Saturday, September 30, 2006

Native American Spirituality


Robert Staffanson Executive Director, American Indian Institute

Note a dictionary's definition of spirituality: "devotion to spiritual (i.e. metaphysical) things instead of worldly things." This definition does not apply to Native Americans because they do not recognize a dichotomy between "spiritual" and material things.

A simplistic definition of Native American spirituality would be that it is the opposite of pragmatism (i.e. short-term concern with "practical" results). While Native American spirituality is not easily defined, it has several defining characteristics:

a) Recognition of the interconnectedness of all Creation, and the responsibility of human beings to use their intelligence in protecting that inter- connectedness. That applies particularly to the lifegiving elements: water, air and soil.

b) A belief that all life is equal, and that the presence of the life spark implies a degree of spirituality whether in humans, animals or plants. In their view the species of animals and birds, as well as forests and other plant life, have as much "right" to existence as human beings, and should not be damaged or destroyed. That does not mean that they cannot be used but that use has limitations.

c) Their primary concern is with the long-term welfare of life rather than with short-term expediency or comfort. They consider all issues and actions in relationship to their long-term effect on all life, not just human life.

d) Their spirituality is undergirded by thankfulness to the Creator. Prayer, ceremonies, meditation and fasting are an important part of their lives. But they ask for nothing. They give thanks: for all forms of life and for all the elements that make life possible, and they are concerned with the continuation of that life and the ingredients upon which it depends.

Traditional Native Americans believe that any of their people who lack spirituality are no longer Indian. Traditional Native Americans do not see any spirituality in our "western" world. They believe that we have a kind of mindless materialism that is destroying both us and the world we live in.

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