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One Native’s Explanation of a Higher Power
~ Chase Voirin
People are often completely clueless on what Native American
spirituality entails, as well as what it means to those who believe
in it and its message. A major reason this is probably the case is
because most people are not acquainted with a Native American
person in their life, or furthermore, are not acquainted with a
Native person who is knowledgeable about his or her tribe’s spirituality.
This is probably made more confusing by the fact each tribe has a very different view regarding spirituality as well as with their origin stories. The best way I can describe it, as a Native who is moderately knowledgeable about his tribe’s cultural and spiritual identity, is that there is a strong tie to live in harmony/balance with the natural world. I would argue that the majority of spiritual belief systems around the globe have that same concept as a central theme, but have been altered and interpreted differently over time as humans have become less directly connected to and educated of natural ecosystems. And I believe this is where Indigenous peoples, including Native Americans, have held onto to that connection longer than the rest of the populace. Keep in mind, I am one Native with a personal opinion on the matter, and admittedly have limited knowledge regarding other spiritual belief systems, but the longer I live the more I truly believe this. This proof is manifested in the words used in Native American songs and descriptions of origin stories where natural landscapes, animals, plants, and celestial bodies abound. It’s represented in the apparel and regalia used in Native dances and ceremonies where different parts of several different species of wildlife can be seen on one dancer, as well as the plants and fiber that are adorned as well. I’m not claiming that Native spirituality is the only belief system that has nature and landscapes represented in its structure. But there is a reason why people cling to the stereotype of “animal spirits” and clans upon first thought of Native American spirituality. And in all seriousness, if one were to investigate any given tribe’s culture, they will often find a network of clans many of which are associated with animal species. Of course there is more to each clan, society, or group’s responsibility within a tribe’s spiritual and cultural identity, but the evidence of association to natural ecosystems is still very present.
There are strong connections between tribes and the ecosystems that comprise their ancestral lands. Not only are certain landscape features like forests and rivers commonplace in tribal origin stories, but also the specific species of plants and animals that inhabit those ecosystems. For example, for tribes in the Pacific Northwest where fishing was, and still is in some cases, a major part of their subsistence practices, they’ve integrated those fish species into their spiritual practices. This is also evident to buffalo within the cultures of the plains tribes, traditional species of corn to the Hopi, Saguaro cactus fruit to the Tohono O’odham of the Saguaro deserts, and so on and so on. Indeed, as a young Navajo teen going through my puberty ceremony, it was explained to me that a specific upcoming song, within the various songs of that particular evening, was one of the most powerful in the medicine person’s arsenal, and it was sung with a different level of strength and volume. That song was labeled as the Bear Prayer. This makes sense considering the bear was, and still is, one of the most independent and powerful species in the Southwest.
There is a soothing feeling when thinking about the practicality of it all, and how it makes sense, at least to me. Arguably the most popular and dominant spiritual belief systems are those that are written. And people constantly find out how those systems and lessons apply to their current daily lives. However, other than through some dedicated scholars and anthropologists, Native Americans have no written form of spirituality or belief system. One could argue that since Native belief systems are not written, they allow for a constant evolution within human society. For those that may wonder about Native spirituality, I offer some practical questions. What is more tangible than giving thanks to the vegetation and animals you ingest, to the elements that deliver energy to keep this world, and us as people, functioning? When one kneels down to pray what is it that their knees are placed on? Soil/earth. What is that they breath into their lungs? Air. What is it that allows them to see and provides energy for all as they look up into the sky? The sun. I think the main argument between different belief systems, other than who thinks what prominent figures were more important than others, lies within the combination or separation of Creator and creation. And based on my observations, however limited they may be, there is no separation between the two within Native spirituality. Which therefore makes us as humans just as connected to and a part of those natural processes as any other biotic and abiotic thing out there, which I think becomes forgotten from time to time. Perhaps in giving thanks and in finding this humility, we can continue to appreciate and move forward and grow as people. This is the way I see it as an adult Native American person. But then again…this is one person’s opinion. Typ
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