Indigenous Thoughts Network
PHILOSOPHY AND RELIGION
PHILOSOPHY BY REGION
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Chapter 6 - Ways of Believing
1. What does it mean to say that the Mi'Kmaq are collectively oriented? How is this reflected in Mi'kmaq practices around death?
To say that the Mi'kmaq are collectively oriented emphasizes their dependence on one another in the ways that they interact and live their lives. As opposed to cultures in which the people strive for individuality, the Mi'kmaq thrive on their strong connections to family and friends. This social organization becomes entirely apparent in all of their lives and has many crucial elements surrounding the passing of someone in the community. Throughout Mi'kmaq culture they place a real significance on togetherness during the entire process around the death and the funerary rituals that they practice. The early Eskanosi use to announce the death of a person by shouting "alatsutmaykapo" across the village and when this was heard by everyone they would begin to gather at the deceased's home, and although the modern people do not announce it the same way the news of a passing requires them to be summoned (p. 89). When there is a death in the community all social differences between individuals are put aside for the time being as they gather to the grieving family to offer condolences and a variety of support (p. 89). One example which highlights their collective mindset is how they treat the sick and dying of their community. Those who are ill never share any moments alone, as everyone from family to acquaintances from various areas will travel out to be at their side (p. 91). Two particular rituals that they practice which show their collective orientation are the Salites and the funeral feasts. These funerary rituals each represent the cultures values of equality, reciprocity, and sharing and come after the deceased's burial has been complete and are described as "...efforts on the part of the community to offer emotional, spiritual, and financial support to those in mourning" (p. 98). Robinson describes "In Eskanosi, death is a social affair" (p. 93) which illustrates how someone's passing is a social endeavor for everyone and that the mass amount of support offered is ingrained into their culture.
2. Which group of people from the Eskasoni community provided Robinson with the information about death that is presented in this chapter?
In the ethnography, Robinson is taught the many aspects regarding death and funerary traditions from the adults of the Eskanosi people who describe many of their core beliefs and opinions (p. 89). This group of people's world view is a mixture between their traditional non-Western belief systems with the added teachings of the Roman Catholics which shapes the way they view death and everything surrounding it (p. 89). Judging that most of the information is given by the adults it would imply that these are people who have most likely experienced someone's passing which would give them a lot of firsthand knowledge of their traditions and practices. Many of these adults in the Mi'kmaq culture view the maturity of someone by how well they can handle their grief around a death and believe that all of the younger members in the community have a much harder time managing their emotions because they have not yet been fully socialized to all of the Mi'kmaq teachings (p. 102). They view someone who has accepted the inevitability of death and understand the significance that is placed around it to be functioning member of the community. Any public expressions of despair from mourners is often looked down upon by the older members of the group as they respect characteristics such as equanimity and even-temperedness (p. 100). Robinson's findings of the views of the Eskanosi people seem to be very relevant and comparable to how other non-Western cultures perceive death and the processes of grieving in regards to their suppression of excessive public displays of mourning and despair (p. 100).
3. Which Mi’kmaw funery practices and beliefs are culturally specific expressions of grief, mourning, and bereavement?
The Mi’kmaw are comfortable with death, viewing death as phase in which the body ceases to provide life, but the person or spirit exists elsewhere, that death is part of the journey of the spirit from one life to the next. The Mi’kmaw value stoicism and it is rare to see emotional extremes, particularly in those of older generations. They may acknowledge that they are having trouble coping by saying “Metau’lik”, meaning, “I am having a difficult time” but feel that they need to refrain from crying as it is their belief that the spirit of the deceased may be hesitant to pass on to the next life or heaven if mourners are expressing sorrow. As said by a Mi’kmaw woman in an interview:
“Too much crying at a funeral with cover the eyes of the deceased so that he or she cannot find ‘the road’, the way to a good rebirth.” And, “Crying keeps the deceased attached to his or her previous life.” (pp 101)
When a death is imminent the community joins to hold a vigil over the dying person and their family. The belief is that as we are not born alone, we should not die alone either. There are death rituals in the Mi’kmaw society which can include Apiksiktatimk which is a ritual in which family and community members may ask for mutual forgiveness from one and other. Often during the vigil Christian prayers are recited by community members, often utilizing the Rosary. These prayers often draw crowds of up to 50 people. Sweats, sacred circles, and prayers in four directions may be attended by family members and the dying person, all in the interest of healing. When death draws near a priest will be summoned to perform the last rites. It is unique that the Mi’kmaw’s traditions of death practices utilize the Christian faith so seamlessly with Indigenous culture and spirituality. Also unique is the fact that the funeral preferences are most often those of the surviving family and not the individual.
Upon death a man will stand in the doorway of the deceased home and proclaim alatsutmaykapo, meaning, “It is a sacred time”, which serves to inform the community of the death. Three successions of alatsutmaykapo means “we are praying” and is an invite to others from the community to come to the home of the deceased and join in prayers, vigil, and planning for the wake, funeral, Salite, and feast.
Since death is seen as one of the most important occasions, funerals in the Mi’kmaw society are designated as an important rite of passage for both the deceased and the surviving family and community. Upon the death of an individual a funeral home is called to prepare the body for internment while preparations are made in the deceased person’s home for the wake. This includes cleaning, repairs, and decorating. A viewing room, complete with kneeling benches, flowers, and other adornments typical of a viewing in a funeral parlor are common amongst Mi’kmaw wakes. The open casket is placed in the room, behind the casket hangs the Grand Council flag, and under the casket sits a dish in which cash donations for the family are placed. Flowers, wreaths, and other adornments decorate the room, there may also be special places for cards and gifts, and a guest book. The wake begins at 11 am and lasts for three days.
After three days a ceremony is performed in which the casket is closed. The casket is then loaded into the hearse and transported to the church where a Catholic funeral mass is performed. Unique to the Mi’kmaw people, Catholic prayers are recited in Mi’kmaw. The church is often filled to capacity during a funeral mass, attendance at which is considered the proper way to honor the deceased. Seating is reserved on the left for those of the Honor Guard: Grand Council and Aboriginal representatives from the local police force, and seats on the right side for the family.
Following the mass the casket internment begins. Family members each places a handful of dirt onto the casket as they leave, signifying a personal connection to the deceased. A funeral feast and Salite are then held for all of the members of the community who wish to honor the deceased and support the survivors. (pp. 96)
4. Which of these practices can be considered to constitute rites of passage?
In anthropology, a rite of passage is an intentionally ritualized ceremony created for the purpose of assisting individuals and their friends and relatives cope with an emotionally difficult time. Sometimes these rites of passage events are celebratory for events such as coming of age, marriage, etc., but in this chapter, rites of passage refer to coping mechanisms surrounding death for both the dying person and the surviving family.
For the dying person, Apiksiktatimk and prayer rituals prepare the person for death by ensuring that the person is content and free of conflict, and well supported. It is a final opportunity to express gratitude and clear grievances between the dying person and his/her family and community before they pass. The Catholic prayers and the priest’s reading of the last rites marks the beginning of the process. At the time of death, alatsutmaykapo, the announcement to the community that a passing has occurred, marks the beginning of the wake and funeral process, which are seen as rites of passage of the spirit, with the goal being to set the spirit free so that they may find the road to heaven or rebirth. Alatsutmaykapo calls upon the community to come together to pray for, and honor the deceased.
The open casket viewing allows members of the family and community a private chance to say goodbye to the deceased, to acknowledge their life and death, and prepare them for the next step on their spiritual journey. A funeral and internment serves to allow “letting the spirit go” with the understanding that death is a process in which the spirit moves from one form and realm to another. This is also a rite of passage for the community and family, as they see the funeral and internment as an opportunity for a final good-bye and an opportunity to give and receive support to other community and family members. The funeral feast and Salite marks the end of the funeral process and serves to celebrate the life of the deceased and support his or her family members. Since mourning after the funeral is discouraged in Mi’kmaw society, the feast and Salite can be seen as the final rite of passage for both the deceased and the survivors, the end of the transition from living to heaven or rebirth for the deceased, and the first step towards carrying on for the community.
5. What is the significance of the Salite and the funeral feast for the Mi’kmaq?
“Among the Mi’kmaq, grief associated with death of a community member is felt and acknowledged both collectively and individually” (pg.98). Both the Salite and the funeral feast are two types of “post interment” celebrations through which the Mi`kmaq come together to offer their, “emotional, spiritual and financial support” (pg.98) to the family and everyone else that is mourning the loss of the deceased. Furthermore, the Salite and funeral feast are meant to uphold the Mi’kmaq values of equality, reciprocity and sharing. The basic sequence of events in regards to the Salite and the Funeral feast is that the community is meant to come together, lean on each other for emotional support, provide financial support, and share a communal meal together.
A Salite is in essence, an auction. It is a “local” tradition. Traditionally, Salites are not allowed to be practiced under the Roman Catholic religion. This is similar to the practice of the Potlatch that was also forbidden as it was seen as an uncivilized practice, however it differed in the sense that the family of the deceased would give away personal items as opposed to auctioning it off. During the Salite, the family and friends of the deceased auction off the deceased’s belongings. Personal items are held in a very high regard and usually fetch a much higher asking price than what they are actually worth. This is a sign of respect for the deceased. The item being auctioned off is usually then either kept as a memento by the purchaser or gifted back to the family. The money raised at the Salite is meant to help the family through their time of grieving and to help alleviate the burden of having to pay for the funeral expenses. While the Salite and funeral feast may sound like a simple meal and auction, it is far from it. The Salite and the funeral feast are the most important features of the Mi’kmaq funerary traditions. The main purpose and goal of these funerary practices is to support the transition of grief and sorrow, into joy and laughter through the facilitation of communal gatherings. The funeral feast is the main event in which the community comes together to celebrate the life, and acknowledge the death of the person. The funeral feast also gives an opportunity for the community to not just come together, but put their differences aside for a brief moment in time to honor the deceased. Funeral feasts are held regardless of one’s status, notoriety, or religious affiliation (pg. 99). While everyone is treated as equals during these funerary rituals, special honor and attention is given to the family of the deceased and also elders. The family if given special seating and are first to be served. They reserve dual roles as not just the hosts of the event, but also guests.
6. How do the different groups of the Mi’kmaq conceive life and death, and the relationship between the living and the dead? How are these beliefs reflected in language?
The Mi’kmaq believe that since the creator has wished it that people should become a person and therefore have life, it is suggested that we all have spirits before we become people (pg. 102). Death is viewed as being one with having life. They go hand in hand and cannot be escaped or defeated. In Mi’kmaq culture, death is not seen as a permanent state, if anything, death happens or exists in different stages. It is believed that the dead are merely living in a different universe than our own. Contact with the spirit, not the soul of the dead is constant, many people pray to the spirit of their ancestors to help them in personal or health matters, asking for assistance and/or guidance. In regards to dealing with death, the Mi’kmaq believe that grief and bereavement should be dealt with in a, “practical, yet sensitive manner” (pg. 107). Outward and vocal demonstrations of grief and sadness are viewed as frowned upon, that the person going through these emotions has not yet been able to follow Mi’kmaq values. Also believed is that outward displays of emotion and grief in relation to death interfere with the deceased’s ability to transition peacefully into another plan of existence. For example, people that are dying face a harder time trying to be at peace when surrounded by so much grief and sadness. They face not being able to make it all the way to heaven (p. 101). Grief and bereavement should be acknowledged simply yet firmly, usually through a hug or a handshake or even a few words. This is seen as an act of maturity and understanding of Mi’kmaq ways and values.
In Mi’kmaq culture, “the absentive case, indicated by the suffix o’q, suggests that a person is in a different state of consciousness (pg. 103)”. The suffix refers to an absent person, still alive or still exists, or may refer to deceased. For example, may infer that the person is away for a time, is asleep, is ill or has passed on. This ties into how the Mi’kmaq deal with deaths as a community, in which they highlight the life of a person, and through the funerary rituals help with the transition of the deceased spirit from one parallel to the next. This also provides more insight on how the Mi’kmaq maintain communication with their ancestors through prayer, as if they believe that their ancestors may have passed on from the physical environment onto a spiritual one but from which they are still near. Death to the Mi’kmaq has a different meaning altogether.
Power Point Presentations
•The phenomenological approach, is an approach where an individual understands a culture as it is in the present, rather than from how it was understood in the past or how it maybe understood from other cultures or religions.
•Why? Because it relieves the culture from all bias it might have incurred over the years.
•Creator is ever present
•Without creation there is no creator and vise versa
•Spirit that arises from the lifeforce
•Varies in understanding but is still a key component of a Mi’kmaws self identity.
•Mi’maw is more verb oriented whereas English is more noun dominant.
•Because of this it is hard to establish a single belief amongst all of the Mi’kmaw.
•Ideology-myths & beliefs
•Cosmology- origin & the structure of the universe
Language is completely different as this language depends on verbs while English is based on nouns.
They can only accept reality in the present tense; they see the world as it revolves as it around them on the daily. The concept with a “Creator” who watches from above clashes with their beliefs.
•Mi’kmaw Language Is Key
4) How does Mi’kmaw language influence the ways that cosmological and ideological concepts are understood?
1-ideology-myths & beliefs
2- cosmology- origin & the structure of the universe
1- language is completely different as this lang depends on verbs while english is based on nouns
2-they can only accept reality in the present tense; they see the world as it revolves as it around them on the daily. The concept with a “Creator” who watches from above clashes with their belief
5) main features of the two cosmologies discussed in the chapter
1-Language of the Mikmaw is Key;
the Creator is always present in every living thing including animals,plants and even rocks not just seen as being a distant entity who doesn’t revolve in our everyday lives
When relationships between people are described, “in the Mikmaw language, personal relationships are understood by linking two together such as “father and son” you cannot be neither without both being present
Christians and the Mikmaw are two completely different views that clash with one another. The Mikmaw linguist Dr.Bern Francis believes that Christianity is based solely on sin and fear whereas the Mikmaw people believe in the power of nature.He believes that the Mikmaw people believe in God in every living thing which opposes with the belief of focusing on only humans. . He says that the Christian religion is brainwashing the Mikmaw into becoming more like them rather than letting them follow their own rituals and beliefs. Elders are dying along with the Mikmaw language with the worry that it will cease to exist in the future.
Tanas: He is strictly against just putting people into categories based on the way society sees them.instead of saying them more passively by bonding relationships together, He agrees with Dr. Francis when it comes to Christianity absorbing the Mikmaw religion and assimilating it with theirs. They both believe that if the language and culture isn’t looked after and passed on, it will be as if they have let the West “win” .
2- Catholic Mikmaw
Dr.Marie finds that the Catholic religion doesn’t hinder the Mikmaw religion from practicing their rituals. She also speaks about how the Mikmaw have adopted Christian practices into their own society as they were somewhat similar. The way Jesus died for his people, the Mikmaw were intrigued by that trait which is what Eva, another Mikmaw Catholic speaks about. Eva also feels as if the Church and the Mikmaw can both learn from each other.
Eva also claims that the Mikmaw people knew about Christianity before they even knew the European people who they claim have forced them to accept their religion.
When they discovered the religion, the Mikmaw didn’t understand it but only that the virtues they held dearly were the same as the ones the Mikmaw people were interested in.
6) describe the complex relationships among religion, spirituality, and tradition within Mi’kmaw society
The Mikmaw tend to portray their philosophies spoken and passed on from elders of the community.
the Church plays a huge part in religion and spirituality as it tends to compare and contrast with Christianity. Souls in Christianity tend to relate to humans only while the Mikmaw believe them to be present in every living thing.
The Mikmaw also take away the parts that they consider “valid”
They also have spirituality,religion, and tradition that is always changing rather than everything set in place by the Creator as accepted in Christianity.
Chapter 5 - Ways of Believing
CHAPTER 4 QUESTIONS
1 How did Robinson carry out the research presented in this chapter?
Robinson had gone to Eskasoni, Nova Scotia herself. She gives detailed descriptions of the area and what she saw and heard. She got the information through fieldwork and interviews, all from the point of view of the Mi’kmaw themselves and the stories of their ancestors. The quotes were all her fieldnotes and recorded interviews.
2 What is “popular,” or “vernacular,” religion?
Vernacular religion is where people experience, understand and practice the religion, and it shapes everyday culture. The tend to believe that the religion is the foremost important thing and that they live their lives around it.
Popular religion can be thought of as a religion of ethnic or minority groups located within a major religion. Can be thought of as a religious expression rather then ritual practice, such as the Mi’kmaw. They follow the religion but they go to church when they want and meet up for prayers but still follow their own culture.
3 What were the most important events in the history of the relationship between the Catholic Church and the Mi’kmaq?
One of the most important events in the history of the Catholic Church and the Mi’kmaw was the conversion of Chief Membertou in 1610. With the ceding of New France to Britain in 1763, the British was trying to abolish Catholicism by outlawing the practice and didn’t allow Catholic priests and missionaries in the region. Maillard was a missionary to the Mi’kmaw from 1735-1762. This is when Maillard appointed leaders of Mi’kmaw bands to take over the religious matters while there was no priest. This was supposed to be temporary but ended up being the way that Catholicism stayed with the Mi’kmaw. Maillard gave them a copy of religious writings, the bible, in the Mi’kmaw hieroglyphs writing system.
4 What is the significance of Catholic writings in the Mi’kmaw language?
The catholic writings in the Mi’kmaw hieroglyphs is significant in the fact that it shows that the Mi’kmaw people were smart and had their own texts which disproves the notion that the Mi’kmaq are illiterate and incompetent. The use of hieroglyphs was first introduced by Father Chrétien Le Clercq after watching children making marks with charcoal on birch bark. This was expanded by Maillard and it was all based on the existing writing system. These books held cultural, religious and historic importance on the Mi’kmaw people. These books are handed down from generation to generation and the Mi’kmaw consider them very sacred.
5 How did the Mi’kmaq practice Catholicism in the different stages of their history? How did they practice it at the time of Robinson’s fieldwork?
The Mi’kmaq practice of Catholicism is traced back to the early 17th century when their Chief converted to the faith by catholic missionaries who were sent to their region. Although the practice of the religion is unclear in the earlier stages, the 17th to 18th century marked a consistent dissemination and development of the religion under French influence. The religion grew to be a part of the Mi’kmaq culture, as demonstrated by their persistence in practice when the British were fighting the French in the late 18th-19th century. The practice of Catholicism during this time were led mostly by local chiefs or foreign priests on special occasions. During the time of Robinson’s fieldwork, the Mi’kmaq’s were resisting the influence of mainstream Orthodox Catholicism to retain their cultural values.
6 In what ways have the priests who worked in Eskasoni viewed the Mi’kmaq and Mi’kmaw Catholicism?
The priests who worked in Eskasoni had varied views on the local Catholic faith. The first residential priest, Fr. Ross, was pedantic in reforming the Mi’kmaq Catholicism to better resemble the Orthodox church. Under Fr. Ross, rules restricting language usage and unorthodox religious practices were imposed, and the church was even renamed. Other priests such as Fr. Ryan thought the Mi’kmaq Catholicism to be distinctive and unique, but made better decisions to adjust and compromise to the culture shock.
7 In what ways, and for what reasons, can Catholicism be considered a Mi’kmaw tradition?
Catholicism can be considered as a Mi’kmaw tradition through its historical affiliation that seeped into their culture. In the Mi’kmaq tradition, ancestral tradition is vital in Mi’kmaw values, which is related to the Catholic faith through the Millard prayer books that symbolized the faith and the Mi’kmaw’s core belief. In addition, the relation between nature and the spiritual is highly regarded and also closely related and paralleled in Catholic faith, though sometimes through different interpretation. The Mi’kmaw practice of Catholicism isn’t orthodox due to the geographical displacement of their people which is far away from Europe. They developed their own sect of Catholicism that have little to none interactions to the Holy See or the Pope.
8 What are the larger lessons from this chapter about the relationship between global religious institutions and local religious practice?
The chapter outlines the differences between popular and official religion with the example of Mi’kmaw Catholicism, where local religions are selective in their interpretations and practices that may stray from the Orthodox church. The reason for this distinctive development of religion, in the case of Mi’kmaw Catholicism, is due to the lack of interaction between clerical authorities and local parishioners. However, the religion remains historically relevant in the development of Mi’kmaw culture and their social values. Global religious institutions an be very rigid and contain many strict rules which is tough for people of carrying backgrounds to practice or even understand. Even the use and translation of language can be very tricky, for example the word God could have very different meanings in the context of different cultures. In order for different culture to understand the Abrahamic concept of god, the missionaries might have to study the cultures of the locals and incorporate some aspect of it in the religion to make it more understandable for the locals. This would create the local religious practice that suits the values and culture of different communities.
Chapter 2 - Ways of Believing
Chapter 7 - Ways of Believing
1.According to Robinson, what is neo-Traditionalism?
-Neo-Traditionalism refers to Mi’kmaw who practice Catholicism as their primary religion but who also uphold Mi’kmaw culture and tradition through spiritual rituals such as fasts, sweats, use of the sacred pipe, as well as attending powwows. (pg. 110, 112)
-Robinson's definition of Neo-Traditionalists: “set of values, beliefs, and institutions in which select aspects of "tradition" are emphasized while others are downplayed” (Pg 112). She pointed out that the term “neo-traditional” is the very category of the "old classical tradition” that is combined with “modernity” and thus entails a reformulation of “ Indigenous tradition” or a "hybrid culture" that are more relevant to the present and future context.
-According to Robinson, it is becoming more popular to practice less structured and more individualized forms of neo-Traditionalism as a means of reclaiming self-identity and self-expression. “Less structured” meaning that practices are nondogmatic and the rituals are not governed by a central authority, therefore the ways in which these practices are conducted is up to the individual.
2. What is the significance of Eskasoni Mawio’mi, or powwow?
The significance of the Eskasoni Mawio’mi differs from one group to another. However, Powwow is mainly an important cultural event that showcase Indigenous dances, songs, music, food and crafts. Commonly celebrated and hosted by members of First Nation communities, powwows encourage cultural pride, respect and honour. It serve an important role in people's lives as a forum for a social gathering, such as visiting friends and family, renewing old friendship, and maintaining personal relationships for future generations. The most significant are to honour the beauty of their cultural heritage, and express their true identity.
3. What does Robinson mean when she says “ the practice of neo-Traditionalism… [is] a locus of dispute around which opposing discourses about Mi’kmaw identity are constructed, articulated, and openly challenged” ?
Contact with European religious systems resulted with many Aboriginal people to be converted into Catholicism by French missionaries. The Mi'kmaq for instance, began to incorporate many of their old traditional aspect with the new ones which resulted in a fusion with Christianity, therefore, the powwow ritual is actually the product of that fusion. Traditionalism goes way back to the old days and with the introduction of Catholicism, many Mi'kmaq's fused both religious traditions over the years. Thus, there is no clear definition of their own tradition. In our perspective Robinson is trying to say, that all aspects of neo-Traditionalism seem to cause a debate over mixed opinions. Other community members who are not neo-Traditionalists, particularly by Mi’kmaw Catholics, challenge neo-Traditionalists and their practices. We think an emphasis from those communities is because many neo-Traditionalists seem to have come from Catholic background and felt it was not enough.
4. Describe the range of views among members of the Eskasoni community about the powwow.
-Many neo-Traditionalists view Eskasoni Mawio’mi as providing spiritual fulfillment and embracement of traditional Mi’kmaw culture. Whereas Mi’kmaw Catholics appear to view powwow distastefully. Jonal views the practice as a threat that may absorb authentic Mi’kmaw culture as he sees powwow as “a gross over simplification of Aboriginal traditions”. Len, who is not a Christian, believes that powwows are Mi’kmaw being “bamboozled” by other Aboriginal cultures, which he views as worse than being bamboozled by non-Natives.(pg. 116, 117)
-For some Mi’kmaq the powwow is a ritualized celebration of origins and symbolic artifacts which is considered a vital part of their identity. While other claim that powwow is viewed as a social occasion which holds little historical, religious or cultural significance
-Catholic and Non-Catholic: “believes that this celebration of Indian culture has no religious, historical or educational significance for the Mi'kmaq people”.
- Catholic Mi'kmaq: “accept that the ceremony and has religious significance but has no spiritual meaning”.
-Neo- Traditionalists: “view the powwow ceremony as sacred”.
5. What reasons do neo-Traditionalists give for adopting this religious orientation?
There are a variety of reasons that neo-Traditionalists provide for their reasons of leaving the church. A common reason among them all seems to be that they find something lacking and unfulfilling within the Catholic church. A few expressed distaste towards the hierarchical system in the church, the very strict moral guidelines, and disatisfaction by the Catholic community. (pg. 117, 121)
One reason for adopting neo-Traditionalism was to feel spiritual. Within Catholicism, the Mi’kmaw people developed a narrow cultural, religious and spiritual focus instead of acknowledging the therapeutic and positive aspects of traditionalism. Therefore some adopted the neo-traditionalism. This move in adopting neo-traditionalism was important for some as it met their therapeutic needs. As exemplified by a man named Matt, who experienced a difficult childhood as his family and he was repeatedly physically and mentally abused by his father. He considered the church to be abusive and detrimental to his well-being as the church fosters social problems by offering negative criticism and by failing to promote a positive mi’kmaw image. The church was representative to undermine Mi’kmaw culture and society that encouraged negativity rather than actively working to resolve social problems within community.
Another reason for neo-Traditionalism give for adopting this religious orientation is to adapt a personal salvation from the direct encounters with the spiritual world. As believed by the Mi’kmaw, there is no hell or heaven; everything is on this land. Therefore when some adapted neo-traditionalism, it gave them a sense of connection to the spiritual world where some were able to connect with the spirits of the expired loved ones. An example the book provides is of Mitch, who when practicing the neo-traditionalist ways, was able to connect with his dead brother, grandfather and close family’s spirits.
6. Describe the conflict between, and conflicting views of Catholics and Traditionalists.
Traditionalists are individuals who believe that there should be a restoration of old customs and traditions regarding the teachings of one's faith. All First Nations believed that their values and traditions are gifts from the Creator which is why spiritual belief and the spiritual world are very important to them. This deep respect is reflected in songs, dances, festivals and ceremonies. Traditionalists sometimes hold the opinion that the church is lacking in positivity, especially toward the individuality of being Native American. Some Traditionalists view the church as non-Native and brought on by colonialism therefore, not being the Mi’kmaw way. On the contrary, Catholism does not believe that the powwow has any cultural, spiritual or historical value. They reject the idea that rituals such as sweats, fasts and the use of sacred pipe are “authentic” Mi’kmaw practices that is relevant in present day contexts. One example is the interview of Gordon, a mik'maw man in his late 40's, who became involved in Neo-traditionalism in the 1980's. He made a statement regarding the different views between Catholicism and Traditionalists about the Creator. He stated that “Catholic believe that there is heaven and hell. While, Traditionalists believe people ends up in the spiritual world." (Pg 121). He also explain how he felt disgrace when he go to the church because he also practice Neo-traditionalism. Another example is a woman named Carrie. She incorporated element of Catholic into Neo-traditionalist contexts. She did not view the powwow as a religious occasion but accept it as part of Aboriginal spirituality, identity and culture. She explained that she discriminated for supporting the powwow and other aspects of Neo-traditionalism, by many of the elders in her church. Overall, Traditionalists express identity crisis even within the Aboriginal community. (pg. 122 - 127)
7. How are religion and Mi’kmaw identity related?
Spirituality and religion appear to be tightly woven into Mi’kmaw culture and tradition which solely play a key role in their identity. Religion is used to construct their identity resulting from colonization, displacement, and assimilation because religious practice unite diverse indigenous culture groups throughout North America. In other words, not only it has significant role in creating and maintaining Indian identity, it also bring Indigenous people together which create this “group identity”. Religion is considered to be of central of importance in constructing and maintaining Mi’kmaw personal and social identities. Robinson attempts to emphasize three main theme that explain why religion and identity is related. The first theme is participation in sweats, fasts and sacred circles are considered to be a meaningful rituals through which individuals or group spirituality are developed and maintained. In other words, religion is their way of finding and relearning their “lost identity”. Second, involvement in neo-traditionalism is viewed by some Mi’kmaq as a means of counteracting the invasive and persistent encroachment of Western culture upon Aboriginal societies in general and upon Mi’kmaq society. In other words, religion separates the Mi’kmaq identity individually and culturally from the Western influence. Third, traditional ways also hold a therapeutic dimension where it is perceived to provide a coherent and powerful therapeutic community within which a balance among the emotional, physical and spiritual aspects of existence are facilitated and maintained. Most spiritually centred aboriginal beliefs system to be conductive to promoting physical and emotional healing and effective in helping to correct what are perceived to be imbalance in their lives.
Robinson, Angela. (2005). Ta’n Teli-Ktlamsitasit (Ways of Believing). Toronto, Ontario. Pearson
CHAPTER 8 - CONCLUSIONS
1. From what I can tell Robinson tries to argue that the Mi’kmaw traditional religions have been overshadowed by western influences. The biggest example that she had mentioned was Roman Catholicism. The takeover by Roman Catholicism on Mi’kmaw traditional religions ended up in many western scholars completely brushing off the traditional religions and the traditional way of life. There are many types of views of Mi’kmaw Catholicism such as conservative, modern and rejectionist. Western missionaries are given credit for influencing and implementing Catholicism into the lives of the Mi’kmaw. The roles played by local Mi’kmaw community members aren’t mentioned by Western scholars. This paints an unjust history of the Mi’kmaw people. Especially since, the Aboriginal communities have already gone through so much history distortion, such as the residential schools being overlooked or played down in textbooks. The history from the western lens, and the history from the actual people differ a lot. Robinson mainly tries to showcase how the Mi’kmaw had religions before Catholicism took over, and even as it did blend in, the Mi’kmaw people had a big part in it being sustained and it wasn’t just due to western influences that it stayed.
2. From reading this book, my whole perception has changed. I had no prior knowledge of Aboriginal religions. Usually the typical stereotype of Aboriginal people is that they’re spiritual and connected to nature. They have connections to animals, such as coyote and raven like we had discussed earlier in class. The communities have been through a lot and as a result their traditional religions have been mixed up by bringing Catholicism into it. What I found interesting was unlike other religions, where we typically hear that people have a fear of god due to their sins, this was not the case majorly in Mi'kmaq community. Sinning is seen as a personal thing. If someone sins they are also going to be affected by it. I guess this refers to them feeling guilt, and also that they will get back whatever they've done to others. There is a lot of responsibility put onto individuals. If they do something that is wrong or sinful, they are expected to take ownership of that.
3. My understandings have changed, as I had never heard about the Mi'kmaw culture in the Aboriginal communities. The struggles of the Mi'kmaw community are never talked about. Before university, I had never had much prior knowledge of Aboriginal communities, besides the fact that they had been through a lot of struggle, and went through residential schools. This book has made it more clear that western culture and ideologies are deep rooted in these communities. History books are written mostly through a western lens so they only portray history in terms of when European influence was around. For example Canada is set to celebrate its 150th birthday, as its assumed that’s how old Canada is. This is not the case, as Aboriginal communities were here way before then.
My understanding of Aboriginal identity was changed as a result of reading this book. Before, I only categorized between non-Western and Western identities. I saw the aboriginal identity as a totally separate entity from Western ideals, and generalized all aboriginal identities as an entire group without distinctions. Before reading Robinson’s research I thought the 2 groups were mutually exclusive, but now I realize categorical stereotypes are deeply engrained into non-aboriginals. And such stereotypes are insensitive to the distinctly different regional, cultural and social variations and differences among aboriginal communities.
I now understand that being a distinct group and having distinctiveness from other aboriginal groups is important to aboriginal identities. And if we force communities to fit into our misconceptions and narrow perception of “indianess”, it may prevent aboriginal identities and society to develop in the future.
4. I think the strengths of Robinson’s ethnographic research and analysis come from his ability to set aside personal ideologies and focus more on the empirical qualitative data he gathered through his fieldwork. He doesn’t blindly accept the dominant views of Mi’kmaq religion, instead formulates his own ideas. Robinson doesn’t follow the popular notion of “environmental determinism” and believes aboriginal people to be an active agent of their culture. He does a good job in critically pointing out how previous research has been heavily one sided, and failing to give enough credits to local culture and religious development. He also paid special attention to the effects of cross-cultural exchanges that has affected aboriginal religious beliefs and expressions.
Another strength would be in Robinson’s success on using previous literatures to support his own arguments. Not only that, but his evidence and supporting fieldwork details were coherent and persuasive, and successfully in its reinterpretation of the role aboriginal people have within colonial situations. He brings up other opposing perspectives successfully offer new dimensions within aboriginal religion research. His research shows that there are multiple and simultaneous factors that influence religious development.
The weaknesses of Robinson’s research are that it has a very small focus. As he only studied aboriginal religions at a very local scale. There wasn’t any analysis on aboriginal religion at a North American level, nor did he make any comparisons or connections of Mi’Kmaq Catholicism with other indigenous religions at a global context. In his research he never really go into detail about the historical background, or contexts that has generated the current typical views held by majority of scholars.
Even though his main argument was to prove that Mi’kmaq religion isn’t static, he didn’t offer any in-depth analysis on how it was developed over time, nor does he offer future insights for strategies about how social policy can be changed or modified to support aboriginal communities. But overall I think Robinson’s research still did a great job in offering many useful insights on religion within the Aboriginal community.
5. After reading this book and getting a better understanding on how anthropological research is conducted. I learned that there are many contradictions and multiple perspectives on what are truths, and what is commonly accepted. I realized that the Western interpretation on aboriginal culture is skewed and one sided because of the lack of understanding of the local people as active agents in their social environments.
There are so many perspectives, at times it’s hard to differentiate whose reality is the “truth”. Because there isn’t just the Western verses non-Western narratives of analyzing Aboriginal religion, but also the internal conflicts within the Mi’kmaq community itself. For example, within the community, some see Catholicism as the only viable religion option, while opposing Mi’kmaq members see Catholicism as the enemy to both their group autonomy and authentic culture preservation.