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Indian Culture, Beliefs And Spirituality

Gary Arcand

SASKATCHEWAN INDIAN      FALL 1998      v28 n03 p06  
Each culture has the inherent right to express its individual character and voice, and to put into practice what they believe. Yet, as we know, Indian people were forced to assimilate into European culture because our ways were considered heathen.

When Europeans arrived they brought their own Christian religion. Unfortunately, the newcomers were not satisfied with just teaching us about this new religion, but instead they taught us in the hopes of eliminating Indian spirituality and practices. Perhaps we would have been resilient enough to withstand this by itself, but what our ancestors didn't realize was that along with their faith, the Europeans also brought with them the invisible diseases that ravaged our people for decades.

Many First Nations People were then subjected to residential schools, leaving parents and children with little choice but to adjust to a different life-style which inherently conflicted with the values of their own culture. We were forced to speak English and were punished when we failed to comply.

It is sad that these children were raised to believe that Christianity was the only "true" religion and that our spirituality was not the road to salvation. The problem with much of this is that in numerous instances the very ones who were instructing Aboriginal people on the proper faith, were also sexually abusing them. To this day we are still haunted by the residual effects of these horrific actions.

Despite this we have developed a culture rich in spiritual traditions. This is a testament to our fortitude and resilience as a people.

Spirituality helped our ancestors survive and prosper for a number of years, and as such, can continue to help us today. We must never let anyone tell us that Sundances, Sweatlodges, sweetgrass and the sacred pipe serve no purpose. These people often fail to recognize the commonalities of our human heritage, and that we both pray to the same creator, even if our way of communicating with that creator differs.

In Indian spirituality we are taught some very simple rules. First we are taught to respect and cherish our elders, they have wisdom and knowledge that we need to grow, and be strong. Long before there were books, our traditions and knowledge were passed down through the elders. It is called oral history, as opposed to written history. Through these words we learned the meaning of life and were given a direction and purpose to our lives. The wisdom of the elders teach us to be humble, respectful, kindhearted, and generous to one-another.

In our culture we are also taught to respect the opposite sex. If you are a man you should have respect for women as they are the givers of life. To show disrespect to a woman is to show disrespect the Creator.

Children are also special as they are windows into the future; they are windows that should never be closed. Childhood is the most important part of a person's life. Physical, emotional, or sexual abuse can forever scar a person.

We are also taught at a early age to show respect to all living things-animals trees, rocks and even water, as all from the Creator. We are taught that what ever you take from the earth, so should you replace it in-kind. The Creator put each of us on this world for a purpose, and that is to love one-another and respect all living things.

Our culture holds that a living being is infused with our spirit at the time of birth. The soft spot on a baby's head is believed to be where the Creator's spirit enters us and remains until we are ready to move on to the next life.

As such suicide is considered to be one of the most serious sins in our culture. Our elders believe that the Creator has a different time for each of us to enter the spirit world, and it is not a decision for us to make. Therefore, when a person takes their own life, the spirit will remain suffering in this world until it is their proper time to go.

Murder, much like suicide, is claiming authority that we do not have. No human being has the right to judge when a life should end. As the spirit enters the baby by the Creator's will, so must it be taken.

Our spirituality is worthy of respect. Perhaps it is time that we reclaim our rich heritage of traditions, culture and spirituality. We need to know where we have been to really know the path we should choose in the years ahead. By reclaiming what is ours by birth-right, we can march proudly into the future.