The people of North America have a long heritage of relationships with the natural world and the universe. As observed by Deloria, the Native Americans have a culture of viewing events in their totality, as opposed to isolation, which is a concept of Western European school of thought. Native spiritual life identifies that there is a relationship, and interconnection between the various forms of living things in the natural world (Gleason 23). There is no distinction made between the spiritual and the secular aspects of life since they are viewed as a holistic totality. Consequently, Western Europeans and other schools of thought because of the difference in perceptions have misunderstood many aspects of Native American culture. One such tradition is the belief in the First Nation and Sundance ceremony, which has been a part of Native American culture for long and represents some of the core beliefs of the First Nation.
Before contact with Western Europeans, there was a comprehensive understanding, a refined, intelligible knowledge of indigenous cultures. The knowledge included creation and cosmology related myths that were conveyed accurately from generation to generation in oral tradition. The myths were explanatory and delved into the origin of the indigenous people and their connection to the broader aspects of the natural world (Gleason 43). The oral traditions in the form of narratives, songs, and poems described the world as it was. The creative abilities of the storytellers were also sharpened and used; tales had characters designed to create amusement using the adventures they had and the pranks they played. For instance, Culture Hero, ravens narratives made use of the people of the Northwests closeness to this bird to develop a character that was sociable, loved fun and was clever (Lyon 56).
Some Natives prayed to the all-powerful, all knowing creator. The Creator was also known as a Master Spirit. The entity was however a cultural aspect that was approved by the Europeans after their initial contact and introduction of Christianity. The Europeans accepted the idea of a supreme male being responsible for nature and existence as a whole. On the other hand, many tribes did not conform to the gender entity in their beliefs. Consequently, the Creator is majorly not considered as male or female but rather as a Great Mystery or Great Spirit. Some tribal communities also held the belief in a host of lesser supernatural entities whom they considered to be venerated. They included evil witches and sorcerers who were responsible for disasters, suffering, and death that took place in the world. For instance, the Tsimshian had healers whom they attributed to cause physical, emotional, spiritual, and mental damage or to reverse it. However, generally, the cultures of most First Nations are built upon knowledge of the doctrine of animism (Lyon 56). Animism suggests that all living creatures have a spirit; moreover, it includes some inanimate objects too. To the Cree, it is known as manitowak, to the Tsimshian, it is known as halaayt. Generally, they suppose that all aspects of nature possess souls despite their physical manifestation (Gleason 42).
The individuals in many tribes were firmly in the belief that the human soul is immortal and the afterlife exists. Similarly, many other cultures too sought to obtain the help of supernatural phenomenon in controlling their natural and social environment. All tribes had their unique set of rituals and customs devoted to the celebration of this knowledge. Powerful spiritual entities were appeased by prayers or sacrificing valuable items to them by individuals looking for good favor (Lyon 56). Whole communities looked for divine favor to guarantee a good harvest, a profitable hunting expedition, or victory in war. Spirit Doctors were summoned due to their ability to connect to the supernatural through visions. The Spirit Doctors performed special ceremonies, rituals, songs, and dances.
The term shaman as used in modern day traces its origins from those living in Central Asia. The indigenous Americans have no translation for it since they primarily used the term Spirit Doctor. However, both refer to the same idea of a person with supernatural links. North Americas indigenous population traces its origins back to Turtle Island and consequently more often than not, the phrase "Spirit Doctor" is employed (Kuiper 31).
Most tribes have unique perspectives of the world and its niche in the wider universe. One theme envisioned the universe as a multi-layered field. The earth made up the middle segment. The lower world was positioned under the earth and the world of the ancestors was above the earth. Tribes like the Haudenosaunne were of the opinion that these worlds were not independent but were linked by a World Tree (Tree of Peace), whose roots were anchored in the underground. Its trunk penetrated through the natural world on its way up to the sky and consequently, the tree connected or tie up the worlds together in a bond that could not be broken. Tribes such as the Hopi believed in the existence of a Spider Woman who connected the worlds using a special web she wove (Kuiper 32).
The Sundance is the principal tribal ceremony y of the Great Plains Indians. However, many other tribes practice it too as a means of prayer for life, giving thanks to the Supreme Being and an appeal for world renewal. When focused to an individual level, some participate in prayer for a friend, relative, or companion for them to have a special place in the universe (Gleason 19. On a community scale, the Sundance is used to serve the earth and the tribes on it (Lyon 49). The belief of indigenous people is that in order for the earth to maintain its ability to regenerate, the earth must stay in touch with its creative element. The earth can stay in touch with its creative elements through activities such as the Sundance which has to be performed every year.
In the earlier part of the nineteenth century, the Sundance was made illegal partly due to the self-inflicted harm some tribes brought on themselves by way of celebration (Owen 9). Some tribes had self-torture as part of the ceremony and the settlers found it too grisly. In addition, it was an attempt on the part of the settlers to westernize Indians by preventing them from taking part in their ceremonies or conversing in their language. However, at times, the dance was performed when agents of the state at the reservation chose to ignore the proceedings. By law, younger generations were not taught the sun dance and other sacred rituals (Owen 10). Consequently, a rich field of culture and heritage was undergoing extinction.
In the 1930s, the Sundance was revived and began to be practiced again. It is said that the revival was based on an incident that occurred to a man named John Trujillo (Kuiper 14). Trujillo was taking a walk in the mountains when on a vision quest. He was struck by lightning and the Spirit of the mountain revealed itself to him. The Spirit of the mountain gave Trujillo detailed instructions related to the various healing ceremonies and medicines. Three days after the incident, Trujillo was amazed to find he was walking through a rock. He saw himself lying on the floor of a cave. He laid down into his body and woke up to discover he had been walking around in his spirit. It was as if he left his physical body and wandered around in his spiritual form. Trujillo was instructed explicitly for a year. He was instructed to pray, take part in vision quests and to refrain from using his medicinal power. Later, Trujillo had the ability to summon the Spirits of the medicine fathers to come to the assistance of a person who needed help. Trujillo was the initiator of several miraculous healings. The first of his miraculous healings was dramatic and involved a man shot twice above the heart (Kuiper 14). Medical technology and skill at the time inhibited the doctors from being able to carry out the delicate surgical procedure that was required. However, Trujillo prayed for the man and sprinkled lightning root (a sacred powder) on the wound. The next day, it was discovered the bullets had worked their way out of the man and were lying beneath him. The patient experienced full recovery and was alive for many more years in good health. The herbs are acknowledged to have played a part, but Trujillo attributes the healing to the Spirits who acted in response to his prayers.
Trujillo rose to prominence in his tribe following this incident and was requested to bring back the tradition of the Sundance festival on the Shoshoni reservation. Following the revival at the Shoshoni reservation, Trujillo was invited to the Crow reservation in 1941 where he was requested to teach the Sundance (Kuiper 14). The Sundance had been eroded out of the Indian culture at the Crow reservation due to succeeding regulatory policies of the United States government on Indian culture. However, the ceremony version taught at the Crows reservation differed from the original version and was consequently called the Crow Shoshoni sun dance (Hightower-Langston 88).
The tribes were educated on the various elements that made up the sun dance. There were monthly prayers, the ritual of the sacred pipe, a purification ceremony, a monthly prayer rite, and an annual ritual. The role of the sun dance chief is to offer prayers from the sacred pipe to the four directions and also to the earth and the sky every day. The purification ritual is undergone before the final Sundance and after it (Kuiper 14). Each month, Sundance prayer ceremonies occur twelve times annually. The prayers usually take place when the full moon appears. In tis ritual, two bundles containing medicine are opened and the ritual objects procured and laid on elks skin in the middle of the floor. Then, heated coals are taken into the lodge and incense is then positioned below the fire. In addition, special songs are sung to aid in ferrying the prayers from the smoke to a more peaceful realm.
In finalizing the ceremony, the members of the audience would present themselves for healing. Instruments from animals, for instance, eagle feathers and otter skins are employed in the ritual. Historians account that Yellow Tail, a great spiritual leader used the hollowed out horn of a spiked horn elk to heal his followers. Blowing the horn on a patients back resulted in a sharp shrill sound that procured many cures and protection from danger. For instance, it is stated that a prominent American Indian was shot at close range by the Viet Cong while on a mission to Vietnam during the war (Lyon 22). The bullet is said to have torn through his clothing, but caused no harm because it did not penetrate him.
In the healings, the medicine man implores the spirit guides over the patient while touching the patient with their animal instrument. The evil spirits are absorbed by the prop and then released into the wind (Hightower-Langston 71). This is a symbol in the belief in the supernatural. The actions affirm belief in the existence of deities more powerful than humans and who exist in a realm beyond the human scope. At times, patients are given herbs to do away with basic symptoms. This presentation of herbs is basic traditional medicinal science at work. However, the belief is that the ultimate cure is attained through prayer. The medicine man implores the spiritual forces to travel into the human realm and assist the patient by alleviating their suffering (Man 11).
Moreover, each summer, there is a three to four day sun dance that takes place besides the twelve monthly ceremonies. The dance customarily takes place in July. A lot of preparation is put into his dance since it is a major event (Man 11). A lodge is built from an enormous cottonwood tree, which has a fo...
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