Spotlight: Nine Circles’ Indigenous Cultural Support Programming

Indigenous Programming

By: Nicolette Richardson

Nine Circles Community Health Centre, which has existed in various forms since 1984, incorporated Indigenous teachings and practices into our programming more than two decades ago through the Manitoba Aboriginal AIDS Task Force.

Critical to any Community Health model is a commitment to integrating services for holistic healing, health equity and a sense of belonging. Nine Circles has maintained a policy which is built on a rights-based approach. Everyone has the right to be treated with respect, the right to safety, and to be active in their own healthcare. The Centre’s programming is designed to help people build strategies to live well and improve their health. This includes the provision of Indigenous Cultural Support programming.

Various programs centered on Indigenous practices take place each week. These activities are important in order to support culture as a part of personal wellness and to pass down teachings by Elders, while connecting with clients and the wider community. Mike Payne, Executive Director at Nine Circles says that the purpose of this programming is “to serve as a doorway for those who would like to further explore, connect or re-connect with Indigenous cultural practices, to Indigenous communities and Indigenous agencies throughout the city.”

Some of the programs and activities Nine Circles offers include:

  • Co-ed sharing circles
  • Language circles – where Ojibway language is taught
  • Drumming Circle
  • Traditional medicine picking (done twice yearly)
  • Pipe ceremony and feast to honor the seasons
  • Storytelling
  • Sweat lodge ceremonies

Smudging is done at the beginning of all these activities. The purpose of a smudge is to cleanse before rituals and ceremonies. The programs are open to all and are offered at varying times throughout the week; they all take place in the Round room. Smudging is also offered every Thursday during Food Bank hours, and naming ceremonies (where individuals ask to receive their spiritual name) are done upon request.

Nine Circles recently began using the Circle of Life Thunderbird House for Sweat Lodge ceremonies. After using a lodge at St. Benedicts Monastery for the last 17 years, a closing ceremony was held in May to say thanks to the land, honour the stories people shared and honour the fire keepers. Nine Circles has great appreciation for the sisters at St. Benedicts for welcoming us and giving us the gift of space, understanding and support. The partnership was a beautiful example of working together for better health and inclusion.

Going forward, a partnership with Thunderbird House to host sweat lodge ceremonies will connect clients to an Indigenous Spiritual Hub within Winnipeg. Thunderbird House is closer and more accessible for people and it is expected that this will further empower clients to be more involved in their community.

Providing health care services is much more than treating the physical; it’s also incorporating the emotional and spiritual, and Nine Circles has found the balance by providing access to Indigenous Cultural Support programming.

For a full listing of our programming  take a look at our online event calendar.


Meet Peetanacoot: Nine Circles’ Cultural Support Worker

Peetanacoot Nenakawekapo is Anishinaabe and from the Wolf clan. She is a Two-Spirit person and a trans woman from Skownan MB, now residing in Winnipeg.

Also known as Winnie Sunshine, Peetanacoot has been living with HIV for over 23 years. She was inspired by her partner Gordon who passed away from HIV-related illness in 1999. Gordon encouraged Peetanacoot to be active in community-based HIV/AIDS education and prevention.

Peetanacoot feels empowered by her community and wishes to empower others. She is an advocate for those in need and has volunteered in service of people living with HIV for over 20 years. Locally, she’s been involved with organizations such as the Manitoba Aboriginal AIDS Task Force, Ma Mawi Wi Chi Itata, Village Clinic, Ka Ni Kanichihk, and Aboriginal Women Responding to the AIDS Crisis. She’s been employed at Nine Circles since 2004.

Nationally, Peetanacoot has volunteered with CATIE and was the Manitoba representative for the Canadian Aboriginal AIDS Network from 2003 to 2015. She has also been a committee member of the National Aboriginal Council on HIV/AIDS from 2005 to present.  Peetanacoot is very compassionate and does everything wholeheartedly.  In June, she married the love of her life Dennis from Independence Missouri, USA.

Pride Resurgence Photo by Réjean Brandt Photography