Roger Orr, Nemaska’s National Native Alcohol and Drug Abuse Program (NNADAP) worker, said he is feeling victorious as a resolution was passed at the recent Annual General Assembly of the Crees to finally protect Cree traditional spiritual practices when it comes to substance-abuse recovery.
Orr said the suggestion for the resolution came about at the 15th Annual Addictions Awareness Conference held in Whapmagoostui in early August. After incorporating some aspects of spiritual traditional healing at the event, discussions about its effectiveness when treating Natives suffering from addictions took on a life of their own.
“At the meeting these facts were presented by certain individuals who partake in the ceremonies as part of their healing and those who are the conductors of these ceremonies. They explained openly and courageously the fact that they were being oppressed,” said Orr.
At the Whapmagoostui event, Orr said that though it was the NNADAP workers who had talked about their own personal successes in incorporating traditional spirituality with addictions healing, it was actually the Elders participating in the event who were the most supportive of the sacred traditions. Their suggestion was to bring these practices back.
By the end of the conference, it was resolved unanimously by the workers and Elders participating that a resolution was needed to protect these spiritual practices and those that perform them.
A week later at the AGA, Resolution 2010-08 was passed on freedom of religious and spiritual beliefs, which are upheld in the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms and Quebec’s Charter of Human Rights and Freedom. The resolution states, “It is up to each individual to continue to freely practice their religious and spiritual beliefs within the Eeyou Istchee.”
Within the resolution there was also a call for inclusion of traditional Cree helping methods in health and social service programming and delivery.
Orr explained that this does not necessarily mean that everyone going to see a NNADAP worker will suddenly have to partake in Cree traditional spirituality and practices as a part of their treatment, but that from now on it would be a valid option. The resolution is merely a protection for those looking to get involved and to ensure that others within the communities who are opposed to such practices cannot halt them.
“For the people who chose to go to traditional ceremonies, we are going to be there for them to provide that service. This way everyone will have access to what they want to choose because right now it is quite difficult for me to provide that service directly within the community,” said Orr.
At the same time Orr said he also understands how attitudes towards spiritual practices are not going to change overnight as he has experienced a great deal of opposition from his own community for practicing his faith.
Orr said he had to build his own lodge on the outskirts of Nemaska due to public opposition and that some community members went as far as writing petitions to stop its construction. They even tried to pass a bylaw to ban traditional spirituality ceremonies and practices within the reserve.
“My grandchildren have come to traditional ceremonies. They love the drum, they are open to it, they even smudge and will be coming in to do a sweat this summer. However, they have been told that this is all evil at the school because the Christian faith is in there. For me this resolution should protect the children too,” said Orr.
Orr said in the past he has also had his traditional sweat lodges vandalized, turned over, dismantled and one was even run over by a truck by someone within his own community.
Seeing this resolution passed, particularly as it is one that he was consulted on, is something Orr sees not only as a victory but as a step in the right direction because of what it can do for those in need of healing or simply those looking to practice the faith of their ancestors.
“I remember what an Elder said, why should we push aside something that was given to us? Because when we push aside something that was given to us, it is as though we are pushing God aside. He has given this to us to help us and so we should take it,” said Orr.