North American Aboriginals

North American
Aboriginal Spirituality
Aboriginal Peoples
• “Aboriginal peoples” is a broad term referring to people who are First
Nations, Metis, and Inuit.
• According to Statistics Canada (2006 Census) more than 1 million people in
Canada are Aboriginal – which might seem like a small proportion of
Canada’s total 31.6 million but the growth rate within Aboriginal
communities is what is interesting. Between 1996 and 2006 the Aboriginal
community across Canada experiences a growth rate of 45%; as compared
to the 8% growth rate for non-Aboriginals.
• Of the Aboriginal population in Canada, most Aboriginal people (8 out of
10) live in Ontario and the Western provinces (MN, SK, AB, BC). Though
they are less likely to live in urban centres.
Aboriginal Peoples
• Many Aboriginal peoples identify themselves with a term that means “the people”
in their language. For example, “Inuit” means “the people” in Inuktitut, the Inuit
language. Similarly, “Anishinabe” means “the people” or “good people”.
• Until the 20th Century Aboriginal cultures have been oral ones. Traditionally,
Aboriginal peoples have relied on memory and memory keeps – people who have
received the sacred teachings from the elders and other spiritual leaders.
• Elders: Aboriginal men or women who are recognized, respected, and consulted
for their wisdom, experience, knowledge, background, and insight; an elder is not
necessarily one of the oldest people in the community.
Colonialism in North America
• Aboriginal peoples have a long tradition of seasonal food growing
and gathering, hunting, fishing, and spiritual and cultural activities.
Their oral traditions reflect the knowledge and wisdom of
• Europeans came to North America as explorers, traders,
colonizers, settlers, and missionaries. Over time, the contact
between Europeans and Aboriginal peoples had a range of impacts.
In some cases, for example, Aboriginal peoples helped early
Europeans by teaching them survival skills.
Colonialism in North America
• Many Europeans considered their own ways
“civilized” but Aboriginal ways “uncivilized”. They
believed that Aboriginal peoples should give up their
own traditions.
• As early as 1701, treaties were signed to define
promises, obligations, and benefits. They covered
land, hunting and fishing rights, and other issues
concerning Aboriginal peoples and Europeans.
Colonialism in Canada
• Reserves were created, which set aside parcels of
land for specific First Nations peoples use.
• The Gradual Civilization Act (1857) was passed to
assimilate Aboriginal peoples into European culture.
• Assimilate: Absorb one group into the culture of
Canada’s Reserves:
Colonialism in Canada
• The Indian Act (1876) set out the federal government’s
responsibility for education of Status Indian children aged 6 to
18. It allowed for the setting up of residential schools run by
Anglican, United, Presbyterian and Catholic churches.
Colonialism in Canada
• Starting in 1885, one West Coast
Aboriginal ceremony – the potlatch –
was banned. In 1895, Aboriginal
ceremonies, dances and festivals were
banned. The banned ceremonies where
often conducted in private. The ban
was officially lifted in 1951.
• In 1982, the Canadian Charter of
Rights and Freedoms guaranteed the
rights of Aboriginal peoples and had a
powerful and positive effect of legal
issues relating to Aboriginal peoples.
Statement of Reconciliation
• After the Canadian public became aware of
the abuses (cultural, physical, emotional and
sexual) that had occurred at residential
schools, the schools were eventually closed.
Both the federal governments and the
churches apologized to Aboriginal peoples.
• Video:
Statement of Reconciliation
In 1998, the Canadian government
acknowledged its role in the cultural and
spiritual impact on Aboriginal cultures. It issued
the “Statement of Reconciliation”, in which it
formally expressed profound regret for past
• It also included an action plan to help with
healing for residential school students, to
improve health conditions among the Aboriginal
population and to speed up land claims.
• The creation of the territory of Nunavut in
1999 was the largest land claim settlement in
Canada’s history.
National Aboriginal Day
• In 1996, Canada declared June
21st to be National Aboriginal
Day. Each year, Aboriginal
people celebrate their past and
future together.
• National Aboriginal Day:
Worldview & Religion
• The Aboriginal worldview sees the sacred in all creation – in
every aspect of humans and the environment. All life is seen as
• In the Aboriginal belief of animism, Aboriginal people believe that
power comes from a common origin and that energy inhabits all
The Siouan people of the plans call it Wakan.
Wakan Tanka is the Great Spirit.
The Iroquois call it Orenda – a wandering
The Algonian-speaking people call it Mantiou
or “the
Great Spirit”
• Some things have a greater quantity of this spirit or energy, while
other things have less of it. A certain tree, a certain mountain, a
certain animal may have more power than others. Learning the
power of each thing is central to Aboriginal life.
Aboriginal Beliefs: Northern Lights
• A common Aboriginal belief for the Northern Lights
is that the dancing waves of colour are powerful
guardian spirits; the spirits of ancestors dance across
the northern sky, weaving their way through the
black of night, moving in harmony with the eternal
rhythms of Father Sky and Mother Earth.
The Role of the Shaman
• Aboriginal people pass on to each other their
knowledge of the spirit powers through teachings –
mainly oral teachings.
• In addition, they perform a number of rituals that
keep the world in balance. Certain men and women
possess a greater quantity of power than others.
They are more able to deal with these powers than
other people in the community.
• Such a person is known as a shaman, or in some
areas, a medicine person.
• Shaman: An Aboriginal spiritual leader
The Role of the Shaman
• Traditionally, the shaman uses these
powers for the benefit of the community:
helping hunters find their prey, making it
rain for farmers, making love charms, but
especially healing the sick.
• The shaman functions as a physical and
spiritual healer and performs ceremonies
for healing, and the spiritual needs of the
people, using special knowledge of
appropriate medicines and herbs.
• The shaman also remembers and tells the
spiritual teachings of the community – for
example, by telling in a chant how Earth
was created.
Symbolism of The Circle
• The circle is sacred!
• Time is considered to be circular – divided
into four seasons.
• The planets rotate around the sun in a
circular motion.
• Meeting often involve forming a circle.
• Traditional Aboriginal shelters are circular
(igloos, teepees, and wigwams)
• Dancing intended for the renewal of all
creation is done in a circle.
• The sacred pipe is passed from one to the
next in a circular motion.
Music & Ritual
• Drums are sacred objects of different sizes, types and
purposes, and are used in ceremonies. They represent the
heartbeat of the nation and of Mother Earth, the pulse of the
universe. The heart and the drum chare the same purpose
and responsibility: providing life through its beat.
• The powwow is a dance of renewal for the restoration of
right relationships and the healing of all of creation. It is a
community celebration, a time to get together to sing and
dance, and to celebrate one’s identity, heritage, and language.
The Eagle Feather
• A symbol of strength, the eagle
feather gives the holder the power
to represent others. It is often
presented as a gift of recognition
to someone who defends or
negotiated on behalf of Aboriginal
• When the eagle flies overhead, it
means that Mother Earth will
Making Connections
• The Seven Grandfather Teachings were the teachings given to the
Anishinabee people early in their history. The first elder was given gifts
of knowledge by the seven grandfathers to help the people live a good
life and respect the Creator, Earth and each other.
• Wisdom is to cherish knowledge.
• Love is to know peace.
• Respect is to honour all of the Creation.
• Bravery is to face the foe with integrity.
• Honest is to be sincere when facing a situation.
• Humility is to know oneself as a sacred part of the Creation.
• Truth is to know all of these things and live them.
• Compare each of these with the Beatitudes of Jesus (Matthew).
• Quinlan, Don et al. 2001. Exploring World Religions: The Canadian
Perspective. Don Mills, ON: Oxford University Press.
• Van den Hengel, Dr. J. et al. 2011. World Religions: A Canadian Catholic
Perspective. Toronto, ON: Nelson Education.

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