By Annette Francis
APTN National News

An overwhelmingly Christian Cree community in northern Quebec has banned sweat lodges and all forms of First Nations spirituality.

The ban was imposed after a local family built a sweat lodge in their backyard with the help of a friend, triggering major controversy throughout Ouje-Bougoumou, which means, “the place where people gather.”

Redfern Mianscum said he built the sweat lodge to help people, but his dream was short-lived. The evangelical Christian majority in the community, which sits about 722 kilometres north of Montreal, turned against it.

The band council then passed a resolution against the all forms of First Nations spirituality, calling it shamanism, and had it torn down in early December.

“They see it as evil or something that’s not good and I heard somebody say that it is a form of witchcraft,” said Mianscum.

The lodge was built on Lana Wapachee’s property. She was going through a hard time and wanted help. To her, the sweat lodge was a God-send.

“It felt good to see them working together for healing for a moment,” she said. “Though I felt scared, I felt, what are people gonna say?”

Soon a petition started to circulate around the community calling for the sweat lodge’s removal.

The petition drew so much attention that the band council called a meeting which Wapachee said was rigged.

“There was a plan, a strategy,” she said. “They wanted…to take down the lodge and at the end of the general assembly, the community got up and they passed the resolution.”

The resolution said the Cree community’s elders did not want any form of “Native spirituality or practices” in Ouje-Bougoumou.

“The practice of the sweat lodge and its rituals are not restricted to merely medical…healing, but in essence a way to contact and communicate with the spirit world through shamanism,” said the resolution. “The majority of the Ouje-Bougoumou members are Christian faith-oriented and have strong Christian values.”

Wapachee said it was difficult watching the tear-down of the lodge.

“They came in and it was really long and hard to witness it. It was just me and my kids,” she said.

Wapachee’s nephew, Bruce Wapachee, said it upset him to see the lodge destroyed.

“I felt that they were…taking away our rights to have our beliefs in what we want to believe in,” he said. “I wasn’t too happy. I was upset about them coming down to tear down our sweat lodge and it was our way of healing.”

One of the men who tore down the sweat lodge said the sweat lodge was scaring his children. Rainy Coon-Come said the lodge should never have been built in the community.

“Growing up, I didn’t see that. I never saw that. My dad didn’t do it…My grandfather wasn’t into it,” he said. “Go build it somewhere else, not at someone’s house. All this wouldn’t have happened if they’d built it across the lake.”