Use Your Words like Your life Depended on them

Monday, April 13, 2009

Does Natural law without Christianity Exist?

Dene elder, Isidore Deranger 1909-1993
Fort Chipewyan, Alberta

I recently traveled to Alberta to participated in a “Natural Law" workshop lead by Canadian First Nation elders from the Treaty 6 area.  But what actually occurred was confusing to me.

 My understanding of “natural law” is based on what I perceive as Indigenous Peoples' integral relationship with nature. Indigenous ways of knowing in my opinion is not religions; rather it is ways of life centered upon the complex relationships between Indigenous societies with nature (Mother Earth). Each Indigenous culture had its own holistic and sophisticated structure based on the laws of nature which existed prior to European contact and, more specifically, prior to contact with church missionaries.
My opinion is that christianity was transferred at initial contact to Indigenous peoples as a means to control and conquer them. Some people argue that the colonizers were “saving the souls” of the Indigenous peoples from a certain peril of hell, but in fact what resulted was a genocidal erasing of Indigenous peoples' beliefs that had served their societies for a long time. And I am not to mention the residential schools scattered across Canada who did so much harm it will take many generations to heal the inter-generational harm.

Christianity is centered on a hierarchy religion reflecting a European paradigm, where Indigenous beliefs on the other hand are non-hierarchical and egalitarian.
What I was hoping to learn from the teachings of the elders was 'natural law' without the Christian bits, but sadly, I left disappointed and confused.  The elder began his speech with letting  story of Adam and Eve and how we are all sinners. Are some of today's Indigenous elders   confused as a result of being indoctrinated by Christianity, and are seeking to explore their spirituality by collapsing Christianity teachings with anything that is organic and fluid, meaning spirit or energy?
Unfortunately, the indoctrination of Christianity is so well embedded and woven into the fabric of these Indigenous elders' teachings and is passed off as "natural law". What sadden me the most is that they seemed unaware that their teaching was in fact based on Christianity. This is what colonization looks like.

I am not judging Christianity as something that is bad. I was raised Catholic I know a little something about indoctrination. My mom is devote and many family members as well.   All I am saying is that I was interested in learning the true teachings of 'natural law' in the form of a decolonized (or better yet pre-colonized) and pure teaching, which I am positive continues to exist in First Nations country somewhere. 

 The photo above is a picture of a spiritual Dene man, my Dad, who had knowledge of 'natural law' as understood by the Dene people.  But I was too young and maybe too stupid (or at least too willing to believe in the lessons of priests and nuns) to accept his teachings had merit, until sadly it was too late.  


Carol Omer said...

I really appreciate what you are saying here is the same story all over the world...Christians swarming over pre-existing practice and belief systems and insisting people are going to hell if they are not 'saved'.

We have a friend who is very connected to Culture, is an educator and traditional story teller and also a Christian.. I think of her as a "Dreamtime Christian"...but nevetherless I can't help but wonder what was lost in order to bring Christianity in.....

When I saw the Easter images of the bleeding, suffering Christ and weeping Marys (who are either a Virgin or a whore) my nervous system, a fine tuned barometer for my "Truth"...just shimmy-shammied with the nessage.."This so is not right.."...and whilst I appreciate thatit is right for millions...that sure isn't the case for this little duck.

I'm sorry that there has been a link in the chain of culture broken because of the imposition of anothers religion Angelina...


ToBlog today said...

(this comment from an email)

This is very interesting! You are fortunate to posses knowledge enough (from your father & your Catholic education, respectively) of both worlds/approaches to nature & to be able to discern between them.
But I can see how the dearth of knowledge/discourse of pre-Contact Indigenous perspectives on "natural laws" would be disappointing.

From discussions with friends and colleagues I've oft noted how people tend to use their own frames of reference in order to analyze phenomena other than what they're accustomed to. But in this case, it seems, the process of 'Colonization' has erased knowledge of authentic indigenous frames of reference.

The 1st episode of the PBS doc. (above) did touch upon the "integral relationship with Nature" of the indigenous people in the Algonquin territory....and how this was forced to change with the arrival of European world views in the New England area; and how the (indigenous) person slowly came to view his or her self as separate from the land.

Great Blogs, by the way! (I see you are also quite into Buddhist philosophies and teachings....they are quite helpful, and it's interesting to see the commonalities with other world belief systems.)

It's snowy rain here today in E-town!
Have a great day! :)

ToBlog today said...

(received by email, edited to remove personal information)


Interesting article, unfortunate experience you had though. Here's a bit of feedback... okay, reading it over I see I really got on my soapbox lol. Anyway...

Actually, some of the traditions and practices have always been hierarchical and still are. In my own Ojibwe culture, there is a spiritual practice like that and in BC, I'm told by my neighbour whose father is the chief of all of BC that the First Peoples of BC have always had a very hierarchical societal structure. I actually went to him for "the truth" after seeing some kind of horrifying facts about the history of our First Nations people in BC, in my daughter's homework. But it's true. The system in place sounds somewhat like an aristocracy. But still yes, there is also an inherent understanding of the connection between us and Mother Earth and a deep respect for Mother Earth as well.

What did you mean by the part about collapsing teachings?

Are Indigenous elders of today confused as a result of being indoctrinated by Christianity and collapse those teachings with anything that is organic and fluid, meaning spirit or energy? To suggest that the indoctrination of Christianity is well embedded and woven into the fabric of Indigenous elders' teachings is a generalization. Later when you say you're sure this connection to natural law does exist somewhere in First Nations communities, you're more on point. You only experienced a small bit of teachings from a handful of people from one of hundreds of Native cultures and while it is true that many of our elders are speaking through a filter of colonization, many of the true traditions, stories, languages, songs, art practices etc. are still intact. It just depends on who you are listening to, what nation, who you are (some elders will share only certain teachings with non-natives because of their own pain caused by colonialism), the purpose/intentions of the conference or event where you're hearing them speak, lots of factors.

One of those factors too is that right now there are a lot of hurting people in our communities and that pain has been brought up (to be healed hopefully for many) by "the apology" by the Canadian government for the Residential Schools forced on our communities. So often that's what people are hearing about at conferences and even in public ceremonies - the pain and what has stemmed from it, and also a desire to show people that there were far more negative effects of colonization on our people than the government was willing to admit. The other side of that is the re-emergence and vigilant protection of many of the sacred traditions.

The Great Spirit is not God renamed at all. It is more the other way around. In Native cultures, we have countless spirits but there is always one Great Spirit (look in the mythology - there are some great books written by Native people) - and also "the Great Spirit" I think is just the most well-known translation (pretty sure it originates from G'chi Manitou which is from the Anishabeg language) of many. Keep in mind also that much is lost in the translation of First Nations language to English - most First Nations words and phrases cannot be directly translated into English. There are things embedded in the languages that only those few who have their original language as their first language, and still speak it fluently, can understand.

But again, if you're listening to an elder who has been through residential school or similar colonization experiences, you're more likely to get teachings through a filter of Catholicism.your

learned over the past few years, from the most reliable traditional Native elder I know, as well as other reliable sources...

But I have also been told that as far as spirituality, going with your heart IS a traditional way to live. The so-called Law of Attraction was always around and being used, and is still being taught by some elders I know, because it was part of the original teachings.

Your article is certainly a thought-provoking topic.

My last words are that all you really have to do to live by natural law is look around and really see what nature does. There are teachings in the water, wind, plants, trees, animals, birds etc.

The way everything is changing is very significant also. Even as some elders around the world are holding onto their culture and protecting sacred ceremonies from extinction, the reality is that Mother Earth is moving us human beings into a new way of being and the old systems - including tribal systems - are collapsing to allow for this. And that is natural law. Mother Earth is the one in charge right now.

Just my thoughts, B

Detlef said...

Thank you for this post, Angelina.

Recently my wife and me had the opportunity to walk in the Guadalupe Mountains in western Texas. I was thinking of the people who lived there for thousands of years in harmony with nature - or so I suppose, as I know nothing of them. What I know about the Indigenous People of America I know through the filter of my own culture. Can you look out of your own culture? I don't know.

Later were reading about Apaches using the Guadalupe Mountains as a basis for "raiding" the farms and little towns around. But who owned the land of the towns and farms before there were fences? Who was raiding whom?

If you can compare cultures: which is more advanced? Obviously the one that can coexist with Mother Earth in a sustainable way.

But if you are flying 7000 miles to reach this insight you might be sitting in a glasshouse - throwing stones.

ToBlog today said...

Thank you for your comments.

Since writing this post I've had many discussions with various people on this subject. It is thought provoking and discussions got very passionate. What is important here is that this dialogue continues in indigenous communities as a search for true self.

Moreover, where possible this discuss take place in the mother-tongue of those communities because so much of the teachings is lost in translation.

Marshi Cho