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Education (6-12)

Aki Nindoondawaa aims to bring people together through healing, regardless of gender identity

June 2, 2024

Land-based healing gathering to take place Tuesday in Selkirk, Man.

Cutting down trees.
Jeannie White Bird strips branches of a tree to make a teepee pole on Saturday, in advance of the Aki Nidoondawaa healing gathering in Selkirk, Man. (Chelsea Kemp/CBC)

CBC Indigenous: Preparations were underway in Selkirk, Man., on Saturday in advance of a land-based healing gathering later this week, as dozens of people worked to harvest teepee poles.

The gathering will take place Tuesday at the Selkirk Friendship Centre. Organizer Jeannie White Bird, who has named the event Aki Nindoondawaa — meaning “I heard it from the land” in Anishinaabemowin — says it aims to break down gender barriers in healing activities by bringing together people who identify in all different ways. 

“We just want to focus on just breaking down those barriers,” said White Bird. “Not saying, ‘Men, women’ — how about masculine energy, feminine energy, and just like beautiful energy?” 

White Bird recently went out with a group of men healing from sexual trauma to cut down poles for a teepee in preparation for Tuesday’s event. When they were doing so, some young girls in the area were curious and said they wanted to take part.

So on Saturday, a group of men and women cut down poles for another teepee. 

Elder Carol Settinger was out to support the group on Saturday and said the young people who participated gained valuable hands-on learning.

“This is where they’re really learning … when they’re actively involved in the participation of the culture,” Settinger said. “This is where the learning will take place, with caring people and in an environment where everyone is included.”

She added, “We’re not excluding people by how they identify, but we want to embrace their differences and bring them in and share their knowledge.”

a woman look at a tree.
Elder Carol Settinger eyes potential teepee poles for the Aki Nidoondawaa healing gathering in Selkirk.(Chelsea Kemp/CBC)

For Cherish Henry, being connected with her culture on Saturday helped her feel like “you belong somewhere.”

Henry has cut wood before, but it was the first time she took off every individual piece with a hatchet. Henry said it felt natural, it made her soul happy, and she looks forward to sharing what she’s learned with her children.

The experience also helped young people, who spend lots of time on electronic devices, develop face-to-face connections from being out in the land, Henry said. 

“I feel like it brings back a lot of the culture in people and the community and communication,” she said.

A woman puts down a branch.
Cherish Henry loads a harvested teepee pole on a trailer for the Aki Nidoondawaa healing gathering in Selkirk.(Chelsea Kemp/CBC)

White Bird said the idea for Aki Nindoondawaa stems from her own journey.

She had a dream almost a decade ago — which she said was more like a vision — in which she was in a medical van and when it arrived at the hospital, there was a teepee. 

There was a huge buffalo robe inside the teepee when she entered it and in the centre of the robe were medicines, White Bird said. The message, she said, was “Don’t let them tell you you don’t know what’s best for yourself.” 

“I didn’t realize how big that message was and how profound that would be,” White Bird said Saturday.

The name Aki Nindoondawaa comes from conversations with one of her cousins.

“I said, ‘Well, what do you think about a word or how would we capture that in a traditional name,” White Bird recalled. “And he said one thing that came across was Aki Nindoondawaa — ‘I heard it from the land.’

“I wrote that down on the little sticky note … and I just squirreled it away in a drawer and every now and then I’d pick it up and I’d look at it. Then finally this came along.” 

a young person strips bark of a tree.
Amrick Henry, 7, strips bark from a tree trunk to make a teepee pole for the Aki Nidoondawaa healing gathering in Selkirk. (Chelsea Kemp/CBC)

Henry McKay does lots of land-based work with young people. He said a lot of men face violence or are drawn to gangs, but connecting back to the land is healing.

He called being outdoors and working on the land medicine and said it’s important for him to do the teaching work he does. 

“When we’re in the city, our spirit is disconnected a lot of times,” he said. “We’re faced with a lot of stressors in the city, so it’s nice to come out and be reconnected with Mother Earth.”

White Bird said Tuesday’s gathering will include many land-based healing activities, one of which is teepee pole peeling. She said there’s medicine in the tree bark and one of the stations will also help people share it. 

“One of the things I like to say is, ‘The more we peel the more we heal,'” she said. “That’s the typical analogy of the onion, but then here we’re having our land-based healing version, our Indigenous healing.”

Preparing for Aki Nindoondawaa land-based gathering

WATCH | Preparing for Aki Nindoondawaa: 1 day ago, Duration 2:08

Dozens gathered in Selkirk, Man., on Saturday to harvest teepee poles for Aki Nindoondawaa, a land-based healing gathering set for Tuesday. CBC’s Chelsea Kemp spoke with Elder Carol Settinger, volunteer Henry McKay, event organizer Jeannie White Bird and volunteer Cherish Henry.

Click on the following link to view the video:

With files from Chelsea Kemp