The Institute for the Advancement of Aboriginal Women (IAAW) founded the Firekeepers program to recognize and support the unique path to sobriety for Aboriginal women. While Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous are focused on sobriety, the Firekeepers program is committed to wholistic wellness in safe and sober community – addressing the root causes of addiction and trauma to support healing and growth for our women.

We provide a safe space for our women to share their stories, learn traditional ways of healing, and experience the support of their peers and elders.

Firekeepers is about women being healthy together and supporting each other through the healing process

Marggo Pariseau, IAAW Vice President and Firekeepers founder

Supporting Women through COVID-19

During the current public health crisis, the health, safety, and well-being of our members, staff and communities remains our top priority. In order to continue the vital work of supporting our women, we have made significant changes and adapted many of our programs to meet the evolving needs of our participants during this challenging time.

Many of our women and youth were vulnerable prior to this crisis, and find themselves even more so as a result of it.

Prior to the implementation of social distancing measures as a result of COVID-19, the Firekeepers Program provided vital support to women walking a path of sobriety. We remain committed to continuing this work in a safe manner.

We continue to:

  • Reach out to Firekeeper participants individually by phone
  • Manage individual requests for information and support
  • Provide additional resources and contact numbers to participants
    that require further support
  • Hold Firekeepers meetings virtually
  • Hold socially distanced gatherings with additional safety
    measures in outdoor spaces

Who are Firekeepers?

The traditional meaning of “Firekeeper” is one who protects a body after a soul passes, keeping the ceremonial fire burning as mourners gather and grieve. It also refers to the sacred role of women at the centre of their homes and communities, to keep the fire burning and support
others in their healing and growth.

Our Firekeepers walk a healing path to reclaim their central role through wellness in their homes and communities. They welcome and support those into the circle, recognizing that each of us brings unique knowledge, gifts, and strengths.

Traditional Teachings and Ceremony

At IAAW, we remain focused on addressing health and wellness needs in a cultural context, and are committed to ceremony as a path to healing. Meetings always begin with a smudging ceremony, followed by a ribbon ceremony for new members to welcome them into the Firekeeper circle. This is followed by a traditional sharing circle.

Sometimes the sharing is a quick wellness check-in; other times that check-in lasts the entire meeting.

Participants talk about how difficult it is to resist the destructive or negative behaviours that they had before. By witnessing the progress and how some have overcome the obstacles, they also build their resiliency. Firekeepers explore teachings, experiences, and trauma in the safety of the circle. Firekeepers know and believe they are not alone.

Our Firekeeper elder is always present at meetings to guide our women on their healing journeys, imparting traditional knowledge and support. Other elders from the community are often invited to lead ceremonies, and bring the gifts of their teachings and wisdom to our women.

Community Activities

Many Firekeepers have lifelong experiences with addiction: in their families, communities, and in their own lives. Community activities help our women experience fun, connection, and friendship in a sober and safe setting. Whether a cookout, tobogganing afternoon, or visit to a boxing gym – community activities allow Firekeepers to have experiences that otherwise would not be available to them. We also welcome families to our community activities, with mothers and daughters often attending together and healing relationships that have been damaged by addiction and trauma.

Ongoing Support

The Firekeeper program is about building a circle of care, where women at all stages of their healing journeys help one another. Firekeepers offer their experience and skills to the circle, as well as their empathy and support. Firekeepers regularly check-in with one another and can be found helping with groceries, a resume, or simply listening and offering empathy. Within the Firekeeper circle, lifelong friendships are built.


“This is such an amazing organization. Anytime I’m here, I feel so inspired and filled with hope.”

“This circle is amazing. You show me that you’re doing it, and it makes me feel like I can too.”

“I learned how to use my voice and share.”

“My daughter said she hadn’t seen me sober since she was thirteen. Now I’m healthy, and I want to heal my community and Nation.”