Gathering Theme – Indigenous Spiritualities

Download a printable pdf file of the theme from this link.

Revised July 2020


GATHERING THEME

Indigenous Spiritualities

The Circle of Life

This summary is derived from a document, which was prepared in consultation with several respected Elders: Art Shofley, Angus Merrick, Charlie Nelson and Velma Orvis. They developed the document to help law enforcement personnel gain education and respect for Indigenous spiritualities and values.

Facilitator:
“You have noticed that everything an Indigenous person does is in a circle, and that is because the Power of the World always works in circles, and everything tries to be round. In the old days, when we were a strong and happy people, all our power came to us from the sacred hoop of the nation and so long as the hoop was unbroken, the people flourished.”

Today we will focus on Indigenous spirituality, which includes both sacred ceremonies and sacred items. It should be noted that the various spiritual beliefs, sacred items and ceremonies vary according to different tribal groups across Canada. We have selectively chosen some to reflect the depth of indigenous spirituality.

Participant 1:

“The flowering tree was the living centre of the hoop, and the circle of the four quarters nourished it. The East gave peace and light, the South gave warmth, the West gave rain and the North, with its cold and mighty wind gave strength and endurance. This knowledge came to us from the outer world with our religion. Everything the Power of the World does is done in a circle. The sky is round and I have heard the earth is round like a ball and so are the stars. The Wind, in its greatest power whirls. Birds make their nests in circles, for theirs is the same religion as ours. The sun comes forth and goes down again in a circle. The moon does the same and both are round. Even the seasons form a great circle in their changing and always come back again to where they were. The life of man is a circle from childhood to childhood and so it is in everything where power moves. Our Teepees were round like the nests of birds and these were always set in a circle, the nation ‘s hoop, a nest of many nests where the Great Spirit meant for us to hatch our children.”

(Black Elk Speaks, pp. 198-200) Spiritual Advisor to the Oglala Sioux in 1930.

Participant 2:

Traditions
Native spiritual life is founded on a belief in the fundamental inter-connectedness of all natural things; all forms of life, with primary importance being attached to Mother Earth.

Ceremonies
Ceremonies are the primary vehicles of religious expression. A ceremonial leader or Elder assures authenticity and integrity of religious observances. Elders may be either men or women. Their most distinguishing characteristic is wisdom, which relates directly to experience and age. There are exceptions. Elders need not be “old.” Sometimes the spirit of the Great Creator chooses to imbue a young native.

Pipes
Pipes are used during both private and group ceremonies, the prayer itself being wafted through the smoke of the burning plant material. Pipes are of no set length. Some stems may or may not be decorated with beads or leather. Bowls may be of wood, soapstone, inlaid or carved in the form of various totemic power animals (an eagle with folded wings) or another sacred animal.
The pipe is never a “personal possession.” It belongs to the community. While every native has the right to hold the pipe, in practice, the privilege must be earned in some religious way.

Pipe Ceremony
Pipe ceremonies constitute the primary group gatherings over which Elders preside. Participants gather in a circle. A braid of sweetgrass (one of four sacred plants) is lit and burnt as an incense to purify worshippers, before the pipe is lit. Burning sweetgrass also symbolizes unity, the coming together of many hearts and minds as one person.
The Elder strikes a match, puts it to the end of the sweetgrass braid and fans the smouldering grass with an eagle’s feather. The Elder then goes from person to person in the circle where the smoke is drawn four times by hand gestures toward the head and down the body.
The Elder then places tobacco in the pipe and offers it in the four sacred directions of the compass. Spirits will be asked for assistance in the main prayer, which may be specifically for one individual, a participant in the circle or for someone far away or someone who has passed over. The pipe, passed from person to person in the circle, might be offered to all creation, to those invisible spirit helpers who are always there to guide humanity.

Participant 3:

Sweat Lodges
Used mainly for communal prayer purposes, the Sweat Lodge may also provide necessary ceremonial settings for spiritual healing, purification, as well as fasting. Most fasts require a sweat ceremony before and after the event.

Lodge construction varies from tribe to tribe. Generally, it is an igloo-shaped structure about five feet high, built from bent willow branches tied together with twine. The structure is then encased in blankets to preclude all light. A maximum of eight participants gather in the dark.
In the centre, there is a holy, consecrated virginal section of ground (untrampled by feet and untouched by waste material) blessed by an Elder with tobacco and sweetgrass. There, red hot stones heated in a fire outside the lodge are brought in and doused with water. A doorkeeper on the outside opens the lodge door four times, contributing four additional hot rocks (representing the four sacred directions) to the centre. A prepared pipe is also brought in.

Drums
Drums represent the heartbeat of the nation, the pulse of the universe. Different sizes are used depending on ceremonial purposes. Drums are sacred objects. Each drum has a keeper to ensure no-one approaches it under the influence of alcohol or drugs. During ceremonies, no one may reach across it or place extraneous objects on it.

Participant 4:

Herbs / lncense
Sweetgrass, sage, cedar and tobacco encompass the four sacred plants. Burning these is a sign of deep spirituality in Native practices. Cedar and sage are burned to drive out negative forces when prayer is offered. Sweetgrass, which signifies kindness, is burned to invite good spirits to enter. Participants also use these purification rituals to smudge regalia, drums and other articles before taking part in a pow-wow.

Medicine Pouches
Prescribed by an Elder, plant material can also be worn in a medicine pouch by a person seeking the mercy and protection of the spirits of the Four Directions. Elders caution Natives not to conceal any other substances in their pouches. To do so would make a mockery of their beliefs.
Once the Medicine Bundle has been touched by someone other than its designated guardian, it can no longer be used in its uncleansed condition. The custodian must again perform purification rites to restore the Bundle’s sacredness. Male law enforcement officers may conduct a search of someone wearing these without incident if they ask the wearer to open the bundle. If the person is genuine, then the request will be granted. The spirituality of the bundle is only violated if it is touched or opened without the carrier’s permission.

Participant 5:

Ceremonial Rituals:

Pow-wow
Some say the name is derived from the Algonkian word meaning “to dream.” Pow-wow is an ancient tradition among Aboriginal peoples, and is a time for celebrating and socializing after religious ceremonies. In some cultures, the pow-wow itself was a religious event, when families held naming and honouring ceremonies.

Giveaway
For instance, a family celebrating a member’s formal entry into the dance circle, or wishing to commemorate the death of a loved one, often hosts a giveaway during a pow-wow. This tradition embodies the value of sharing with others.

Today’s pow-wow is more of a social event, although honour ceremonies and other religious observances remain important parts of the celebration. Elders say that coming together in dancing, feasting and having fun is an important unifying and healing experience, which brings together many nations in a celebration of life.

Participant 6:

Eagle Staff
The Eagle Staff is an important symbol to many North American tribes. The eagle represents the Thunderbird spirits of the supernatural world who care for the inhabitants of our physical world. Qualities such as farsightedness, strength, speed, beauty and kindness are attributed to the eagle, which never kills wantonly, only to feed itself and its family. The Eagle Staff symbolizes reverence for the Creator and all of life.

Invocation
Any significant event is initiated with words of prayer by a respected Elder. Traditionally, First Nations never had “priests” as such, but rather spiritual leaders. They are often offered tobacco with a request for prayer indicating respect and honour for that person and the higher power.

These are just a few of the sacred rituals and objects that we hope will inspire respect for Indigenous spirituality.

 

Opening Protocol for Zoom Circles

Download a printable pdf file of the theme from this link.

OPENING PROTOCOL (Zoom Version)

Instructions:

If this is a Zoom circle with participants from different communities across Canada, choose a different person to read the land acknowledgment each week so that each person has the opportunity to research their land history and present it at least once during the ten-week circle. The participants only read the land acknowledgement, while the rest of the Opening Protocol is the responsibility of the facilitator.

If this is a Zoom circle where everyone is from the same community, having a different person read the land acknowledgement each week may not be necessary. However, Indigenous people may live in a city but have their home band elsewhere and may wish to acknowledge their First Nation land.

  1.  Treaty 1 example: “I would like to acknowledge that we are in Treaty #1 Territory, the traditional lands of the Anishinaabe, Cree and Dakota as well as the Birthplace of the Métis Nation and the Heart of the Métis Homeland.” (Adjust for your region of the country).
  2.  A different theme is presented during each of the ten weeks: Today’s topic will be “[INSERT].” Following the presentation of the theme, a general discussion will follow with each of you being given an opportunity to speak to the issue. You are encouraged to keep the seven sacred teachings of the Anishinaabe in your thoughts and words.
  3. (Instruction: The Seven Sacred Teachings are then read aloud by one of the facilitators or one of the participants.)

LOVE: it is important to care for one another
HONESTY: better to fail with honesty than succeed by fraud
RESPECT: give it, earn it, receive it.
TRUTH: it is always easiest to speak the truth
HUMILITY: to be humble about your accomplishments is to be strong
COURAGE: let nothing stand in the way of doing the right thing
WISDOM: with hard work and dedication will come knowledge

(Instruction: You do not need to read the following sentences verbatim each week but do address the content informally, especially # 6-10.)

  1.  After the presentation of the theme we will share around the circle. You will be asked to share according to the number assigned to you. Each week, the next number in order will begin the sharing. Should you wish to “pass” at that time, you will be given a chance at the end to offer your thoughts. While you may not wish to speak your participation is desired as each individual has gifts to offer the circle.
  2. We cannot pass a talking stick on Zoom, so your number is important to determine the order.
    Speak on behalf of yourself only and speak what comes from your heart and from your own experience.
  3. To non-Indigenous participants, reflect on the statement of Chief Commissioner Murray Sinclair: “Do not feel ashamed of the past; do not feel guilty. They don’t do any good at all. Do something about it!”
  4. It is very important that we all recognize that the feelings of an individual are neither right nor wrong. They are real and need to be respected.
  5. In accordance with the Truth and Reconciliation Commission Report, the four guiding principles for the new relationship are “mutual recognition, mutual respect, sharing, and mutual responsibility” (Interim Report, page 23).
  6. We ask you to be conscious of your sharing time so that everyone has a chance to participate. Because we have a number of gatherings, you will have ample opportunity to share your ideas and feelings. We will have to bring closure to our circle at (…o’clock).

Eagle feathers in law courts just small step

Eagle feathers in law courts just small step

We’re pleased to have received permission to print this insightful and informative article written by Niigaan Sinclair and published by the Winnipeg Free Press. Here is a link to the article on their website should you wish to read it in that form and appreciate the photos included.

___________________________________

Originally printed by the Winnipeg Free Press 09/27/2019

By Niigaan Sinclair
Forty migizii migwanag — eagle feathers — were honoured at a sunrise ceremony Thursday and later given to Manitoba justice officials for use during court proceedings. Now, for the first official time in history, anyone in a provincial court can hold a feather while testifying or swearing oaths instead of putting a hand on a Bible.

“The courts are committed to reconciliation, and the court acknowledges its responsibility to find a meaningful way to include Indigenous people in the court system and to build their confidence in the administration of justice,” said provincial court Judge Margaret Wiebe.

It’s a long time coming. The 1991 Aboriginal Justice Inquiry (AJI), for example, recommended that culturally centred practices be included and integrated throughout all elements of the justice system.

And, it’s a small gesture. The AJI also called for the creation of an Aboriginal justice system, an Aboriginal justice college, and all land claims to be settled.

So, a few dozen feathers, nearly three decades later, is really just a step, and a small step, especially considering the over-incarceration rates of Indigenous peoples. I know many in the Indigenous community who are suspicious that including a few feathers to the court system means nothing.

So, if migizii migwanag are now “an implement of justice in Manitoba,” as elder Ed Azure declared Thursday, it’s crucial we understand what this means.

The blessed eagle feathers were presented to the courts during a special joint sitting of the Court of Queen’s Bench and the Provincial Court of Manitoba on Thursday. (Mike Deal / Winnipeg Free Press)
The first thing is: feathers aren’t religious. In fact, there is no Indigenous “religion” one can convert to. Indigenous peoples have spirituality. Spirituality is based in the real-life knowledge, history and lives of Indigenous peoples and manifested in ceremonies, songs and stories. It’s a living tradition.

So, an eagle feather is not a Bible, it’s more like a relative you travel with and learn from.

This is why an eagle feather is not something you take or buy, but something gifted to you. Feathers are designed to build community, which is why elders say they have two sides and a spine.

That’s why you find feathers in talking circles, healing ceremonies, or at a pow-wow. Chiefs also wear them in headdresses and elders give them to future leaders.

The meaning of migizii migwan is found in its name. The word migizii refers to the megis shell, one of our most sacred Anishinaabeg teachings. Anishinaabeg have carried megis shells for a long time, from our thousand-year migration from the eastern shores of North America to our lives in and around the Great Lakes.

Just like the megis, eagles teach us about where we have been and where we are going as a people.

The second word, migwan, refers to two words: miikwan, a verb meaning to “hit the target” and mikan, “to search.” Watching eagles will demonstrate these teachings the best.

People will now be able to hold an eagle feather in Manitoba court rooms while testifying and swearing oaths instead of putting a hand on a Bible. (Mike Deal / Winnipeg Free Press)
Eagles, for example, fly highest in the sky — as high as 3,000 metres (10,000 feet). They travel hundreds of square kilometres and can spot other eagles and animals up to five kilometres away. Eagles see the “big picture” while pinpointing specific, tiny spaces where food and sustenance can be found.

Eagles protect their young and are territorial, especially when parenting. Mothers lay two to four eggs and share incubation duties with their lifelong partners. Eagle parents do not kick their children out of the nest to teach them how to fly, but coax them out supportively.

“There are no flying lessons,” Anishinaabe writer Richard Wagamese describes in his 2011 book One Story, One Song. “One day the young eaglets stand at the rim of their nest with their whole world in front of them. They can hear the call of their parents high above. To fulfil their destiny and become who they were created to be, each of them must make that first frightening jump.”

An eagle knows that she cannot fly for her child, it must fly for itself.

When in conflict, eagles are fearless and tenacious. They face problems head-first and refuse to run.

So, an eagle teaches us to see the big picture and everything in it, including the needs of tomorrow’s generation. After this search, one can return home and, without fear, tell the truth of the journey.

If this doesn’t hit the target of justice I don’t know what does.

An eagle feather is not something you take or buy, but something gifted to you. Feathers are designed to build community, which is why elders say they have two sides and a spine. (John Woods / The Canadian Press files)
But this isn’t the only reason eagle feathers are important for justice.

“Eagle feathers are made up of thousands of tiny filaments,” Wabaseemoong Anishinaabe elder Jack Kakaway explains. “An eagle has to control them all, whether the wind is blowing or the air is still. Only that skill will keep the eagle aloft.”

Anyone who has touched a feather knows what Kakaway means. A feather is like a living being, thriving even after leaving an eagle. The oil in its spine keeps its filaments connected. When they are separated, all one has to do is gently stroke the middle spine and distribute the oils so the filaments reconnect.

When eagles experience this, such as when they get wet or in a fight, they will rub against a rock or another eagle, caring for itself. If an eagle shows enough patience and care for herself, she can fly again.

When people speak the truth, no matter how hard it is or how much it hurts, they also repair the filaments. They connect people, heal harms and create a positive path to the future.

Like the feather citizens can now hold in a Manitoba court room, people will now be able to bravely help us all come together, soar to the highest heights and see the big picture.

This is how, just maybe, migizi migwan will teach us all to fly.

Niigaan Sinclair is Anishinaabe and is a columnist at the Winnipeg Free Press.

 

Closing Protocol for Meetings

Closing Protocol for Meetings:

(Each sentence to be read by a different participant,
with the last sentence being read together by all six)

  1. Reconciliation must become a way of life.
  2. It will take many years to repair damaged trust and relationships in Aboriginal communities and between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal peoples.
  3. Reconciliation not only requires apologies, reparations, and relearning of Canada’s national history, and public commemorations, but also needs real social, political and economic change.
  4. Ongoing public education and dialogue are essential to reconciliation.
  5. Governments, churches, educational institutions, and Canadians from all walks of life are responsible for taking action on reconciliation in concrete ways, working collaboratively with Aboriginal peoples.
  6. (All six readers) Reconciliation begins with each and every one of us.”

(Honouring the Truth, Reconciling for the Future, Page 18)

 

General Procedures for Gatherings

GENERAL PROCEDURES FOR GATHERINGS

Each meeting would have the following format:

    1. Opening standard Protocol (by facilitator)
    2. Reading (or alternate presentation) by facilitator or by a designated but volunteer participant, determined by the facilitator (10-12 minutes).
    3. Sharing by everyone in the circle using a talking stick
    4. Closing  (Initiated by the facilitator, but each phrase read by 6 different participants, with the last sentence read by all six). We consider it important that gatherings conclude after 75 minutes with the sharing of the Closing protocol.  In that way, those who wish to leave can do so without feeling guilt or disrupting things. Some may wish to continue discussions if that is acceptable in the facility. But our commitment is for meetings of 75 minutes.
    5. Items needed for each meeting
      • Refreshments, possibly muffins and a drink
      • A talking stick
      • A copy of the Opening Protocol
      • A copy of the  Sacred Teachings of the Anishinaabe
      • 6 copies of the closing Protocol for each group
      • Materials for smudging (if desired) or appropriate invocation

 

A Survivor

“A Survivor is not just someone who “made it through” the schools, or “got by” or was “making do.”

A Survivor is a person who persevered against and overcame adversity. The word came to mean someone who emerged victorious, though not unscathed, whose head was “bloody but unbowed.” It referred to someone who had taken all that could be thrown at them and remained standing at the end. It came to mean someone who could legitimately say “I am still here!”

For that achievement, Survivors deserve our highest respect. But, for that achievement, we also owe them the debt of doing the right thing. Reconciliation is the – thing to do, coming out of this history.

In this volume, Survivors speak of their pain, loneliness, and suffering, and of their accomplishments. While this is a difficult story, it is also a story of courage and endurance. The first step in any process of national reconciliation requires us all to attend to these voices, have been silenced for far too long. We encourage all Canadians to do so.

The Survivors Speak, The Truth and Reconciliation Commission. Page XIII.

Closing Remarks for all Gatherings

CLOSING FOR ALL GATHERINGS

(Each sentence to be read by a different participant)

1. Reconciliation must become a way of life.

2. It will take many years to repair damaged trust and relationships in Aboriginal communities and between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal peoples.

3. Reconciliation not only requires apologies, reparations, and relearning of Canada’s national history, and public commemorations, but also needs real social, political and economic change.

4. Ongoing public education and dialogue are essential to reconciliation.

5. Governments, churches, educational institutions, and Canadians from all walks of life are responsible for taking action on reconciliation in concrete ways, working collaboratively with Aboriginal peoples.

6. Reconciliation begins with each and every one of us.”  – (Honouring the Truth, Reconciling for the Future, Page 18)

Advisory Committee

Circles for Reconciliation Advisory Committee

Ko’ona Cochrane,  Community Indigenous Facilitator

Raymond F. Currie, retired, University of Manitoba

Ashley Edson, MsW.

Michael Yellowwing Kannon, Website developer

Lisa Raven, Exec. Dir., Returning to Spirit

Clayton Sandy  Indigenous Facilitator   

Ruth Shead, Coordinator for Indigenous Achievement, U. of Manitoba

Maraleigh Short, Visions & Voices Coordinator

Vincent Solomon, Anglican Diocese of Rupert’s Land, Urban Indigenous Ministry Developer

Mary Warmbrod, Family Therapist

Guiding Principles

Guiding Principles

1. The Seven Sacred Teachings of the Anishinaabe

LOVE: it is important to care for one another

HONESTY: better to fail with honesty than succeed by fraud

RESPECT: give it, earn it, receive it

TRUTH: it is always easiest to speak the truth

HUMILITY: to be humble about your accomplishments is to be strong

COURAGE: let nothing stand in the way of doing the right thing

WISDOM: with hard work and dedication will come knowledge

2. Each group ideally will be composed of 8 to 10 persons, including at least three Indigenous persons.

talking stck
talking stick

3. With the help of a talking stick, each person in the circle group will be listened to in turn, treated with respect and valued for their insights.

4. We are proposing meeting times of one hour 15 minutes maximum, with each group meeting for ten weeks, thus requiring a serious commitment.

5. We will always endeavour to provide support for any participants experiencing trauma.

6. Because both personal and cultural differences play a role in the willingness and comfort level of people speaking in a group, respect, patience and courtesy are to be the hallmarks of the groups.

7. Participants will have to work hard to achieve equality of all participants as the structures of our society have not promoted that approach.

8. It is very important that we all recognize that the feelings of an individual are neither right nor wrong. They are real and need to be respected.

9. In accordance with the Truth and Reconciliation Commission Report, the four guiding principles for the new relationship are “mutual recognition, mutual respect, sharing, and mutual responsibility.” (Interim Report, page 23)

10. There is no cost in participation, only a common commitment to work toward achieving truth and reconciliation and equality of opportunity for Indigenous people of Canada.

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