Fisher River woman harvests sacred medicine for James Smith Cree Nation

Marcie Sinclair is hoping to return kindness she found in community when she was healing.


A woman who once sought healing from the residents of James Smith Cree Nation is now hoping to return the favour.

“A reserve is close-knit, and they were close-knit,” says Marcie Sinclair of Fisher River Cree Nation in Manitoba. “It was really heartbreaking because a close friend of ours that was a counsellor in the treatment centre that we attended… his sister [was] one of the lives that were taken.”

On Sept. 4, 10 people were killed and another 18 injured in the community by what police believe were both targeted and random stabbings.

Myles Sanderson, 32 and his brother Damien, 31, were charged with various offences including first-degree murder. Both men are now dead.

This sister Sinclair is referring to was Gloria Burns, 61.

Needed help

In 2008, Sinclair struggled with alcohol and needed help in order to repair her relationship with her daughters.

“I was lost,” she says, “I still had some teachings in my heart, but I don’t think enough to be sober.”

She attended the Sakwatamo Lodge Family Treatment Centre in James Smith Cree Nation, which allowed Sinclair and her daughters to heal together.

The care she received was transformative, she said, and focused on the First Nation’s traditional and cultural practices to rehabilitate her.

“[We were] emptying our hearts of the, you know, trauma of me losing my girls or that addiction and filling it with teachings.”

Sinclair and her daughters went to various ceremonies and medicine pickings, and participated in other activities like traditional healing sessions.

It became clear that spirituality was entrenched into the very foundation of the centre as Sinclair told the story of how it received its name and location: “Sakwatamo means, and I always remember this, where the red hawk rests.”

The story goes that an elder was sent to find a location for the new centre and came across a large field with a hawk resting on the ground, a rare sight as hawks usually rest in trees.

The elder watched it for a while and once the hawk flew away, realized that this was the perfect spot for the healing lodge.

A place where even a bird of prey can find solace.

Cycle of healing

Forever grateful for the cultural teachings the community bestowed on her, Sinclair decided to send them care packages that include traditional medicines she’s harvested.

“There’s a lot of ceremony people there and with every ceremony you need smudge, you need medicine to make other medicines, to use with other medicines. So, I just felt in my heart that I have to send medicines and traditional items to them.”

Wikay, sage, tobacco and cedar are among some of the medicines they will receive as well as sweetgrass harvested from a family member’s land in Fisher River.

She says she hopes the medicines will bring a sense of normalcy to the James Smith community.

“There’s probably a lot of people that need that traditional help right now,” says Sinclair, “to get that healing that they need from what happened.”

Sinclair hopes that through ceremony, the community will find the same healing in each other that they offered to her.

“Keep the ceremonies going, especially for the ones that lost the loved ones. Because that spirituality is very important, especially when someone passes,” says Sinclair.

Sav Jonsa

Sav Jonsa is a Two-Spirit, Red River Métis from Winnipeg. Growing up witnessing and experiencing the effects of intergenerational trauma firsthand, they found the best way to move forward with reconnecting to their Indigeneity is by examining their family's past; harnessing its knowledge to learn how to heal their family and theirselves.