In the fall of 2020, youth accessing the Armoury Resource Centre during the day started to express interest for a quiet, sacred place where they could specifically begin to explore their spirituality, reconnect with their religion, and have a space to be able to smudge and pray. Programming Coordinator Shantell Martineau was there to collaborate with various aspects of YESS programs to meet that need.
“Youth wanted to learn how to meditate or practice box breathing. When I met with clients to go over cultural connection pieces or medicines and how to use smudging, that was when I knew we needed a space that could be more of a sacred exploration room where one can have privacy,” says Shantell. Part of Shantell’s work with youth is providing cultural connections. Shantell an Indigenous Plains Cree Woman from Frog Lake First Nation, Treaty 6 Territory.
In an unused room at the Armoury Resource Centre, the new Sacred Space was built. There room is inclusive of all religions and spiritualities, with resources for learning, prayer, meditation, ceremony, and culture. When Shantell first introduces youth to the space she explains that there’s no right or wrong way to connect with the space or the resources and encourages them to create a personal space there that meets their needs.
All youth have access to traditional medicines as a resource at YESS. At any time, regardless of nationality, if a youth would like support from medicines, they would meet with Shantell or ask a resource worker. Shantell works with them on what medicines they are looking for and how it is intended to be used.
“That room is where I’ll take youth if they are interested in a medicine bundle or a smudge ceremony pack. I’ll put it together, and then we’ll meet in that space and now that’s where I teach them the protocols of working with medicine and the intentions, and the cultural sacredness of that,” says Shantell. “So that was really the intention of that space, to give them a place that’s their own. Youth have found it feeling so inviting and peaceful and calming, which is what we wanted the space to be.”
The hope is that this space can also function for other programs, such as Wellness Integration. If a youth can find safety and empowerment in the Sacred Space, then that might become a good location for them to access therapy or other resources. The space has also proven to be a positive retreat for staff on their breaks, for their own quiet time or meditation.
“It’s really open to the staff and the youth because we’re all in this together. We’re all surviving a pandemic together and we all need spiritual healing and we need a sacred space,” says Shantell. “As staff, we have to mirror what we want. So if we want the youth to really start a healing journey, are we mirroring that? Are we using that type of language that, ‘Hey, I’m also struggling, and I tried meditation and it helped me.’”
Shantell has even more plans for the space in a post-pandemic world. “The Sacred Space would really be the room that I would invite Elders or Knowledge Keepers to come and visit and connect with us in that space, just because of its intentions and the healing that happens in that room. This space could be really anything that you need it to be. That’s what’s beautiful about it.”
Another driving force of creating the Sacred Space has been collaboration with D’orjay, The Singing Shaman. D’orjay first approached YESS about volunteer opportunities in the fall of 2019, seeking something she could do to help or support our youth. Since then, Shaman D’orjay has been offering healing sessions twice a month. The delivery of these resources has changed in the pandemic, but youth can still meet with her virtually. Through working with Shaman D’orjay, youth have found a foundation to feel empowered and how to practice that in their lives.
“It was from that experience that we saw the need to continue and say yes, this is a nice option for some of our youth who maybe don’t want to engage in therapy in the traditional sense, but who want to start a healing journey,” says Shantell.
Access to different modes of healing has also had a cultural impact on youth.
“Some of our Indigenous youth, they come out of sessions with Shaman D’orjay feeling, like, ‘Wow! I remember being taught this, that I can access energy. I remember being taught this,’” says Shantell. “That intergenerational piece of healing comes through and then I get to meet with them, and mirror their feeling of how quickly my teachings came back to me that I had as a child, and how my spirit felt ready to remember again.
“It’s really helped some of our youth reconnect with their culture, reconnect with the teachings that maybe Kokum passed on to them. They’ve had that pain around teaching that they didn’t want to connect to again. I totally get that. I’ve connected with some youth and I share that I feel that exact same way, that when you experience a loss of a huge cultural strength in the family, that the family does tend to give up those teachings, they give them up, they put them down for a little bit, just because the pain is too great to think about that, you know, to access the teaching. Working with Shaman D’orjay has really given some of our Indigenous youth the foundation to reach out to their culture.”
From meeting the current needs of youth on their individual journeys and in the pandemic, to providing an additional safe space that can be used for current and future programs, the new Sacred Space at the Armoury Resource Centre has provided a unique retreat that embodies what it means to walk beside youth on their journeys towards healing.
“What I’m trying to teach youth is that their sacredness is in them, and sometimes we need a quiet space to explore that. I’m really trying to empower them to look within, for their spiritual guidance, whatever that may be.”