Chapter 2 Indigenous Sacred Ways

"Everything is alive"


- Indigenous people are those people that are the descendants of lands now controlled by political systems in which they have little influence.

- 4% of the world's pop.

- Despite colonization, conversion pressures, mechanization and destruction of natural env. Many indigenous people endure.

Barriers to Understanding (38-41)

-Despite repression, many indigenous sacred ways endured, often in secret.


Buryats in Russia


In many areas, sacred traditions were blended with colonists & missionaries.

-Non-natives have often had difficult understanding traditional ways. Error often due to religious bias, scientific approach, indigenous resistance.

-Indigenous spirituality is a lifeway, to all of life. Not separate i.e., Sunday school or church. It is experienced- therefore few scriptures. This has kept indig sacred ways flexible.

Oral Narratives

-Problem of the modern world

Some native groups believe that the reality of modern society necessitates change.

Opening Understanding

  1. Traditional Elders are more concerned with environmental degradation, speaking out.
  2. Outside faiths are beginning to see the value of traditional indigenous ways.
  3. Many people cynical of modern env exploitation are embracing indigenous practices.


Trivial and surface understanding: It is difficult for many to truly see the deep subtleties and wisdom of the life-long process.

"Native American religion is like fire…on the surface they appear very simple…They can really cause nervous breakdowns in someone who is not properly prepared".

Cultural Diversity (42-43)

Important to recognize diversity of Indigenous traditions.





Cosmogony- a model of the universe and a persons purpose within it, and a knowledge of one's bioregion.

The Circle of right relationships

The circle is often used as a symbol because many indig peoples believe that everything in the universe is interrelated. (No beginning, No end)

-Life revolves around generational cycles: birth, youthm maturity, physical death, seasons, etc…

-to maintain circles you must develop right relationships with everything: spirits, people, creatures and the power within.

Relationships with Spirit

Many indig traditions worship a Supreme Being or Creator.

-some traditions believe that the Creator is "All Powerful", yet too distant from humans to be accessible for help or worship.

-the more immediate are the unseen powers: nature powers, animal spirit helpers, ancestors.

-the ancestors can be very important as many traditions believe that a person is a composition of many souls. Many trad Africans continue to communicate with the "living dead", or recently deceased.

-teachings about the spirits help people understand how to live in society. (Often people best able to call on spirits are medicine men and women that dedicate their lives to this service.

Kinship with all Creation

-everything is seen as connected, everything is like a family. Ex., Earth as Mother. The land where you live is the Mother's body and must be respected.

-In contrast to industrial world's exploitation of world, native peoples consider themselves the caretakers of the earth. Many native peoples see "Everything as Alive": from rocks to water, to mountains, etc…and all things rely on each other.

-respect is due to all creatures

Relationships with Power

-does modern life drain our relationship with earth and the power of nature? Do we lose the ability to contemplate in our fast paced world?

-Think about modern society (the purchase or expropriation of native sacred land), this often causes problems in native society. Anger for loss of land, yet some weigh against need for money (can lead to conflict).

-women's reproductive power gives them a stronger natural power in some cultures.

-the end goal is not to obtain power, but to try to understand how to live within the world.

Spiritual Specialists (51-58)

-although people can interact with the unseen, and the natural world- thought to be best left to specially trained.

Various scared roles

-because of the oral tradition- people must preserve and tell the stories of the past.

-some traditions have secret societies.

-some have male and female secret societies (little is known about many of these societies today)


-offer themselves as an intermediary between the physical and non-physical world. Can be the "healers".

-training is rigorous, they must experience life and death, understand the spirits, enter alternate realities.

Contemporary Rituals (58-63)

Indigenous ways are community-centred. Honour the scared and the bonds between one another and all creation.

-some rituals take place during rights of passage.

Contemporary Issues (63-67)

Many traditional spiritual wisdom has been largely obliterated, slogan "Kill the Indian and save the man".

-Many traditions have been merged with the world religions (Buddhism, Christianity, etc…)

-Environmental issues are important as are land-use and appropriation.


See Resources by Religion for more information about Indigenous Sacred Ways.