What was once a standard meeting room in Suncor's headquarters in Calgary is now a sacred space for prayer, ceremony and reflection.

Suncor headquarters in Mohkinstsis (Moh-gin-s-tis), which is the Blackfoot word for Calgary, has many spaces for people to gather, meet, collaborate and work, but until recently, it was lacking a space that could be considered sacred to Indigenous employees and visitors.

Earlier in September, a ceremony was held to open a first-of-its-kind smudge and ceremonial room in the Suncor Energy Centre (SEC). The sacred space was initiated and designed by Suncor’s Indigenous Youth Advisory Council (IYAC) with support from the Indigenous relations and facilities teams; Brookfield Properties, the owners of the SEC building; and the Calgary Fire Department.

Smudging is a traditional Indigenous ritual that involves burning sacred medicines, such as sweetgrass, sage, and tobacco and cedar to cleanse and purify a space or person's energy and for prayer. There are smudge-friendly spaces and reflection rooms across other Suncor sites, including at the Sarnia refinery and Fort Hills.

A smudge bowl made from an abalone shell and braids of sweetgrass placed on traditional Indigenous blanket on a table
A smudge bowl made from an abalone shell is often used to burn the medicines when performing a smudge.

Kainai Elder, “Sorrel Horse”, Casey EagleSpeaker from the Kainai (Gaa-nah) First Nation in southern Alberta led the ceremony, which included a prayer, songs and a smudge. "This space is not only for Indigenous people, but for all people to use for prayer and smudge in their way to start their day off with peace and stability.” 

It was during the ceremony that Elder Casey gifted the room with the name Kahnaatahpii Moyis, which means All Peoples’ Lodge in Blackfoot.

The idea of a sacred space in SEC came from an IYAC member Kahenientha Cross, while attending a meeting that started with a smudge at a smudge-friendly room at the Calgary Public Library. After the smudge, the member asked why Suncor didn’t have a smudge-friendly space in its Calgary office. Sylvie Tran, VP EH&S – Operational Risk Management, who meets with IYAC regularly as a Suncor Energy Foundation board member, wondered the same and she knew she had the right team to make it happen.

“One of the first things we needed to do to convert the space was a risk assessment for fire, odor or smoke," says Sylvie. “My team came together and shared their areas of expertise to support the project.” 

Working with IYAC and Indigenous Relations, the facilities team transformed a meeting room into an area for Indigenous people and non-Indigenous people to smudge, pray and reflect.

A bison skull and braids of sweetgrass rest on a bison hide. There is Indigenous artwork on the wall.
A bison skull and hide from the Syncrude herd are displayed in the Sacred space. Bison are sacred animals in many Indigenous cultures; harvesting them is done with ceremony and gratitude to the Creator.

Dr. Michael Lickers, Specialist Relations Advisor, supported the operations of setting up this space.

“Within the Indigenous community smudging is a common practice,” explains Michael “When working in a corporate setting, if a person is going through a difficult and stressful time, smudging can help them heal and relieve that stress.”

The transformation of the meeting room to a sacred space was more than dimming lights, adding Indigenous artwork, traditional medicines, and other sacred artifacts. It also required an overhaul of the room’s HVAC system to adhere to building codes.

As the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation (NDTR) and Orange Shirt Day, both on Sept. 30, approach, the opening of this space is a reminder of how important it is to learn about Indigenous culture and history as a step towards our Reconciliation journey. It’s important to reflect on the painful chapter of our history in Canada, which includes prohibiting Indigenous Peoples from practicing ceremony such as smudging, and to build bridges in support of understanding and healing.