They say persecution is the systematic mistreatment of one group by another and one of the most commons forms is religious persecution. As a matter of fact, in the 2000 years of the Christian faith, about 70 million believers have been killed for their faith.
In fact, historically, what is considered the cradle of civilization; the Roman Empire was clearly the basis for the spread of Christianity throughout what they knew of the world at that time.
This lead to cultural stressors resulting from martyrdom and persecution that ultimately determined the ways in which later Christian practitioners and religious authorities would act.
An argument could be made they could be their own worst enemies. From differing interpretations of the written word, the Crusades, the desperation of a king who would promote Protestantism in order to begat a heir, the fleeing of the Puritans to the New World and the Christianization of South and North America are prime indicators of this. Then there is the First Nations residential experience of education through Christian schools in order to ensure that one group of people became like another.
A case in point is in the past Mistissini Cree would hear the sounds of a hunter beating his drum while singing his hunting song in our village. Everyone would know to go to his home and take a bit of food. That was the way they let us know that they had game to share freely. The church was concerned as the drums represented the part of the land the hunters and talleymen were responsible for. Because of that the drums were banned in the community.
By these actions Christian faith had shown its power over traditional beliefs and practices. Your children could be taken without your permission and your faith and customs were shown to be impotent.
Many Cree traditional spiritual practitioners stopped displaying the ceremonies.
Only in the last decade or so has the spiritual customs resurfaced. More and more Cree are interested in looking at Cree time-honoured traditions as an alternative to mainstream choices when looking at the well-being and healing for themselves. A recent family-violence conference saw many Christian leaders acknowledge that personal changes in behaviour to a more traditional Cree way of life could benefit both the individual and local community.
That was also the consensus at this year’s Grand Council/CRA Annual General Assembly. They even passed a resolution on people’s “Freedom of Rite.”
It was about freedom of religion, a right protected by the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, the Quebec Charter of Human Rights and Freedom and now the Government of Eeyou Istchee, our own Grand Council. Some resolutions become regional by-laws and now are part of the Cree rule of law, which in part reads, “Whereas it is up to each individual to continue to freely practice their religious and spiritual beliefs within the Eeyou Istchee.” This is now a regional by-law.
All of this is no comfort to Lana Wapachee, a resident of Oujé-Bougoumou. The O.J. Band Council has told her to take down the sweat lodge she has in her yard.
I can feel her pain to be told that she cannot seek a path through creation to the creator in her own way.
When you really look at it the differences in beliefs seem to be trivial. The Cree traditionalists have guiding spirits, sometimes animals, while Christians have guiding angels. It is the same for guardian or helpful angels and spirits in either Christian or Cree beliefs. Ultimately everyone believes in one creator and maybe each have embraced their right and proper way of establishing a relationship with the creator. The paths need not be the same as none of us can really comprehend the totality of the creator and can best approach understanding in a certain way.
But Oujé-Bougoumou may be facing some serious questions soon. For example, what will be the court costs of enforcing a by-law in face of going against a federal and provincial charter law and a Cree Nation by-law? Can a community’s well-being afford to deny free will to its residents, whoever and how they worship?
A denial of freedom to worship or seek a path that is right for an individual only denies the Creator’s greatest gift to all of humanity when we were given free will.