Native afterlife: The Happy Hunting Grounds
I want to begin by thanking you for your warm response to my previous post, which some might not agree with. So considering the response to my previous post, I chose to discuss another potentially controversial topic: the concept of the afterlife. In our world today, there are many theories or beliefs as to what happens when one dies. Where do we go? What happens to our spirit? Do we come back? Possibly one of the most widespread theory is the Christian way of seeing death, i.e. one either goes to heaven or to hell, depending on one’s behavior and life on Earth. And one does not come back through reincarnation for example. We have one life and it is up to us to live it. Well…although different native cultures will vary slightly in their beliefs, the general belief within the native american population is that life does not end with death.
So what happens after death?
If you have visited this site or its Facebook page, you might have heard me talk about the “Happy hunting grounds” and you might be wondering what I mean by that. Well, first off, most native cultures believe in the concept of multiple lives, meaning that our present life is not our only life. Therefore, I have existed before and will exist after. Maybe in a different form but I will continue to exist. I will use my own experience here to explain. Some of you might relate to it. So, I was not raised in the “native way of life”. I was not exposed to this way as a child. However, when I was introduced to it years ago, it felt very familiar to me. Many times during ceremonies or even talks with Elders, I had the feeling of having done similar things in the past. I know full well I have not in this life. But part of me believes that I did live that way in a different life. A past life. The native way of life brings me comfort, inner peace, it is soothing to me. It brings a sense of “being home”, i.e. something familiar I had in my life before.
Alright, I might have lost some of you with what I just said but it is important. As the Native culture talks about the concepts of past lives, present life and the afterlife. One does not go to hell or heaven based on one’s actions on Earth. I don’t know about you but I find some reassurance in that. However, some cultures will discuss reincarnation, to be reborn as something or someone else. Some will then say that if your behavior in life transgressed rules, you could be reincarnated in something not so pleasant, like a bug most people do not like…..However, we also have to remember that everything has a spirit, including animals, birds and insects. And even inmate objects such as rocks or rivers (which in reality are full of life and flow). Everything in life has a purpose and contributes to life, even a bug….Hence why we treat everything with respect.
Happy hunting grounds
A belief that most native cultures have is in the existence of an afterlife named the Happy Hunting Grounds, name given by tribes from the Plains. Its name implies a place where hunting and game are plentiful, where everyone has what they need. Some will say it is the equivalent of heaven. But I would not say so. It is a place where our ancestors are, their spirits which our spirit will join. A world that resembles life on Earth but with plentiful resources for everyone and harmony between people. Why do I say it is not like heaven then? Because it is not seen as a reward for good behavior on Earth. It is not based on your behavior on Earth, it simply is a place where spirits go. Where people rejoin and from which they look over those who remain on Earth. As our ancestors are also always there with us to guide us and help us. They are not above us but rather around us and within us. Living the Red Road is the reward I would say. Because it allows you to live a balanced, honest and simple life. In which you learn to respect everything around you.
The Ghost dance
Related to the concept of afterlife, of the spirit world, is the Ghost Dance movement, a spiritual
movement that was active in the 1880’s. It was led by Wovoka, an Indian, who was, I guess we could say, a preacher. To summarize things, Wovoka had a dream in which he was taken to the spirit world and saw that all native people were taken to the sky while the Earth opened up and “swallowed” the white men. The Earth would then revert back to its natural, balanced and calm state. Finally, the native people were put back on the earth along with their ancestors. Wovoka believed that by dancing continuously in circles, the dream would become reality.
Maybe some of what I just stated could be seen as being related to the notion of “heaven and hell”, in this case the Whites being sucked into hell. Some might take offense in Wovoka’s view but we have to remember that this was a time in which native people had little rights and were fighting to live life in their traditional ways. It is possible that the dance gave them hope.
Nevertheless, as one can imagine, the Ghost Dance was not easily accepted by non-natives. In fact it alarmed the authorities and one great chief, Chief Sitting Bull, was killed while being arrested on suspicion of being a ghost dancer. See my previous post to learn about Sitting Bull, his life, his death. The Ghost Dance movement had to be stopped. It led to one of the biggest massacre in North American in December 1890-the Wounded Knee Massacre, which you can read about here. Hundreds of ghost dancers were killed by the authorities, in part, to avenge Colonel Custer’s earlier death and to kill the spirit of the Ghost dancers. A very sad day in native history.
No matter what, I think that the Ghost dance gave hope to the native people. Hope that they could live freely on this Earth, surrounded by their ancestors. That they would be able to go back to their life before the colonization, before the arrival of the white man and his ways. That they would be able to live their life in their own way, on the path the Creator had for them, without fearing being killed in the process. And if we take that into consideration, it gives us a new perspective on the Ghost dance. I leave you with a short video that goes over the concept of spirit, the afterlife and the Ghost dance. Really worth watching. A’Ho