By Rizwana Shaikh, Federation of Calgary Communities
Alpha House, a non-profit charitable agency that provides safe spaces for individuals with alcohol and drug dependencies, holds a bi-weekly Community Pipe and Smudge Circle, an Indigenous prayer circle, at the Sunalta Community Association.
“It’s a spiritual practice but everyone is welcome,” said Wade Maude, Indigenous Cultural Coordinator at Alpha House.
He explains the circle is a safe environment for people to share creation stories or to simply speak how they’d like. The prayer circle also involves smudging, an ancient technique which burns sacred herbs, used to drive away negative energy and restore balance to an individual, a group, or space.
Alpha House brings clients from their detox program to participate in the circles which take place every other Wednesday but also open their doors to anyone in the community interested in participating, or to simply watch and learn more.
“We encourage (residents) to come out and see what it (the Community Pipe and Smudge Circle) is all about and maybe meet a new neighbour,” said Jenn Balderston, executive director at the Sunalta Community Association.
She remembers the relationship with Alpha House began in 2017 when they partnered together for their Neighbour Day event. The Community Pipe and Smudge Circles were the result of the conversations that began after that partnership.
Maude says the clients he works with are a vulnerable part of the population and need some mental health care and support along with housing and detox help. These people are often looked at as “garbage” due to a lack of awareness and understanding, and Maude hopes to provide a more accurate perspective for others. He says the Sunalta Community Association helps with that by donating the space to hold the prayer circles and putting up regular notices with the dates and times so residents can attend as well. From time to time, residents and Alpha House’s clients attend and make new connections.
“It’s not about trying to change somebody’s beliefs, it’s just trying to offer a perspective of another way of praying,” said Maude.
Alpha House also run summer camps for their clients and take them on mini field trips around the city, to help clients engage in the community and meet other residents. Clients then see they’re not alone and are supported by Calgary communities and feel encouraged to continue their detox and build themselves up.
Sunalta and Alpha House are both looking to add more open programs in the future to spread a more accurate understanding of Indigenous communities and practices the clients Alpha House helps and to begin conversations about the benefits of a harm reduction centre such as Alpha House.