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There is a wide range of purification ceremonies associated with Canadian Aboriginal peoples, but perhaps the most well-known is the sweat lodge.

Sweat lodges have been a tradition for First Nations throughout North America since time immemorial, and they still serve many functions for indigenous people today. The sweat lodge ceremony cleans and heals the body. It heals the mind – bringing clarity – and it is often a testing place, offering a rite of passage where a participant can demonstrate endurance, strength and courage. Finally, sweat lodges are also holy places where Aboriginal people can renew their deep connection to the universe and to the spirit realm.

Although usually associated with healing, each sweat lodge has a different purpose and each Elder or spiritual leader leads their ceremony differently. One sweat lodge can be used as a place to work out family or community problems, while another handles addictions and health problems, or even to teach and share Aboriginal traditions or languages.

Chief Ian Campbell of the Squamish Nation recently spoke about First Nation sweat lodges, saying that entering the dome-like structure and shallow earthen pit of a sweat lodge represented entering the womb of Mother Earth. “It is a place of transformation, ” he said. As you participate in the ceremony, you are purified through breathing, meditating, and through the sharing of words, prayers, songs and storytelling.

Through this unique and profoundly personal experience, your body is cleansed of toxins, which aids in removing stress and the improvement of your mental, emotional, physical and spiritual well-being.

At one time, Canada banned the sweat lodge and other Aboriginal spiritual practises through the Indian Act, but fortunately that was lifted in 1951 and today, First Nations and non-First Nations alike can participate in the healing experience of a sweat lodge.

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