Cultural & Spiritual Laws

"Be respectful and knowledgeable of existing spiritual and cultural protocols."



Cultural Identity

On Cultural Identity

"Recognize you are a person first and your culture is your living."

Joe P. Cardinal , Cree

Culture is your living. You bring your background, but the first thing you have to recognize is you're a person first. Too many of them try to say that they're an Aboriginal first and then go to the person, but it's the other way around.

So I put up a fast every year. Many people come to fast at my place. Many people ask me, to get them to be medicine man that they can perform a shaking tent or something like that. I says 'no, I can't do that. I want to help you. That's why you're going to go too fast.' 

Before you go to that lodge, when you are on that journey to the lodge, we stop four times. The first one, when we stop, there is a lot of people following, going to see these guys going to their lodges. We stop and we're supposed to think when we were small, growing up. How was it at that time? How do you feel when you look back to your childhood days? And then the next stop, you are now a teenager. How was it? You are the one to know, because you are the one to grow up. And then the next stop, you became a parent. You are now a parent. How was that? How are you raising your children? What are you doing to help your children? And there is a lot of things there. That is a big area. And then we go to lodge after. And then you start thinking about these. And you are the one to deal with them.

I cannot help people to be a medicine man, to be able to perform a shaking tent. Some things are given to people. That Raymond, it was given to him. He says, 'I grew up with it. At 21 years old' he says, 'I was told to start, to deal with that, the people. And I went to the priest,' he says. He was raised in a boarding school, and went and had a talk with the priest. He says' if you start that,' he says, 'never come to this church.' So he didn't. But I was there when he died, and that burial, that funeral they brought him back to the church and the priest talking there, somewhere, he said, it was a misunderstanding. He said that. I didn't understand that, a misunderstanding. I couldn't understand that.

 But yet, a lot of people that he worked with are still carrying on their way of life, the way he taught them. And that's the way I am trying to work too. But the thing is, we all have the same thing. There is no one that's made differently

You develop your love, the love for your children, the love for your family, the love for your community. Just remember, when you were conceived in the womb of your mother, the first thing that was made was that heart start to pump, and life was built around it. But you guys are not using it. Today we find people trying to come back to an area where they can understand that feeling too."


The Supernatural Force of Life - The Nowaluk

"Performing ceremonies is vital to our connection with the forces that govern our lives."

Daisy Sewid-Smith - Kwakwaka 'wakw

They consider the nature as being Nowaluk, super, super natural; you know the birds, the animals, and the trees. They, they our people believe there's life in everything including the rocks, and they believe that something supernatural is the one that's keeping that force going. That's what Nowaluk is.

Chief Adam Dick - Kwakwaka ‘wakw

I ask the Nowaluk to be there, y'know, to help me, bring me the knowledge, the wisdom and all that, y'know, because y'know there's five, six hundred people that are witness everything that we're going to do, what we're going to talk about, y'know, y'know all about the part that is coming up. And, the Nowaluk, like what she said, it's very powerful. I believe in that sort of thing, we believe in that highly ‘cause when the Nowaluk connects with, connects with the eagle down that we put on the floor, me and her before we start with, y'know, in the big house, clean it like what she said, the Nowaluk holds, holds, the ugliness down so it doesn't come up.


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How To Approach An Elder

Make an offering to the Elder

"It is important to acknowledge your purpose to yourself, your teachers and the spirit world."

Joe P. Cardinal, Cree

It was two o'clock after midnight and there was a knock at the door, and a young man, he had a wife and a couple of kids, so I let him in and he was so doped up. He was crying. He says, 'I have nothing to give you, but I want to come and talk to you.' So I says, 'ok, go ahead.' Oh, he told me he just about got into an accident, and he got picked up, you know, a lot of stuff. So I finally told him, I says, 'sleep on this couch. You're not in shape,' I told him, 'for me to really talk to you.' But he had a good idea to come, I think. I don't think there could be an Elder that could refuse. But he told me, 'I have nothing to come and give you. But I want help.' 

I says, 'ok.' But he didn't want to sleep, so he drove off. I saw him, about four or five days after. And I called him over and I says, 'you came to me the other night.' I says, 'I wanted to help you, so we'll have a talk. ' So we went in the sweat and I talked to him, and this other woman talked to him. But he gave me tobacco and prints [cloth] after. That's how that one went.

I cannot refuse a young man coming to me, but I tell him. Bring something next time.

 And sometime I counsel five of them at the same time. Sometimes we go to town and have coffee and talk and they talk with one another. And then sometimes we go to church. If you want to go to church, we go to church. Sometimes they want to go to sweat, we go to sweat, and talk. Sometimes they want to come to the city here, and listen to a concert or something a music festival or something, it's a lot of work. You have to give lots. And that way, they start to understand that protocol. I talk to them about it. 
But the last big thing, is to go to the parents. I tell the parents, listen to your son. Listen to him, and after you will get a chance and he will listen to you. The parents find it hard, harder than the young men. I don't know if you understand what I am trying to say. I cannot refuse. Whether the guy have nothing. Later on the next session, I tell him give something."


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Loon Song

The Loon Song

"We are just here on borrowed time. Let our spirit be free like the loon. Hear us echo through the forest. Beautiful, beautiful, world."

Mary Thomas, Shuswap

It will be a prayer to all our elders to remain strong and not to give up on the young people's future. Like the loon he still looks after the wilderness, it's a beautiful echo. That's why it belongs up in the mountains; just that beautiful echo brings that peace and calm. I can remember my grandmother she used to take us down to the river when we were just little. She had a sweat lodge and we would just go down with her. You know how it is when you are just small you don't value things. It's just play, play, play and she warned us if you see anything happening don't get scared, leave it alone.

We got in the sweat the first time it was to pray for ourselves to clean ourselves. The second time we go in was for our families. Pray for our families to stay strong, united. Third time we pray for all our community, our relatives, our people. The fourth time back in that it's for mother earth. Pray for mother earth. When we got out of there and every time we came out we had to in the river that was down in Chase, the fourth time out we got to stay in the water a little longer. And that's when the loon happened too, to swim up and under to come up just a little ways from us. Our granny told us "be quiet, just be quiet". And the loon started going around, pretty soon another come up and we all crowded around our grandmother and hung onto her. And she said, "It won't hurt you, just be quiet". And pretty soon another one showed up, they would splash their wings on top of the water and kinda walk on it. We were getting scared and hung onto our grandma, and she started that song low kinda singing. And they just started circling around us, splashing and she was singing that song. And we got so scared she kept holding us. All of a sudden it just came too close, we got so scared we ran out of the water and the loons went up and disappeared. She came out the water and said, "I told you not to move it wouldn't hurt you". But no we were standing there just shaking.

She was talking to the birds and they all just disappeared. Boy, we almost got a lickin. Yeah, I never forget that. And we tried to ask our grandmother, "How come those birds did that to us". And she tried to explain it to us. At the time I did not understand, and there was no way I was going to go down again. And, when she would mention the sweat lodge, I would find some excuse not to go because I was scared. And, I am really afraid always afraid of the water, I afraid of water I am terrified of water. I like to swim but I can't go out to the deep parts. I don't know, it's like that loon might drag me under. Her grandmother's explanation: That was her, her spirit was with the loon she was cleansing us. It's supposed to circle around you and take whatever is bothering us. She said we didn't stay long enough.

Long after and when she got real old and I became a young woman. I would remind her of it and she would hit me like that and say, "I bet you would never go and swim like that again". I said, "No, grandma, loon won't come near me". "Just give it time it will come". I've never had the experience hopefully someday the loon will take pity on me and come to me if I'm good enough.


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Nobility & Respect

On Healing

"Learning to believe and know your spirit bring the balance needed to heal yourself."

Joe P. Cardinal, Cree

We all believe there is a god, or whatever you call him - Great Spirit. He doesn't talk to us like we talk to one another, but he put things in our being, the spirit, the heart, and the feeling. So when you do wrong you know, he's telling you, he speaks to you through the feeling, through the heart. This is a great area here for me [pointing to his chest]. People can heal themselves, if you do things right, if you know what is going on within you. And that's what this man taught me. But I knew we had it before.

The mind. You hear that expression, it's a long way from here to here' [gesturing first to his head, and then to his heart]. It's a long journey. Because, this mind is the one that goes, it's going all the time. That's your protection. And sometimes it goes into a negative area. And maybe that's where we are now in the communication system. A lot of it is negative area. 

Sometimes we talk about a person negatively, because this mind it wants us to do that. To protect ourselves. But this fellow here, [pointing to the heart] is the one that really puts things together for you"

This Raymond Harris used to tell me, he says 'remember one thing, that you cannot heal anybody. They have to heal themselves. You are the one that's going to try and help them to heal. But I hear Elders say 'I healed many people,' and I look at them, you know. This man told me you cannot heal, but you can help, you can tell them.

We were also told that the most important thing was to be PATIENT and accept those things we don't understand."

On Values

"Our way of thinking is influenced by mainstream society we are conditioned in our thinking. Think again, what if we based all our decisions using our culture and traditions?"

Allan Pard, Piikani

Even now, we're conditioned to think. Our conditioning from the mainstream again influences all of our decisions and what we're going to do with your lives. And if we could only stop for a moment and figure out how we're being, influenced and conditioned. Do we want to be influenced by our own values, our own beliefs, our own convictions, to make our decisions as people? I think yes.

Things like helping one another, sharing. And taking each other as relatives, and those are the values I'm talking about, that are, what we, what is precious to us, and those are the features you hold onto.

On Nobility

"This rich aspect of our culture is often overlooked."

Daisy Sewid-Smith, Kwak waka ‘wakw

One of the things I was taught, all the old people told me, if you are of noble blood, you don't have to stand on top of a rooftop and shout, 'Look I am a princess, look, I am a chief's daughter, look, I am nobility, ' you don't have to do it because you're upbringing and training will show, and people will know the minute they meet you, they will know what your training and what your rank is by the way you treat them. And nobility was always taught to be kind, even to strangers.

On Respect

"The Elders know and understand ‘Respect'. The have learned it and are willing to teach it. We as individuals need to become more involved in keeping our respect, language and culture alive."

Daisy Sewid-Smith - Kwak waka ‘wakw

I even had one feminist ask me did I not feel bad that the men controlled our traditions and culture. And I said, No, because there is a time that they will help support me. There is a time they will honor me. When it's their time, not your time, and you receive respect from men. But an aggressive, belligerent woman will never get that respect. Oh, they might get their way, but they will never get that respect from the chiefs because of that attitude. And as I said to that feminist, I love men. I loved my father and I love my husband. And it's from that training I was taught that you work with one another. You are your male partner's helpmate. And when you have that kind of respect for each other then the other partner doesn't become a footstool. So that was part of my training.

"Trust the Elder's language, knowledge, their voice; they are the ones who have trained all their lives to help us."

Chief Adam Dick, Kwak waka ‘wakw

We had a potlatch meeting up island, and I was talking away, holding the talking stick. And a lady got up when I was finished what I was saying, she said. 'Who we going to listen to? Are we going to listen to him or we going to listen to her? Who's the oldest? Who's older? We'll she is older. OK, then we don't have to listen to Adam then. We listen to her, because she's older.' 

It's not like that. A lot of these old people they have no training at all, like what I had. It doesn't matter how old you are, if you are not trained, you don't know too much about it. 

And then they look at you now and say, she has more gray hair than I have so you're more knowledgeable than I am. 

I always say this, that my profession's gone now, because they're making their own rules. When you enter the big house, your name changes, your feelings change, your language changes. And I'm the only one now that can use that language called the potlatch language. It's different from the everyday language. Inside that circle, that's the language that you use, and they are having a hard time with me because they don't understand that language inside that circle. No they don't. 

I used to notice people sitting in the audience there writing down every word I said. And they come and ask me after 'What did you say that for? What does it mean? Why did you say it?'

 Now they say that they don't need me any more cause they know more than [me]. That's what they say. I don't want to go into it. But it really hurt my feelings because I've wasted my whole life, learning that culture. That's why I have no education. That's why I have no schooling. I can't read and write.

"How do we teach respect for our Culture to the children, the youth of today in such a fast paced society?"

Ruth Brass, Blackfoot

"I've seen a lot of things and I think, like you mentioned today, like today's children, we have a lot of problems with them, because they are living too fast, they're going too fast and they've lost respect of our culture. They don't listen and they don't know our language and I think that's the biggest downfall, because they don't try to learn our language. 

And then we have the Elders now, some of them won't waste their time, because they kind of give up on them. But we're the next generation of Elders. Like me, I try to teach my grandkids and then the other kids that come visit and especially with the foster kids. I had quite a few. I started fostering quite a long time [ago] and 27 kids went through my home. 

I used to say I'm fortunate enough I had parents as great as mine. I think my biggest respect is for our culture and our Elders. 

 I wasn't really that much interested in it after I got married. Because, I don't know, I wasn't worried about our culture until one day my dad told me. He said, 'isn't it about time you went back to what you were taught to try and teach other people especially the younger and tell them, ' 

I always had different family members going through my home, and some of them stayed with me until they were of age and I look at them today and some grew up to be very nice people to be proud of and I try to teach them the ways that my grandparents or my parents taught me.

 But there was something I noticed, that the greatest trouble with the new generation is jealousy. That's the way I look at and envy. And another thing is that they seem to think they know everything, but as you grow you tend to know you don't know it all. You have to grow and each day you find something else that's new that you didn't know. That, I think, you try to teach it to the younger generations."

"We are part of everything and everything is part of us."

Mary Thomas, Shuswap

Our spirituality is based on the understanding that we are a part of the land. We are not superior to Mother Earth we are just a strand in it. If we don't look after the gifts of Mother Nature we are the ones that are going to suffer. And, I can see it what we are heading for. Those morals and values are not taught in the schools. Those so-called social workers they don't understand it. None of those moneymakers understand where we're coming from. And I will use the Oil companies as an example of what I am talking about the spirituality. When people go in the woods and collect our medicine, we always offer a prayer of thanksgiving. I can remember my grandmother and my mother when they went up to a tree or bushes to collect medicine, she would talk to it like it was a human being, ‘I don't come here to damage you.' I come here because Creator put me here that I help myself to survive. I am thinking of you the medicine and they would give an offering. But you take the logging company and tell them you bring your big bulldozers onto a mountainside but don't even give a prayer of thanksgiving. And they just go in there and they bulldoze everything out that you don't need. That is no value, no money value they just bulldoze everything out. What about the bears' den? The coyote, the deer grazing right down to the squirrel, right down to the little insects that have the right to live in there. And they have no regard for anything. And the almighty dollar is their god, the more money they make the happier. Though everything is looking very grim and when we think back to our people, when they lived by those values, they were a healthy people. I can remember the happy days when I was a little girl, and my parents would go out on the lake in the canoes. Camping outdoors, they would go camping outdoors all summer. They would be fishing and hunting, gathering berries, drying it for the winter use. It was so peaceful compared to what it is like today, it's just not what it used to be. We are suffering for it now.

"Discrimination against each other has no place in our relationships with each other."

Ruth Brass, Blackfoot

There are miracles that happen. I've seen a lot of things that happened with the medicine men. But today maybe it's because their hearts are not in it, we don't see it very often. You have to believe with your heart. Today I've seen that there is a lot of discrimination among our own people. That is another thing that is very upsetting to me. Like there are people with different lifestyles, like people on welfare, people say they are lazy, yet there are not jobs for them, and it is impossible. And I know they work hard at their home, and they try. And bringing up their kids they do their best. We were taught to treat people with less badly. And I tell my kids, ‘never mind'. Because I have never seen anybody die because everybody was talking bad about him or her. It doesn't kill a person, because it's who you are and what you believe in and we were taught that we couldn't discriminate against anybody for any reason, because we are humans too. That's what we believed in. My grandmother said people have small minds and they don't have any heart at all, so they can easily do that. In our culture we are suppose to love each other, we all come from the same, we are all human and we are no different. If you live by this way then you shouldn't have any problem.