa nuclear site on September 13.
PINAWA, MANITOBA — More and more, Indigenous knowledge keepers and some of their ancient natural laws-based ceremonial protocols are being called upon for the insights they can offer in addressing the most critical issues of our time.
One of these paramount issues is how to safely dispose of the large amounts of radioactive nuclear waste from nuclear energy sites around the world, for which science has to date not yet found a permanent safe solution.
Turtle Lodge Knowledge Keeper, Florence Paynter (Sandy Bay First Nation), lifts the water in a traditional Water Ceremony September 13.
In March, following ancient ceremonial protocols, the Turtle Lodge Central House of Knowledge, an international centre of excellence in Indigenous education and wellness based in Sagkeeng First Nation, Manitoba, led a meeting at the request of the Sagkeeng Chief and Council. The First Nation is currently in discussions with Canadian Nuclear Laboratories (CNL), Atomic Energy of Canada Limited (AECL), and the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission (CNSC) on how to best manage and decommission the Pinawa nuclear reactor site, located on and potentially impacting its traditional territory.
L to R: Erica Daniels (Peguis Cree Nation) and Turtle Lodge Knowledge Keepers Katherine Whitecloud (Sioux Valley Dakota Nation), Burma Bushie (Hollow Water First Nation), Mary Maytwayashing (Lake Manitoba First Nation), Florence Paynter (Sandy Bay First Nation), assist with the Ceremony of Relationship at the Pinawa nuclear site.
In follow-up to this meeting, on September 13, the Turtle Lodge, acting on behalf of Sagkeeng First Nation, hosted a ceremony of relationship with the earth, at the Pinawa site, currently being operated by CNL.
“As the Original People of our homeland, this ceremony we did here today is to acknowledge our relationship with the land. We honour her forces of ensuring balance,” explained Anishinabe knowledge keeper and founder of Turtle Lodge, Dr. Dave Courchene. He added, “It is also in the spirit of partnership and working together to ensure we find proper solutions to the waste that technology can create.”
Turtle Lodge Knowledge Keeper Dr. Dave Courchene (Sagkeeng Anicinabe Nation).
An ancient pipe ceremony and water ceremony were conducted at the Pinawa site, led by traditional knowledge keepers from the local Anishinabe, Cree and Dakota territory – elders who are knowledgeable of the ceremonial protocols, languages, teachings and traditions of their ancestors.
Helpers known as scabewis lit a sacred fire on the grounds outside, located in close proximity to what Indigenous Peoples refer to as the Manitou Api sacred petroform site, at North America’s geographic centre.
Turtle Lodge Knowledge Keeper Robert Maytwayashing (Lake Manitoba First Nation).
“The sacred fire we lit this morning is to share the true power of the element of fire, an element we have always had faith in. Fire has always acted as a doorway to the spiritual realm. It is to the spirit we turn to today, to seek help and guidance as to how we can safeguard ourselves from the dangers of nuclear waste,” said Courchene.
Chief Derrick Henderson (Sagkeeng Anicinabe Nation).
Given that there are currently no known scientifically safe options of permanently disposing of nuclear waste, rolling stewardship is being advocated by the First Nation as the best option moving forward.
Rolling stewardship refers to a process of cyclical reviews, including reviews of available disposal options, in which regular repackaging of the waste takes place, such as every twenty years. Making a commitment to revisiting the issue regularly ensures that each generation is tasked with the responsibility of continuing to package, manage and consider the waste that has been created, until it is hoped, a permanent future disposal solution may one day be found.
“We must be very careful with what we do to our land; we will be here forever and we all have that responsibility and duty, said Sagkeeng Chief Derrick Henderson.
Front page Lac du Bonnet Clipper, September 26, 2019.  Read article at
Courchene acknowledged the ceremony as a historic turning point of coming together of people working in harmony to take care of the land.
“There will always be differences, but we must always respect each other,” he said. “We have an opportunity today to move towards setting a new paradigm that can change the current narrative of confrontation in this country. As the First People our hope has always been to be an equal partner in seeking solutions and being an equal participant in the decision-making process.”
Poster of event, provided by Turtle Lodge.
Craig Michaluk, responding to the ceremony on behalf of the AECL and the federal government, stated, “We have been given a gift today learning how you feel and think,” said Michaluk. “We’ve made mistakes in the past, but today we move ahead in reconciliation and partnership.”
Courchene gave the closing remarks before everyone gathered to share in a feast.
“There is a critical need to have a moral and ethical leadership that models a way of life supporting the natural laws of the land,” he said. “If we are able to accomplish this, it sets the stage on how we can find the proper solutions together.”
L to R: Councillor Lin Dorie (Sagkeeng First Nation), Ray Stevenson (Peguis Cree Nation).
The full text of Knowledge Keeper Dr. Dave Courchene’s remarks can be found at
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