Evolutionary Native American SpiritualityEdit
Before practicing a spirituality informed by Native American Spiritualities, an understanding of the history of the conquest of the Americas, the recent controversy over Native American Spiritualities, and the formation of religions is needed. These are introduced below:
The Conquest of the AmericasEdit
There were many very different tribes in the Americas in 1490 CE, many of which had different religions (so there isn’t one Native American Spirituality, but many). In addition to this, the conquest of the Americas, by Europeans was brutal, tragic, and often heinous. These links are only a starting point. It’s also useful to remember that the biggest killer of Indians was European diseases – which killed roughly between 30 and 90 million people. Though the conquest was often accomplished by Europeans allying with Native tribes against other Native tribes, Native American allies and enemies suffered similarly after the conquest. The cultural wounds of the conquest are still fresh, and will be for a long time.
Controversy over Modern Practice of Native American SpiritualityEdit
For the past several decades, but especially since 1990, controversy has arisen as various forms of the Native American Spiritualities have become more popular outside of reservations. As with any religion, as soon as Native American Spiritual elements became widely respected and honored, they attract profit-seeking opportunists, who also exist in Christianity, Islam, Hinduism, and many other religions. Justifiably, this opportunism has been objected to, and some Native Americans have extended this to condemn the practice of any Native American Spirituality by non-Indians. Other Native Americans openly encourage non-Indians to practice Native American Spiritualities as a way to heal our relationship with Mother Earth and with each other.
They recognize that the world needs an Earth affirming spirituality like Native American Spirituality – perhaps more than any other time in history. Native American Spirituality affirms our dependence on the web of life, honors mother Earth, honors women, and explicitly demands that we remember future generations in every decision we make. These hopes are in stark contrast to those religions that can be destructive and divisive in today’s world. As people of all races continue to mix, those of us with Native American Ancestry become more the norm than the minority. My Anishinabe Ancestors saw their spirituality as a way to benefit future generations (and the whole Earth), and so it is my duty as a father to help bring this life-giving spirituality to our future generations. Indeed, I can see no moral justification for burying this spiritual food which our children starve for. In fact, restricting the practice of Native American Spirituality only to those with 100% Native American Ancestry, and to a few locations with only locked-in practices is the surest way to destroy it. Neither my half blooded descendants nor my pureblooded Native American Ancestors would want that.
Like the modern, often non-pureblooded practice of Native American Spirituality, religious syncretism (the combining of elements from more than one spiritual path) has been subject to similar controversy. Syncretism is present in the beginnings of most (if not all) religions, and is nearly always present at all times. Syncretism is more open among moderates of any religion, and is often denied by fundamentalists of any faith. Examples are as numerous as religions themselves, and include the Sikh religion (Muslim + Hindu), Candomble (African + Christian) and most other religions. Syncretism is especially common when two cultures meet, such as when Celtic deities & Holidays were incorporated into Catholicism as Saints & feastdays during the middle ages in Ireland (giving us Halloween and Groundhog’s day), along with many other examples.
In the same way, modern practice of Native American Spirituality cannot avoid being syncretic, for the simple reason that some details of the ceremonies have been lost in the conquest and because any living religion will adapt and grow with time, or become stagnant and die. By far, the most common syncretic practice of Native American Spirituality, outweighing all others put together, is combining Native American with Christian practices and beliefs – as can be seen with a simple websearch or a drive near a reservation. If anyone, Native or not, is going to condemn the combining of Native American Spirituality with other religious paths, that must be their first target or their hypocrisy will be obvious.
Evolutionary Native American SpiritualityEdit
As with so much else in life, respect is needed here in the practice of Native American Spirituality - indeed any spirituality. We must balance our eagerness to practice Native American Spiritualities with the need to understand and carefully honor any practice or spirituality we are drawn to. Both sides of the controversy have correct points, and both sides can go too far. We must all reject exorbitant costs peddled by charlatans out for monetary gain, while remembering that at least some money must come from somewhere to support any religion or pay the maker of a craft. We must all be certain that we have done our homework about any practice, and that we have made a serious commitment before practicing any sacred rite from any religion.
Please keep all that in mind while incorporating the findings of modern science into your Native American Spirituality. For me, I’ve found that modern science, evolution, and our understanding of our place in the solar system and the galaxy complements and enhances my spirituality. Knowing that by marking the Solstices, Equinoxes, and similar Earth-centered sacred times and sacred places I’m connecting to our Earth as my ancestors have done form thousands of years makes my ceremonies all the more moving. My own Stone Circle/Medicine Wheel is a place of peace, power, and purpose, and visits to sacred sites (especially those related to Native Americans) are a meaningful part of a modern Native American Spirituality (also check [www.sacredsites.com here]). My Anishinabe ancestors used the best understanding of the real world that was available to them to craft their spiritualities and teach their children. They would expect me (and all of us) to do nothing less.
May you walk in beauty-
Jon Cleland Host