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Waypoint Centre for Mental Health held its first sweat lodge ceremony on Aug. 23. The fully constructed sweat lodge and sacred fire are seen here in Waypoint’s courtyard. (Photo courtesy of Waypoint Centre for Mental Health ) Rhiannon Johnson is an Anishnaabe journalist from Hiawatha First Nation in South-Central Ontario. She wants to contribute to turning the page on how Indigenous peoples are covered within Canadian media. Rhiannon is currently completing her master’s degree in journalism at Ryerson University.

A Catholic psychiatric hospital in Ontario has introduced a new treatment option for its patients — the traditional First Nations healing practice of the sweat lodge ceremony.

Waypoint Centre for Mental Health in Penetanguishene, Ont. — approximately 125 kilometres northeast of Toronto, on the shores of Georgian Bay — is a 305-bed psychiatric hospital that serves the immediate catchment area between Orangeville and Perry Sound and draws in patients from across Ontario who require a high level of care.

Fourteen years ago, the hospital hired its first traditional healer. And this summer, it offered its first sweat lodge ceremony for patients.

“We were the first organization in Ontario to recognize the role of traditional or Aboriginal healers — the first place to have a person on staff in a psychiatric facility with the title of a traditional healer,” said Glenn Robitaille, director of ethics and spiritual care at Waypoint.

Waypoint’s first sweat took place on Aug. 23 and was led by Waypoint’s traditional healer, Austin Mixemong.

“Part of my role here is to work with the Aboriginal, Métis and Inuit peoples in the organization to help guide them in their spiritual belief system, their faith and their cultural needs,” says Mixemong. Saplings are bent to create the frame of the sweat lodge in the courtyard of Waypoint Centre for Mental Health Care. (Photo courtesy of Waypoint Centre for Mental Health Care) He is the second traditional healer to work at Waypoint and met Robitaille seven years ago through John Rice, the facility’s first traditional healer.

A patient does not have to have an Indigenous background in order to receive the traditional treatment through ceremony, as Mixemong accepts all patients who are looking for traditional healing.

“There’s four parts that I look at to help them to get a better understanding of who they are — the emotional part, the spiritual part, the mental part and the physical part — in order to help them in their needs as a whole person,” says Mixemong.

Being able to offer services to patients that support them emotionally and spiritually — not just mentally and physically, as is the focus in traditional Western medicine — is especially critical for facilities that serve Canada’s Indigenous people, said Robitaille. Kelly Brownbill, Ziigwen Mixemong and John Rice work together to construct the sweat lodge at Waypoint Centre for Mental Health Care. (Photo courtesy of Waypoint Centre for Mental Health) Mixemong, who is Potawatomi and Anishnaabe, is a mide. The Midewiwin, also known as the Grand Medicine Society, is an ancient spiritual society once widespread among the Ojibwe or Anishinaabe people and many other Great Lakes Indigenous groups.

Its practitioners, mides, are medicine men, traditional healers who practise ceremonies that have been handed down orally for hundreds of years. Through these ceremonies, like sweat lodges and smudging, a mide helps guide people on their spiritual paths.

There are four levels of learning that a Midewiwin can complete, much as there are different levels of schooling in Western society. Mixemong has been training as a mide for 30 years — both he and Rice are third-level Mides.

They are also both part of the Three Fires Lodge, a group of 150 […]

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