Understanding First Nation Cultural Practices

The information shared is intended as a general overview and does not focus on any particular First Nation's practices or beliefs. It is suggested that individuals wishing to learn more about cultural practices, contact the First Nation Community nearest to their area. We hope you enjoy the information shared and that it provides you with a better understanding and appreciation of First Nation's way of life.

Sacred Herbs

First Nations People utilizes many kinds of Sacred Herbs in various ways. The most commonly used Herbs are Sweet Grass, Cedar, Sage and Tobacco. Sacred Herbs are a symbol of First Nation Spitituality practices and whether burned or given as a sprinkle offering, respect must be shown at all times. When the Herbs are burned, the rising smoke helps take messages or prayers to the Creator. In sprinkling, Herbs are spread around an area that is being used as a sign of respect. Sacred Herbs can be carried in a Medicine Pouch or Offering Bag. Although the beliefs may vary from Nation to Nation the following are general themes shared by most.


Medicine Pouch

The Medicine Pouch, or sometimes referred to as an offering bag, is viewed as a sacred object. The pouch can be of various sizes, color and design. It can be worn around the neck, waist or carried in the pocket. The items in the pouch are deemed as being good medicines and can vary depending upon personal preference. Some may choose to carry sacred herbs, stones or other significant items that are important to an individual. Medicines can change depending on the circumstances for which it is being used. It is very disrespectful to touch or open someone's pouch without their permission.

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Answer Feather

It is believed that answer feathers help those seeking an answer to something very important in their life. Some people create answer feathers in various styles and colors and it is selected through personal preference. When a feather is selected, a prayer to the Creator is said and then the feather is kept with the person or hid secretly until an answer is received. Once an answer has been received, thanks is given to the Creator and the feather can be released back to Mother Earth or cleanse by the moon light and used again.

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Drum

The most common drums used in the First Nation culture are the Round Drum and the Hand Drum. Both drums are used in community gatherings and for other ceremonial purposes. The Hand Drum or small drum, is usually played by an individual and can be played alone or with others. The Round Drum, or big drum, is played by a group of individuals during special gatherings. All drums are cleanse with Sweet Grass or Sacred Herbs before playing. The beat of drum symbolizes the heart beat of Mother Earth and helps to send messages to the Creator.

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Medicine Wheel

The Medicine Wheel is a concept used for teaching how to live a balanced lifestyle. It represents wholeness and teachings may vary depending on personal practices or beliefs. Generally, the teachings are found within the four directions and also takes into consideration the four races of the world - red, yellow, black and white, the four elements, four sacred animals, four seasons, four sacred herbs, and the four aspects to our nature - the spiritual, physical, mental and environmental well being of a person. As an item, the medicine wheel is a reminder of the teachings and that one must try and show respect to the Creator and all creations at all times.

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Dream Catcher

The Dream Catcher is symbolic to First Nation culture and can vary in size, design and color. It is believed that the Dream Catcher helps to prevent bad dreams and encourages good ones. There are several legends written about the dream catcher and the following is a commonly used story. One day an old woman and spider caught eye and she was fascinated with the spider spinning its web. For several days the woman returned to that spot and each day the web grew larger. The woman's grandson came to visit and she showed him the web. The grandson wanted to destroy the web and kill the spider, but the woman would not let him harm either. When the boy had left, the spider spoke to the woman; because you saved my life, I am going to grant you one wish. The woman replied that her only wish was, to learn how to weave a web like the spider. So using a ring and thread, the spider taught the woman how to weave. The spider explained that the circle of the web meant continuous life and the hole in the center would help get rid of bad dreams. The bad dreams would get caught in the weave and parish at the first light of dawn.

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Sacred Fire

The Sacred Fire is a traditional practice of many First Nations and is a spiritual ceremony that provides the opportunity to say special prayers, ask for blessings, a time for mediattion, or just enjoy the spiritual uplift that the Sacred Fire can provide. First, a decision has to be made as to where the fire is to be lit. The grounds are then blessed with Sacred Herbs and Special Prayers. Large stones must be collected and placed around the spot where the fire will be. Firewood must also be collected, making sure there is enough to last throughout four days of burning, which is the normal time frame for a Sacred Fire. Sometimes small stakes with ribbons are placed at four openings to the fire. This represents the four directions. A special lighting ceremony takes place and then people may begin to do their offerings and there ia always a Fire Keeper available to help guide you. At the end of four days, there is a ceremony for letting the fire burn out.

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Pipe

The Pipe is a sacred item earned by participating in a number of spirituality practices such as attending sweat lodges, fasting, and other practices deemed necessary by an Elder of the person wishing to earn a Pipe. Normally, the Pipe Carrier will perform a sweet grass ceremony and make offerings to the Creator. The Pipe is filled with tobacco and passed in a clockwise direction to other participants. The sharing of the pipe is a sign of friendship and respect and helps to open the heart and spirit. To participate in a pipe ceremony is of a great honor for the participants and the Pipe Carrier.

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Talking Circle

The Talking Circle is a method used for communicating in a group setting. Conducted by a leader, a talking stick or item is passed to individuals in a clockwise direction, allowing them to share their thoughts. Although the Leader of the Circle will mention the expectations of the circle, the most important aspect is to ensure that the person holding the talking item is the only person allowed to talk. Talking StickAll others must show respect and wait their turn. The Circle, sometimes referred to as a Healing Circle, is an opportunity to speak about something specifically or talk in general. The Circles can last as long as the group wishes and it is generally disrespectful to break the circle until it is over or when there is a time out agreed upon by the participants. The circle formation enables everyone to be treated equally and prevents a person from having their back to someone else. There are many skills learned in circle such as: * Patience - having to wait your turn; * Respect - giving each person your attention even when what is being shared is not that interesting; * Memory - having to wait to respond to what someone or several people have shared; * Trust - ensuring what gets said in the circle stays among the participants; * Listening - trying not to let your mind wonder away from what is being said.

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Eagle

The Eagle is symbolic to First Nations's spirituality beliefs. With its great ability to soar high in the sky, it is believed that the Eagle serves as a messenger between all people and the Creator. To see an Eagle is thought to bring good luck or happiness. The Eagle shows great courage, strength, and vision. These qualities enables the Eagle to hunt and fish - skillls that are important to First Nation culture. Eagle Feathers are used during spirituality practices and great respect must be shown at all times. Eagle Feathers are presented to individuals for their wisdom, talents or other reasons deemed important by the giver of the Feather and it is one of the greatest honors.

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Pow Wow

The Pow Wow, also referred to as a Gathering or Mawiomi, is an opportunity for people to gather and share in many spiritual activities. It is a time for dancing and drumming, feasting and sharing of gifts. It is a time for celebrating and socializing and traditional practices are common throughout the event such as; sunrise and sunset ceremonies, sacred fire burning, talking circles, pipe and sweet grass ceremonies. Many communities will host Gatherings on an annual basis, mainly during the warmer months and as a result creates what's known as the "Pow Wow Trail" . Alll are welcome to these gatherings and there is always someone available to help teach about the many ceremonies.

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Sweat Lodge

Sweat Lodges are circular shaped structures designed for the purpose of cleansing the mind, body and spirit. Through the use of heated stones, known as grandfathers, water is sprinkled to create a steam needed to cleanse. Sweat Lodges are conducted by a Leader who has earned the right to hold Sweats by gaining the necessary wisdom and knowledge taught by the Elders. Sweats can be for general prayer time or for specific healing of a person or community. A Sweat Lodge is normally placed in an isolated location away from distractions. A Lodge Keeper ensures that the ground and area surrounding the Lodge is blessed and kept in a respectful manner. Most Sweat Lodges belong to a community and can be set up for either men or women or combined, often referred to as a "mixed sweat."

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Importance of Elders

Elders are individuals who are respected for their wisdom, vision and understanding of the culture. Although most Elders are normally older, they may also be younger in age. Individuals will seek out an Elder whom they have high regards and meet with them to seek guidance. A person may also have several Elders in their life's journey depending on the guidance they seek. Showing respect to an Elder is one of the most importanct facets of First Nation culture. It is the teachings of Elders that we have come to learn that an Elder who demonstrates humbleness possess one of the uniques gifts provided by the Creator and seen as one of the most importanct teachings.

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Importance of the Circle

Although there are many beautiful explanations regarding the importance of the circle, one of the most eloquent explanation comes from the words of Black Elk Speaks - Spiritual Advisor of the Oglala Sioux. " You have noticed that everything an Indian does is in a circle and that is because the Power of the World always works in circles and everything tries to be round. In the old days, when we were a strong and happy people, all our power came to us from the sacred hoop of the nation and so long as the hoop was unbroken, the people flourished. The flowering tree was the living center of the hoop and the circle of the four quarters nourished it. The East gave peace and light, the South gave warmth. The West gave rain and the North, with its cold and mighty wind gave strength and endurance. This knowledge came to us from the outer world with our religion. Everything the Power of the World does, is done in a circle. The sky is round and I have heard the earth is round like a ball and so are the stars. The wind, in its great power whirls. Brids make their nests in circles, for theirs is the same religion as ours. The sun comes forth and goes down in a circle. the moon does the same and both are round. Even the seasons form a great circle in their changing and always come back again to where they were. The life of man is a circle from childhood to childhood and so it is in everything where power moves. Our teepees were round like the nests of birds and these were always set in a circle, the nation's hoop, a nest of many nests where the Great Spirit meant for us to hatch our children."

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