The students gather in Algonquin’s Mamidosewin Centre the night of Sept. 8. The scent of fresh cedar dominates the room. Sitting in large chairs in a circular pattern, the ceremony begins.

Candles sit on a small table in the centre of the circle, surrounded by a bowl of fresh strawberries and a tray containing dried tobacco, cedar and sage. A long feather adorned with blue, red and black beads is passed around to be held as each participant discusses their concerns for the month.

In between the ritualistic cleansing performed with smoke from a small piece of bark, drumming and singing take place before a food offering is made and everyone sits to eat as a group.

“It’s  a really important process for all women, not just aboriginal women,” says Jackie Tenute of the ceremony’s spiritual significance of cleansing. As the aboriginal counsellor for the Mamidosewin Centre and event organizer, she began holding Full Moon Ceremonies at Algonquin a few years ago.

For aboriginal women, a Full Moon Ceremony is a time to gather in honour of the Grandmother Moon to bless the water; however, women of all ethnic backgrounds are welcome to join.

“Part of my interest in aboriginal culture is that my family was part of the first settlers,” Julia Defalco, who is not aboriginal, explains. “It was more of an educational experience, learning its meaning and value.”

Trying to bridge the gap between aboriginal and non-aboriginal culture, these ceremonies are a great way of promoting inclusion.

“I haven’t been that connected to my culture,” says Raven Barr, a Métis and Ojibwa First Nations. “I’ve always had remorse especially because I’m surrounded by it,” Barr explains as she describes the town near Thunder Bay where she grew up.

Stories like this are exactly why events such as the ceremony are held regularly at the Mamidosewin Centre; keeping traditional culture alive can be difficult with younger generations, especially away from home.

“I would love to see aboriginal women here; women of all ethnicities. I think this would be a great place to gather and bring awareness to the plight of aboriginal women everywhere,” says Shannon Daugherty, another non-aboriginal participant, as she discusses the rising outrage via social media at the continued disappearance of aboriginal women.

The session ends with a discussion about how the ceremonies can affective positive change for aboriginal women’s rights.