Indigenous elder offers help through knowledge and experience

By Merna Emara
Staff Writer
memara@fortfrances.com

Naicatchewenin First Nation elder Gilbert Smith, 74, has opened a new self-healing space on 18 Anishinaabe Road, Naicatchewenin, out of which he is looking to help both native and non-native people. 

“This is not only for Anishinaabe,” Smith said. “The non-native people are accepted here. I don’t pick and choose who I’m going to help. I’ll help anybody that comes through that door. This is a new approach.”

As a new approach, Smith will use “Ka Da Mi Zwin,” which means knowledge.  

Smith said this will be achieved through teachings about the land, respect, healing and working partnership to educate and help in all walks of life.

“This is not a treatment facility, an organization, a program or a business,” Smith said. “It’s a self-healing place. You do your part and I’ll assist you through it.”

Self-healing is a phenomenon derived from the sacredness of the bear. 

“The sacredness means when the bear is hurt or wounded, they take off and heal themselves,” Smith said. “They don’t go for help. That’s how powerful that animal is. That’s why we use bear grease when someone is in pain.”

When the person asking for help walks in, Smith asks them about the nature of the problem they have. He said many people walk in with grief, addiction and suicidal issues. After that, through Smith’s knowledge, they go on a walk. 

“I use the lodge and the land because it makes them forget when they’re out there,” Smith said. “It’s so beautiful out there in the bush. You look around and you know the land is alive and it makes you feel good.”

Smith said he used the land, the lake, language and the lodge in the healing process, often taking people on walks and finding medicines. 

“There are all kinds of medicines out there,” Smith said. “All trees carry medicine because they are alive. As you put down tobacco, you know how to make the medicine and how to use water to boil it. I’m going to educate people about the medicines, how to respect them and not abuse them.”

However, Smith said, a tobacco offering has to be made first. 

“You have to offer tobacco, and maybe a gift of offering,” Smith said. “I don’t demand any specific amount of money. I accept whatever they give me. I don’t have a rate for this. Whatever your heart tells you. It’s fine if you’ll only use tobacco.”

If the medicine does not help, the lodge is the second option, Smith said, adding that the spirits go there. 

“Maybe a bear, eagle, wolf or a turtle spirit will come in,” Smith said. “The spirit is watching and listening if I make up a story that is not real. I’ll have a price to pay for that. I don’t push anyone in there. It would be entirely up to you no matter what choice you want to make. Your heart will tell you.”

Naicatchewenin First Nation elder Gilbert Smith is offering a self-healing space where he can use his knowledge to help anyone in need of healing. Smith said he will use the land, lake and natural spaces, as well as a lodge, to help the healing process.
–Merna Emara photo

Smith said elders of different First Nation communities call him and ask for a solution to addictions and suicide. He said he has not arrived at a conclusion himself, but will use the new self-healing approach, his knowledge of sobriety, land, lake and the language to help those who come knocking at his door. 

“I have been sober for 39 years,” Smith said. “I discovered many things because I’m watching people. I want people to live as long as they can with a good life and to put trust and respect in their hearts.”

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