A few winters ago I was attending a water ceremony by the Mississippi River. It was a very cold morning, I was tired and fuzzy headed, and I still felt new and awkward with the group. When Sharon Day, the Ojibwe elder who leads the ceremony, handed me the sage to light and pass around I couldn’t remember how to do it. My brain must have been frozen. I put the bundle of sage with the lit end hanging over the edge of the shell (the opposite of how I was supposed to do it). Soon the embers of the sage fell on the ritual cloth under the shell and burnt a whole into the fabric.

I was aghast that I had made such a foolish mistake. I spend more time than the average person thinking about the sacred value of embroideries and ritual cloth, particularly as it relates to traditional dances. I did not want to be another white person desecrating indigenous sacred objects.

Ritual cloth in action (underneath drums) on the shores of Lake Winnipeg at the conclusion of the Red River Nibi Walk in honor of Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women. Photo by Nicole Christian.

With permission from Sharon I set about sewing a replacement as quickly as possible. The original cloth had been quite simple and I decided to do some research and add some embellishments that would reflect how much I value ritual textiles. It was a busy week of machine sewing and hand appliqué.

Sharon was surprised and impressed that even though she had given me no instructions I had clearly paid attention to the colors of the original cloth. She noticed my care and commitment to making things right. This was the beginning of what has become a rich collaborative relationship.

A few months after the cloth accident, Sharon mention that she was having trouble updating the website for the water walkers. I volunteered to help. After a few years of volunteering for that website she asked me if I might also be willing to help with the website for the Indigenous Peoples Task Force where she is the Executive Director. Now I am entrusted with drafting her public statements in the newsletter.

Sharon has also had a profound influence on my life. The Healing Waters Qigong practice group, the Wisdom Dances winter water blessing, are just two examples of many, many ways my work and life has been shaped by water ceremonies with her.

It’s so interesting to me that the trust we have with each other began when I stepped up to fix my mistake.

There is so much power in the moment we risk making things right.

Showing up consistently. Listening. Asking permission. Being willing to be of service. These actions are more powerful healers than we can imagine.

At this moment in time, so many past traumas and mistakes are being revisited. It is time especially for white people to step forward and ask permission to be of service. This is a pregnant moment; our first humble step to make things right may be the beginning of a beautiful co-creative relationship beyond what we think is possible now.

Wishing you courage and humility,


Ground yourself in practices that help you be a love radiator in our community.

Newcomers are welcome any week to the Healing Waters Qigong practice group, based in Spring Forest Qigong, or the Wisdom Dances circle, based in Laura Shannon’s research on traditional dances as tools for healing and transformation.