(I will be omitting most names in order to protect the confidentiality of the individuals I spent this time with, or will be using first names only.) 


I had been unsure about exactly how I was going to get to Spanish, Ontario for the gathering by Survivors Of Sexual And Spiritual Abuse* -- as it turned out, it was a member of the Madness family who provided me with an E-mail contact in the city of London, Ont.! After a flurry of messages it was arranged that this person would meet me at the Greyhound terminal in London on June 11. 

After spending nearly an hour in a horrific traffic jam (complicated by ninety-degree weather) my bus pulled into London forty minutes behind schedule. When I got off the bus and looked about, there was no one matching the description I'd been given -- and I had no phone #! After my initial panic attack subsided (helped along by a grilled cheese and fries from the coffee shop next door) I fished my calling card out of my wallet and with a couple of long-distance calls, found the local # I was looking for. Leave it to me to do things the hard way! 

After a short taxi ride I was to meet my travelling companions for the next four days or so... an absolutely wonderful couple in their forties, and their nine year old adopted son. I was made to feel welcome from the start... more food, and a plunge in their backyard pool, helped take the edge off the day. The husband (who is blind) works for the University of Western Ontario -- it was his wife and son I would actually be travelling with, while he remained behind to take care of the family's two dogs. We would be leaving the following day. 


We were up before the sun rose on this warm Thursday morning. Showers, coffee and breakfast all out of the way before six AM. After loading the van, we were on our way to Kitchener, Ont. where we were to pick up another woman who was to travel with us... keep in mind that before the previous evening none of us had met or spoken before; this entire trip was planned among strangers over the Internet! As it turned out we wound up getting lost, and this person guided us to her place by giving directions over a cellphone. Technology to the rescue! 

Next leg of the trip... headed north along Highway 6 along the Bruce Peninsula -- a narrow point of land separating Lake Huron and Georgian Bay. We were headed for the town of Tobermory, where we would board the ferry for Manitoulin Island. That was a treat in itself -- not long into the two-hour boat ride, the sun burst through the clouds, transforming the water into a stunning shade of aqua. A cool, sweet breeze provided relief from the humidity. 

After the boat, the drive across Manitoulin was a formality... we stopped for coffee in the village of Little Current on the north shore of the island, and admired the spectacular scenery along Highway 6 as we neared the Trans-Canada Highway -- the Canadian Shield is an awesome sight to behold! Spanish was less than an hour away... we arrived shortly before six that evening. 

My companions had reserved rooms at a local bed and breakfast -- I had been planning to pitch a tent, but being a night early, I decided one night there wouldn't hurt. And what a place! Le Bel Abri Bed and Breakfast** is located in Spanish, about a mile south of the Trans-Canada. The building is a former convent... now renovated into spacious rooms with a wealth of antique furniture and knicknacks -- one of the owners, Carmen Cotnoir, is an artist and examples of her work were everywhere. The family also kept some livestock -- chickens, geese, some lambs, and even a couple of emus! I was in the pen with these huge, comical birds -- they are completely docile except (as I was soon to find out) for a love of shiny objects. After a sustained (but luckily futile) attempt to swipe my sunglasses, this crazy bird decided next to have a go at my wristwatch. Time to go while I had the chance... 

Looking down the hill I could see the forbidding hulk of the residential schools... the boys' school, where the gathering itself was to be held, was being used as a community hall by the Village of Spanish -- except for the dormitories and priest's quarters which have been sealed off for nearly forty years -- and the burned-out shell of the girl's school across the road. This building, which had been converted into apartments, was destroyed in 1982 in a deadly fire which claimed nine lives. Looking down at these prison-like structures, I felt chilled, despite the warmth of the day. 

After checking in at the bed and breakfast and sharing coffee and dessert with our hosts, I went with one of my companions to the nearby community of Serpent River (an Ojibway community on the shore of Lake Huron) for the Thursday meeting of the Rainbow Healing Lodge.*** Prayer ties were being made for the upcoming Global Healing Ceremony organized by members of the Lodge -- this would take place north of the town of Elliot Lake the following weekend. Pinches of tobacco were placed into small pieces of colored cloth (yellow, red, black and white for the Four Colors of Man, green for the Earth, blue for the Sky) these were to be placed in the fire as an offering to the Creator. Much friendly talk, joking and hearty laughter -- no separation of spirituality and humor here, let me tell you! I have met many wonderful, kind people in these communities -- they are becoming my spiritual home and family. 



I feel the need to discuss the issue of the Indian Residential Schools in order to provide some sort of context for the following three days. Established under the authority of the Canadian Government in the late nineteenth century, and run by various orders of the Roman Catholic Church, these institutions are one of this country's greatest shames -- a true Canadian holocaust. Children were ripped from their families to spend their youth under the 'care' of the nuns and priests -- there was no choice given. Children were beaten mercilessly for any attempt to practice their culture, or even for speaking their language. Sexual abuse was rampant -- and as it turns out this problem within the Church is one of global proportions. Here it was serving as one more instrument of cultural genocide -- institutionalized racism and abuse at its ugliest. It was to sow the seeds of misery and despair which have lasted for generations, as the vicious cycle of abuse was established and continued to flourish... but there is hope. Without publicity or fanfare, a small piece of history was about to take place on the shore of the Spanish River that weekend. 


Seven o'clock in the morning... ten people gathered on the lawn which lay along the north side of the burned-out ruin of the girl's school... the reclaiming of the site was about to begin. Ordinarily at this point the Sacred Fire would have been lighted, but the region was under a fire ban owing to a stretch of hot, dry weather across the North. A pit had been dug in the ground to receive our offerings of tobacco -- which were then covered with earth. A large bowl of smouldering sage rested on the grass nearby. 

The tract of land on which the girl's school sat was owned by an elderly German woman who was herself a survivor -- of abuse; of institutional psychiatry, and of war -- her family had apparently been involved in the resistance against the Nazis. A pipe was lit, and was shared by each of us in turn as we joined in prayer. As it came to this woman -- her name is Edel -- she appeared to go into trance. It was obvious she had gone elsewhere... but people seemed to know exactly what to do. while two of the elders steadied her on her feet, another person retrieved the sage and placed it at her feet... while the pipe carrier sounded his small drum softly and raised his voice in song. A powerful moment... it was as if time stood still for the next thirty seconds or so. 

As I was checking out of the bed and breakfast a couple of hours later, the Lodgekeeper from Serpent River (a woman named Leona) arrived with a couple of friends -- I had offered to help out with some chores that day. We drove west along the Trans-Canada for nearly an hour, to a rocky beach on Lake Huron -- there we were to gather the stones to be used in the Sweatlodges which were to occur the following evening. Each Sweat consists of four rounds, with seven Grandfathers (the stones) to be brought into the lodge per round. Two Sweats were to be conducted -- one for women only; the other a mixed group. 

Spent most of that afternoon at Serpent River, helping out with a number of tasks -- erecting a large teepee which was to be used as a men's lodge; digging a firepit, and chopping wood. There were scores of dragonflies about -- the mosquitoes are at their peak in the north at this time of year, and the dragonflies helped to keep them in check. Occasionally a hummingbird would flit by on its way to the feeder set up outside a nearby house. 

Got back to the school at about four o'clock -- wound up dozing off atop a picnic table which had been placed on the lawn of the girl's school. I was awakened by someone calling my name... one of the women who was to help facilitate that weekend's events had arrived. We made a trip to a store a couple of miles away for an ice-cream fix, then returned to begin the initial cleansing of the building itself. This time when the sage was lit, the smoke billowed forth in a thick white cloud -- the spirits were clearly starved for the healing medicine. The building had stunk of cold, mildew and oppression, but with the initial smudge, this seemed to lift a little... 

After an informal dinner in the auditorium (I'd tried poaching a couple of eggs in the microwave, only to have 'em explode inside the oven -- YECCH!!) things were to get underway at seven o'clock or so. Two big drums had arrived -- the White Frost Singers from Sault Ste. Marie, and another group of young men from Serpent River. About fifty people came together in the circle at that point. An elder raised his voice in prayer... then the White Frost Drum began to sound. I cannot begin to describe my feelings at hearing that big drum... it resounded throughout the gloomy surroundings like a clap of thunder! Every hair on my body seemed to stand on end as the beat went on and on... and then.... silence. 

At this moment the same man who had conducted the sunrise ceremony that morning (his name is Isaac) rose to his feet, said a brief prayer in his own language... then again sounded his small drum and began to sing. At this point, I burst into tears. 

There were several survivors of these institutions present that evening... one elderly man spoke, in a tearful, outraged voice, of the twelve years of torture he endured there at the hands of the Jesuits. The lawsuits against the Jesuit Order and the Government of Canada are staggering -- currently standing at some 200 million dollars in Ontario alone, they collectively represent the largest class-action suit ever to come before the courts in this province -- and this is only the tip of the iceberg. The last of the residential schools closed in 1988 or so, but the litigation, and the horror stories which lie at its root, will continue well into the next millennium. Let us not forget... 

The silence is beginning to break. 


Came to groggy wakefulness in my little tent at about five-forty-five AM... the sun was already bright, and a strong breeze rattled the canvas. Spent the previous four hours or so in hazy sleep, plagued by strange dreams... fleeting, distorted images of my own life went racing by, one after another. My heart felt heavy... when people began to gather nearby for that morning's sunrise ceremony, I remained silent, seeking to hide myself from sight. But I heard several people call my name, and someone gave my tent a brisk shake as they walked by... no choice but to join the world. It appeared the evil which held that place in its clutches for so long was not going to depart without a struggle... everyone there had to be feeling it in one way or another. 

Sitting in the circle that morning was difficult... I felt restless, and the building was icy cold, despite the recent warm temperatures. I felt frozen to the bone -- the only way to combat this I found was to go outside and let the sun work its own healing magic. I wasn't the only one to be feeling this strange cold... several other people mentioned it during the day, and it seemed unconnected to the weather... even wearing a sweater didn't help, although it was t-shirt weather outside. 

A bit of a diversion that afternoon from a couple of sources... for starters, two friends of mine arrived from Toronto that afternoon. One of these guys was a man named Wayne Morris -- he is a programmer with the Toronto community radio station CKLN-FM -- he has been producing an extensive series on the CIA-sponsored mind-control experimentation which occurred in Canada and elsewhere in the 50's and 60's. The other was a young man whom I've known for years from the Toronto political scene... it was a real surprise to see him there, although I'd been expecting Wayne to come... 

There were several international messages of support for our gathering... my friend Jane had provided a computer, with the idea of connecting to the 'Net on site; perhaps even going interactive... but there were no suitable phone jacks in the school to connect the modem, so we ended up downloading the mail in Edel's trailer across the road, and saving it to disk. There were messages from Canada, Norway, and Melbourne, Australia! We are trying to arrange for the installation of phone jacks in the school in time for the next gathering in August, to have the Internet connection on site. I had hoped to do a short presentation on the work we are doing on the WWW, to get feedback and fresh material... but was unable to do so. Maybe next time... 

The Sweatlodges were to be conducted at Serpent River that evening. I had been planning to go... but I had been feeling emotionally fragile all day, and a Sweat can be an intense experience. I didn't know if it would have been OK to participate, with the baggage I'd been carrying around all day... so at the last minute I decided to pass on it this time. There was another circle that evening, preceded by a procession to the river, to offer tobacco to the water... afterwards I sat up and talked with a couple of other people 'till nearly two AM. 


Woke up before six again, with a thumping headache... but only because sleep had caught me in an awkward position. Something had happened overnight... I had dreamed of being outside, and being caught in a torrential rainstorm. The rain had been warm, and soothing... I felt somehow cleansed. After the headache subsided I felt refreshed, despite less than four hours' sleep for the fourth straight night. 

I lingered behind following the sunrise ceremony to speak privately with one of the elders who was there... 

The sharing was to go on for hours... while several individuals had agreed to share their experiences at some length, there was an opportunity for everyone to talk if they wished. Much powerful testimony was heard. A friend of mine from Sudbury, Ont. spoke of her time at the girl's school... it took great courage for her to be there that day, with the triggering effect of being in that building again... I was profoundly moved and impressed. 

The evil was loosening its grip... the stink of damp and fear which pervaded the place so strongly on Friday had all but disappeared, to be replaced with the warm aromas of sweetgrass, sage, tobacco smoke, and a melange of cooking smells. and the temperature had risen noticeably, despite the heat being shut down for the summer. 

The White Frost Singers had returned that day for the closing. Following a closing prayer from one of the elders, the drum again sounded... this time there was a sense of victory in the air. I had begun to cry again... two people held me and spoke gently until the storm subsided. Here lies the overwhelming difference in the Native way of healing, as opposed to the Western model of 'mental health' -- everything is done with gentleness and love, rather than coercion and violence. and there is a profound respect for the individual. 

My companions I had journeyed with were on their way home... after just four days together, it seemed like we were old friends. We will definitely be keeping in touch... and we should be going up north again together in August. 

Half a dozen of us lingered behind to clean up. I had collapsed my tent (a gusty east wind had sprung up, and the thing had turned turtle) so Edel installed me in one of several old trailers which were parked on her land. This kind woman had been more than generous, allowing us the full use of her property for the time we were there, and was a full participant in the conference. We would be leaving on Monday morning. After we finished cleaning up, a group of us went to Serpent River for a relaxed dinner at a restaurant on the reserve. 

That night the rain arrived. It poured for hours, completing the initial cleansing of the school site, and alleviating the fire danger in Northern Ontario in one fell swoop. 


Finally made it to Jane's place in Thessalon (Near Sault Ste. Marie) as it was getting dark -- we found out that morning the transmission on Wayne's rented car had sprung a gigantic leak, and after getting it towed to Espanola, Ont. for possible repair, found out we would have to go into Sudbury and obtain a replacement vehicle. Having accomplished this, the whole day was shot... nothing left to do but go home for some much-needed sleep -- in a real bed! 

Had a nice, relaxed time the next three days... we did yardwork, and I had a chance to swim and do some fishing. I had been up there once before, back in March, when the snow had been piled up higher than my head. On that occasion I had crossed the lake on foot, wearing a pair of snowshoes -- this time I made the same trip in a canoe, with a fishing pole in my hands. It was a joy just being out on the water -- but nothing was biting, other than mosquitoes. After drowning four or five nightcrawlers -- something small and crafty kept stealing my bait -- and losing one hook, it was time to call it a day. 

Jane has a computer, so I was able to go online several times. I didn't post anything at this point, but wrote several private messages. Guess I was kinda saving up for one... long... message once I got home. 


We drove to Rooster Rock, located north of Elliot Lake, early on Thursday evening. the members of the Rainbow Healing Lodge had already arrived on site, in order to prepare for the ceremonies which were to take place on Friday evening, and on Saturday. The regular meeting of the Lodge took place there that night, underneath the trees on the shore of a jewel-like lake... its appearance belied a sinister secret. Elliot Lake is the site of one of Canada's largest uranium mines, and the huge piles of tailings were almost within walking distance of where we were camped. (Jane and I toured the tailing sites, and even slipped through the gates leading to the mine itself -- the sight was appalling. In one place, an immense dune of what looked like coarse white sand loomed over several pools of filthy standing water -- in another spot, the ground was covered with a slimy, blood-red slurry, in which not a single living thing existed -- this site must have been more than a mile wide! And this was only one small site out of many... the Earth Herself was in desperate need of healing, and not just Her inhabitants, human or otherwise... the responsibility was awesome. It felt like being at ground zero... 

Spent most of Friday afternoon with a group of other men, preparing the Sweatlodge which would be used that evening. The same man who had conducted many of the ceremonies at Spanish the previous weekend, (Isaak) facilitated this project... and made the task a joyous one, despite the hard physical work. This man is a wonderful teacher, providing new wisdom and learning at every turn. From the gathering of the maple saplings which formed the framework of the lodge, to the collecting of the stones, to the actual construction -- there was a spiritual teaching associated with every step. The summer solstice was at hand, and the moon was full... it was a powerful time. 

I had the most amazing experience in the Sweat that night -- I actually found my voice; I could sing! I don't speak Ojibway, but at that point it didn't matter... I sat there on a bed of cedar, with the tears streaming down my face, as more than thirty people lifted their voices as one in a song of healing... with my own among them. After the ceremony, a number of people went racing off along the beach for a quick plunge in the chilly water... I am no fan of cold water so I settled for wading in up to my butt, and splashing water on my face and upper body... and having to dodge several playful splashes delivered by my bolder neighbors. It was a warm night, and the fog was rolling in... 

The sunrise ceremony was attended by more than fifty people on Saturday morning. Four large flagpoles had been thrust into the sand at each of the four directions -- yellow in the east, red in the south, black in the west and white in the north, representing the Medicine Wheel. Again the pipes were shared... then a group of elders -- seven men and seven women -- formed a human gateway leading to the water. As each person passed through -- sharing a handshake or hug with each person they passed -- they walked to the shore and offered tobacco to the water... repeating the hugs/clasping of hands upon their return through the gate. As we finished, the mists parted to reveal the magnificent pinnacle which was Rooster Rock a half mile or so across the lake... and the sun came bursting through the clouds. 

People began to gather on the beach for the Global Healing Ceremony itself at about eleven-thirty in the morning. This was to be a unique and powerful event, fusing the traditional Native spirituality with elements of European Witchcraft (Wicca). Let me hasten to give clarification to those with mistaken ideas about the Craft -- it has nothing to do with satanism. As has happened with Earth-centered religious traditions everywhere, the Church has sullied this spirituality, portraying it as something evil... and there are people afoot who have actually run with this particular ball, committing horrific violence and abuse against the innocent. All they could see was the power over others this society glorifies so much... this is not Witchcraft. Wicca is a powerful and beautiful tradition, with a focus on healing... similar in many ways to the traditional Native spirituality. 

A small group of women with hand drums had been chanting tributes to the Goddess as they paraded slowly up and down the beach... then a tape of chants was played as people gathered in the circle -- some one hundred and twenty souls. A single person sat in each corner of the Medicine Wheel which corresponded with their color... sadly there was no one to sit under the yellow flag, in the Eastern Gate. 

The smudge went around to each person, and the pipes were lit. People rose to their feet, then bent and rested their palms on the earth... then slowly straightened, lifting their arms to the sky as a wordless chant swelled from more than a hundred throats... this was repeated four times in all. After that, there were teachings from each of the persons who sat in the corners of the Wheel... and a message was delivered to each of these people by the woman who was emceeing the event. 

The big drum began to sound, as one by one people walked through the Eastern Gate to make their offering to the fire... the young men around the large drum were to trade songs back and forth with the group of women with the hand drums -- now numbering more than twenty. 

This was to continue until the last person had visited the Sacred Fire. 

I was overwhelmed... my breath was taken away. 

One of the elders present on that day was a woman named Yvonne... we had met entirely by chance that March, in the shopping mall in Elliot Lake where she had been enjoying a frozen yogurt. We had not met before this time... but in our subsequent conversation I found out I knew two of her sons! One had lived in Sudbury and had been active in the local c/s/x movement until his death in early 1993 -- the other I met in the course of a dramatic political action in Toronto a couple of years back involving a prolonged takeover of a Revenue Canada office, in which we both participated. Yvonne and I had chatted earlier that morning just before the ceremony began... as I walked up to her afterwards she hugged me... and this time I broke down completely and cried like a baby. The past eleven days had been oh, so powerful... 

People gathered above the beach later for a potluck feast. After most of the people had left the heavens opened up and the rain fell in torrents. Aside from a couple of brief showers the weather had been cooperative all weekend... but this soaker sent all of us scambling into the screened pantry tent for shelter. Not that it did much good in my case... in an effort to clear the accumulated rain from the tent roof, Leona inadvertantly dumped about a gallon of cold water down the back of my shirt. Howls of laughter erupted as I leapt backwards, smacking my elbow against a coffeepot and sending it flying. 

I was able to get a ride into Sudbury following the ceremony, where I could catch the Greyhound back home... after arriving at the bus station at about six that evening, I found out I couldn't leave until one AM. Lots of time for a Chinese dinner, then a real stinker of a movie (ConAir -- please don't waste your money on this piece of garbage) and I walked... and walked... and walked. Returned to the bus station a little before 11... sat around... then finally it was time to depart. 

I arrived in Toronto at about six AM on Sunday morning, June 22. 

Five days later most of my brain -- and ALL of my heart -- is still in the North. 

I can't wait until August.