Healing is an apprenticeship that begins with "a calling" from Spirit. The apprentice endures suffering throughout their life to build compassion for others. They experience loss, often life-threatening illness, chronic physical pain, or mental illness. Long-term childhood illness is a common factor, as well as visions received during a fever or coma, or later in childhood.
Traditional Indigenous puberty ceremonies and visions or visitations are also a common indicator. Spiritual initiations occur throughout the apprentice's life, which they are guided through by a human teacher and their Spirit helpers. These initiation often results in a complete breakdown of the apprentice's previous life. For contemporary apprentices, this can be illness, relationships breaking down, a complete career change, or moving to a new geographic location.
There are those people who are called to the practice who are not Indigenous. Healing is a spiritual discipline and practice that is utilitarian. Healers appear where they are needed. Leta Kingfisher trains those who know they are meant to be healers, but do not have connection to an Indigenous culture. Healing is not a cultural spiritual practice, it is a human spiritual practice.
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 help 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.