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Ceremony offers comfort to long-term care home community in Prince Rupert


Two women stand holding a banner
Northern Health employees Viva Swanson and Mary Wesley at the June 8 ceremony.

A traditional cleansing ceremony involving cedar brushing and smudging at Prince Rupert’s long-term care home, Acropolis Manor, provided much-needed healing to local residents, families, and health care teams this past summer.

COVID-19 had a devastating impact on the world. Residents, families, and staff members of long-term care homes were especially impacted, as seniors were particularly vulnerable to outbreaks and many passed away.

At Acropolis Manor, Northern Health staff members organized a cleansing and blessing ceremony to honour those lost and to help all those who survived to move forward.

Cedar brushing and smudging

Woman performing smudging ceremony
Prince Rupert local Symbia Barnaby performed a smudging ceremony.

The ceremony took place outside the front entrance of Acropolis Manor on June 8. Cedar boughs were brushed and hung around the front entrance and the speaker’s podium. For many First Nations, including the Coast Tsimshian, cedar symbolizes protection, and a cleansing practice includes cedar boughs being brushed on objects and people. The boughs cleanse and sharpen the focus, calling, and purpose of the one being brushed.

Smudging led by Symbia Barnaby, a Prince Rupert local of Haida and Mi'kmaq descent, was another part of the cleansing ceremony. Smudging has been a long sacred rite for North American Indigenous peoples to cleanse spaces of negative energy. Put simply, smudging is the act of burning sacred herbs, usually sage, for cleansing and purification. 

A number of staff, residents, and family members participated in the smudging and were appreciative of this opportunity.

Ama go`ot qyetm maxxii cultural dancers also performed several traditional songs with drumming.

Powerful ceremony

Group of people stand with cedar boughs
NH staff decorated the main entrance with cedar boughs; cedar symbolizes protection in many First Nations cultures.

“The drumming, dancing, blessings, prayers, smudging, cleansing, and crying were absolutely beautiful,” said Viva Swanson, a Northern Health staff member who was deployed from Fort St. John to Prince Rupert during the Acropolis Manor COVID-19 outbreak.

“The shared empathy and respect for the lived experience at Acropolis Manor through the COVID outbreak and thereafter, and being able to be together to remember that shared experience and take a step forward together was absolutely magical,” said Viva, who travelled from Fort St. John to participate in the cleansing ceremony.

Local elder Murray Smith opened the ceremony with a welcome, and Pastor Dianna Edis from St. Paul's Lutheran Church was the Master of Ceremonies. Several local dignitaries also spoke at the event, including North Coast MLA Jennifer Rice, Prince Rupert Mayor Herb Pond, and Joy Sundin, President of the local Métis Society.

At the end of the ceremony, which lasted approximately three hours, all guests were invited to enjoy traditional foods of the Coast Tsimshian people - soup, fried bread, and Labrador tea.

Thank you!

Special thanks to the many volunteers and local Northern Health staff who helped make this important event a success. We would like to offer a special shout out to Prince Rupert’s Aboriginal Liaison Mary Wesley, Dietitian Arlene Carlson, and Acropolis Manor Manager Marcie Garinger, as well as Recreational Therapist Matthew Johnson and his team of Activity Workers: Carla Mckay, Meagan Moman, and Sonny Hutchinson.