We met Roy on Friday after checking into a motel. On Saturday he loaded us into his RV and drove to Armstrong, a very small town 150 miles due north of Thunderbay, where we were carefully given into the hands of Ike, his Elder. Armstrong was developed as a military facility during WWII where the soldiers lived in fragile frame houses. Ike’s home was a clean, small domicile with two floors, modern kitchen, bathroom and laundry facilities. They had built a 2 room lodge in the back from young tree trunks bent into an arch covered over by clear plastic. A pit was dug into the ground in the center of both rooms. Fire burned in the rear room where large rocks cooked until they glowed red. The entrance was through a door in the main part of the structure and it had a curtained space at the back to change into loose non-binding clothing to liberally release bodily fluids in the heat without constriction. A small hollowed out mound dominates the center intentionally symbolizing a woman’s pregnant belly sticking up from the bare ground. There’s an opening in the mound through which we crawl around a centralized pit dug to receive the glowing hot stones that are deposited. The four of us followed Ike crawling clockwise on all fours around the pit in this snug space only big enough to comfortably hold maybe 8 people sitting up. Roy and his drum were next to last as one of my companions needed to sit closest to the door for the air. The challenge is to not lean on the outer walls so as not to burn your back.

I ended up in the “hot” spot where the heat was the most intense when Ike poured herbal water over the steaming stones. The rotation included three prayers marking off four cycles of fifteen minutes of sweltering heat. Ike’s prayers accompanied by Roy’s chanting and drumming were constructed to invoke and invite the spirit hosts for the gathering. The first session is the opening; the second, entry of the male spirit figure; the third, entry of the female spirit figure, and the fourth the closing. While I was in that mound, the whole ritual felt like it only lasted 20 minutes when it was really an hour. I think my intense focus on the here and now concentrating on the heat made it seem shorter. We were advised that if the heat got too much, the ground was cool and that heat stayed at the top. I thought of laying my cheek on the cool Earth several times, but a voice in my head clearly said, “Don’t lie down. Face the Fire.” So obediently I sat back up and turned toward the pit when water poured from my body. Ike’s prayers, Roy’s singing with his drum and the spirits joining us in that little oven were a true comfort. I didn’t think I could do it. That male spirit told me it wasn’t as hard as I thought. Face the Fire it said and so I did. (Excerpt from “Thunderbay

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