Healing is an apprenticeship that begins with "a calling" from Spirit. Traditionally, Indigenous people would be given an indication of their future profession through a purposeful spiritual practice, such as a puberty fast, Sun Dance or fasting as an adult. As they accept their role in society, they begin their training with a senior Healer who guides and teaches them how to work with Spirits and the ethics of the profession. The apprentice endures suffering throughout their life to build compassion for others.
Spiritual initiations occur throughout the apprentice's life, as they are guided by their human teacher(s) and their Spirit Helpers. Difficult initiations often results in a complete breakdown of the apprentice's previous life. For contemporary apprentices, this can be chronic illness, primary relationships breaking down, a complete career change, or moving to a new geographic location. Apprenticeship can vary, but it usually takes years of guided training to become a proficient Healer. Healing is a spiritual discipline and practice that is utilitarian, it is not faith healing. Helping Spirits do not require people to believe they exist. They are called by the Healer, and assist because of their compassion for humankind.
My personal journey began with the passing of my mother when I was a year and a half old. My childhood after that was filled with physical and emotion trauma. In my early teens I started to experience the beginnings of my mental illness, depression, losing a week of my life in continuous sleep every year. I began searching for ways to connect with my mother, and began my lifelong learning of spiritual traditions from around the world.
When I was nineteen and doing my first Traditional Fast (4 days without food or water) I was visited by a powerful Spirit which terrified me but was also a wondrous experience of acknowledgement. I started my formal apprenticeship then, joining a Midewiwin Women's circle for teachings, and started my Bachelor's degree in Religious Studies, researching Healers and my own Plains Cree ceremonial practices. I got married and had three children while earning my Bachelor's and Master's degrees in Religious Studies. The fearlessness of the Healers I found in historical accounts was what I wanted to see in my own community, Healers confident and proud of what they were able to do with the assistance of Spirit Helpers.
My teachers have been the Elder's of Saddle Lake Cree Nation, where I was fortunate enough to be taught by the late Mike Steinhauer. Mike was part of the group of men and women who were trained by Arapaho Elder Raymond Harris from 1975-2000. These individuals were the first wave of apprentices who became catalysts for reintroducing ceremonies that had been suppressed in their communities. These apprentices in traditional ways also became key figures in transforming the values and practices of Aboriginal organizations and services in Canada. I was also taught by the Elders of the Sturgeon Lake First Nation. I have learned from Elders that guided our Sun Dances, and Elders who named my children in Sweat Lodges and Sun Dances. I have been honoured to learn from powerful women healers, Gizelle Rhyon-Berry, Amanda Foulger, and the late Alicia Gates through the Foundation for Shamanic Studies. The Foundation is dedicated to Traditional Indigenous Healers around the world and offers support to keep the traditions going through financial support, the building of ceremonial structures for their people or by assisting in recording knowledge of a people's last healer so that it is not lost forever.