Tag Archives: mother Earth

Religion vs Spirituality: Where does the Native American way of life fit in?

Religion vs Spirituality: Where does the Native American way of life fit in?

Hello everyone!prayer

Oh wow what a weekend! For those who follow my Facebook page, you probably have read that I officially graduated from my program in Aboriginal focusing oriented psychotherapy and complex trauma  (AFOT) certificate today!  Read more about this unique and amazing program here.  I have never experienced such a program. It has been a year of wonders, of learning, of healing. I cannot even begin to express my gratitude to my teachers, Elders and classmates. Who all became my second family. I have so much love and respect for all of them. It was a crazy busy and at times painful year. And they helped carry me forward and heal.

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Native American spirituality: Different perspective on suicide

Native American Spirituality: Different perspective on suicide

Hello all!

If you follow my site’s Facebook page, you know that I am currently doing course 4 in my certificate on Aboriginal psychotherapy and complex trauma. I absolutely love this program and recommend it to anyone who will listen! It is a very nontraditional program in which traditional ways of healing such as using the land and Mother Earth to heal, using our connection to nature, using the ancestors to guide and help us. It is very much an experiential program in which we do try on ourselves what we would do with clients. As much as I love it, I am typically exhausted by the time a course is over. But it is a wonderful experience! So I thought I would share and write about a topic we discussed today: suicide. Yes not the most uplifting topic, I agree. I did not mean to be a bummer. BUT, actually the perspective I want to share is a different one in which suicide is seen, in a way, as having had an adaptive function over time. Stay with me and you will find out what I mean. Let’s look at Native American spirituality and suicide.


A Native American perspective on suicide

In today’s day and age, suicide has a negative connotation. We tend to skirt the topic and pretend suicide does not exist. Or we tend to reassure loved ones of those who have committed suicide by saying things such as “she does not feel pain anymore” or “she is in heaven now”. Well, let’s think about this for a sec. So the one who committed suicide does not feel pain anymore? Well I want that too then. I mean, although it is meant to be reassuring, it almost makes suicide attractive here. “Who wants to stay alive and feel pain?” “Who wants to die and not feel pain anymore?” That is quite a restrictive view of suicide. I get that those words are meant to reassure those left behind but they portray suicide in a light that might not be accurate. This is not a tampon commercial, we are not all running in a field to go to a better place.

What else are we supposed to say you ask? Well, let’s think about it for a second. Within the Native cultures (yes there is more than one), the connection to Mother Earth, to the land is strong. We connect with the ground beneath our feet, with the wind in the Father Sky, with the warmth of Grand-father Sun, with the water of Grand-mother Ocean. We feel all of this on our earthly body. Because our life as we know it is our “earth time” in which we are in our physical form. We return to our spiritual form in the spirit world at death. So how about saying “she will never feel the wind on her face again” or “she won’t be able to feel the sun on her skin” instead? To remind us that we also need to be thankful for our bodies, for our physical side. We need to embrace our life on Earth before we go to the Spirit world. Because once we have crossed, our earth time is over and that comes with aftereffects that are rarely mentioned.


But wait suicide has always been present

Yes it has. It was present before the colonization of Turtle Island. Our ancestors committed suicide. They died for their land or their community. For example, older people would go off to die rather than slow down a nomadic tribe. Not as a sacrifice but rather as a way to serve the land or their community. If their earthly body was failing them, if they were in pain, if they believed that their family or community would do better that way. In a sense, it had an adaptive function. Kids would kill themselves if they saw their family struggling to eat so that the family could survive. This is still seen at times today, except that it is called an accident. I know some of you might be scratching their head, but suicide has always been and remains an option. It has always been there in the life of Indigenous people and will remain there. Suicide then has to be perceived as being normal. We all have our own different relationship with suicide. We sit beside it, we look at it, we explore it.

For some I can understand that what I just said might be scary. Because suicide is often considered to be a taboo. But suicide is present so we might as well talk about it. In numerous nations, on numerous reserves, suicide rates are high, higher than in the general population. Suicide and self-inflicted injuries are indeed the leading cause of death for First Nations youth and adults up to 44 years of age. It does not mean that every community has a high suicide rate. It means, however, that on average, the suicide rate is higher in Aboriginal youth than non-Aboriginal youth in Canada (5 to 1, up to 11 to 1 for Inuit youth). You will also see cluster suicides, of teens at times, where a teenager commits suicide and then a few follow suit. Or an echo suicide, i.e. suicides that take place after an extended period of time after the first one (e.g. on the anniversary of the death).

Hopi prayer

Hopi prayer for those who have lost a loved one

So yes we need to talk about it

Talking openly about suicide is what is done in Aboriginal focusing oriented therapy (AFOT, the program I am taking). We go toward suicide, we do not run away from it. We have an open discussion about it, we do not shame those who are thinking about dying or have tried to kill themselves. We respect and recognize that part of them might feel like dying. And then we can explore which part that is. And very importantly, if there is a vicarious or intergenerational component to that feeling. What do I mean by that? Well we explore whether that feeling is theirs alone or if part of it might belong to past generations. Was it the client’s mom feeling the same or the grand-mother maybe? Are clients carrying their ancestors’ experiences within themselves? Yes they are. Their body carries it. Their body carries the memory of what happened to their ancestors. And we need to be mindful of that reality.

smudging fan

So yes talking about suicide might be scary. When I first heard that suicide was and always is an option, my stomach churned. I was not comfortable with that. But then you have to look at it this way: suicide might be an option but it might not be the one I am taking right now. I am comfortable talking about suicide. I have done it many time in my work in jails. Detailed and intimate discussions about the client’s thoughts, feelings, actions. And what I found is that most individuals will find it reassuring to have those conversations. That someone can hold all of that. Because as therapists that is what we do, we hold. We serve as the container for the client to safely empty what makes them feel uncomfortable. We sit with it.

And that is not always easy. Cue Mother Earth. Yes we need to use the land to hold the client’s feelings. The land can do that. Imagine you are standing up and the space in front of you can hold what makes you uncomfortable, what hurts you, what scares you. Well in AFOT, that is what is done. The space, the land serves as a space to put the client’s feelings so they can be observed and discussed from a safer distance. The land will hold them so that it can feel safer to discuss them. The land is strong, solid (rocks do not move, we can count on them) while also offering fluidity (the fluidity of water, water washes the rocks).


So here we have it: suicide. A topic that is uncomfortable for many. But it is a reality and not talking about it won’t make it less a reality. So we might as well talk about it. Sit with it, have a conversation with it, a relationship to it. Normalize the whole thing so that people can speak more openly without feeling shame. While remembering that we are not alone as Mother Earth is there to help. What are your thoughts about suicide? Anyone offended by what I said? Anyone agrees? Comment below and I will answer 🙂

All my Relations


Meaning of the Tree of life

The Tree of life: its meaning

Hello all!green field

Some of you might have read my last post regarding a wonderful little book full of insight and wisdom: 365 days of Walking the Red Road. Well today I want to discuss a topic often mentioned and discussed within that book: the connection we have with Mother Earth. You are probably wondering what I mean. Well, if you remember the concept of the medicine wheel and the 7 directions, you remember that 2 of those directions are Mother Earth and Father Sky. Mother Earth is our connection to our past and to life. Let’s say how that is.

What is the Tree of life?

When one reads the book mentioned above, one can read lessons from the Red Road, to be considered inspirations on how to conduct oneself or live one’s life in a respectful way. The concept of the Tree of life is explained in this manner:

The Tree of life represents all that is life, encompassing all that exists upon the planet. When we walk the Red Road, our journey ends under the protection of this tree. It causes the rhythm of the world to continue year after year, and with each cycle, fruit nourishes those who stand under her boughs. The roots dig deep into history. Those dedicated to this energy know the value of all beings, tend to Mother Earth and live an honorable life in honor of the spirit of the ancient Tree.

tree of life

Tree of life by Azriel hell shoppe

What does that mean? I think it relates to the concept of “we are all related” or “Mitakuye Oyasin”. We all come from the land, we come from Mother Earth. If you think of Mother Earth and the Tree of life, the leaves, the fruits nourish the soil we walk on, nourishes us. Its roots are full of history, guided by the spirit of the previous trees. Like the medicine wheel, it represents the cycle of life. Where one leaf or fruit falls, another one begins its growth. Our ancestors used all the medicines provided by the trees and Mother Earth, to heal, get stronger. Everything was provided by Mother Earth.

But it’s more…tree of life

Mother Earth is where we come from and where we go back in the end. The Earth is our mother, is contains the ashes of our ancestors, it is full of wisdom from our ancestors. Chief Seattle, a Suquamish chief, was particularly vocal about Mother Earth and its importance.He famously said We do not inherit the Earth from our ancestors, we borrow it from our children. Meaning that it is a gift to us all. We live as children of the Earth but the land does not belong to us, we belong to the land. Chief Joseph advocated the equal rights upon earth for all, as she is the mother of all. The respect of the land is a significant value for the Native people. You always respect all your relations, including those in nature. You respect what the land gives you and only take what you need. It is a lesson that was taught to children. As Chief Seattle said:

Teach your children that the ground beneath their feet is the ashes of our grandfathers. So that they will respect the land, tell your children that the earth is rich with the lives of our own kin. Teach your children what we have taught our children – that the Earth is our mother. Whatever befalls the earth befalls the sons of the earth… This we know, all things are connected like the blood which unites one family.

Therefore, mother Nature, mother Earth is not for us but rather part of us. Mother Earth is the healer, the one who feeds us. She is our mother. I now leave you with a quote from Chief Luther Standing Bear, Oglala Sioux that summarizes things beautifully:

The white man is far too removed from America’s formative processes. The roots of the tree of life have not yet grasped the rock and the soil. But for the Indians, the spirit of the land is still vested. When the Indian has forgotten the music of his forefathers, when the sound of the tom-tom is no more, when the memory of his heroes is no longer told in story, he will be dead.

chief Luther Standing Bear

Chief Luther Standing Bear

All My Relations