Cree Protocol for Ceremony, part one of a four part series
- Louise Halfe | March 23, 2015
The colonial disruption of the Indigenous Cree culture led to psychological and spiritual starvation. This article is shared to stimulate healthy reflection and discussion on our traditions, culture and ceremony. There is a lot of apprehension and misunderstanding about conduct in, and approach to, ceremony. The help of a language specialist and six female Elders was used to clarify the language and provide guidance in making the following account. Elders teach that words must be used with caution. This article is an exploration of the Plains Cree language in order to highlight the teachings. The word for language, pîkiskwêwin, loosely translates as “taking something apart from the female body that has life of the wind”.
It must be noted that not every Elder practises ceremonies in the same way, nor does one Elder have expertise in all areas of spirituality or medicine. Each one is gifted differently. A seeker after insights into this wisdom must explore, ask, and discover how a particular Elder should be approached. This exploration is in itself a lesson in humility and respect. In nêhiyawêwin Cree spirituality is not a religion, it is isîhcikêwin a life way or “the way things are done.” kihci-isîhcikêwin which means the “sacredness of the way things are done.”
Protocol nîkân isîhcikêwin, – is “the way ceremony was conducted since the beginning of time.” The teachings are as old as our language itself they reach out from the beginning of time. They are elemental, derived from the wind, the fire, the rock, the earth and all animate and inanimate forms. When studied closely, these ancient spirits simply just “do” their business. From the Western or European perspective earth based spirituality is paganism. In Latin pagan means “at the hearth.” Prayer began its origins within the cave. “Spirituality is a journey that is holistic and calls upon both the individual and the community, wâhkôhtowin – “kinship,” or a whole. It is a profound journey that covers the medicine wheel and its four elements: the mental, physical, emotional and spiritual. The mind, the heart, the gut and desire co-exist and are directly related. This journey opens the door to transformation, if one is open to it. The Elders encourage lines of inquiry when they teach asking “tânisi kititêyihtên...” or ‘What does your heart feel?” saying kiya, “It’s up to you.” mâmitonêyihtamâso, “You have a mind, think for yourself.” This journey, at times communal, is also a private one and therefore each person is responsible to both the self and others. “Ceremony increases one’s knowledge and understanding of self, as well as one’s place and belonging in the world.” When a person is honored with the right to conduct a ceremony s/he takes a vow – kihci-asotamâkêwin which means “gives their word since they have been blessed with awêyihtâkosiwin, these responsibilities.” Within these teachings are the values of “respect,” kistêyihtowin, and “caring” kisêwâtitâtowin, of oneself and others. The word manâcihiwêwin implies “respect and the binding of people within this value system.” When individuals honor and respect others, they are in essence showing the same respect toward their individual ahcahkwa or “soul.” The soul arises from the union of wind and spirit. To put this in cultural terms, the nêhiyawak take direction from that place of spirit within the wind.
In recent times there has been conflict and challenging ideas within the Cree culture about dress, protocol, and ceremony in the modern world. Unfortunately, these conflicts again divide the people in ways the government and other colonial institutions would applaud. These establishments brought damage and confusion to the Indigenous peoples. The conflict within our own community has led to the exploration of protocol means in both English and Cree tradition. It is essential understand the issue of protocol within a ceremonial context.
(Next month Cree concepts of ceremony and protocol)