“Mayaa ga nane da gok ojijaakon” in Ojibway this means “the most important element of our lives is the spirit.”
When I started my position as the Indigenous Cultural Safety Leader within 1JustCity’s St. Matthew’s Maryland drop-in site I was excited and thrilled to be a part of the team! I had secretly been watching 1JustCity online through their social media pages and admired the organization and volunteered at the site just before Christmas 2019. I was not surprised by how well the community volunteers respected their roles within the center, Nicole is responsible for the washroom keys 4 days a week. Leah is kitchen supervisor on Fridays and puts extra love and care into the presentation of food. Laura is a strong advocate and loves to honor each individuals’ unique strength and voice as a volunteer. And Josh is the community minister who is sought out and knows every single person by their first names.
As an Indigenous woman (ogimaakwe) I was given teachings about my responsibilities as a mother, sister, aunt and daughter; these responsibilities are deeply rooted within our indigenous communities as sacred. We are taught that we are the foundation of our community and families, we are the life givers and water carriers as this element connects us to grandmother moon. Being closely connected with creation and teachers of the heart, the health of our communities depend greatly on ogimaakwe. As the months went on in my new position I recognized that the same values were alive and flourishing at the core of St. Matthews Maryland site. I immediately knew in my heart that I was exactly where I was meant to be.
Through the first few months being in the center, it was very important to me to learn from EVERYONE in the drop-in. I took my time to introduce myself consistently among the community members and volunteers. I had to take my time to earn the trust and respect as a strange new individual coming into their space. Once I felt that I had earned my way, I then introduced my talents and shared my knowledge of indigenous teachings and language.
I made sure to ease out their interests and hear their personal stories about their own relationship to religion and spiritual belief. I also really love to share my passion and excitement as this is the best way to inspire healing in an individual’s spiritual journey. In my personal life, I have needed these connections and teachings from the community in more ways that can be understood. In my spiritual teachings I know that connecting this way is almost a way of completing the circle.
There is never an end or beginning when you are teaching from the heart, or being a leader of the heart. There is only a circle that represents the connections and cycles we all experience in life. I am most fortunate to be in a role within 1JustCity that allows me to witness, participate, teach and learn in this way. All it takes is to spend a few hours here to connect with the spirit that lives here.
Written by Lori Abraham - Indigenous Cultural Safety Leader at STMMCM