Program Time: 96 minutes in two parts
This beatifully photographed, two part, ninety-six minute program explores the Spiritual beliefs and Ceremonial Practices of several Native American Nations. It also examines the urgent efforts to preserve their ancient cultures, language, dance, songs, religion and legends.
begins with an exploration of Native American concepts of God, Creation and Spirituality.
“I think God has many names. We might call him the Creator. We might call him God. We might call him Allah. He has many names, but there’s only one God.”
“Our God is a living God. He is the creator of everything. Even us. And we have to respect the sun, wind, rain, the fire, the water. We have to respect everything because it belongs to God.”
“…today, people are trying to define the concept of the Great Spirit, the concept of the Creator …in Navajo…We call that the inherent supernatural qualities. … there are spiritual entities in all four directions that’s how we try to maintain, our sane-ness and maintain a sense of harmony and balance.” Our concept of God is directly associated with the cycle of life. You know, with the four seasons… the four parts of the day… That’s what regulates our mind, our behavior; our attitude.”
…I am the eagle that flies.
The spiritual foundation of many tribes involves respect for Earth, Water, Air and Fire (or in some cases sunlight.) But there are numerous examples of specific differences: The special role of the saguaro cactus among the Tohono O’ohdam… The role of dreams and visions among the Cocopah… The relationship with the rocks and layers of The Grand Canyon among the Havasupai.
There is an identifiable contrast between Native American spirituality and traditional Christianity.
“there’s a bigger concern about
And yet, the most common thing is tribal-specific spirituality mixed with Christianity, as seen in the nature and trappings of the Catholic Mass at Santa Rosa village.
“And so there’s many people – just about everybody –
NATIVE AMERICAN CHURCH
The other significant phenomenon is the growth of the Native American Church (examined in detail in Part Two,) a significant element of the Pan-Indian movement – It is an inclusive religious entity that crosses traditional tribal and non-tribal theological lines; and emphasizes a strong social and emotional support system for those who participate.
THE TALKING CIRCLE
A personal support system is a critical element of the Pan-Indian movement, a valuable practice is called a Talking Circle.
has historically been a practice of many tribes, although it’s use has spread significantly during the past thirty or forty years with the pan-Indian movement. It is a purification ceremony As with many Native American activities, the sweat ceremony is divided into four parts; or has four rounds.
THE URBAN INDIAN: SOMETIMES A DILEMMA
“…And a lot of times, Native American Indian people move to the city because there are no jobs on the reservation. So they come and move to the city, they live here, they bring up their families. And at one time, they had the cultural teachings and they knew a lot about their tradition, as when they move into the city and they raise their kids in the city, their kids don’t get it.”
Such youngsters can have a difficult time with the dilemma of trying to be part of two worlds.
A YOUNG WOMAN REMEMBERS…
“I never knew my Indian language.. I never even knew half of the cousins that I met, or my uncles or my aunts. I didn’t know about any of the ceremonies or any of those things. …and moving back to the reservation – having to walk to school every day, having to live without electricity, having to haul water, having to, not having running water having to build fire, having to do my homework by kerosene lamp…”
The creation stories of many Native American tribes, as well as Judaism, Christianity and Islam – as written in the book of Genesis – tell of God forming man from the elements of earth, and breathing in to him, life. But, more so, in many native beliefs, breath is a medium for carrying prayer to the Creator; particularly breath given scent and visible form when mixed with smoke – often the smoke from tobacco. In other cases, smoke alone – not mixed with breath but made by ceremonially burning certain plants, plays a spiritual and protective role.
“And I always think that, you know, God has a line to his place and nobody ever sees that line but I realize that the key is that smoke because the smoke has no limitations – it can reach all the way into the heavens. “
MYTHOLOGY OF THE “GIFT” OF TOBACCO
“…they only had one leader at that time which did all the talking. And so the Coyote is always doing something. He was the supernatural – …the next time they met, he brought this tobacco… So when they start using this tobacco in this round house and they passed this tobacco, it gave the chance for every man who was present at that time to express themselves, to say something…”
‘JUNITKAJA’ (O’ohdam word)
“We call it JUNE IT KA JA. JUNE IT KA JA in our language means to smoke; to come together and smoke, and talk about the importance of things that were going on, give them personal expressions.”
PURE TRADITIONAL TOBACCO, NO ADDITIVES
“The old timers never had any problem with it because it was pure tobacco… Tobacco of the coyote… It had no other additives to it… And there was probably not as much addiction as there is now…”
SMOKE FROM OTHER THAN TOBACCO
The Navajos certainly use smoke. But according to Dr. Anthony Lee it is not from tobacco, but from various plants that grow naturally on their huge reservation. These sacred species are treated reverently.
DIFFERENT PLANT’S SMOKE FOR DIFFERENT AILMENTS
“…We go to geographic locations and we make offerings. And we tell the plant exactly why…. …….we’re taking the plant and in what way the plant is going to be used. And of course it’s for the purposes of healing; to heal a person.”
NORTH AMERICAN CHURCH MEETING (Peyote Sacrament)
When we asked if we could observe a meeting, we were told, “No, but you may fully participate in one.” To which we agreed. As with any church, a primary purpose of a gathering is prayer. It has its own liturgy of rituals, and last from dusk to beyond sunrise. In our case – in early summer – that totaled eleven-and-one-half hours. Participants sit on the ground, usually on pillows, around the parameter of a teepee. Men and women participate together – this in contrast to some Native American ceremonies which are separated by gender. Meetings usually involve members of multiple tribes, and often a sprinkling of non-Indians. There are protocols regarding how one enters and exits the teepee; and always facing the fire. Tobacco and corn husk paper is passed around; rolled, and smoked. Blessings are offered. Throughout the night individuals have the opportunity to offer songs, typically in their native language… and to speak to the gathering….
“The significance of peyote in the Native American church ceremony is that we become one with God. In other churches, you TALK to God. But with the peyote, it helps you, it enlightens you, it helps you to meditate. It helps you to focus on concerns which you may have… But symbolically it’s the same as sacramental wine or the host in other churches.”
HEALING / CURING
In the 1960s, Professor Donald Bahr began forty years of study of O’ohdam spirituality, including practices relating to certain sicknesses believed by O’ohdam people to be exclusive to them. In the process he developed a friendship with a Tohono O’ohdam Medicine Man named Juan Gregorio, who in his native language, explained on audio tape, the causes, diagnoses, and cures for what are called Staying Sicknesses. From these recorded conversations – included, in part, in this program – Bahr, Gregorio and others authored a book titled, Pima Shamanism and Staying Sickness.
“So… the person usually doesn’t know what it is that’s making him sick; what kind of dangerous object. For this he has to go to a Medicine Man ….who may be able to find out in a hurry; sort of like a quick check up event that’s called Kulanmada. Or it may take all night in a big long ceremony which is called Duajida. During the ceremony the Medicine Man sings, and studies things…. After the Medicine Man finds out what’s the matter, then the sick person has to find someone who knows how to do a cure; a singing cure, and also a blowing cure for that kind of dangerous object. It’s not the same person as the Medicine Man. And it’s done at a separate occasion. This, too, could take all night; although sometimes it just takes, ah, a few hours for a cure, which is called in O’ohdam Wusota – which means, the blowing The blowing is sometimes done just with the breath alone. And sometimes it’s breath accompanied by tobacco smoke. But it seems like it’s the breath, and not the smoke that really makes the difference. Although it’s understood that what smoke does is add visibility, and also a scent to the breath …. so that a person’s breath can be detected farther away that if it were just breath without any smoke mixed into it. And the idea is that wherever the smoke is, so is the breath there, too…. And for these people breath is really the same as soul.”
SMOKING COMMERCIAL TOBACCO
“Smoking for Native Americans is especially dangerous because of the fact that we have so much sugar diabetes and when we are diabetic, our body is having a hard time maintaining its balance anyway. So when we put the chemicals that are in cigarette smoke into our bodies, we’re harming that natural health that we already have that is trying to counteract the effect of diabetes, and so that adds to our problems if we smoke. “
“There’s a lot of things that we use here from the earth and from the trees that help us in our healing that was given to us by our Jiosh, what we call him today, and of course Elder Brother before he left said, I will give you these things. I will give you these things and I will leave them with you. If you don’t take care of them and you don’t use them, then I will take it back.”
Some tribal songs are strictly social…some tell stories of history and mythologies… Others are sacred, and might only be sung during certain seasons of the year, or at certain times of day. Many old tribal songs have been lost altogether. In other cases the song itself may be known and sung, but the exact meaning or significance is lost.
As with song, Some tribal dance are strictly social… some tell stories of history and mythologies… Others are sacred. Many tribes dance in this program. At Supai Village, a dance group called The Guardians, performed the Ram Dance for our cameras.
Through the ages, Native American tribes developed and participated in their own sports and games. These activities often included elements to build and test strength and endurance, particularly in young people.
All American Indian tribes have their own legends handed down through the years. We are told several, including those of the Blue Heron… the Owl…and the Guardian Rocks.
The cultural asset most at risk, and the focus of perhaps the greatest effort, is language! Historically, the number of Native American tribes was in the range of five hundred, speaking as many separate languages or dialects. Today, that number is greatly reduced. We see Apache Elder/educator Edgar Perry teaching the Apache language to kindergarten children. Among the Havasupai at the bottom of the Grand Canyon, their native language is well known.
“Well, almost all the tribes are losing their language. This is the ONLY tribe that is still – at least 90% of the people are completely bilingual, including the children, which is really rare in this day and age.”
The Road to Nazlini