The Conundrum of Spirituality

It would probably be ideal if the pretendian would not even venture into the arena of Native spirituality. But that is a virtual impossibility for several reasons.

Foremost is the understanding that spirituality is inseparable from Native culture. It is integrated into every facet of the culture because of the cosmologic perspective of the Native, that everything is spiritually connected in the web of Creation. There is no activity that does not have a spiritual aspect integrated into it.

Secondarily, spirituality draws each individual to itself. We are all fascinated by the spiritual. Even the avowed atheist acknowledges that there are facets of human existence that surpass understanding, though they dismiss them as matters that just have not been quantified yet.

And, finally, the unique features of indigenous spiritual practice invite exploration by the hobbyist initiate. Curiosity compels us to explore the unfamiliar terrain of indigenous spirituality.

Thus, if you are intent on actually living in a Native manner, you cannot avoid spirituality. Yet, authentic Native peoples are not willingly forthcoming about their spirituality, and not without reason.

I have learned repeatedly that there is no faster way to turn a dialog with a Native person to silence, even with close acquaintances, than asking questions about their spiritual traditions and practices. Whether they are reluctant to answer incorrectly or just feel compelled to protect the traditions from non-Native persons who are likely to misuse and misrepresent them, it is very difficult to obtain spiritual information in an informal manner.

Should you be fortunate enough to have an authentic Native elder open themselves up to teach you, be sure to offer a gift of tobacco to them for their wisdom and then listen quietly to whatever they have to say. Don’t interrupt them with questions, as non-Native people are apt to do. They will tell you what Spirit directs them to tell you; you should not attempt to direct the conversation.

Nevertheless, for the most part, you will find that you will have to learn what you can, wherever you can, and practice at your own risk. It is my belief that our Creator accepts our spiritual practices when they are done with reverence and sincerity. We should strive to honor the traditions we can learn by practicing them exactly as we were able to learn them. Beyond this, we must rely on Spirit to guide us in other practices we feel compelled to pursue.

We should constantly seek to enhance our knowledge as opportunities present themselves. Then, when we have put forth our best effort to learn and preserve the spiritual traditions and practices of the culture we are assimilating, as we are granted permission to practice them, we should be confident that no harm will befall us. Our prayers will rise with smoke and be honored by our Creator.