This month we celebrate the First Nations, Inuit, and Métis people of Canada on National Indigenous Peoples Day. Improving our understanding of traditions and the ways of the people is a step we can all make on our Truth and Reconciliation journey. As individual tribes, Indigenous People embody their own heritage, language, culture, and beliefs; however, they do share many similarities, such as their perspectives on life and death. NATIONAL INDIGENOUS PEOPLES DAY: JUNE 21ST Traditional Cree Ceremonies
Before burial in the ground, the casket is adorned with a special blanket as a gesture of respect and farewell. After the service the congregates enjoy a feast to pray for the spirts well-being and journey. After one year has passed, the family of the deceased holds another feast to honor the passage of the spirit from the body. The Round Dance is a communal gathering that helps heal, honour and celebrate life. Ceremonies around death are deeply routed in the cultural of Indigenous Peoples. Due to colonialism, the way these ceremonies are practiced has changed. However, with supportive and educational resources available, these cultural practices can be honored within hospitals and palliative care settings. Many excellent learning resources can be found on the website RRC Polytech Library and Academic Services, including Canadian Virtual Hospice Indigenous Peoples Tools for Practice.
“We understand who we are, We know where we came from, We accept and understand our destiny here on Mother Earth, We are spirit having a human experience.”
Of the Indigenous Peoples in Canada, the Cree (Nehiyawak (neh-HEE-oh-wuk) are the largest First Nations tribe with the highest population living in Alberta. The Cree view life and death as The Circle of Life, meaning: To understand death, we must first embrace the circle of life and the four stages in the journey of the human spirit: Birth, Life, Death and Afterlife. Healing and bereavement ceremonies, the Wake and Round Dance, are important traditions for the Cree. In the most basic understanding, it can be explained as this: When a person dies, even though the body undergoes a transformation, the spirit remains unchanged. These ceremonies are to complete the cycle of life when the body is returned to the original mother, Mother Earth and the spirit returns to the original father, The Creator. The Wake may last up to 4 days. Family and friends visit and stay with the body during this time of bereavement. It is a time to share stories, say prayers, sing sacred songs and mourn to let go of the spirit of the deceased. Traditionally, women would prepare the body for its burial and make moccasins for the feet. When the body is buried, sweetgrass which is considered a sacred and purifying plant among the Cree, is placed in the right hand of the deceased. Tobacco is also placed in the casket as it is considered an aid to communication between us and The Creator. If the deceased has a pipe, it is also buried with the body as are some other personal items.
Sources: PPT Indigenous Perspectives, Cree Death, Traditional Cree Ceremonies, GOC Indigenous Peoples Day.
RECOMMENDED READING & VIDEO RESOURCES
The Soul in Grief: Love, Death & Transformation
Author: Dr. Robert Romanyshyn, Ph.D.
Available at: Banff Public Library Canmore Public Library
"The Soul in Grief shows how moments of grief can help us move beyond false constructs of the ego...it expands our idea of psychology to situate life and the soul within the greater fabric of the living universe." -David Fideler, editor of Alexandria: A Journal of Cosmology, Philosophy, Myth and Culture
Short Video: How Grief Affects Your Brain And What To Do About It | Better | NBC News
Palliative Care Society of the Bow Valley
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