by Phil Ambroziak

Things became a little too hot  recently for a sweat lodge being constructed on Waterhen Lake First Nation.

For the past two years, Waterhen Lake member Sid Fiddler spearheaded construction of the log structure, which was supposed to serve as a culturally significant gathering place where community members could come together and heal old wounds – particularly those inflicted as a result of their time in Indian residential schools throughout Saskatchewan’s north. While a Dec. 16 fire burned the structure to the ground just days before its grand opening, Fiddler isn’t about to allow his dream to go up in smoke.

“It’s going to be at least a one-year setback, but the efforts of my kids and others to raise money through online donations has really inspired me to still move ahead with this,” Fiddler explained.

Originally, the sweat house was funded by Fiddler’s residential school settlement. He was a student at the Beauval Indian Residential School and has since dedicated his adult life to reconciliation, healing and the promotion of Cree culture. In a matter of days, a campaign had already collected close to $6,000 to rebuild the lodge.

“We’ve been able to raise this money through the generosity of friends and acquaintances, as well as complete strangers and other anonymous donors,” Fiddler continued.

According to Gary Mirasty – a former student at the Beauval Indian Residential School and the Meadow Lake Tribal Council’s former director of education at the facility when it had been retooled and renamed as the Beauval Indian Education Centre – Fiddler’s plan to rebuild the sweat lodge should be applauded.

“It’s very important he rebuilds it,” Mirasty said. “We almost lost all our language, culture and all knowledge of our traditional ways. The sweat lodge is much like a Roman Catholic confessional in that it can serve to provide a cleansing ceremony and to help people reconnect with their traditional customs.”

The sweat house was constructed in the style of a northern bush cabin, but with some modern touches. The front of the building was carved to look like an eagle and the interior was rustic in feeling with log benches, a spiralled centre pole representing all of humanity coming together and a custom-built fire pit. The grand opening was set for Dec. 19 and would have featured a community gathering, feast and sweat.

“The building was really going to be for whoever required it,” Fiddler said. “It helps to go into a building that makes you feel instantly relaxed. This way, the healing process can begin even before the actual ceremony does.”

The fire itself, Fiddler added, started as a result of his own carelessness.

“I had made a fire in the wood stove, closed the damper and had laid out some canvas used to cover the sweat lodge,” he said. “It was wet and a little frozen, so I brought it in and laid it in front of the fire to dry. Then, I headed into Meadow Lake to buy some tobacco and other things I needed to host the sweat. When I returned about three hours later, the building was already well beyond saving.”