Down a quiet dirt road about 40 kilometers out of Fort Frances, Indigenous women gather each month on the full moon in a sweat lodge, a space that represents the womb of mother earth.
Typically led by a woman and a knowledge keeper, the full moon ceremony is a sacred time that brings healing to women from all walks of life. In kindness and love, women are encouraged to wear skirts, bring Asemaa (Sacred tobacco) and yellow cloth as part of the reciprocal relationship aspect of the ceremony.
Lori Flinders-McMillan is the chief executive officer of Binesiwag Center for Wellness and knowledge keeper. For a long time, she has been attending full moon ceremonies led by elders in the area and now hosts and facilitates the ceremonies too.
“It’s not my ceremony. It’s a ceremony for the people where the Spirits work with us,” she said.
Flinders-McMillan will facilitate a full moon and sweat lodge ceremony on November 27, 2023, at 225-B Wreck Point Road. This is just one of the many full moon ceremonies hosted in the area, she says.
Sometimes, if there are two full moons in the month, the ceremony will be held twice in that month.
While she can’t speak on behalf of all women, Flinders-McMillan lists many reasons why the full moon ceremony holds immense significance to her.
Women connect with the spirits. Women are given a safe space to share their collective stories around obstacles they’ve faced or are currently facing. Women empower each other. Women learn that they have a voice. Traditions and culture is carried forward, says Flinders-McMillan, listing a few of the reasons.
“And for that moment in time, we’re receiving not only the healing from the ceremony, but we’re in that reciprocal relationship with one another where we’re receiving healing by just being together as women sharing in ceremony and supporting one another,” she said. “We feel safe enough to use our voice. And then maybe we carry that outside of that moment in time as well.”
Women of all ages gather for the full moon ceremonies, from the oldest to the youngest in the family. Flinders-McMillan has three grandchildren herself. She says the oldest granddaughter who is 13 years old has been attending the ceremonies for as long as she can remember.
“There’s no age where you get to come,” she said. “Although it’s especially encouraged for those young women who are learning about the moon time, and connected to grandmother moon. You know, that coming of age time.”
While the ceremony often focuses on women, Flinders-McMillan hesitates to say that other identities are unwelcome. Men have a role in the ceremony as well, she says. Helpers are needed to prepare the fire used for the full moon ceremony and the teachings are for all to hear if they choose to.
“We all walk together, no matter how you identify,” Flinders-McMillan said. “If someone wanted to come and just sit and learn, and decide where they fit best within that ceremony, it’s open to all.”
Emphasizing the safe and welcoming space for people to learn more about Indigenous teachings, attendees who show up to the ceremony without wearing a skirt or sacred tobacco, would still be welcomed.
“In kindness and in love, we make suggestions,” Flinders-McMillan said. “However, we wouldn’t turn anybody away and we would help them understand why bringing these things is them doing their part in the ceremony.”
To reduce barriers as much as possible, there is also no registration for the ceremony, and transportation is offered to the site.
Although, calling the number listed for Binesiwag Center for Wellness ahead of time will help those who prepare a simple feast to know how many to expect, says Flinders-McMillan.
“For me, doing this work for women is important because of being Anishinaabe, and coming to learn about who I am and what that means, and how to ensure that our traditions and our culture are carried forward, is providing the safe space for women to come and share in our collective stories around what it means to be a woman.”