'It was a hush-hush
kind of thing' for over 60 years, says Mide practitioner Tom Chisel
group of Midewiwin practitioners, including Tom Chisel, have
built a Midewiwin lodge on Lac Seul First Nation), in northwestern
Ontario. It's been over 60 years since a lodge was set up
in the community. (photo by Danielle Binguis-Quequish)
After being dormant for more than 60 years, the Midewiwin ceremony
is being revived in Obishikokaang (Lac Seul First Nation), in northwestern
A group of practitioners, commonly referred to as Mide, have
built a Midewiwin lodge and separate teaching lodge.
"'When you build that lodge, the people will come, when
they know it's here'", says Tom Chisel, a Lac Seul elder, explaining
the message given to him from his mentor almost two decades ago.
At the time, Chisel couldn't believe what was set out for him
to do. He didn't feel worthy of building such a lodge but his mentor
assured Chisel that someday he would. That day has come.
The Midewiwin, also known as the Grand Medicine Society, is
an ancient spiritual society once widespread among the Ojibwe or
Anishinaabe people, and by many other Great Lakes tribes. Mides
are considered healers and spiritual leaders.
In the society individuals undergo a series of initiation and
ceremonies eight degrees in total with each degree
symbolizing a level of spiritual or healing powers. Sweat lodge
ceremonies, songs, teachings, and visions are part of Midewiwin
lodge ceremonies, songs, teachings, and visions are part of
Midewiwin activities. (photo by Martha Troian)
Midewiwin goes underground
The last time a Midewiwin lodge was set up in Lac
Seul was during the 1950's, according to Chisel's father.
Around that time government policy forbade cultural ceremonies
practiced by Indigenous Peoples in Canada. Many of the ceremonies
went underground or stopped altogether.
"One of the things I understand in Lac Seul, is when they
stopped Midewiwin, it was decided amongst that group of Mide at
the time that they would no longer talk about Midewiwin," said
"It was a hush-hush kind of thing."
Chisel said the move was solely based on church and government
"It wasn't a decision they probably would have done freely.
It was for the best at the time."
Bringing back the tradition
Today, Chisel says more people are participating,
and are open to becoming part of the lodge.
It's a far cry from the 1950s when he says people were afraid
Indian agents or church officials would punish their children if
they spoke about the ceremonies.
Chisel says more people are open to becoming part of the lodge.
'There's a real need for people who want to reconnect with
their culture.' (photo by Danielle Binguis-Quequish )
"Now there's an understanding that it needs to happen,"
"There's a real need for people who want to reconnect with
Even though the ceremonies are no longer banned, Chisel said
some could still feel fear or worry what others might think if joining
While on her deathbed, Chisel's mom told him never to give up
on his culture and that ridicule was part of the church and government's
tactics to forbid people from practicing their ceremonies.
Recently, Chisel and others have constructed a children's Midewiwin
lodge, specifically for the little ones.
Chisel said he and many others are learning how to initiate
someone to the various degrees, with ceremonies sometimes taking
place over a 10-to-12 day period.
Excited to share the lodge with others, Chisel spreads the message
of sweat lodges and other ceremonies through social media, something
unheard of the last time a lodge was created in his community.
Chisel says people from as far away as Quebec and Ontario have
traveled to take part in the renewed ceremonies, and he is aware
of three other Midewiwin lodges in northern Ontario.
Martha Troian is originally from Obishikokaang (Lac Seul First
Nation) located in northwestern Ontario. Martha is a multi-media
journalist interested in politics, investigative, and long-form
storytelling. She currently works with CBC's Aboriginal Digital
Unit in Winnipeg, Manitoba. @marthamaiingan