A Winter’s Break

Shaun and Vern Dano

Team Building / February 28th, 2023

This is Creator’s fire, this match that flares. This is Creator’s medicine that curls, plumes and rises with the touch of flame. This is Creator’s world, this pure and perfect Creation. And as the smoke rises, my mind empties, my heart opens, my spirit soars, and the prayer I offer allows this energy to enter me. I become it – and it becomes me. I am alive.

– Richard Wagamese

Spending time outside, we feel the cold, we feel the heat from the fire, and are reminded that we are more than what we do on our own. 

Sometimes the busyness takes over, with business getting in the way of what we truly value. 

We’re looking for ways to be more than business as usual. 

Getting outside is a way to get in touch with the land, even if the land is Joe Zuken Heritage Park, a five-minute walk from the Vincent Design offices in the Social Enterprise Centre. Getting together around the fire provided “an afternoon to wind down and feel thankful we are alive to do good work out there in the world,” said Elder and Knowledge Keeper Vern Dano, a friend of Vincent Design and provider of Indigenous Therapeutic Services.

As he built the fire, splitting wood into kindling and lighting it with one wooden match, Dano added sage, tobacco, cedar and sweetgrass to create a sacred fire. One by one, like the popcorn kernels he referred to us as, Vern asked us to share something difficult in our lives, along with something that was good. “Some kernels pop quickly,” he joked, “while others take their time.” After sharing, we put tobacco into the fire. 

“I thought the fire we had was a really nice way to get to know some of the new people without the constraints of ‘the office.’ I find the act of thinking about a positive alongside a not-so-positive helps to put life into perspective in an uplifting way. Rather than everybody dwelling on negatives we got to encourage each other.

– Kali
Fireside chat with Vern Dano and the team
Fireside chat with Vern Dano and the team. Shaun making tea.

Vern also shared a story about porcupines finding a way to warm up together, despite their sharp quills, a lesson in being careful and gentle with those close to you, and that while many of us may be a little prickly, we’re vulnerable underneath our protective quills. 

Shaun brought diamond willow tree bark to make tea. He harvested the bark earlier this winter with his children. Traditional Métis uses for willow trees include making wood pipe stems, sweat lodge frames, snares, nails, baskets, and snowshoe frames to tipi pins and the distinctive diamond willow walking stick. The tea was brewed over the fire and sweetened with local honey. 

The many gifts of the willow tree remind us of the gifts we have to give from our generosity and respect.

We’re part of something bigger when we work together, part of a larger community around us, and a part of a great big world.

“Gathering around the sacred fire for the afternoon and sharing stories was a good reminder that it is necessary to slow down sometimes. Taking the time to listen to everyone share a little bit about what was going on in their lives was a beautiful way to connect as a team.”

– Katie
Fireside chat with Vern Dano and the team
Fireside chat with Vern Dano and the team

“Bundled up in our winter warmest, with bellies full of home-made pea soup from Shaun, we gathered together in a snowy meadow near 765 Main. Our fire leader Vern Dano used humour throughout his speaking, and I found myself so eagerly leaning in to listen to the wisdom he had to share. As Vern knelt with a small axe and slowly split and carved pieces of wood, he shared the importance of each layer of the fire, starting with the kindling you make your fire with. The wood became a metaphor, became poetry, mirroring how we must take care and attention in our life and work; using kindling to reinforce connection. Vern continued on in his engaging and friendly way, sharing stories of animals and the natural world around us. It was so special to hear these stories that have been passed down through time; the act of gathering wood, gathering sacred plant medicines, and gathering together for a fire felt so elemental and meaningful. My favourite smells were the first strings of smoke from the seasoned wood that cut through the crisp air, and the sweet aroma of the smudge mindfully shared with each member of the group. With the fire blazing bigger, Shaun steeped strips of diamond willow bark in a kettle and we shared little mugs of warmth and healing. Followed by moments of individual sharing and listening, I felt honoured to hear my team members speak vulnerably on snippets from their own lives; softening hearts toward one other as people with complex fears and hopes. I hope to connect in this way again, this was a truly special afternoon!”

– Renée