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Native American Spirituality Essay

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What are some important points raised by James Dumont in his discussion of the Ojibway worldview? Are these similar or different to Hallowell’s and Jenness’ points? How?

Within the framework of Native American spirituality the concepts of totality (at oneness with the creation), perfect humility, peace, etc. must be understood and directly applied. This spirituality is metaphysical in nature in that it focuses on the intrinsic correlation between being (self, existence, and living) and reality/world. Former professor of Native American Studies at Laurentian University (Sudbury, Canada), Jim Dumont has spent over thirty years studying Native American culture and spirituality.

Currently teaching at the Seven Generations Institute in the Indigenous Masters Program, his areas of expertise include Native Psychology, Tradition and Culture, Native Education, Native Way of Seeing as well as Indigenous Peoples’ Issues in the International Context ( Dumont). Known as Walks above Ground (Onaubinisay), Dumont is a member of the Ojibway-Anishinabe Waubezhayshee clan.

Concerning world view, Dumont purports Native American concept or vision of reality/the world drastically differs from Euro-American view. The vision is total as well circular and entails metaphysical and physical aspects. Visions, dreams, insight and knowledge comprise this world view as well as transcendence of time and space, metamorphosis, and the role non-human (animals, plants, etc.). The body/soul asserts Dumont, experiences two realities – the tangible and the intangible – which in turn brings one in contact with a sacred manner of living. Most importantly, this type of life is universal for it can be experienced by all.

In his book, Ojibwa Ontology, Behavior, and World View, the late A. Irving Hallowell, concurs with this perspective and adds another dimension. An anthropologist, archaeologist, as well as business, Hallowell studied Native American culture. Like Dumont, Hallowell focuses on metaphysics, dreams, metamorphosis, etc. but links it with linguistics and world view as a means of understanding behavior. He also contends that life cannot be compartmentalized for is all interconnected.

The sacred and the profane cannot be separated nor can the mundane or metaphysical. These realms/circles are spiritually relevant and must be perceived as so. Another key focal point is gender. European religious spiritually is male/female where as in Native American culture, is animate and inanimate. Even more unique, is that animate can be plants, animals, spiritual beings, or a natural phenomenon. Hallowell extensively covers Ojibwa world thereby providing a comprehensive view of Native American spirituality.

Acclaimed Canadian scientist/anthropologist Diamond Jenness substantiates the premise proposed by Dumont and Hallowell but with his own scope. Unlike Hallowell who proposes a non gender universe, Jenness likens the Universe unto a family in which Grandfather is the Creator and Grandmother Moon, Mother Earth. They serve as the parents of earth with children being the blessing of their union. The relatives of humankind are the whole creation.

Animals play a major role, with the wolf (true brother, spirit) as a focal figure and conduit for ancient spirits. Humankind’s interconnectedness with surrounding forces, the environment, and landscape always maintain one in a non-solitary state. Jenness also purports the relationship between man and animal in that at birth man is immediately connected spiritually with one animal as well as the importance of plants. Names are very significant for they provide purpose and direction in life. The guiding force of life is dreams and visions. With a slightly different scope, Dumont, Hallowell, and Jenness converge on the fundamental precept of Native American spirituality – that life is journey whose only true fulfillment can be experienced and enjoyed on the spiritual realm.

What are the roles and responsibilities of shaman? Why are they important within indigenous communities?

An anthropological term, shamanism is comprehensive belief system which involves communication with spiritual realms. Persons that practice Shamanism are referred to as Shamans. Their purpose is two fold for they serve not only as spiritual conduits but as spiritual/physical healers. Operating from the premise that the state of the physical body is representative/indicative of a spiritual condition, Shamans treat and address ailments that are designed to mend the soul/spirit.

When the soul and the body are at peace, at one, then an individual experiences balance and a sense of wholeness – they are at one with the Universe. Shamans not only perform such service in the tangible world but for suffering souls/spirits in the intangible/spiritual realms. Other functions include preserver of culture (storyteller, etc.), fortune telling, sacrifice coordinator, etc. In terms of gender preference, most shamans are male with Asian and African cultures having a preference for females.

In terms of world view, the Shaman divides the universe/world into three realms – upper, human, and lower with the upper encompassing the spiritual/sky plane, the human being that which is tangible or visible, and the lower entailing the spiritual underworld. Common instruments/symbols associated with Shamanism are feathers, rattles, gongs, pipes with animals such as snakes and roosters being included as well. Due to world advancement, lack of understating, etc. Shamanism has become somewhat of novelty and is prevalent only in many indigenous cultures throughout the world.

What is the significance of clowns in First Nations culture compared to in contemporary society? What are they trying to tell us?

Mostly grotesque in appearance, clowns are generally perceived as comical performers whose sole purpose is to entertain. In Native American culture, clowns are perceived and utilized differently among various tribes. In Cheyenne culture, there exists contrary clowns who as the word contrary implies do everything just the opposite (ride horses backwards, etc.) in everyday life situations. During time of battle however, they drastically change their persona. Skilled warriors, they become the most feared. Amongst the Hopi Nation, there exist the Koshari or Hano clowns. They wear loin clothed clothing, tall feathered hats and paint their bodies black with white stripes.

They entertain but like the Contrary Clowns their purpose is ironically two fold for they are the keepers of tradition and culture. They have healing, teaching, and spiritual capabilities as well. Commonly accepted in the medical world, laughter is viewed as excellent healer and psychologically beneficial. Performing in comical manner produces such laughter. In satirizing bad conduct, clowns server as teachers and enforcers of good conduct.

Work Cited

Dumont, James. “Journey To Daylight-land: Through Ojibwa Eyes.” Laurentian University Review 8, no. 2 (1976).

Hallowell, Irving A. “Ojibwa Ontology, Behavior, and World View” in Readings in Indigenous Religions. Ed. Graham Harvey. Continuum: New York, 2002. pp. 17-49.

Jenness, Diamond “Man and Nature” (Ch3). The Ojibwa indians of Parry Island: Their Social and Religious life. Anthropological Series # 17, Bulletin No. 7. Ottawa: National Museum of Canada, 1935. pp.18-23.

Mircea Eliade, Shamanism, Archaic Techniques of Ecstasy, Bollingen Series LXXVI, Pantheon Books, NYNY 1964, pp. 3-7.

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