First Nations and Intuit people around the world take pride in offering gratitude for the spiritual and physical world. They do so usually by performing various ceremonies that they believe keeps balance and harmony between Earth and humanity.
A ceremony is defined as a simple or more elaborate formal activity that observes or celebrates something of value. For First Nations people, ceremonies typically are performed to offer gratitude for those in their community and the roles each person plays.
Most cultures have some sort of spiritual practice that they hold sacred. For First Nations people, ceremonies and ceremonial gatherings continue to be their primary way of practising spirituality and community.
First Nations communities haven’t always passed down history in the form of books. Many times, they relied on oral tradition, with one generation teaching the next through stories and art. During the ceremony, First Nation elders spend time teaching the sacred truths that have been passed down from generation to generation over the years. These truths offer their community revelation, wisdom, and hope.
Gift-giving is also widely recognized among First Nations people, as they firmly believe in sharing generously with the community.
For example, if someone has a surplus of the crop, they may gift it to the community. Others will offer their greatest gifts, as they understand the concept of reciprocity. Those that are the most generous are thought to receive abundant grace and favour from Creator.
The First Nations community believes that their greatest teachers are animals and nature. Whereas other communities may first head to the clinic for healing things like illness, past trauma, substance use, etc., many among indigenous cultures will look toward nature or the community Shaman for healing.
Shamans, who are said to have an exceptional ability to navigate the spiritual world, regularly practice ceremonies that help people heal on all levels. Shamans typically devote their lives to serving the community in this high spiritual position. Through direct spiritual revelation with the Creator and the energies of the world, they help their patients overcome and heal various ailments in the mind, body, and spiritual realm.
For example, one may go to the Shaman experiencing addiction to alcohol or an addictive drug. The Shaman will treat the addiction by going into a spiritual trance, tracking where the “print” or root of the problem began. It could have been experiencing trauma as a child where the person picked up limiting beliefs about “self”. It could have been a generational curse, dysfunctional attachment to the primary caregiver, and so on.
The Shaman will perform various ceremonial techniques to address the substance use problem at the very root where it may have begun. They will continue to offer support and prayers as they feel led. Of course, the Shaman will also refer the person to a physician if they believe they need immediate medical attention.
The following are several ceremonies that the First Nation People engage in regularly:
In the Pacific Northwest Coast of Canada, First Nations people hold Potlatch, a sacred social ceremony that used to be outlawed back in the 1880s. Today, the ceremony is no longer outlawed and is held regularly to help solidify and deepen community among First Nations people.
It is a ceremony that they may also use to mark a historic event or honour someone in the community. The ceremony is a time of great feasting and celebrating and may last a couple of days. Participants wear full regalia with incredible masks.
Smudging is a First Nation traditional ceremony where they burn sacred herbs or medicines gathered from the earth. They believe that the smoke that arises is holy, and can purify and cleanse the mind, spirit, and body. Common herbs burned are cedar, sage, tobacco, and sweetgrass.
The sacred herbs are used for individual and group gatherings to cleanse and bring about blessings and spiritual protection. The person who is smudging may go around to each person and wave the smoke around them, from head to toe, both believing that all negative energy is being cleared away. They also use the smudging ceremony to cleanse buildings and land from any negative energy.
Essentially, the smudging process involves the four elements of life: Earth, air, fire, and water.
First Nation and indigenous people around the world often perform a sweat lodge, which is a ceremony that they believe purifies them, gives them clarity, and provides a sacred space to offer prayers.
A sweat lodge is a small, dome-shaped structure that can be built within a day. In the centre of the lodge, a fire pit is dug, where hot rocks will be placed during the ceremony. Many who participate in lodges think of this ceremony as a churchgoer thinks about going to church. It’s a place where they can seek refuge, revelation, clarity, and offer prayers.
Typically, one person leads the lodge, opening in prayer. One person tends to a fire outside of the lodge and is responsible for bringing in hot rocks throughout the ceremony to heat up the lodge. The leader of the ceremony prays for the participants and also keeps an eye on them. If they need assistance, the leader will give it. They are free to enter and exit the lodge as they feel necessary.
National Indigenous History Month is held every June since 2009, recognizing the Indigenous history and development of First Nation, Métis, and Inuit cultures across Canada. It also gives the opportunity to recognize the courage and strength of current communities. To learn more,