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Sweat Lodge Ceremony
The sweat lodge ceremony is one of the most common ceremonies practiced by our people. They are purification and healing ceremonies, and can be held for different reasons. They are led by people with specialized traditional knowledge of the ceremony, and usually involve a day-long process of building, preparing, and participating in the sweat lodge. Sweats may be conducted as a preliminary to other activities, such as a fast or vision quest. Sweats may also be done for healing, for families, co-workers, individuals. The purpose behind all of these, however, is simple spiritual cleansing. The lodge is a dome shape and designed with natural materials to provide a safe, sacred confidential place where the participants can concentrate on the spirits that are invited to the ceremony. These spirits are brought in with the 'grandfathers', which are the stones that are heated in the sacred fire. Splashing cedar water on the grandfathers creates steam, and we then have all four elements present in the lodge: earth below, air around, fire in the grandfathers and water in the steam. Sweat lodges are often followed by a feast. Women traditionally wear long skirts (in some traditions, these are ribbon skirts), and sweat lodges are often held for either men or women.
Sacred Bundles Teachings
People who follow their Traditional Teachings will have sacred items to help and guide them through life. These sacred items form part of their Sacred Bundle. A Sacred Bundle can consist of one or many items, it can be the little tobacco or medicine pouch that someone wears around their neck, or it can be the items that the Spirits have given to a person to carry for the people. Items are presented to us from the 4 kingdoms. These items are sacred to us.
Feasts are important cultural ceremonies which occur after a ceremony. Feast occurs throughout the year for different reasons and a way of expressing gratitude to the Creator, the Ancestors, for what a person has been given on their journeys or to honour those in the community.
Although traditionally it was the men who supplied the food and it was the responsibility of the women to prepare it and in some communities this practice is still respected and followed today however in other communities it’s the members who will help to prepare the food to be offered after the ceremony as their way of saying Thank you.
There are specific practices and protocols during the feast, such as the younger people will prepare a plate of food for the Elders which are served first. Traditional foods may include “three sisters” (corn, beans, and squash), wild rice, fish, berries, bannock, and wild meat, depending on the area you are from.
The pipe ceremony is a sacred ritual for connecting physical and spiritual worlds. The pipe is a link between the earth and the sky, nothing is more sacred. The pipe is our prayers in physical form. Smoke becomes our words; it goes out, touches everything, and becomes a part of all there is. The fire in the pipe is the same fire in the sun, which is the source of life. The reason why tobacco is used to connect the worlds is that the plant's roots go deep into the earth, and its smoke rises high into the sky.
The use of sage during smudging is a cleansing or purification of negative energy and troubling feelings that we may carry. Ceremonial bundles or sacred objects, places and the body are often smudged or used as a purification ceremony by sage. Smudging the body consists of the following:Hands: To cleanse what we touch and to touch all things in a gentle and kind way.
- Head: To cleanse our mind so we may think clearly and in a kind and gentle way of yourselves and others.
- Eyes: To cleanse our sight so we see all things in a good way so that is why we smudge our glasses so we can see things in a good way through those lenses and to look at others in a kind way and yourselves.
- Ears: To cleanse our ears so we can hear everything in a good way and allow us to actively listen to one another in good times and in times that are not. Continue throughout the day in a good and kind way remembering all things in good way and find the goodness through anything negative.
- Mouth: To cleanse or words so that we may speak in a kind and non-judgmental way of yourselves and others.
- Back: To cleanse our troubles and lift the weight away that we carry when dealing with difficulties of yourselves and others.
- Feet: To cleanse our steps so that we may step lightly and kindly on our mother, the earth and it helps to reminds us to walk in a good way and smudging underneath the women’s feet in honoring that they are the life givers.
Seven Grandfather Teachings
The Creator gave seven Grandfathers, who were very powerful spirits, and given the responsibility to watch over the people. The Grandfathers saw that people were living a hard life. They sent their helper to spend time amongst the people and find a person who could be taught how to live in harmony with Creation. Their helper went to the four directions to find a person worthy enough to bring to the Grandfathers. While the helper was travelling they were visited seven times by spirits who told the helper about the gifts. Here is what they said:
To cherish knowledge is to know wisdom;
To know love is to know peace;
To honour all of Creation is to have respect;
Bravery is to face the foe with integrity;
Honesty in facing a situation is to be brave;
Humility is to know yourself as a sacred part of Creation;
Truth is to know all of these things.
When a person dies the entire community mourns that person's passing. On the first anniversary of the death, a feast is prepared by the family to commemorate the person. All community members are invited to sit at the table prepared to mark this occasion. This helps the people remember the person who is mourned and provide some closure to the loss of the loved one.
Requesting a Spirit Name
The person receiving the name first makes a request to an Elder who will perform the ceremony. The person offers the Elder a gift of tobacco, passing the gift from left hand to left hand signifies heart to heart. Once the Elder’s permission has been received, preparations for the ceremony can go ahead. The Elder will smoke his pipe and communicate with the spirits or may have a vision or a dream which will reveal the persons spirit name, clan and colors. Some names come immediately or it may take some time. When the Elder receives the name it will be kept secret from everyone, including the recipient until the end of the ceremony.
The Naming Ceremony
Most communities have naming ceremonies, but each has its own practice that differs in terms of when and how the ceremony happens. Some people receive more than one name in their lifetimes to reflect significant changes. Names often tell you something about that person, their personality, their mission in this life and tend to reflect a certain trait or strength in the person, and are often represented by an animal symbolizing those strengths.
The ceremony takes place outdoors and begins with a ceremonial fire being prepared, and a prayer circle formed around it with the recipient standing in the center. Four guides chosen by the Elder are present to act as witnesses, and the recipient offers each of them a gift. The people at the ceremony repeat the name when it is called out by the Elder. After the name is announced the spirit world can then accept the name and recognize that individual. The Spirit World and ancestors guard that person and prepare a place in the spirit world for them when the end of their life comes.
Prayers are said, and the Elder explain their reasons for that name being chosen. At the end of the ceremony the Elder will announce what it is. The name is not valid immediately. The recipient must wait until deemed worthy of it by the Elder and guides. This may take weeks or even years and the guides have the authority to remove the name if ever the recipient dishonors it.
Among some traditions it is customary for small children to be carried when they go outdoors until they are initiated through the Walking Out Ceremony.
This ceremony provides an occasion for the first time a child walks on his or her own outside, signifying movement towards adulthood and greater responsibility. The toddler’s families and friends gather together in a special place.
The children are dressed in traditional regalia and in some places are provided with toy tools and utensils representing what they may eventually use in life. The child walks through the doorway and proceeds about 20 feet to a tree, than circles the tree and returns to the place where they started. Once completed everyone celebrates and enjoys a traditional feast.
At the sunrise ceremony, people come together to share in offering prayers and in giving thanks for all of creation and Mino Baamodziwin (Living a Good life). It is a time when Mishoomis Giizis (Grandfather Sun) starts to look over us and provide us with light and warmth for the daytime. People will be asked to form a circle and the smudging of sage is offered for those who wish to cleanse their spirit in the smoke of this sacred medicine. There will be a pipe ceremony where the pipe will be loaded with tobacco. And once the pipe ceremony is completed, there will be singing with a hand drum and people will have the opportunity to share a few words within the circle and feast strawberries.
Beading has been an important part of our culture for approximately 8000 years prior to European contact. Beads were made of shell, pearl, bone, teeth, stone, and fossil stems. When Europeans first came to Canada they made an effort to develop good relations with the First Nations and beads played a significant role in these relationships. The beads that the Europeans gave and/or traded were large ceramic pony beads, glass beads, chevron bead and tiny seed beads. The pony bead was around 1/8th inch diameter and was used for bone chokers and breastplates. The chevron bead was also called the star, patermoster (our father’s), or sun bead. It was a colorful bead and was more of an oval shaped bead. The tiny seed beads were called Manido-min-esah, which means little spirit seeds, gift of the Manido. The first thing that First Nations began making when receiving these beads were necklaces. When smaller beads came around the beads were incorporated into loom weaving, Beads were then used in ceremonies, decorate clothing, baskets, dolls, which were then used to trade at the trading post.
The Métis combined this new design knowledge with the traditional quill-work used in the communities of the First Peoples. From this blend, the distinctive Métis beadwork style emerged. They would use coloured seed beads to create vibrant, textured images of flowers, which stood out from the styles that had existed prior. Thus, the Métis became known as “the flower beadwork people.” Beadwork
The Métis are heirs to a vibrant culture of decorative arts that emphasizes the brightly coloured floral motif in beadwork and embroidery. The Dakota and the Cree, in fact, referred to the Métis as the “Flower Beadwork People” because of the preponderance of flower designs in their beadwork and embroidery. Early 19th-century European and Euro-North American observers and travelers also made constant reference to the decorative beadwork on Métis clothing. Over time, floral beadwork has become one of the most distinctive Métis symbols.
Being a Firekeeper is a very important task, and while it can be challenging, it can also be very rewarding. Take advantage of the quiet time you spend beside the Fire to reflect and meditate, to consider your own spirituality, and to pray for the people. But also remember that you have a serious duty to perform, and take that responsibility to heart. You are, for a brief moment, maintaining an ages-old spiritual symbol on behalf of your people - stay humble, stay focused, and do the job in the best way you can.
The Sacred Fire used to heat the Grandfathers for the sweatlodge ceremony is lit by the Fire Keeper as they quietly calls in the powers of the directions as well as the fire powers when the Sacred Fire is first lit and holds the energy of fire for ALL that are in ceremony. This is in keeping with the traditional way fire was kept.
When a person passes on, a Sacred Fire is lit and is kept burning for four days. During this period, the spirit of the deceased person is making its final visits to people and places it has known during its life on Earth, and the Sacred Fire acts as a beacon so that the spirit can find its way back and even during our spiritual gatherings, a Sacred Fire is lit and kept burning for the duration of the gathering to act as a beacon for the spirits, and to provide a place for making offerings and for quiet reflection.
Because of this importance, if you are chosen to be a Firekeeper, it is necessary that you be aware of your role and duties and be aware that a huge bonfire is not necessary. Using up vast quantities of firewood is not in keeping with the old traditions of limiting your impact on the land around you. A small tidy fire, carefully tended, is generally more respectful and appropriate than a gigantic blaze.
As part of the commitment to keeping the fire burning, Firekeepers should keep all of their attention on the Fire. You should not sleep, and you should not get involved in any conversations. You should simply concentrate on the Sacred Fire, and on praying for the people involved in the ceremony for which the Fire was lit. However, if the Fire is to be kept going for a long period, this also means that there should be more than one Firekeeper, and they should be rotated on a regular basis to prevent fatigue.