Tag Archives: religion

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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Not everything is as it seems: Life as First Graders

Not everything is as it seems: Life as First Graders

Hello all!

For my fellow Canadians, Happy Thanksgiving! I hope you are all having a great weekend. I had to run back to the office quickly today but other than that, I am enjoying the time off! Today, we will be going back in time and see the Red man as a first grader. We are going back in the late 1970’s when nuns were teaching the children. We will be talking about the Red man’s first experience seeing a nun and how things are perceived at the tender age of 6. I will be adding my own two cents here and there as I worked with kids for many years and have my own experiences. Stay tuned because as you will see not everything is as it seems. Let’s look at life as a first grader 🙂

There were all the kids and then there was Lenny

I was a little man in a big world of intrigue and wonder. In the school yard, each and every kid is shrouded in some type of mystery.  They seemed to all fit into a category or another. Fat funny kids, skinny quiet ones, ugly kids, pretty kids and the weird quiet kid, aka Lenny. The kid with orange toquethe orange toque that he never took off. The little awkward kid who never said one word to anyone even if he was taunted or teased. If Lenny was anything, he was a master at avoiding confrontation. He would just walk to some quiet unoccupied piece of the playground where he would almost be gone and forgotten except for the fact that his orange hunting toque was like a beacon in the night.

“Here I am, pick on me” it said. Kids can be cruel and we were cruel. In children, the anxiety associated with the development of social skills can be quite high especially when you have no real social skills to begin with. Children can be cowards, they will take their frustration out on the perceived inferior being and Lenny was the chosen one. He was the one even the weakest child could pick on. He would not defend himself but stuck out like a sore thumb.

School in the 1970’s and the nuns

I do not know how school is today but in the late 1970’s, we had to sing the national anthem first thing in the morning and religion class was mandatory (having worked for a catholic school district, I can tell you this is still happening in some school districts in Canada). So after the morning bell rang we would stand for the national anthem. We would then sit and attendance would be taken. Lenny was so attached to his toque that he never took it off even during the national anthem. The weird quiet kid never took off his toque so he was the butt of the jokes.

When you are a child, time has no real reference point. It is all new and exciting and is hard to comprehend when looking back. A day seems like a month and a month seems like a lifetime (having assessed kids for years I can attest to that! They need to be given reference points otherwise they seem to think everything will last forever. Literally). So I am not sure how long into Grade 1 we were when we got a new nun for religion class. When I walked into the class, an ominous figure sat at our teacher’s desk: a nun in a nun’s cloak, head covering and all. This was my first experience with a nun so I did not know what to expect. If there was ever an intriguing mystery, a nun sure was one of them. If there was a real life superhero capable of extraordinary things, she was it. I thought this nun had some real power, she could send me to hell!

Sisters of St-Francis in 1886

But I was a good kid and that is the truth (I can see him being good, full of wonder for the world). I was afraid to be anything but good, the fear of God was instilled deep inside of me. Indeed, as I have said in the past, I was raised by my grandmother and my aunts. Although I am an Indian, religion was present in my household. My aunt Lulu, well one of my many aunts, would tuck me in bed at night. But Lulu was the one who got in depth about “Hell the place where bad people would go if they were bad. This place where you burn forever and ever and the Devil, this evil monster pokes me with a fork stick”. There was this prayer that scared the shit out of me. “Now I lay me down to sleep, pray the Lord my soul to keep and if I die before I wake, pray my soul to take” (what an awful prayer for a child!). So before bed, we would say a few Our fathers, a few Hail Marys and at last I would lay down to sleep. So when I saw this woman with this cloak in my classroom, I was especially aware of my behavior.

Fort Albany residential school

Fort Albany residential school

The prayer and Lenny

So here we are in Grade 1, when the bell rang and all the little rug rats filed in. When the bell rang a second time signaling the start of class, the chuckling and giggling had already began (kids are funny little fuckers, they will giggle and laugh just to giggle and laugh). The nun was a weird sight for us kids and we all knew she was getting none. Wow, I just realized that I knew what “getting some” was all about at such a young age! So the nun gets out of her chair and makes her way to the front and center of the classroom. “Okay children be quiet for a second. I want you to stand and bow your head for the Lord’s Prayer.” The classroom went eerily quiet as soon as she spoke. We were children, we would steal, lie and cheat but in the face of authority we would do our best to appear angelic (yep). As I stood there with my head bowed, I peeked child prayingaround to see who was looking at Lenny. We all wanted to see what his head looked like. We knew there was no chance of him getting away with wearing his toque during our Father’s prayer.

“Hey you in the back of the classroom, you with the orange toque”, the classroom came to life with chuckles and giggles. The conspiratorial looks increased, everyone was aware that the great revelation was here: we would know what Lenny looked like. Rumor had it that he was bald, some even said that his head was possibly full of scars. All the while Lenny stood quietly with his head down looking at the floor. “Hey you with the orange toque, take your toque off for the Lord’s prayer”. The nun’s voice rose a few octaves higher as the classroom began to chuckle and giggle louder. “Hey you with the orange toque” but before she could even finish, a floodgate of emotions shook Lenny’s body. A grotesque sounding noise came pouring out of Lenny’s mouth as he ran toward the door. The entire class erupted in a rumble of laughter until “Shut up” the nun roared. The classroom went nununcomfortably quiet as the nun walked out the classroom door doing her best to find the wounded animal. As she came back a while later, we resumed our prayer.



And then we learned the truth about Lenny…

We stood there arms at our sides, eyes closed doing our best to stay composed. And then two weeks later (in kid’s time), a message came over the intercom. “We are sad to announce that our school has lost one of its students. Lenny has passed away”. It was a strange and almost divine punishment. We were being punished for teasing Lenny. We were told that Lenny had died of leukemia, his radiation treatment had made him loose his hair. Hence the orange toque… I then began to question the power that the nun supposedly had. She was supposed to be a good person, God’s servant, who was better or greater than the rest of us. She looked more human than ever and not a very good human at that.

You see, as kids, adults are supposed to know everything and they were supposed to tell us what we needed to know. I know we would have treated Lenny better if we knew he was going to die. I know we would have had, I would have made sure of it. When we looked in each others’ eyes, we could see the shame and the guilt we all felt. I began to question religion at this point in my life. It did not make too much sense to me. I felt guilty and wrong for the way Lenny was treated. His last day at school was his worst day in this world. Children will steal, lie and cheat. They will yell, scream and holler but deep down they are innocent and perfect in their imperfection. They are honest and that is the truth about humanity (you can always count on a kid to tell it like it is).

first grade classroom

So where do we go now?

I hope you see inside the mind of a child when you read this stuff. I hope you see me as first grader and how I was seeing the world. And remember this: those little people are just like you. Offend them now and they will offend you later. Lie to them now and they will never grow up and be a liar like you. I ended up failing Grade 1 as our house burned down. And later on in life, I ended up being best friend with Lenny’s brother. The truth is that I still feel guilty for the way we all treated Lenny. The only thing he ever said to us was that scream he let out as he ran out the room. Please say a prayer for little Lenny and all the little bastards who were in that classroom as I bet half of them might remember little Lenny.

Hi it is me, Emily now. Some of you might not know this but I used to be a school psychologist. And the Red man’s story reminded me of this little girl in kindergarten I used to know. A little little girl who was full of life and joy. She was so happy to be in school, to make new friends. She was also a little bit shy but had a few friends. Then I got a phone call from the school principal. The little girl’s parents wanted to meet with her and I. Because not everything is as it seems. You see, their daughter had an inoperable brain tumor. She would not survive it. All at the tender age of 5. You want to hear the twist? Both her parents were doctors, one of them a surgeon. Yet they could not save her. They could only know each and every difficult step she was going to go through in the next months, steps they relayed in a meeting I had with them. So we tried to make the little’s girl last days comfortable and fun. She attended school when she could, kids would help her get around and do her daily activities. And I get the Red man’s point that kids can tease and be cruel but kids are also very intuitive and sensitive. And caring. As the little girl passed away during the Christmas break, a memorial was put up in her classroom. Kids drew cards for her and they stuck them all over the board. So she would never have to miss a day of class.

kindergarten classroom

Does anyone remember their first grade? Do you remember the kids who were with you? Did you have a Lenny in your classroom? Did this story touch you? Comment below and I will respond.

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Native American spirituality vs religion

Native American spirituality vs religion

Hi all!smudging

I am continuing on with the writing of the Red Man, the Cree man who helped me write my last post. I have written a few posts about the history of the Native people (see my history and trauma category on the right) and about the philosophy and spirituality (see category on the right too). I have discussed the influence of the White man and religion on the trauma that was inflicted on the Native people. Because although not always intentionally, trauma was inflicted in the name of religion. Not an easy topic to discuss or read about but it happened. Assimilation was the goal, to take the Indian out of the man. In the name of Christianity, traditions were forbidden, beliefs were ridiculed, and cultures were erased. Or at least, they tried to. So today, let’s look at the concepts of religion and Native American spirituality.

What is the Native fight?

Some would say we are on the war path, fighting a fight we might lose if we do not know who we are fighting against. If we do not know, we will fight ourselves and everyone close to us. Who

Chief Dan George

Chief Dan George

is the enemy then or what is the enemy? Chief Dan George once said: “When you came to this land, we had the land and you had the bible. Now you have the land and we have the bible”. Maybe it is time to wake up and smell the aroma of fear. To remember who we are and in a sense, we were not religious. Native people became “religious” as a military ploy, pretending to believe in a religion so the religious ones would stop killing them. Guess what? Even though we pretended, they still killed us.

Native spirituality vs religion

Religion and the Red Road are diametrically opposed to each other in a few different ways. First of all, let’s clarify something. The Red Road or Native Spirituality is not considered a religion. It is considered a philosophy. The word philosophy is Greek for “a love of wisdom”. We love wisdom wherever it comes from. From the White, Red, Black and Yellow man. Indeed, the concept of the Medicine Wheel dictates that once the attributes of the Red, White, Black and Yellow men are acknowledged, that’s when the medicine wheel is complete and whole. All knowledge is important, from all men.

Religion is a doctrine, a system of thoughts where all thoughts and truth come from a book, the bible let’s say. Religion tends to instill fear in people, the fear of hell, of doing bad, or burning in hell. However, one cannot get to the happy hunting grounds through fear. The Bible tells you to fear, to fear the God who has the power to kill you. Rebelling against God is bringing judgment upon oneself, inviting wrath into one’s life (Romans 13). I don’t know about you but living in that kind of fear does not seem like a very serene way of living.


The Priest and the Elder

The difference that I will describe here is bone chilling and beautiful at the same time. The Beothuk Indians, Indians from the tip of the Canadian East coast, are now extinct. But they gave us this pearl of wisdom to think about.

A priest is sitting with an Elder of the tribe. The priest says: “look at your children, running around, screaming and laughing. You had better take the rod to them or they will one day embarrass you in public. If you spare the child the rod, you do not love them. And secondly you had better give yourself to the land or you will burn in hell”.

Beothuk woman and child

Beothuk woman and child

The Elder’s response, is worth a moment of reflection. I will repeat what he said verbatim, word for word. “First of all, we do not hit our children! We have respect for their dignity. Second of all, we do not believe in this primitive fear that you call hell. You brought that here with you and you can take it back when you leave”.

Sense or nonsense, that is the question. In the name of religion, natural Natives were killed throughout the world. The Crusades, the Inquisition. For some, this might be an occasion to ask themselves, why do I know little about my people but a lot about the Bible? You might know the saying “What belongs to Ceasar, let Ceasar have”. Well, maybe what belongs to Jesus and his people, let Jesus and his people have. The people of the Bible only have respect for their ideas and show a hatred for the truth of anyone else. But the land speaks to you and their land speaks harshly to them. We live in the promised land and maybe we should live like we have heaven here on earth. We have our ancestors around us, we walk on their land, the land of our children. Let us live in peace, joy and love. Let us be who we were meant to be, not who we were made to be.

elder quote


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