A ritual to remember: Memorial held for first-year student

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By Kyle Mullin

Friends, peers and professors gathered outside James Dunn Hall last Monday to celebrate the life of Julia Barnaby, a first-year St. Thomas student who died on Mar. 11 at the age of 23.

“Julia’s gone home,” said Pollyanna McBain, who led the aboriginal ritual where Julia’s loved ones formed a circle to remember her.

“The saddest thing is I’ll miss her radiant smile, which would light up so wonderfully.”

McBain made her way around that circle slowly, holding a sea shell or “smudging bowl” filled with the embers of smouldering herbs. She used a bald eagle feather to fan the strangely sweet smoke toward the heads, or “third eyes,” of everyone that attended.

“The eagle soars highest, it takes our prayers to the creator,” she said afterwards, taking a glance at the pale feather as the ritual’s aroma still lingered in the air. “It’s our most honoured creature, because of its uniqueness.”

Julia’s cousin, Avery Barnaby, attended the ceremony. She grew up with Julia in Listuguj, Quebec.

“She was the friendliest girl I knew,” Avery said. “When I found out what happened I didn’t believe it, I’d just seen her the day before. I felt like I had to call her to see if she’d pick up. She was crazy, silly, outgoing – she’d talk to anyone, and I’m really going to miss that.”

Julia was a fan of McBain’s standup act for years, and had followed the comedian’s tour to several reservations in the area. But they first met when McBain began studying business at the University of New Brunswick this fall.

“She approached me on the bus one day and told me she loved my gig and how hilarious it was,” McBain said, adding that she knew she liked Julia’s warmth and sense of humour right away.

McBain was asked to perform that purifying ceremony last week because she had all the materials. The most crucial of those elements are the four “medicines” lit in the smudging bowl- tobacco, sage, cedar and sweet hay, the last of which is found where salt and fresh water meet, giving the smoke its distinct scent.

“Julia would’ve appreciated it, all those people coming to celebrate her life more than mourning,” Avery said. “You never saw her sad, she smiled and it would light up the whole room. She always made everybody’s day better, and that was the most important thing we all remembered that day.”

McBain said the ritual is held to cleanse the souls of the dead and those they left behind- before the smoke clears it clings to bad energy, taking it away so it can regrow as a positive force. That notion of rebirth wasn’t lost on anyone at the ceremony that day.

“Aboriginals believe everything is cyclical, that’s why we’ve gathered in this circle. Julia’s gone home,” McBain said as the ritual drew to a close.

“But she’ll return again.”

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