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Paths of Faith Native American Religions What are they? Why are they hard to understand? Cheryl Gaver firstname.lastname@example.org Problems Getting the Facts : 1 Problems Getting the Facts - 2 We cannot speak of a single “Native American” religion but of many religions Much has been lost
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We cannot speak of a single “Native American” religion but of many religions
Much has been lost
80-95% of the Native population died as a result of contact with Europeans
Many of the Native Elders died without passing on their knowledge
Native traditions have changed over the centuries
Native traditions have, to some extent, blended Christianity into themselves
Some Native people refuse to tell us the facts
We stole their lands, their children
We destroyed their languages and their culture
Now we want to “learn” their traditions and worldviews?!!!
Some Native people tell us what they think we want to hear
Some Native people do not want to admit to anything “negative” in their traditions
Some Native people tell us about their traditions but we cannot understanding what they are saying
Historical sources had their own assumptions and own agendas that make it difficult for us to understand the Native perspective
A Native man is arrested for murder.
He admits having committed the murder
During the course of the trial, the identity of the real murderer is discovered – the one on trial did not commit the murder
Why did he confess?
A young Native man has emotional problems and is in desperate need of help.
He refuses to go for counselling.
A Native woman is raped
She identifies the man who did it and he is arrested
During the course of the trial, she stated what happened and was asked if she could identify the rapist
She said she could not
Why did she change her story?
(Algonquin and Plain Nations)
Nature wants things to be round. … The tipi was a ring in which people sat in a circle and all the families in the village were in turn circles within a larger circle, part of the larger hoop which was the seven campfires of the Sioux, representing one nation. The nation was only a part of the universe, in itself circular and made of the earth, which is round, of the sun, which is round, of the stars, which are round. The moon, the horizon, the rainbow – circles within circles within circles, with no beginning and no end. (John Lame Deer, Lakota)
Circle societies tend to be egalitarian, not hierarchical.
Specific roles exist for men, women, and children but these are somewhat flexible
Elders teach the younger ones through stories
Adults teach by example
The community maintains discipline through “peer pressure” – individuals learn what is not acceptable behaviour
He is not set apart from other people
He is someone of merit whom others respect and accept as chief
His authority depends on the respect with which he is held
He governs by consensus
Therefore, the chief MUST be able to speak well and rhetoric becomes very important
The more power he has, the more he gives to others
In the early days –
Before entering into trade agreements, it was important to establish a formal relationship – i.e., an alliance
You create alliances with an exchange of gifts
You recognize the other side as being a separate nation
You respect their independence
You promise friendship
Only then can you enter into trade agreements
People of human and non-human kind
People of a human kind
This shows the idea of circle relationships found in many communities but still reflects a Western sense of boundaries
This reflects more the fluidity and dynamic nature of relationships in many Aboriginal communities
When I was visiting the clergy school, an Elder and I went down to the shore after the service. There was a beaver swimming out in the water. The Elder called to the beaver. The beaver stopped in the middle of the bay – and then walked up the shoreline and came right to where we were standing.
[Rt. Hon. Rev. Michael Peers in Carlson 1991: 119].
All animals have power, because the Great Spirit dwells in all of them, even a tiny ant, a butterfly, a tree, a flower, a rock. The modern, white man’s way keeps that power from us, dilutes it. To come to nature, feel its power, let it help you, one needs time and patience for that. …
You have so little time for contemplation … it lessens a person’s life, all that grind, that hurrying and scurrying about. (John Lame Deer)
Stories of animals who speak to humans
Stories of animals who change into human beings and of human beings who change into animals
Families who believe they are somehow associated with a particular animal
The belief that human beings are not supposed to dominate nature
Interchanges with the supernaturals are the bedrock of native spirituality. What are called “myths” in the white world, and thought of as primitive spiritual stories that articulate psychological realities, are in the native world the accounts of actual interchanges.” [Allen 1991: 6]
“Of all the teachings we receive this one is the most important: Nothing belongs to you of what there is of what you take, you must share(Chief Dan George)
Self / Religion
Distinctions do not exist between religious and secular (day-to-day) life
Distinctions do not exist between the physical world (our everyday world) and the world of dreams or spirits
The very concept of “supernatural” reflects a Western mentality. The “supernatural” does not exist because nothing is outside of nature and nature itself is sacred
It is important to maintain a balance in the world – moral, emotional, physical …
Illnesses exist because people are not in balance
Shamans are those men and women who can discover how to recover one’s balance
Common to many cultures, if not all, is the mythological character known as Trickster. He abounds wherever there are boundaries created for, by or about "the other."
Most cultures go to great lengths to preserve their boundaries from all contingency. Canadian culture is no exception.
Barriers which exclude are like a red flag to a bull where Trickster is concerned.Source: Canadian Heritage(http://pch.gc.ca/special/dcforum/info-bg/03_e.cfm)
Trickster speaks through the medium of imagination. In the mind of Trickster, the real thieves are those who lock the doors. Trickster does not want to be an excluded and resentful outsider. His goal is to change the terms, not to integrate quietly. It is also his goal to change the mind and raise consciousness by whatever means necessary, which could include thievery, overturning the tables, crashing the party or any number of "upsetting" disturbances. The word "goal" is used very loosely as Trickster is in search of loopholes so that he might escape with his friends from whatever cage they find themselves in (though with no actual goal in mind). Source: Canadian Heritage (http://pch.gc.ca/special/dcforum/info-bg/03_e.cfm)
We Indians live in a world of symbols and images where the spiritual and the commonplace are one.
To the white man symbols are just words, spoken or written in a book. To us they are part of nature, part of ourselves – the earth, the sun, the wind and the rain, stones, trees, animals, even little insects like ants and grasshoppers.
We try to understand them – not with the head, but with the heart, and we need no more than a hint to give us the meaning. (John Lame Deer - Lakota)
A Native man is arrested for murder and confesses even though he did not commit the murder.
Because the policeman wanted him to
Because the policeman would have lost face if he was shown to be wrong
A young Native man has emotional problems and is in desperate need of help but refuses to go.
Because it is not fair to burden others with his problems
A Native woman is raped, identifies the rapist and testifies at his trial, then refuses to identify him at the trial.
Everyone now knows what he has done. Nothing more is needed
He has now heard how his actions hurt her. Nothing more is needed