My experience with religion has been interesting to say the least. In Attawapiskat, the Jesuits established a church as part of the French wave of colonists during the early days of the fur trade. The English also dispatched Anglican missionaries to First Nation territories on the Hudson and James Bay with the most notable being Moose Factory.
Many of us Cree up the coast accepted the new religions forced upon us. Over the years we were swept up in European religious beliefs. However, we also brought to it our own traditional beliefs so that we ended up with a strange if not schizophrenic blend of religion.
Thankfully, we survived a systematic assault on our beliefs and traditional ways through the signing of treaties that corralled us onto reservations right across this vast country. We also survived the strategy of assimilation through the development of the residential school system in which thousands of First Nation children were rounded up and taken from their parents to learn the ways of the European.
Today we have a more open society that allows First Nation people to return to our traditional and cultural ways. All over the country Native people are rediscovering the traditions and beliefs that our ancestors lived by. There are many traditional leaders as chiefs and council members today and our people are returning to drumming, dancing and cultural activities.
Non-Native people often ask me to explain First Nation religious beliefs. This question is complicated because there are so many different interpretations depending on your point-of-view or perspective. After many years of interviewing and learning from traditional teachers, leaders and Elders I think I have found a comfortable way to find meaning in a belief that is spiritual rather than religious. I think that Buddhism is probably the religion or belief structure that could be compared as similar to Native traditional spiritualism. The main reason is due to the common belief in that everything is connected and every action has a consequence.
I imagine that many peoples in held this belief in universal connectivity simply because it had to do with survival. We needed to depend on all the living things and the environment around us to survive. We needed to have respect for other human beings on the land and to realize that sharing and harmony was imperative if we wanted to survive. We needed to remember that respect for the land, the water, trees and all life was a necessary belief if we wanted to survive.
This belief in connectivity or oneness is something that is integral to how Native spiritual people think and live. At a time in the evolution of this world I am often disappointed in how we are treating each other when it comes to beliefs or religions. Many Christian fundamentalists have very narrow views and much of this seems to stem from a trend to politicize religion. Often, through history, it is evident that religions have been used to further the strategies of political leaders in terms of invasion, dominance, war and control over many by few. Fundamentalists in the Islamic faith that I have met also are convinced that their beliefs are set in stone and that blind faith overrules anything else.
Over the years I have come to the conclusion that blind religious faith is a very sad and tragic mindset. As free thinkers and individuals we all should always be able to question anything in our universe. Too often I have encountered religious fundamentalists who believe that their religion or belief system should be imposed on everyone else. That leads to continual conflict, as we have seen through the ages and now witness today. Every fundamental religious follower believes that their particular belief system will take him or her to heaven while those who are non-believers will be damned to hell.
Perhaps it is possible that as we evolve we will remember that it is in our best interest as a species to get along with one another and get back to realizing and feeling the connectivity that we have in this wonderful universe. As our early ancestors realized we need to do this as a matter of survival.