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Paths of Faith Native American Religions What are they? Why are they hard to understand? Cheryl Gaver cgaver@cogeco PowerPoint Presentation
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Paths of Faith Native American Religions What are they? Why are they hard to understand? Cheryl Gaver cgaver@cogeco

Paths of Faith Native American Religions What are they? Why are they hard to understand? Cheryl Gaver cgaver@cogeco

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Paths of Faith Native American Religions What are they? Why are they hard to understand? Cheryl Gaver cgaver@cogeco

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  1. Paths of FaithNative American ReligionsWhat are they?Why are they hard to understand?Cheryl

  2. Problems Getting the Facts : 1

  3. Problems Getting the Facts - 2 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

  4. Problems Getting the Facts : 3 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

  5. Problems of Understanding 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

  6. Example 1: Case Study 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?

  7. Example 2 : Case Study A young Native man has emotional problems and is in desperate need of help. He refuses to go for counselling. Why?

  8. Example 3: Case Study 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?

  9. Example 4 (Tsimshian) • Brian’s father died. • Brian and his uncle try to settle the estate • Brian’s sisters work to get a share of the inheritance • Brian’s comment: “Why are they involved? It’s none of their concern!”


  11. Circle Society – 1 (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)

  12. Society in Circle Societes Circle societies tend to be egalitarian, not hierarchical. Specific roles exist for men, women, and children but these are somewhat flexible Education Elders teach the younger ones through stories Adults teach by example Discipline The community maintains discipline through “peer pressure” – individuals learn what is not acceptable behaviour

  13. The Role of the Chief 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

  14. Education among the Dene • “Dene expect learning to occur through observation rather than instruction, an expectation consistent with the Dene view that true knowledge is personal knowledge … • Dene foster autonomy in one another’s lives to the greatest extent possible but they also ‘go far out of their way … to prevent others from undertaking activities that might them harm …’” (J.-G. Goulet: 27)

  15. Business and Politics 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

  16. Toutes mes relations - 4 Norval Morrisseau

  17. All My Relations - 1 Universe People of human and non-human kind People of a human kind Nation Family Me This shows the idea of circle relationships found in many communities but still reflects a Western sense of boundaries

  18. All My Relations – 2 This reflects more the fluidity and dynamic nature of relationships in many Aboriginal communities

  19. All My Relations – 3

  20. All My Relations – 4 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].

  21. All My Relations – 5 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)

  22. All My Relations – 6 We find 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

  23. All My Relations – 7 • Woman and Raven by Vernon Asp • Eagle Mask by Eugene Alfred • Mask by Walter Harris

  24. All My Relations – 8 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]

  25. All My Relations – 9 “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)

  26. Religion – 1 Self / Religion Politics Private life Community Economy Dreams Family Work Hobbies

  27. Religion – 2 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

  28. How many faces

  29. Algonkian Religion – Maintaining Balance It is important to maintain a balance in the world – moral, emotional, physical … Illnesses exist because people are not in balance Physically Emotionally Spiritually Shamans are those men and women who can discover how to recover one’s balance

  30. Religion – The Trickster – 1 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(

  31. Religion – The Trickster – 2 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 (

  32. A world of symbols 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)

  33. Understanding Example 1 A Native man is arrested for murder and confesses even though he did not commit the murder. Why? Because the policeman wanted him to Because the policeman would have lost face if he was shown to be wrong

  34. Understanding Example 2 A young Native man has emotional problems and is in desperate need of help but refuses to go. Why? Because it is not fair to burden others with his problems

  35. Understanding Example 3 A Native woman is raped, identifies the rapist and testifies at his trial, then refuses to identify him at the trial. Why? Everyone now knows what he has done. Nothing more is needed He has now heard how his actions hurt her. Nothing more is needed

  36. Understanding Example 4 (Tsimshian) • Brian’s father died. His sisters work to get a share of the inheritance. Brian does not understand why they are concerned. • Why? • His sisters are not related to their biological father • They are related to their mother’s brother

  37. My Relations – or Who Is My Mother? (A Dene View) Jenna Mary Tim John Lucy Marge Tim Maria Jenna Charlie Louise Anne Kennie Jim

  38. A Clash of Worldviews / Cultures : Revisited – 10 • We are back to the question of what is reality? • Westerners tend to see reality in terms of what can be proven scientifically • Westerners also draw abstract truths or deductions that have little basis in reality – how often does a “real” circle exist? • Aboriginal peoples tend to see reality in terms of personal knowledge – firsthand experience • What is true must have a heritage behind it • What is true must be able to be experienced or seen • A circle has to take into account the mountains, the rivers, the crevasses you cross to make the circle