The Meeting Place

By Danny Beaton (Mohawk)

We lost our spiritual leader here in Toronto last year. We seem to lose track of everything at times, but it all comes back as we ponder things, even the truth.

Asin, Stone or Grandfather was a Cree healer, medicine man, elder, activist, educator and more, like most of our leaders who are keeping our sacred native culture going.

One of my helpers remembers Vern so well he can recount the words Vern used in his ceremonies and when he repeats them I am embarrassed because I have forgotten. But just the same when I hear Uncle Vern’s words repeated, they are powerful and wonderful.

Vern ran ceremonies at “The Meeting Place” for many years. Almost the entire body - the homeless, alcoholics and drug addicts remember Vern with respect and happiness because Vern cared for everyone. Some people remember Vern from his sacred circles and teachings in the prison system and how he took care of them with his love and how they would meet up again with him at The Meeting Place where he ran ceremonies and gave counseling.

Vern also worked at Aboriginal Legal Services, never giving up on his people while fighting for their human rights and the healing of all. I remember going into the lodge with Vern and hearing him say, “When the flap is closed we are all the same color.”

After visiting The Meeting Place over this past summer and hanging out with staff and members, I learned first hand of the suffering and pain our homeless and addicts live with for many reasons: childhood poverty, domestic violence, neglect or life experiences such as loss of work and accidents/injuries, things that created their pharmaceutical addiction.

Asin was loved by many at The Meeting Place in downtown Toronto, a shelter for the homeless, the needy and people strung out on drugs or suffering from trauma. The Cree elder found it his life mission to be a healing blanket for his people and all people who were suffering or were spiritually broken.

This article is dedicated to all the caregivers and environmentalists, and to our sacred Mother Earth, because I feel that is what has been keeping the life-giving forces nurturing society. When I say caregivers I mean Native ceremonial people, the Indigenous and religious people of the world who have real values.

Vernon Harper, 1991 speaking in Toronto, Ontario.  Photo by Danny Beaton

Our oceans are being destroyed now at a fast pace. This has been known to scientists and articulated in the book “Sea Sick” by author Alanna Mitchell, who is a writer for The Globe and Mail. Because we the people and society are faced with a profound crisis due to the rape of the oceans and climate change, the people themselves are suffering with Mother Earth and the poison in her veins and body.

With the crisis of the health and safety of Mother Earth’s blood - rivers, lakes, oceans and aquifers are the real safety of all people, all human beings on this sacred Mother Earth - the leaders of the world must take some kind of action for life if life is to continue here on our sacred planet.

It was my ancestors, Mohawk and other elders, who taught me the little I know about how to give thanks, live with a Good Mind and respect all life on Mother Earth. I never forgot the elders across Turtle Island who shared their wisdom and ceremonies for us while we were young!

At The Meeting Place the wounded mothers, fathers, sons, and daughters look for a shelter or a place of stability, protection, rest and security, where many could get food, coffee, tea, showers, medical attention and help from social workers on site, ready, experienced and educated in care-giving.

The wounded are the many who have carried childhood trauma around inside their minds and spirit for a lifetime. There is help for the homeless; some are lucky and find permanent living space with the help of staff at The Meeting Place. But the homeless crisis is growing every day in Toronto, Ontario Canada and around the world.

There needs to be an example set by the government to address the issue of poverty, if the poor and homeless are to have human rights or justice.

It’s funny how, when all the hype about Climate Change and Global Warming was started by scientists back in the nineteen eighties no one was listening except environmentalists, some of the public and academics.

Now we are going through the same process of apathy, mismanagement and inaction from governments and leaders with the world poverty crisis in Toronto and the world unfolding, which will eventually lead to an increase in crime and depression.

With the support of native elders and the community, caregivers and social workers can do a better job at meeting the needs of people in poverty and stress. Once you get to know the homeless individually, even addicts who are users and you spend time with them every day, you will see the fire and gentleness every person carries in themselves.

Every person has a gentleness once they feel they are wanted and respected. People want to be trusted, but they do fail many times in life especially when they see people give up on them.

There was one woman I met this past summer at The Meeting Place who said: “Danny, I used to be a normal person, I had money in the bank, fifty thousand in my savings and I had a good job in an office. One day I was coming home from work in my car and the next minute I was flying through the air and I woke up with my legs inside my stomach. When I finally went home in a wheelchair, they put me on oxycontin, a painkiller and I was in rehab/therapy for my whole body. Within the same year my daughter had a major surgery and passed away. After getting addicted to pain killers and being traumatized with the loss of my daughter, it was not long before I started using cocaine and this went on for a few years. Then I was introduced to crack and heroin, which devastated me and I am still suffering from withdrawal.

Another woman I got to know very well told me her husband was in prison for life for killing a family friend over crack money, but later found the money in the house. And so her husband killed someone for nothing.

Elder Vern Harper helped her to understand the meaning of life through healing circles and giving thanks to all Creation, plant life, rivers, animals, fish life, and told her that the universe was alive all around us and that our ancestors would help guide us back to a place of peace and healing.

The people at The Meeting Place are not all broken spirits from childhood trauma or physically and mentally abused. There are circumstances in life that we cannot explain: why we fall into tragedy or injury, we cannot explain fate.

It is the poor and poverty that creates the suffering of the earth. My own calculations say 80% of addicts using crack cocaine wish they had never started because of the consequences, loss of family, loss of employment, loss of health, loss of one’s own self all devastating to an individual’s humanness.

What I am saying is society needs to understand how important ceremonial culture is to healing the crisis that is happening to Toronto, Ontario and every province in Canada.

Our elders and ancestors did the best they could to pass our way of life onto us. This is sacred and positive. It is in our minds, body and spirit as is Mother Earth.

When our elders are here on Mother Earth, they fill us up with their love, wisdom and our culture, so we can have a good life, take care  of  life  and  give thanksgiving to all life.

Thank you all for listening to me.

All my relations.


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