Illegal religions make for subterranean ways of saying things. That’s the only way these religions can survive. And sadly, just as humans exhibit a natural pull toward organising our spiritual lives, we seem to find it al too easy to make the jump from sharing and coordinating our impulse to acknowledge Deity, to proscribing the legitimate ways to do so.
I am the daughter of a Canadian man, who was the son of Anishinabe and Mi’gmaq parents; and also the daughter of a Canadian woman, whose parents were Polish. My mother’s family, so long as i’ve known them, have been staunchly Roman Catholic. My father’s family wore a Catholicism strapped onto them in childhood in the Church Schools, both residential and Day schools. Beneath the robes, the heart is the thing that matters. And my father grew up with a broken heart, a drum which finally fell silent in his 53rd year.
I remember roadtrips, and him telling amazing stories of other road trips wrapped in mysterious circumstance, and of spiritual encounters on the Reservation. He remembered hearing, one evening, drums and music in the distance. He remembered seeing people dancing, in a circle, to the compelling throb. He remembered his mother telling him, don’t go there, sonny, you’ll never return. He told the story such that i was never sure – were these flesh and blood people he saw, or spirits from another plane? I was sure, as a kid, they were spirits. But, the older i got, and the more i learned about how the outlawed ceremonies were kept alive by a brave few souls who risked persecution for practicing their religion, the more i inclined toward believing that these were living, breathing, people he saw. If Grandma knew, she could have had many legitimate reasons to caution her son against answering that call. She could also have been, as so many survivors of the church schools were, profoundly afraid of her own spiritual heritage, brainwashed by the propaganda that held that all ‘medicine’ was ‘bad medicine.’ Once a religion is driven underground, it is all too easy for that propaganda to spread, until ‘medicine’ equals ‘bad medicine,’ and gets called ‘witchcraft.’ The very terms, ‘witchcraft,’ ‘witch doctor,’ ‘witch’, so casually pejorative, have morphed into a shorthand almost beyond the layers of actual history and religious specificity from which they arose.
Once i understood that my heart belongs to this earth, the first thing i thought was, ‘oh my god, i think i’m a witch.’ That’s how divorced the word was for me, as a youth, from culture and history. I knew nothing of the Burning Times. I knew less than nothing about how Midewewin stayed alive. The ceremonies were hidden, behind a veil, a cloak, a skirt. Hidden, out of respect for their power; but once hidden, vulnerable to the propaganda that they were hidden because they were shameful.
Nowadays, our formerly outlawed indigenous ceremonies are beginning to be seen in public again. And this is a mighty and hopeful thing.
But it is also a difficult thing, this rebirth. The true power has never gone away. As in any religion, the true power is ever-renewing, the potential is in all souls to awaken to the awareness of Deity.
However, we have inherited a legacy of shame, of danger, of deeply fierce protectiveness, of ignorance and of anger, along with the abiding truths.
This multi-part blog posting will explore that legacy, through the only authentic lense i have, that of my own life. I don’t claim any universal truth here; rather, i hope that my specific truths and lived experiences serve, to connect readers (and myself as writer) to the web of universality, via an honest portrayal of my path.
In Part Two, i’ll describe the recent ceremonial incident in which i came to see my own belief clearly, and take a stand that i’d not anticipated. It’s what precipitated this series. So, we’ll go there next.
All My Relations