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Réjean OBomsawin,
Abenaki Spiritual Leader

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This interview was conducted in a teaching setting with a vision of spiritual guidance, cultural democracy and heritage revitalization.

Discover the Spiritual Leader (Mdawlino), Réjean OBomsawin, Traditional Abenaki Elder.


Spirituality, as practiced by the Abenaki, was replaced in the 17th century by Christianization. This religious education of different faiths, both in residential schools and in communities, had repercussions on traditions and the transmission of ancestral spirituality.

In the culture of the traditional Abenaki nation, there are wise men called Sôgmô and those who officiate the ceremonies, the Mdawlino.


Réjean OBomsawin has a responsible role as Spiritual leader (comparable to an officiant), Sage, Spiritual Guide, Pipe Bearer of the nation, Guardian of the ceremonies, traditions and practices of the peoples of the East who brought the ceremonies back to Odanak. Is also a Traditional Elder of the Odanak community.
“My clan is that of the Turtle (Tolba) which has always been traditionally associated with a position of Chief (Sôgmo). While the heron (Kasko) is my spiritual helper."

Odanak is made up of two clans, that of the Turtle and that of the Bear. “I didn’t choose my totem, it chose me. In my humble opinion, there is no opposition between Catholicism (Christendom) and traditional beliefs. We all believe in a superior being and for us, it is called Kchi Niwaskw, which means Great Creator."

Réjean OBomswin chef spirituel Abénaki


Community Totem
Regarding the community's totem, it is the symbol of the Sturgeon (Kabassa) which represents it to the other nations of the great Wôbanaki confederation. The totem, like spiritual help, must be respected and honored, because it is an integral part of families. It is therefore taboo to be consumed.
“Kabassa is our ancestor according to the teachings of the Wôbanaki Confederacy. Through this, we are the grandfathers of the Blackfoot (Blood) in Alberta who migrated west, before the arrival of Europeans, to protect and guard sacred objects and ceremonies at the risk of being destroyed by the Jesuits.”

Traditional rites practiced

Several traditional rites are still practiced in the Abenaki community. The Abenaki rites are simple, they do not contain long prayers.
Réjean OBomsawin advises starting slowly to avoid being frightened during the first experiences. It is preferable to participate not only in the rites and teachings, but also in their preparation, for example, during the construction of the sweat lodge.
“You have to enter the box with a sense of humility and great respect.”

The ceremony begins during construction until the second part which consists of lighting a sacred fire, heating the stones and entering the lodge in order to be in the presence of Kchi Niwaskw and the Ancestors to pray.
As for the shaking tent ceremony, it is practiced in the East and was practiced by the Abenaki nation in the past. Réjean OBomsawin associates it with a form of justice, but cannot elaborate further since it is a sacred process which is mainly discussed during a ceremony in a specific context and protocol.

Traditional way of life

There are four fundamental vows in Abenaki spirituality which are taught by Mdawlino Réjean OBomsawin during a Spiritual Name ceremony.
Mr. OBomsawin underlines the importance of facing the loneliness that will accompany these wishes and insists that this path is not only aimed at indigenous people, but at all cultures. “By following this path, we become more and more receptive to the signs that inform us about the best choices in our lives.” You have to be close to nature, but he no longer really believes a return to the way of life is possible. ancestral.
“It is imperative to know any ritual well before engaging in it.” He recommends being sensitive to signs, listening to your intuitions, and he mentions that “nothing happens for nothing”. He does not believe in bad luck and says that people who believe in it feed their misfortune themselves. For people sensitive to bad energies, he suggests purifying the places around them by burning sage and sweetgrass, which attracts good energies. For him, spirituality must be a way of life and not an occasional activity. He advises being open to traditional medicine, even if modern medicine often ignores its principles.
“Even if our language is no longer spoken as in the time of our grandparents, our philosophy and our values remain the link between us and our ancestors and the fact of perpetuating them is a sign of great respect for our ancestors.”

rejean obomsawin présentation d'ouverture de bienvenue enseignement abenaki

Sacred objects used

Réjean OBomsawin makes drums, if necessary, although, traditionally, the Abenakis used rattle instead.
He considers these sound instruments as objects of great power with which “one cannot play without having knowledge”.
For several years he was part of an Abenaki dance troupe and, for a while, of a group of drum singers (Sigwani Awassos) which no longer exists today because the main Elder singers have died.

Certain practices are reserved for Aboriginal people, for example, a non-Aboriginal person should not use a pipe unless they have received instructions from a traditional Elder during a ceremony intended for this purpose. These kinds of objects deserve great respect, because if they are misused there can be unfortunate consequences.
“In my journey, I waited patiently for the signs to be able to use my pipe. Following the instructions received from my master healer, the late David Gehue, I became the Pipe Bearer of my nation.” There are several types of pipes, all intended for a specific use.
The pipe dance is a very solemn childhood memory which is closely linked to the teaching of the use of the pipe transmitted by the Fox nation in the 17th century, he recalls. This dance is now considered a folk dance devoid of any sense of the sacred. “I hope that one day this practice will return, as in the past, to our way of praying to the creator.”

Rattles and drums are two other objects used in Abenaki rites. Certain sound instruments, as well as herbs and the ceremonial pipe, are common to all nations. The bowl of the pipe, into which the tobacco is inserted for smoking, is made of stone and represents mother earth, while the wooden pipe represents the trees. In the Abenaki circle of life, there are four stages: birth, adolescence, adult and elder.

First ceremony

“At the very beginning of my apprenticeship, I had the honor of being invited by the late Monique Sioui to participate in my first pipe ceremony at her family home, next to my parents' house. The officiant, the late Mr. Arthur Solomon, an Ojibwe from Georgian Bay in Ontario, explained to me how this ceremony will take place in memory of the late Guy Sioui, the same person who made the pipe which I use for the ceremonies and which displays the clans and the totem of our nation."

“During this ceremony, I had the honor of receiving gifts from the Elder for participating in this ceremony and also receiving personal instructions to carry out in the years to come. A few years later, as an apprentice to the late David Gehue, he explained to me the meaning and importance of these gifts from Mr. Solomon."

Réjean OBomsawin worked alongside Elders who had a great knowledge of their people, their history and their culture.

Back to basics

In 1987, he chose to return to his roots, inspired by the commemoration of the massacre perpetrated by the attack of Rogers' Rangers, which occurred at Odanak in 1759. Ceremonies took place from 1987 to 1991. Several nations participated, notably the Crees. A Pipe Bearer and Sweat Lodge Keeper from the Lakota Nation came from Dakota to guide them.
“All together we freed our ancestors and helped our nation reconnect with tradition. During the last sweat lodge we received, at that moment, the sign that these ancestors were now at peace. Maintaining respect for all those who perished, in 2019 we prayed for those who attacked us and perished."

Réjean OBomswin chef spirituel Abénaki souvenir 1759 Odanak

Listen to the words of the Elders

“In January 1991, David Gehue, a Miq’maq healer from Shubenacadie, Nova Scotia, suggested that I replace the teachings of the Lakotas and start from scratch based on rites specific to the Wôbanaki nations.”
During the preparation of the 1987 tribute to the ancestors, Mr. OBomsawin went to Mr. Adrien Panadis, a childhood friend of his father Albert OBomsawin, who explained to him that traditional practices, such as the sweat lodge, were practiced in the woods by his father, thus avoiding the risk of friction with the clergy.
“In my youth, I knew Théophile Panadis and several other elders well from whom I learned Abenaki culture and traditions. As for the legends, I get them from my father and grandfather, as well as other relatives and elders in the community."



He participates in various community events as a Spiritual Leader and Calumet Bearer.

His name is sometimes cited in the press by his peers in spiritual terms, notably in an article published during an interview​ with his cousin, the Honorable Michelle O'Bonsawin (Nov. 2022). He is also cited in theuniversity articles.

As an Elder and experienced speaker of Abenaki indigenous culture for nearly 40 years and recognized by his traditional peers, he transmits his Teachings and Knowledge through his own cultural and educational center,Abenaki Education, which he founded in 2019.
He currently teaches the general public as well as groups and businesses from different backgrounds who wish to learn and appreciate this traditional cultural wealth of the Abenaki nation.

The role of Mr. Réjean OBomsawin, Mdawlino Spiritual Leader, (spiritual guide) is greatly  important in order to preserve and transmit spiritual traditions.

As a traditional Elder, he represents the memory of the Ancestors both in the Odanak community and wherever he is invited.

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