(Various Tribal Groups, Spirit Doctor, Masks, Universe, and much more on this page)

May all who enter rest in peace and safety beneath my wings
May all who leave, take with them wings of comfort


"We had no churches, no religious organizations, so Sabbath day, no holidays, and yet we worshiped. Sometimes the whole tribe would assemble and sing and pray; sometimes a smaller number, perhaps only two or three. The songs had a few words, but were not formal. The singer would occasionally put in such words as he wished instead of the usual tone sound. Sometimes we prayed in silence; sometimes each prayed aloud; sometimes an aged person prayed for all of us. At other times one would rise and speak to us of our duties to each other and to Usen. Our services were short." 

Geronimo, Goyathlay (1829-1909),  
Chiricahua Apache Chief


"Indigenous knowledge is as relevant today as it was in the time of my Ancestors. Our knowledge are blueprints for human behaviour - they connect us to the teachers of the natural and supernatural worlds, celestial beings, plants, animals, earth, air, fire, water -- respected equals, in other words,  whose unique traits provide models for living in a "good way." There are lessons to be learned from both the supernatural and secular worlds -- to be passed down from generation to generation through songs, stories, sharing, caring, medicine wheel knowledge and ceremony. Wilwilaaysk, All My Relations."  (S. Thunderbird)




 "We can and do relate to the Universe as a whole; we are a microcosm of the macrocosm and this relationship intoxicates us" - Thomas Aquinas)

North America’s Indigenous people have an enduring heritage of connections with the natural world and universe. Native spiritual life knows that all forms of life in the natural world are inter-connected. No distinction is made between the spiritual and the secular because it is a holistic totality.

Prior to European contact, the deep knowledge of Indigenous cultures  was highly developed, sophisticated, coherent and included cosmology--creation myths, accurately transmitted orally from one generation to the next, that explained the origins of Indigenous people and their relationship to the wider natural world.

Oral narratives explained the world as it was. It is also evident that the creative imagination of the storytellers had been at work and the various characters and heroes were also created to furnish amusement by their adventures and pranks. For example, Culture Hero, Raven narratives were as a result of the Northwest coast people's close proximity to this fun-loving, highly intelligent and sociable black bird.

Some Native peoples worshiped an all-powerful, all-knowing Creator or "Master Spirit." This entity was more widely accepted in post-European contact history when Native people were exposed to Christianity and its idea of a Supreme Male Being. Most tribal societies did not go so far as to 'gender' this entity, therefore Creator or Great Mystery or Great Spirit is considered neither male or female. Some tribal societies also venerated or placated a host of lesser supernatural entities, including evil sorcerers and witches who visited disaster, suffering, and death upon the world. Others simply laid their faith in their Ancestors, who had gone before and retained enormous amounts of knowledge and experience. The Tsimshian, for example, called  some healers who caused physical, emotional, spiritual and mental damage, sorcerers rather than Spirit Doctors.

Overall, however, most First Nations cultures based their knowledge on the doctrine of animism, that is that all living beings including some inanimate objects possessed spirits, the Cree call it manitowak, the Tsimshian, halaayt In other words, all aspects of the natural world had souls independent of their physical manifestation. Moreover, Ancestors would not considered 'dead', but simply living in another world. They were usually the first called to an important ceremony with song, dance, prayers, and red cloth; because their gentle energy always liked a good party and the colour red, would usually arrive with them!

Members of most tribes believed in the immortality of the human soul and an afterlife. Like many cultures, they sought to enlist the aid of the supernatural in controlling the natural and social worlds, and each tribe had its own set of observances devoted to the celebration of this knowledge. Individuals tried to woo or appease powerful spiritual entities with private prayers or sacrifices of valuable items (e.g., gifts of fur, tobacco, food). Entire communities sought divine assistance to ensure a successful hunt, a good harvest, or victory in war. They called upon the Spirit Doctors, whom they accepted had acquired supernatural powers through visions. The Spirit Doctors** carried out special ceremonies, songs and dances. People gathered around the sacred fires and sent their prayers to the Ancestors on the smoke.

** The modern term is 'Shaman.'. Within North American Indigenous circles there is no Native translation for it because it pertains primarily to those living in Central Asia. As North America's Indigenous peoples originated on Turtle Island the phrase "Spirit Doctor" is most often used.

Many tribes have unique concepts of the world and its place in the universe. One theme understood the universe as being composed of multiple layers. Earth was the middle segment. The Lower World (below the Earth). The Supernatural World (the world of the Ancestors above the Earth). Some tribes, i.e. Haudenosaunne, believed these layers were linked by the World Tree (Tree of Peace), which had its roots in the underground, and its trunk passed through the natural world, and ascended up into the sky world thereby 'tying' the three worlds together in an unbreakable bond. Other tribes (Hopi) believed that Spider Woman wove a special web that connected the worlds.




1) As noted earlier, there is no word in any Indigenous Language for the word "Shaman." This is an imposition from misguided European beliefs that Native people somehow emigrated from Central Asia.  The Bering Strait Land Bridge theory has yet to be proved beyond a shadow of a doubt. However, Indigenous Creation stories tell us that origination started on Turtle Island from below the earth or the "fifth world" (life above the earth), and not another part of the globe.

2) The word "Trickster" paints a very unflattering picture of one of the most beloved figures in Indigenous oral narratives.  Raven (West Coast), Coyote (Ontario), Glooscap (Maritimes), Wisahkecahk (Cree), Napi (Blackfoot), Nanabush (Anishinabe), Iktomi (Lakota-Spider Spirit) are all depicted as ridiculous figures engaged in buffoonery most of the time.  There is no word in any original Indigenous languages for the word "trickster". Such a view came out of the writings of early Christian missionaries who were appalled at the comparison between, for example, Raven and Jesus Christ or Raven and an Apostle. Therefore, these figures were relegated to the only other available option, Satan, hence the more common application of 'Trickster' was applied instead. 

3) ANIMISM - This is an important concept in most First Nations belief systems. It does NOT mean that Indigenous people worshipped animals, but rather believed that living beings were created with a spirit/soul separate from the physical body (matter).






(Anishinaabe loosely Means: From Whence He Was Lowered)



Culture Hero/Transformer: Nanabush (or Nanabozho). This supernatural hero had a central place in Anishinaabe understandings of the origin of the world. Like many Culture Heroes, Nanabush organized the earth out of chaos. 

In the beginning
Gehi Mnidoo (Kitchi Manitou - Great Spirit) had a powerful dream and out of that dream came the mountains, rivers, land, water, plant world and animals. Unfortunately the world as it was in the beginning was tumbled into chaos. Something had to be done.  Grandfather Sun lit the earth and caused things to grow in the womb of Mother Earth. The water cleaned and purified, the great winds offered the breath of life and brought great change to the world. To the humans the gift of dreams was given. But, they were not yet formed in a manner that they knew what to do with them. Kitchi Manitou sent a great teacher, Nanabush.
He was the son of West Wind and the great grandson of the Moon. He was sent by Gehi Mnidoo to teach the Ojibwa. One of his first jobs was to name all the plants and animals. He taught the Ojibwa to fish. He also had unique powers to help organize the world out of the chaos. Like all Culture Hero's, he was a shapeshifter, and one of his favourite guises was as Mishabooz (Great Rabbit).

Nanabush's mother died at his birth, and he was raised by his grandmother, Nokomis. Throughout his life he did many good things, and sometimes he employed subterfuge to get the job done. In this respect he was quite human using all aspects of his mental, physical, spiritual and emotional self to help put the world in order.




WINDIGO SPEAKS: "Speaking of ugly, I am a huge mysterious human-like creature living deep in the forests of Quebec, Minnesota and other Northern states as well as Northern Canada. Native legends are full of fearful tales about me with good reason. I am a tall, monster from another world. Hikers and hunters who become lost are lured with visions of food and shelter only to fall into my clutches and become my next meal. White settlers considered my presence to be a death omen. A sighting of my 30-foot-tall, glowing figure, with a star upon my forehead, was always followed by an immediate death in the family. I have many definitions, almost as many as there were Native Tribes, that is before the Europeans came to this continent. I AM AN ACTUAL ANIMALOnly a powerful medicine man or woman can destroy me because I can not be killed with conventional weapons."


WENDIGO SPEAKS:  "I am the SPIRIT of Windigo. Humans who insist on venturing alone into the wilderness should fear the Spirit of the Lonely Placesas I am always following closely behind you.  As you tramp through bush or forest, hills or desert, with no other company but your thoughts and fears, you will become slowly aware that I am following you. No matter how quickly you may turn, I move faster. You see nothing except perhaps the slightest movement of shadow. 

I sometime acts as a protector, but not often, and only when a powerful medicine woman or man has intervened and caused me to swoop down down to attack evil-doers; legend states I drag and force an evil-doer to run until his feet catch fire. At that point, he is either taken up into the sky or keeps running until he dies; in either case, he is never seen or heard from again thanks to spirit doctor intervention and my obedience to her wishes."

(for a Documentary Film on the subject

Where did the word come from?
"The correct name is WITIKO - which is an Algonkian root word for something like “he who lives alone”. “Evil spirit” has also been used.

Where does Windigo live primarily?
"Most of the Windigo stories emerged from the Sub-Arctic by the Cree and Ojibwa peoples. The area consisted of five million square km of forest and tundra, snow and ice inhabited by maybe 60,000 people. What else was there to do when holed up in shelters through the long freezing winter months but to come up with all sorts of scary stories."

Why such a malevolent creature?
"The Windigo stories, it is surmised, came out of the fear of dwindling supplies and starvation. Underlying fear that glimmers in Windigo stories is the constantly desperate struggle to survive - food ran out, the weather was prohibitive, cannibalism an inevitable result. There is nothing worse than being alone, cold and hungry - the mind begins to play tricks. As a result, Windigo became this huge creature, 20-30 feet high, with a block of ice surrounding it, particularly its heart, he was lipless, great bloody fangs, and bloody feet, hissing breath you could hear for miles, with great speed and supernatural strength. He is a shapeshifter that could blend into mountains, forests and winds. He’s coming to get you; eat your flesh so that he can live. AND THAT’S THE GOOD NEWS!

What's the bad news?
"If you come into the presence of one you can turn into a Windigo yourself, a mindless, wandering cannibal. Again, Windigo is the fear personification of both physical and spiritual famine. It can take the form of half-phantom, half beast that roams the forest, or a personality disorder or mental illness that causes its victim to become crazed and rendered into a cannibalistic zombie - starvation will do that."

Are there any changes to the understanding of what Windigo is?
"Windigo is now considered more about spiritual damage and state of mind; mental illness can also be called being possessed by Windigo."

Do you still believe in Windigo?
"Well, insofar as any of the old stories that offer teachings go, I still believe in Windigo. It can be a great uncontrollable rage at what was done to Native people since The Change. It can be used as a teaching for children, to tell them how anger can consume the spirit - a form of cannibalism. The old stories called it a monster; it is still a monster in the modern world because loss of spirit can turn you into a Windigo. It is still a dark, malevolent, self-destructive part of the human condition."

Can Windigo be mistaken for another monster?

"I don’t think so, it is what it is; the descriptions are very clear. Sasquatch does not have a heart of ice and is not thirty feet high; Windigo is also not a werewolf.



THUNDERBIRD (centre) controlled the weather, living in nests of stone on high mountaintops constantly shrouded in clouds. Thunderbirds were particularly sought as guardian spirits because of their power.  The mortal enemy of Thunderbird was the Great Serpent  (right) who lived below the waters, and Mishipisu (left), a large, horned water panther.  Thunderbird's lightning bolts were used to try and tame him.


Pre-European Contact: Ojibwa did not believe in one supreme being. Every living being in the world had its own power that could help or harm humans, so a supreme being was simply not necessary.  This power was considered to be supernatural and was called 'Manitou' and was prayed to using gifts of tobacco or occasionally sacrificing a dog.

Main Ceremony: These include: Powwows and Sweatlodges, Visionquests (see below), Prayers, and seeking guardian spirits.  The Naming Ceremony, which remembers the sacrifices of Nanabush in naming everything, requires that a medicine person be asked by the father and mother to seek a name for their child. The seeking can be done through fasting, meditation, prayer or dreaming and the Ancestor spirits give the name.

Visionquest was used when young men reached adolescence, and sought assistance of supernatural beings as guardian spirits.  He would usually seclude himself out in nature, refraining from food, drink or sleep until a vision appeared. It was only in the latter part of the 20th century that women, also went out on visionquest.

Post-European Contact: Most sacred force: Gehi Mnidoo often identified as the sun was remote from humans and had little to do with everyday affairs.  There is no reference to Gehi Mnidoo prior to the arrival of the Europeans and is probably a fusion of Christian and Native beliefs.

Post-European Contact: Midewiwin (means Mystic doings), also known as the Grand Medicine Society and whose initial primary role was to cure illness has become  a moreorless central expression of the revised Ojibwa knowledge.  Healing matters are primarily male in this new version. There are various forms of spiritual healers and practitioners among the Ojibwa. The "tcisaki" or male diviner, the "nanandawi" or tribal doctor, the "wabeno" or "men of the dawn sky" who "manipulates fire in order to interpret dreams, guide novices, and heal the sick," and the "meda" or family healer. Then there is the Midewiwin.

It was first noted around 1715 and is a combination of primarily Christian and some traditional sensibilities. It has a very structured hierarchy, with a number of distinct levels, along the lines of the British Masons.  It is open to both men and women, however, it is primarily male driven (the Christian side of things!)  There are extensive periods of instruction time into the secret rituals and stories.  There are eight levels: the first four called earth grades and the second four called sky grades. Few go beyond the earth grades. Extensive training of the Midewiwin means that its members become the holders of NEW knowledge.  This can be a double-edged sword because it incorporates a powerful element of Christianity AND the rewriting of original history! As a result, it has become a patriarchal organization with little input from, and respect for women. This is borne out of the Christian dogma that accompanies and distorts some of the old knowledge and places women on the margins of their own culture, hence their denial to be allowed to sit at the big drums, or handle sacred objects while on their moontime.  Fortunately not all Ojibwa follow these new practices.

Medicine Men/Women (Spirit Doctor)
Medicine men and women were widely respected for their powers and could cure illness, see into the future and provide charms or potions to ensure success in love or the hunt.  Shaking Tent is a well-known spiritual practice.  The sudden violent shaking of the tent indicated that the Medicine Man's guardian spirits had arrived to help.

The Seven Fires Prophecies of the Anishinaabe
Seven Prophets came to the Anishinaabe (the first human). They came at a time when the people were living a full and peaceful life on the North Eastern coast of North America. These prophets left the people with seven predictions of what the future would bring. Each of the prophecies was called a fire and each fire referred to a particular era of time that would come in the future. 



Adapted from the teachings of the Plains Indigenous people, the Anishinaabe hold dear the following seven teachings:


  • Wisdom (Nibwaakaawin) - He learned to use wisdom for his people.

  • Love (Zaagi'idiwin) - He learned to love his Brother and Sister and share with them.

  • Respect (Manaaji'iwewin) - He learned to respect everyone, all human persons and all other living things.

  • Bravery/Courage (Aakdeewin or Zoongide'ewin) - He learned to do the right thing even in the most difficult of times.

  • Honesty (Gwayahowaadiziwin) - He learned to be honest in every action and provide good feelings in his heart.

  • Humility (Dibaadendizowin) - He learned to know that he was equal to everyone else, no better or no less, simply equal.

  • Truth (Debwewin) - He learned to be true in everything that he did and by being true to himself and all other living beings. He always spoke the truth.

The seven teachings should be used together, and not in isolation. To leave out any of them is to embrace the opposite of what that teaching is about. If honesty is not practiced then we cheat; if we do not love we will hate; if we do not tell the truth we will lie. Makes perfect sense to me as that was the intent of the Plains teachings from which the above is derived. The original knowledge, by the way, did not gender the meanings, i.e., "He learned".  That is as a result of the incorporation of Christianity and a male god.




Culture Hero/Transformer: Napi ("Old Man"). He can be both good as well as foolish and spiteful, just like humans! He is the teacher of morality and very, very human.  There are a lot of stories about greed, lust, jealousy, resentment, deceit. As is the case with most Indigenous societies, stories were told only in the winter months.

One hot summer day, Napi rested on a rock because the day was warm and he was tired. He spread his robe on the rock, telling the rock to keep the robe in return for letting Napi rest there. Suddenly, the weather changed and Napi became cold as the wind whistled and the rain fell. Napi asked the rock to return his robe, but the rock refused. Napi got mad and took back the robe. As he strolled away, he heard a loud noise and turning, he saw the rock was rolling after him. Napi ran for his life. The deer, the bison and the pronghorn were Napi's friends, and they tried to stop the rock by running in front of it. The rock rolled over them. Napi's last chance was to call on the bats for help. Fortunately, they did better than their hoofed friends. By diving at the rock and colliding with it, one of them finally hit the rock just right and it broke into two pieces.

Not only does this story explain why the rock is in two pieces, but also why bats have squashed-looking faces. The tale provides helpful caution against taking back what you have freely given away. (

Main Knowledge: The Blackfoot believe that their teachings and traditional ways from from iits-tsi-pah-ta-pii-op - the Source of Life.


The Sun Dance usually takes place in and around the Summer Solstice (June 21st) and is the most sacred ceremony of the Plains First Nations. The Europeans considered it a pagan and savage rite of passage. It was eventually outlawed for a time at the end of the nineteenth century. The original dance called for fixed gazing at the sun while dancing, blowing bone whistles, fasting, self-torture by dragging buffalo skulls and/or being bound to the Sacred Tree with the insertion of a bone under the skin of the chest and then rearing backwards, breaking the ties. 

"The Sun Dance is a ritual of prayer and sacrifice performed by virtually all of the High Plains peoples, including the Arapaho, Blackfeet, Blood, Cheyenne, Plains Cree, Crow, Gros Ventre, Hidatsa, Kiowa, Ojibway, Shoshone, Lakota, and Ute. Today many of these tribes still carry out the sun dance, sometimes in altered form. The overall significance of the sun dance involves the spiritual renewal of participants and their relatives as well as the renewal of the living earth and all its components. In its broadest aspects, kinships within both the social and natural realms are reaffirmed." (Elizabeth Atwood Lawrence, Symbolic Roles of Animals in the Plains Indian Sun Dance.)

"A man who has danced [the sun dance] has a special compact with pain...and he’ll be hard to break....As the white-hot sun pours molten through your eyes into your inner being, as the skewers implanted in your chest pull and yank and rip at your screaming flesh, a strange and powerful lucidity gradually expands within your mind. The pain explodes into a bright white light, into revelation. You are given a wordless vision of what it is to be in touch with all being and beings....Every time a pin pricks your fingers from then on, that little pain will be but a tiny reminder of that larger pain and of the still greater reality that exists within each of us, an infinite realm beyond reach of all pain." (My Life is My Sun Dance, by Leonard Peltier, now serving time in Leavenworth Prison for a crime that has been proven he did not commit, the murder of two FBI agents at the second Wounded Knee in 1972 on the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota.)


As is the case with general Medicine Wheel understandings from the Plains, the Blackfoot associate the four directions represented on the wheel with the four original colours of human (red, yellow, black, white). However, they place the colours directionaly differently.

South:  yellow people, (Asia), the colour yellow, the Sun, and intellect.

West: black people, the color black, Thunderbird, and emotion.

North: white people, the color white, winter and physicality.

East: the red people, the color red, spirituality and the eagle.




Culture Hero/Transformer: Wisahkecahk landed on the moon by hanging onto the legs of a crane and, when the moon disappeared from under him, he fell to earth and was covered with mud. That's why the crane's legs are so long, and why those soft spots on earth are called “muskegs".

The Cree believe that through visions and dreams comes answers to questions, explanations as to the humans place in the world are sought.

All living beings in the world, animals, plants, humans,  possess a spirit. The great circle of life lies at the foundation of traditional Cree spirituality. Great honour is given to the circle of birth, infancy, childhood, youth maturity and old age.

Northern Lights (Aurora Borealis) - are the dancing spirits of dead relatives.

Death is a physical death only (a common view among most Indigenous peoples), as the spirit joins the ranks of the Ancestors who went before, it retains all the answers and has the power to communicate with humans. They manifest themselves in different forms and come when called upon to do so in sacred ceremony.  For example, the sweat lodge or Sun Dance.  By understanding that death is simply one part of the cycle of life, it helps those who remain in earthly form to cope with the death of a loved one (again, this is a common belief among most nations).

The Cree have two ceremonies, the Wake and Round Dances that  celebrate, (a) returning the body to the earth; (b) communing with the spirit(s) who have passed to the spirit world. The Round Dance is celebrated so that the family and friends who remain behind will not hold onto the spirit of the deceased but will let it fly free so that it can dance with the other spirits who make up the northern lights. 

Main Ceremony For the Plains Cree it is the Sun Dance (See Plains). In the case of the Woodlands Cree, their ceremonies were less elaborate. Nevertheless, they were a deeply spiritual people that was expressed through Vision quests for young males and seclusion for females in the time of their menses. They sought supernatural help and guardian animal spirits as did most Athapaskan groups.  Hunters had medicine bundles to help them in acquiring game.

Northern Cree (i.e. Quebec): Humans, through dreams and visions, were able to secure the help of powerful animal spirits in such activities as hunting, warfare, and love. Since all beings, including humans, had spirits, there was no concept of the supernatural. The great circle of life (or, medicine wheel) lies at the foundation of traditional Cree spirituality. Great honour is given to the circle of birth, infancy, childhood, youth maturity and old age.

Creator is called Mamawi-ohtawiyimaw, translated means "Father over all"; probably Post-European contact origin because of the male gender description. The Cree also Powwow (see below) and believed in the Windigo (see Anishinaabe above). They called it Wi-htikow (Cannibal Giant).

Western Woodland Cree. Also called, iyiniwak, “real or true people", 

"Traditionally, Cree spiritual relationships to animals were viewed as the product of harmonious interactions between the hunter and the master spirit of each species. Some Cree believed that the spirit Kicimanitow created the earth and its inhabitants, while others believed that the earth and its inhabitants had always existed. The ceremonies of the Cree of the Saskatchewan River system included the Goose Dance or Goose Feast, which symbolized the cultural importance of waterfowl and was characterized by a sacred pipe ceremony, speeches, prayers, singing, and drumming. The purpose of Cree ceremonies was to maintain spiritual relationships of respect between Cree and the animals, which was expressed by the proper treatment of the bodies and bones of animals killed. During the early 1800s, for some groups such as the Red Earth Cree, the Goose Dance was incorporated into the Saulteaux-influenced Midewiwin ceremony. This followed an influx of Saulteaux from southern Manitoba, Ontario, and Minnesota." (

Medicine Men/Women (Spirit Doctor)
Medicine women and men could cure illness. The great Plains Cree Chief, Poundmaker who learned the ways of his Cree mother, was skillful in calling on the powers of nature to cure the sick although he was not officially recognized as a Medicine Doctor. Poundmaker's ability came from his special power of prayer and his knowledge and skill with plant medicines.

Like the Pacific Northwest Coast (i.e. Tsimshian), the Cree had a healthy fear and respect for the Sorcerers among them. It was believed they had great supernatural powers than could drive a person insane, force a woman to fall in love with someone not of her choosing, kill their enemies.

"The eagle has great vision, and so do those who follow the spiritual path in life."
Simon Kytwayhat, a Cree Elder - Saskatoon)



(Means: People of the Longhouse)  

Dreams were the principle guide to how individual and collective life was governed. To disregard the dream world was to bring disasters such as insanity or death. The Haudenosaunee did not believe in tempting fate because it was thought that dreams could also cure illness of the body and mind.  They believed strongly in listening to the songs of the soul for these messages impacted on daily life.  This sacred power was known as ORENDA. Decisions regarding war, marriage, fishing, hunting, war, and other significant life events were based on information obtained from the dream world. For example, a war party would retreat if one of its members dreamed of failure immediately before or during the hunt or raid.

"By their very nature, masks are empowered the moment they are made. The image of the mask is sacred and is only to be used for its intended purpose. Masks do not have to be put through any ceremony or have tobacco attached to them in order to become useful or powerful. Masks should not be made unless they are to be used by members of the medicine society, according to established tradition." (Haudenosaunnee Confederacy Policy on Masks, 1995.)  

False Face Society: It is said that the masks contain supernatural powers to cure disease which will be conferred on the person who made the mask. They feed the mask (honouring it with tobacco), invoke its help while burning tobacco and singing a curing song. The Medicine People of the False Face Society performed an important function because they attempted to protect the Haudenosaunee people by warding off sorcerers responsible for disease and infertility in their crops.

The good ones were a group of medicine people who wore frightening masks made of wood. They were thought to posses special powers when they put on their masks. An injured or ill person would sometimes ask the False Face Society to drive away the spirit of the illness or injury. After a new member joined the False Face Society he had to make his own mask. The most traditional of these masks were painted red and black. Horse hair was often used to create the 'hair'. Mask on left is called a "Companion Mask."

Red masks were thought to have more power because red attracted the Ancestors. There was also a divided mask, painted half red and half black, for a being whose body was torn in two. The Healer wearing this mask, would stand at the middle of the sky looking south; the red cheek facing to the east (which meant good life) and the black side faced the divided body of the afflicted person who, for example, may have been paralyzed, or suffered from a mental breakdown.  Mask above right is a "Doorkeeper Mask."

Corn Husk Society: The Origins of the Cornhusk Mask

"Before the creation of man, Creator realized there were other things that would harm (or interfere) with the ways of the living. The people also knew there were two powerful forces: good and evil. Grandfather, Hatówi  promised the people that he would guard and protect them as deep as the roots of the mighty hickory.

In the surrounding villages there were many gathering places where the people held councils and sacred ceremonies. By the time another meeting came around, the people noticed one or two people were missing. Was it because of sickness? or death?

A woman wondered what was happening. Then, it happened to her family and she began to wonder even more on the whereabouts of her lost one. when she retired for the night, it seemed to her that she was not awake, nor asleep; out of nowhere appeared an image of a man.

He said, "To your disbelief I have appeared before you because your thoughts are on the people missing when you attended the meetings. Now, one member of your family is missing. Your thoughts are on the whereabouts of your lost one. This is the reason I have appeared before you, I am here to help you and those who live here, as it has also happened to the people in the surrounding villages. Many people have deep and sorrowful thoughts and everyone is thinking the same, what has happened?

I am the whirl-winds that circulate the earth with the purpose of helping your people. I am here to tell you that there is something that dwells beneath your gathering places. You have no knowledge of this unknown evil which is taking your people from you. If you do not guard and protect yourselves, it will take all the people and destroy the surrounding villages. This is what's on its mind.

Your grandfather, Hatówi, has been here prior to me, promised to guard and protect your people. So it shall be, I shall work with him. I also have strength and power that equals his strength. It shall be the men who belong to the medicine mask society that I shall work with, and they shall uphold and preserve my rituals. You shall choose some men from the medicine mask society who are the healthiest, able-bodied, and the bravest men with hard-tempered minds to represent me.

Creator has given you, the white-corn (symbolizing life), the second layer of cornhusk shall be taken, split into strands for braiding, sewn together in coils to represent my features, It shall be called the Katsisa'

This is what they shall use to compare me to the whirl-winds that circulate the earth. This will also be worn by the men of the cornhusk mask society. You must always be prepared. The largest red-whip staff shall be gathered, one end shall be burnt to a point and it shall be used by the cornhusk mask society. They shall move about as swiftly as a blink of an eye. Now, I shall no longer be seen. It shall be the ones that I work with who shall use my strength and power.

My food shall be prepared from the white-corn which shall be made into flour and then made into small round corn-bread, and boiled in cooking pots. This shall be a binding promise between me and the members of the medicine mask society(s) for the good of all people. This is the way it shall be known for time to come. This shall give you happiness and contented minds.

At the gathering place when all the preparations have been completed, one person will speak on behalf of your people. As soon as the cornhusk mask society arrives, immediately you will burn the sacred tobacco to communicate with me for the strength and power to help your people. The cornhusk mask society will pierce the earth with their burnt pointed red-whip staffs in search of the unknown evil to drive it deep in the ground. For each one that pierces the earth, it will penetrate so deep that it will interfere with the comfort of the evil that lingers beneath the surface of the earth that has been destroying the people in the surrounding villages.

Two men shall be chosen to stand guard and watch at the mouth of the river. As the river turns red, it will carry the unknown evil downstream where the current flows swiftly into rapids and that shall be the end of evil's (or large serpent's) existence. Now, you will continue to live happily ever after in your villages.

There are many variations to represent my appearance but all have the same strength and power and all require the same type of food. In future, if the preparation of Native food (the corn-bread) is lost then the wheat-flour may be used and made into round scones (or fried-bread). If that is the only way they know how to prepare the food when their thoughts are of me then that is the way it shall be known for time to come.

They shall be a company: the medicine mask society and the cornhusk mask society. From this time on, the fastest runners will pierce the earth as they go with the burnt pointed red-whip stalks to keep all evil creatures deep down underground below the surface of the earth. This company shall stand before all harm which could cause suffering to the people in the surrounding villages. They, Hatówi and Katsisa' have strength and power to protect the members of the medicine mask society(s) for time to come." 

(The above was recorded in the Onondaga language by Roy Buck. Translated by Jim Skye and Roy Buck. Written by Yvonne and Jake Thomas (Oneida).

Main Ceremonies: The Haudenosaunne have thirteen feasts and festivals to celebrate the thirteen moon agricultural year. These are: Midwinter (January), Maple Ceremony (spring), Thunder Dance (can be spring), Sun and Moon dance (2 times), Seed Ceremony, Planting Ceremony, Strawberry Ceremony, String bean (late summer), Corn (see below), Harvest, Thunder, End of seasons.

The Haudenosaunne, use water drums as part of their celebrations. (Photo Left).

Green Corn Festival, held in August, celebrates the ripening of the staple crops: corn, beans and squash, "The Three Sisters." These plants grew from the body of Sky Woman's daughter after she died giving birth to the good and evil-minded twins. As the "Life Supporters," corn, beans and squash are honored in this important ceremony that runs for four days. Four central ritual dances and games are performed. Faithkeepers recite the long Thanksgiving address and a feast with social dancing is held.

Medicine Men/Women (Spirit Doctors)

  1. Pipe Keepers and membership in the Haudenosaunne Medicine Societies are both female and male individuals with the responsibility to uphold and preserve the rituals associated with the culture.

  2. The Haudenosaunne were governed by a powerful Matriarchy. The clan mothers made the decisions, the men executed those decisions.

Spirits may be encouraged to occupy the Spirit Doctor's body during public lodge ceremonies. Drum beating and chanting aid this process. The spirits are then asked to depart and perform the needed acts. Other times, Spirit Doctors enter into a trance and journey to the underworld or go great distances in this world to seek lost possessions or healing and bring them back. (See False Face).

Great Law of Peace
 Upon which the Original United States Constitution was based!

Some of the following is paraphrased from:
New World Roots of American Democracy, David Yarrow, 1987

The Peacemaker established the  Great Law of Peace (called Gatanashagowa) , as the Constitution of the Haudenosaunee. The foundation of the law was that thinking and negotiations could replace violence and warfare as a means of settling disputes. The nations of the Haudenosaunee Confederacy have held fast to that law since the time of the Peacemaker. The Haudenosaunne Confederacy existed centuries before the United States Constitution was written which was based on the Great Law of Peace rather than on Greek democracy, as is commonly believed and taught. (Painting by Steve Simon)

When the first Europeans arrived they were greeted with well organized communities that comprised a powerful alliance of five nations (Seneca, Oneida, Cayuga, Mohawk, Onandaga). These tribes controlled a huge area that ranged from the Hudson-Mohawk and St. Lawrence valleys across to the Great Lakes. It was an immense and strategic position because it controlled vast trade routes and no doubt put them in a position to influence modern North American history. 

The Haudenausaunne were powerful both militarily and economically, but their greatest gift to modern governments was the oldest, most highly evolved participatory democracy on earth. In other words, although the Haudenousaunee were military experts, their government was not founded on might and arms, but rather, on the art of peaceful reasoning.

Native People in general had a profound understanding of what it was to be a free people; what it was to care and share with each other; what it was to respect each person's opinions and participation in the daily life of the tribe. After all, that is how the tribes hummed for sixty thousand years. Effective decisionmaking and statesmanship were embedded in tribal law and understanding.

The United States Constitution is an almost mirror image of the Haudenousaunee Great law. The founding fathers had to look no further than their Haudenousaunee neighbours for a superb example of pure democracy at work. The Great Law quite simply debunked the theory that European politics formed the basis of modern civilization. The following are a few of the main tenets of the Great Law

  • Peace during negotiations must be kept at all costs. After all, it was the natural order of things and the will of Creator.

  • The right of women to collaborate was a given. In fact, the Clan Mothers held powerful positions

  • Decisions must be morally right taking into consideration the needs of seven generations to come.

  • Anger must not be shown.

  • Non-interference in another's opinions was the hallmark of successful collaboration.

  • The Great Law was communicated to The People through an historical figure known as "The Peacemaker'.  He emphasized always the power of reason to achieve a righteous position of justice and health among all people guided by strong spiritual minds.

  • Freedom of Speech, of belief were givens.

  • Power: the power of the people must be maintained including equal sovereignty between women and men.  All voices were heard with respectful attention.

Conflicts between nations were also resolved through diplomacy and consensus. War - or the use of violence - was a last resort. Before the men could go to war, it was customary for the women to make the moccasins. If the women did not want war, they did not make moccasins. Even then, the women and children of the opponents were spared. 

The Confederacy consisted of initially five tribes:  

Seneca "Onondowahgah," The People of the Great Hill, also referred to as the Large Dark Door. (Keepers of the Western Door).
Cayuga (Younger Brother) "Guyohkohnyoh," The People of the Great Swamp. Keeper of Southern Door).
Onondaga "Onundagaono," The People of the Hills. (Keepers of the Sacred Fire).
Oneida (Younger Brother) "Onayotekaono," The People of the Upright Stone. Keepers of the Northern Door).
Mohawk "Kanienkahagen," The People of the Flint. (Keepers of the Eastern Door).
(Adopted Brothers - added around 1760), known as "Ska-Ruh-Reh" meaning the Shirt Wearing People. 


"During a dark age in our history 1000 years ago, humans no longer listened to the original instructions. Creator became sad, because there was so much crime, dishonesty, injustice and war. Creator sent a Peacemaker with a message to be righteous and just, and make a good future for your children seven generations to come. Creator called all the warring people together and told them as long as there was killing there would be no peace of mind. There must be a concerted effort by humans for peace to prevail. Through logic, reasoning and spiritual means, Creator inspired the warriors to bury their weapons and, instead, plant a sacred Tree of Peace."

The Peacemaker legend is central to Haudenousaunee history. It describes a people mired in violent bloody feuds who, guided by a spiritual teacher, were able to set aside war to adopt a Path of Peace. It is a monumental tale of good and evil, finding order out of chaos and the triumph of reason over unreasonable passion for power. Humans were able to rise above their suffering to establish a higher order of human relations. In other words, unity, balance and harmony are achievable even in the worst of times. Individual liberty can be preserved by applying democratic principles.

Haudenosaunee people of the Great League of Peace were instructed to search for their roots under the Great Tree, which is the symbol of the Haudenosaunee Confederacy, its democratic principles, and the original five nations who chose to govern their people by peace.

It is a great white pine tree whose branches spread out to shelter all nations who have committed themselves to peace. It has four roots, call the "white roots of peace" that embraces all the people by extending to the four directions of the earth. The White Roots represent peace and strength. Beneath the tree the Five Nations buried their weapons of war. Atop the tree is the Eagle-that-sees-far. The Peacemaker declared: "If any man or nation shows a desire to obey the law of the Great Peace, they may trace the roots to their source, and be welcomed to take shelter beneath the tree."  The eternal central sun, the source of all life lies beyond the tree.


The supernatural world of the Haudenosaunee was based on the story of a woman who fell from the sky. She was saved by the water beings and eventually when land was formed on the back of a turtle, she brought life to the new world.  This version of Creation is very elaborate and filled with earth-diver themes, supernatural aggression and cruelty, sorcery, torture, and cannibalism.

DEMONS - Giant heads without bodies which fly about in storms. They find humans to be very tasty.

DEOHAKO Spirits of maize, beans and gourds who live together in a single hill. Searching for dew, the maize spirit Onatha was captured by the evil spirit Hahgwehdaetgah who took her off to the underworld. Sun rescued her, and ever since she has remained in the cornfields until the corn is ripe.

The Mohawk have a lengthy sacred narrative that is filled with rich themes and wondrous characters including a woman who births a Wind-daughter, who, in turn, has two sons, one "good," one not so much. Mohawk stories have a strong basis in gratitude. Humans are constantly being told to be grateful for the bounty of the earth lest it be destroyed by inattention. Wise people, the Mohawks.

As was the case with most Native storytelling, winter was the time to gather around the fire and enjoy stories. Skilled Haudenosaunne storytellers entertained their listeners with popular stories about ghosts and supernatural creatures. Colourful characters such as Naked Bear, Monster Mosquito, and the Horned Serpent clashed with witches and talked with animals.



At the urging of Benjamin Franklin, the Haudenosaunee League of Nations Great Law, is what the United States Constitution is based on. The LON governs the following Five tribes:  

Five Nations Territorial Wampum Belt.


1.  Far left: Mohawk: Keeper of the Eastern Door. 
Second from Left:
Oneida: Keeper of the Northern Door.
3. Centre Tree of Life:
Onandaga: Keeper of the Fire.*
4. To the right of the tree: Cayuga: Keeper of the Southern Door.
5. Far right:
Keeper of the Western Door.

*The tree of life also means that the five nations act as one unit in their loyalty to the Great Peace.

Overall the white beads symbolize that no evil or jealous thoughts shall enter into the minds of the leaders while in Council as they are governed by the teaching of the Great Peace. White is the symbol of peace, love, charity and equity and surrounds and guards the Five Nations (Six when the Tuscarora came later).

The Two-row Wampum Belt was of particular significance to the Haudenousaunee.

Photo is of late Cayuga Elder, Jake Thomas holding a replica of a two row wampum belt. Also called Tékeni Teioháte, it symbolizes the relationship between Native people and white people. One purple row of beads represents the path of the Haudenousaunee's canoe which contains their customs and laws. The other row represents the path of the White man's vessel, the sailing ship, which contains his customs and laws. The meaning of the parallel paths is that neither boat should outpace the other, and the paths should remain separate, yet parallel, for as long as the grass grows, the rivers flow, the sun shines, will each group understand their place,  honour it and continue to renew their understandings and treaties.


This belt represents the Ever Growing Tree of Life with its branches spread to the east, west. The top to the north, roots to the south. It is the tree of peace for any nation or individual outside of the Five Nations who wishes to also obey the great laws of peace. If you are of clean mind and heart, you can rest awhile beneath its branches and listen to the great law.





Similar to the Haudenosaunne because they are both agriculturally-based societies. Therefore all plants have spirits. Prayer and ritual took place prior to the cultivation of plants. A small hole was sometimes dug beside the plant and tobacco placed in it as thanks. The plant world was to be used always for the good of humans and never for their downfall for to do so would come back on the Lenape ten-fold.

Main Knowledge: A Creator Figure.  Also there are lesser spirits called Man'tuw'uk.

M'singw guarded the animals and led the Lenape to them when it was time to hunt,  His face was painted half red and half black and often he could be seen riding on the back of a deer.  Although benevolent in some respects he could also be viewed as a meanie, and parents would warn children that he would come and exact discipline if they did not behave.

Main Ceremony:  The Lenape hold a series of dances called 'Stomp' dances throughout the year simply for the joy of getting together, dancing and singing. Like the Haudenosaunne, the Lenape use water drums as part of their celebrations. (See Haudenosaunne above). The Lenape have also adopted the Powwow, Big Drum traditions.




Culture Hero/Transformer - Glooscap chosen by the Creator to take a portion of the heavens for the Mi'kmaq people.

The messenger sent by the Creator to perform this task was LOON who instructed Glooscap how to create Prince Edward Island, New Brunswick, Newfoundland and the great St. Lawrence River. The Mi'kmaq say that when Gisoolg, Great Spirit, was making the continent of the new world, he found that he had much material left over in the shape of rocks, swamps, and useless trees. So he formed a big rubbish heap by casting it all into the sea to the northeast, and called it Wee-soc-kadao. A millenia later, it was to become known as Newfoundland.

After the Mi'kmaq world was created and after the animals, birds and plants were placed on the surface, Gisoolg caused a bolt of lightening to hit the surface of the land. This bolt of lightning caused the formation of an image of a human body named Glooscap. He was the first human. And was shaped out of the basic element of the Mi'kmaq world, sand.

After Glooscap stood up on his feet, he turned around in a full circle seven times. He then looked toward the sky and gave thanks to Gisoolg for giving him life. He looked down to the earth or the ground and gave thanks to Ootsigamoo (Sand Spirit) for offering sand for Glooscap's creation. He looked within himself and gave thanks to Nisgam for giving him his soul and spirit.

Glooscap then gave thanks to the four directions east, north, west and south. In all he gave his heartfelt thanks to the seven directions. He was then instructed to shoot an arrow into an Ash Tree, and as it split down the middle, two human forms emerged, ones Male and one Female.

The Mi'kmaq suffered through many long winters, the snow refusing to abate because it had put Glooscap to sleep. He finally awoke and travelled on the back of a whale south where he met a beautiful maiden called ‘Summer’. Their combined powers were enough to expel winter and create the Seasons. 

Glooscap's essential role in Mi'Kmaq creation stories was to bring order to a world that was in chaos before he arrived.  As is the case with most Transformer Figures, Glooscap was not responsible for creating the world, but for organizing it.

Main Knowledge
Shared with other Algonkians the concept of a Supreme Being known as Gisoolg, Great Spirit (The word Gisoolg in Mi'kmaq means " you have been created"). The word does not imply gender. Gisoolg is not a He or a She because gender is not important. It also means " the one credited for your existence." In pre-European contact time, the Mi'Kmaq identified this Creator as the Sun, to which they prayed twice daily; Lesser deities included humans who were immortal and had supernatural powers. Glooscap, the most important was one such figure. Another Great Spirit figure was Kji-niskam who controlled the destinies of all things. Although invisible his power was manifested through the sun, moon and Father Sky.

Another supernatural figure who could bestow supernatural powers on humans was M'Kmuesu (Mi'Kmaq is derived from the word). LIke most Native nations, all animals and plant life have souls. For example, Wa'so'q was a wondrous place where the souls of all living beings lived in perfect harmony, there was no hunger there. Mi'kmaq also believed in Reincarnation when the the life-soul (physical body) and the free-soul (animism) which existed apart from one another, but at the end of days combined to bring an individual back

As is the case with most Native beliefs, the Mi'kmaq people do not explain how the Great Spirit came into existence only that Gisoolg is responsible for creating everything.


SWEAT LODGE was originally created for men, so that they could experience the peace of spiritual, emotional, physical and mental cleansing and purification that women naturally experienced on their moon time. Much later the sweat lodge ceremony was extended to women as long as women sweated by themselves, as did the men;  Modern sweat lodges now allow for 'mixed' sweats.  I do not subscribe to mixed sweats because the erratic energy of the men in this environment can be overwhelming leaving others in the lodge bereft of a positive experience.

VISIONQUEST A young man on or slightly before puberty remained secluded in a forest or mountain with no food, water or shelter, and wept, prayed, slept naked before the Elements. He remained in that place until a vision was achieved. He sought assistance of supernatural beings and animal spirit guides some of which were sown onto regalia to make him a more powerful warrior. The goal was to rise above physical discomfort in order to receive a vision that would guide his development for the rest of his life. He also sought to acquire a guardian spirit who would be close and supportive for his lifetime. In the ancestral times girls did not go out on quests because it was thought they regularly experienced a connection with the ancestral world on their monthly ‘moontime’ (menstral cycle). Nowadays, both boys, girls, men and women, if the need arises, go out on visionquest. 


  1. An extended time of solitude and fasting spent in nature for purposes of revisiting, reclaiming and remembering one’s ancestry, life dream or creative spirit. No food or water is consumed during this period of sacrifice.

  2. Associated with the East - home of rising run, Great Spirit, Elders, desert creatures, serpents, lizards and turtles.

  3.  An opportunity to ‘cry’ for a vision of spiritual guidance.

  4. An occurrence usually around the Summer Solstice (June 21) during the Sun Dance ceremonies (Plain). Nowadays, an individual can go out at any time.

  5. ·A quest to guard against false "self"; that is rehearsed emotions, editing of thoughts, lies and general self-defeating messages which leads to self-abandonment.

  6. ·A quest can last upwards of four days, depending on the individual and the purpose for doing it in the first place. Again, no food or water.


As is true of many Native traditions, the Mi'kmaq Medicine Wheel contains four colours of human: red, white, yellow and black, of which Natives were aware long before the arrival of the Europeans. Also, each direction has an associated spirit helper, an element, and a sacred medicine. Click on fire for more on the medicine wheel.


The medicine wheel is the basis of the four directions (East, South, West, North), and to honour each of these directions is to honour the living world. However, in some cases the Medicine Wheel goes further, by honouring seven directions. The additional directions are:

UP - the direction of Great Spirit, the Sky, Grandfather Sun/Grandmother Moon

DOWN - the direction of Mother Earth

INWARD: to honour ourselves, and the spirit that exists within each one of u         

When we have acknowledged each of the seven directions, we have acknowledged all that is.


Just as each day is a new beginning, so should that beginning be honoured at the point that the sun rises in the morning. It is an opportunity to give thanks for the bounty that is Mother Earth, for the health of family, friends and to pray for peaceful interaction among the world's people.  It is a silent time of reflection before the start of the business of human life to give thanks to Grandfather Sun and his healing properties and so, tobacco is scattered on the earth as the tangible recognition of our thanks. Sunrise ceremonies are usually part of powwows and other special gatherings.

Medicine Men/Women (Spirit Doctor)

"As the savages have no definite religion, magistracy or government, liberal or mechanical arts, commercial or civil life, they have consequently no words to describe things which they have never seen or even conceived." (Father Pierre Biard, Early Missionary)

Like most hunter-gatherer peoples, the Mi'kmaq had spirit doctors called puoin. They had the power to cure ailments (and to cause them - Sorcerers.). They were relied upon to interpret the spiritual world to the people. Although Christian missionaries tried to discredit the puoin and the world-view that they represented, many traditional beliefs and practices persisted, some down to the present day.


The Mi’kmaq see their world as having many levels of existence. As is the case with most Native nations, they see each member of the living world for example, animals, celestial world, humans, mountains, fire, wind, thunder as "persons" that co-habit with one another. The concept of Power is also a prevalent theme, how it is attained, how it is lost, how it is re-gained, and most importantly the responsibilities and consequences for those who have power. Power is was both respected and feared by the Mi’kmaq.

CELESTIAL THEME: It tells of two sisters who point out stars they want to marry. To their surprise, they wake up the next morning with new husbands and find themselves in the World Above the Sky. Seeing how upset they are, their husbands let them return to their world, but give them strict instructions to follow.




Culture Hero/Transformer: Iktomi (Spider Spirit), his main persona). Like all Culture Heroes, he is also a shapshifter. He can take on any shape including human.

Iktomi is the son of Inyan, rock. Inyan similar in form to other male creator gods. Iktomi has a younger brother, called Iya, who is a destructive and powerful spirit. One story of Iktomi goes that in the ancient days, Iktomi was Ksa, or wisdom, but was stripped of this title and became Iktomi because of he fell victim to his own anger and misused his power by playing malicious tricks on people when they made fun of his unusual looks. Most of his schemes end with him falling into ruin when his intricate plans backfire which are teachings in themselves. These tales are usually told as a way to teach lessons to Lakota youth. Iktomi often played the part of a comedian or slapstick character particularly if the story was being played for laughs which was often done when teaching youth about their misdeeds. Stories such as this were designed not to bring shame to the person it was being aimed at but to allow that person to exit with the teaching and dignity intact and that they haven't been 'ganged' up on. Iktomi, like all culture heroes, is also a serious, compassionate figure.

Iktomi's power is so great that he spun a huge web and draped it all over the world. This is the original interpretation of fiber-optic cable, the Internet and all forms of telecommunications systems.

 Main Knowledge - 7 CEREMONIES & 7 TEACHINGS

Ptesan Wi,  White Buffalo Calf Woman came to the Lakhota in the long ago. She brought with her seven sacred teachings which included a sacred pipe.  As she approached the two hunters on the Plains, one of them lusted for her. As he ran toward her he was turned into a pile of bones. In other words, we can be destroyed by our own actions if we do not think clearly before acting.

The other hunter, who had a pure heart was asked to return to his people and tell to prepare for her arrival.  When she arrived she removed a bundle from her back and showed them a pipe. She said, "the bowl i made from red stone, it represents the earth. Tatanka (buffalo) is carved into the bowl which represents all four-legged animals. You must honour them and take only what you need."

She showed them the stem. "It is made of wood and it presents all the growing things around you. Be judicious in your use of the plants, grasses, and trees." With the wave of a graceful hand she indicated the twelve eagle feathers hanging from the stem. "These feathers represent all the flyers, they are the messengers, hear their words, for they are wise." She then joined the bowl to the stem. "When all these things are joined together, your prayers will travel on the smoke of the tobacco to Wakan Tanka (Great Spirit). All living beings on earth are sacred, they must be honoured and respected at all times."

She continued her instructions indicating seven circles carved into the pipe's bowl. "There are seven reasons for you to use the pipe."

  • Nagli Gluhapi - The Keeping of the Soul. "When someone passes to their day of quiet, take a lock of hair and hold it over the sweetgrass to purify it.  Wrap it in a piece of buckskin, and smoke the pipe to honour their passing. The keeper of the soul should place the buckskin in a place of honour for thirteen moons. At the end of this time conduct a ceremony and smoke the pipe to release the soul to Maya Owichapaha. Feast the dead and busy feast food as an offering to the Earth. The Woman Who Judges Each Soul. If judged worthy, the soul travels to Wakan Tanka.

  • Inipi: The Sweat Lodge Ceremony or Rite of Purification Inipi means "to live again." Sweat lodge is a purification ceremony that cleans the body, mind, spirit and emotions in order to renew life and 'live again'. This is an essential ceremony to the Plains, and draws upon Earth, Air, Fire and Water. The lodge represents a womb which is the vehicle through which rebirth can occur.  It is in the shape of a dome. The door faces east, the direction of the rising sun, and new beginnings. Prayers, the smoking of the pipe, the heating of the stones plus other rituals take place inside the dome. During the ritual the door is opened four times representing the four directions. It also represent the "Four Ages." Ptesan We promised look in on the Lakhota four times to see how they were doing, and that at the end of the four ages she would return. Many Lakhota believe that the birth of "Miracle" a white buffalo in 1994 sparked the end of the world as we know and a beginning of a new healthy way for the Lakhota.

  • Hanblecheyapi: Vision Quest  Also called "Crying for a Vision." It was and is important to the Plains that visionquest regularly take place so that each individual can relign h/herself with all that is sacred. Visionquests are conducted with a Pipe-carrying Elder watching over and protecting the individual. Visionquests are isolated places in which the individual sacrifices himself by not drinking or eating during the period of time. This requires discipline and the ability to rise above mere physical discomfort. When the vision comes, the individual enters a sweatlodge to explain it, and to hear the interpretation from a Spirit Doctor.

  • Wiwanyag Wacipi, The Sun Dance    See below.

  • Hunkapi: Making Relatives Is a peace-making exercise in which the Lakhota original sought peace with other tribes by making them adopted relatives. Very cool! It was a sacred ritual that was somewhat akin to the Lakhota's spiritual relationship with Wakan Tanka. There was face painting, women's faces with red paint; men's faces with red and blue paint.

  • Ishna Ta Awi Cha Lowan - Preparing a girl for womanhood  Usually took place on girl's first moontime (menstrual cycle) as she becomes Mother Earth's sister. A special tipi was built and the ceremony conducted by a holy person. Pipe was smoked, prayers offered to Wakan Tanka  and to a buffalo skull which anchored the ceremony. It was painted red to symbolize Mother Earth.  Blue paint was also present to represent the relationship between earth and sky. Cherries and water were placed with the skull. The girl was given buffalo meat by the Holy Man, songs were sung a feast prepared to honour the young girl as a life-giver and sustainer of the tribe.

  • Tapa Wankaye Yapi - The Throwing of the Ball  It is a sport but also a metaphor for Wakan Tanka. Wherever the ball is thrown, Wakan Tanka is there to help the people. In the old days the ball was made out of buffalo hair and hide. Again red and blue are painted on the ball to represent the connection between earth and sky. A young girl stands in the centre of a circle and throws the ball in the four directions and up into the air. Each time the ball is caught and brought back to her. She represents the purity of the Lakhota belief system and also purity of heart, mind, body and spirit. The sadness experienced by many Lakhota today, who are lost between their world and the relentless world of the whites, shows that the ball has been lost and therefore the connection to Wakan Tanka is also lost.

When Ptesan Wi left the camp, she rolled four times, each time changing into one of the four colours of human, first red, then black, then yellow and then white. As a result Buffalo did not readily run from humans (unless stampeded). She said she would eventually return to help the people heal.

Lakota People believe she has returned with the birth of the first white buffalo calf in 1994; five others have since been born. Ultimately the Buffalo was used as a weapon by the Europeans to bring the Plains Natives down; thousands were shot indiscriminately leaving their bodies to rot on the Plains. As Crazy Horse was reported to have said in a glorious understatement, "It was a bad thing done to our brother, Tatanka."

Tatanka, therefore is the mental, spiritual, emotional and physical sustenance of the Plains People. For thousands of years vast herds provided the basis for all Plains Life. There was once so many, they "darkened" the landscape like a vast cloud.

Seven  Sacred Teachings given to the Lakhota by White Buffalo Calf Woman:

Honesty: Wóowothanla - Stand in your own truth. Be honest with yourself and with others. Here the songs of your heart.
Humility: W
óunšiičiye - Lead by humble example. The greatest leaders are humble people.
Wisdom: Wóksape - By wise in your choices by acquiring accurate knowledge to live your live in a good way.
Love (self): Theíč'hihila; Love (each other): Thekíčhihila
Honour: Yuónihan - Love yourself first, this way you can love others, as well as Mother Earth and all she holds sacred.
Respect: Ohóla - Lies at the foundation of living one's life in a good way.
Courage: Wóohitike - Again, stand in the truth of who you are, personal courage requires the steadfast belief that you are good enough exactly as you are.

Main Ceremony - Sun Gazing/Thirst Dance

The Sun Dance usually takes place in and around the Summer Solstice (June 21st) and is the most sacred ceremony of the Plains First Nations. The Europeans considered it a pagan and savage rite of passage. It was eventually outlawed for a time at the end of the nineteenth century. The original dance called for fixed gazing at the Sun while dancing, blowing bone whistles, fasting, self-torture by dragging buffalo skulls and/or being bound to the Sacred Tree with the insertion of a bone under the skin of the chest and then breaking the ties. 

Quite simply, it was an annual right of passage for warriors and a time for renewal and reconnection to Wakan Tanka and to all their Ancestors who passed before.  The Sun Dance area was built like a palisade with long sticks dug into the ground, on the top were placed tree branches to act as a bit of shelter from the relentless sun. The central pole, also called the "Tree of Life" was chosen by the ranking Spirit Doctor and erected in the centre of the Sun Dance theatre. It was decorated as well. At sunrise the following day, the ceremony began and lasted for four full days. Those warriors who had chosen to sacrifice themselves, that is undergo the piercing or dragging of the buffalo skull ceremonies needed the time to prepare themselves spiritually, mentally, physically and emotionally for the ordeal.  Most often they were asking Wakan Tanka to be a better warrior or hunter. First they purified themselves in Inipi (sweatlodge), after which they placed circlets of sage on their heads, around their wrists and ankles.  They also had a whistle made from eagle bone.

The opening ceremony and dance into the lodge include a call to the Ancestors to come to the dance. Prayers, tobacco, red cloth (Ancestors like the colour red), pipe-smoking on the part of Elders, calling of individual names, were all used to entice the Ancestors. Their energy was needed to help the warriors endure piercing and the dragging of the buffalo skulls.

The Spirit Doctor pierces their chests with a piece of bone which was slid below the skin. Long pieces of hide were attached. When the warrior felt ready, he reared back as fast as he could ripping the bone from his chest. Other warriors had the bone inserted in their upper backs and they were tied to a buffalo skull (weighing upwards of fifty pounds).

They ran dragging the skull behind, sometimes over rocking terrain trying to rip the skull from the backs. All of this self-sacrifice was to prove that if they could endure this, they could endure anything that came their way, particularly in battle.

The dancers were supported by Spirit Doctors, Drummers and Singers who sang songs of triumph and healing as the warriors endured the ritual.

More on Medicine Wheel Knowledge

Medicine Men/Women (Spirit Doctor)
Supernatural powers usually acquired through a visionquest. Spirit Doctors were much feared.  They could extract disease-causing objects, retrieve lost souls. They could also cause illness and death (called sorcerers or witches).


  • Guardian Spirit - a supernatural being who gave the individual special songs, prayers and symbols which would protect against evil and death.

  • Vision Quest - where an individual ventured out alone to 'cry for a vision that would bring the guardian spirit.

  • Spiritual Doctors - He (there were female Spiritual Doctors among Teton Dakota, but Spiritual Doctors were predominantly male) was the direct intermediary between the supernatural and physical worlds. He also functioned as a healer because most Plains believed that illness was a result of evil supernatural intervention. (See Above)

  • Community Ceremonials such as the Sun Dance. The Sun Dance represented a continuous circle of life that included both the seen and unseen worlds.  Death and rebirth sing the same song - it was Chief Joseph who was purported to have said, that 'there is no such thing as death, the Ancestors are simply living in another world.'  All the worlds are interconnected and depend upon each other. "Powerful animals exhibit both physical and spiritual powers, just as the medicine man and shaman do, and as do the grains of tobacco in the sacred pipe." (Smart p. 527)



The word Powwow, comes from the Algonkian, pau wau, meaning people coming together to trade. Explorers misinterpreted the ceremony when they witnessed medicine men dancing, thinking all Natives gathered to sing and dance in this manner. The modern day Powwow evolved from the Plains Native Grass Dance Societies that formed during the early 1800's. The dances were an opportunity for the warriors to re-enact their brave deeds for all the members of the tribe to witness.

Oddly enough, the establishment of reservations created a renaissance for the powwow. Tribal customs and ceremonial knowledge had been outlawed, yet the Grass Dance was one of the few celebrations that had been allowed to remain during this transitional period which allowed for the maintenance of some earlier tribal customs. As other communities and tribes were invited to these celebrations, rights of ownership of sacred items necessary to the Grass Dance were formally transferred from one tribe to another. "Inter-tribalism" began to emerge with the sharing of these songs and dances. Gift-giving and generosity were integral aspects of these early festivities, as they still are today.

Powwows really began to blossom after the Second World War when the ceremonies were used to welcome Native veterans home from the war. Hence, the Powwow Grand Entry is always led by the Veterans as a great honouring and deep respect for their sacrifices and brave deeds.

Powwows are a time to celebrate and help preserve a rich cultural heritage. It is a time to renew old friendships and make new ones. Although powwows take place throughout the year, the "powwow season" is usually between April-November. Powwows are held on reservations and various locations throughout First Nations Country and usually last from Friday-Sunday, sometimes longer.

Dancing, Drumming and Singing have always been a very important part of the life of Native people, and the two or three day celebration is filled with the sounds and colour of many varied Native cultures. 

American Powwows really began to flourish after the United States government lifted its ban in 1933. Returning war veterans were honoured with homecoming dances; In the 1950s and 60s, powwows became "inter-tribal," meaning that they were open for all tribes to attend, and the practice of "contesting" began. Contesting involves dance competitions broken down into different categories (i.e. jingle, fancy shawl, traditional, children, young adults, adults). 

Some of the bigger powwows, have prize money in the thousands of dollars. The difference between a Traditional Powwow and a Competitive Powwow is that in a traditional powwow, the dancers do not dance for money, but rather for the Ancestors and a higher purpose of balance and harmony between their people and the Earth.

Powwows have been growing, constantly changing and adapting to modern ways, while still retaining their cultural roots. Brighter colors, more elaborate regalia, more intricate dance moves, and even new styles of dance have emerged (women's jingle dress) with the passage of time. First Nations culture is living history and culture, it is never stagnant but moves forward as Mother Earth moves forward.

In the ceremony of the powwow it is often the veterans who carry the National flags into the circle during Grand Entry. These flags include the Eagle Staff which, for example, is the National flag of the Anishinabe people, the Canadian flag and the U.S. flag. These flags (along with the Eagle Staff) are honoured by a Flag Song.  Everyone in the arena stands with hats off.

Eagle Staff
Is the National flag for most Native Nations and often represents a significant historical event, such as the First and Second World Wars, Korean War, Viet Nam war, Gulf War, and the most recent involvement of Canadian troops in Afghanistan and Iraq. At a powwow, it is usually carried in during the Grand Entry by the ranking Elder at the powwow or recognized war veteran.  It is adorned with eagle feathers, and the dreams and visions of the maker. (Photo left: Thunderbird's Eagle Staff)


descriptions of Powwow Dances, Proper Protocol, Grand Entry, Regalia





 By Shannon Thunderbird

Time has not always been kind to the Indigenous Spirit Doctor; terms such as 'witch doctor' or the '"devil's servant" have frequently been used to describe the nature and responsibilities of this very special and important person. The correct term "Spirit Doctor" in lieu of the term Shaman’ is being used. Shaman is a term that came from central Asia and as a result there is no word in any Native language for the word ‘Shaman’.  

There are Spirit Doctors who do not act in the best interests of the people. As in all situations in life, both the positive and negative occur. A negative Spirit Doctor (Sorcerer) is someone who, like many others, does not have, (a) full understanding of his role, (b) does have a full understanding but has become corrupted with his powers, or (c) is 'burned out' after a number of years carrying heavy responsibilities. Whatever the case, they have been known to reap incredible damage and it is these people who have earned, for all Spirit Doctors, the labels of witch doctor, devil's servant, sorcerer, etc. That said, this article chooses to deal with the Spirit Doctor as a positive role model and healer as they outnumber the negative ones by a huge margin. 

A Spirit Doctor subscribes to neither the aforementioned labels; indeed, she is more accurately described as a healer, visionary, mystic, poet. More to the point, h/she is an intermediary between the people and the Lower world/Upper world.  As such, she is a healer first and a prophet second. A Spirit Doctor can be either male or female. She has become a Spirit Doctor after much initiation and soul searching.

While a Spirit Doctor does carry a certain taboo, she does not stay secluded from the people. She is involved with everyday activities and expected to earn his way.  When not directly involved in a healing capacity, he becomes a teacher for other healers and certainly the children or planning for an upcoming event. In other words, he is approachable on a variety of levels.

In Indigenous cultures, every problem is treated seriously for a group's very survival depends on healthy attitudes and healthy bodies.  It is believed that a person can become diseased or open to disease if that person's guardian spirit has left or been lost. It becomes the job of the Spirit Doctor to go in search of that spirit and bring it back, or, if it is lost, bring back another one.

How does he do this? You need to imagine a tree, its roots buried in the ground, its trunk tall and its branches and leaves in full foliage. To us, trees hold a great significance as roots are seen as the past, trunks are seen as the present and branches/leaves are seen as the future.  In keeping with this symbol, the roots are the Lower world, the trunk is the journey and the branches/leaves are the Upper world. (It should be understood that a Spirit Doctor may also choose to journey through other methods such as mentally picking a cave entrance, a waterfall, etc; however, more often than not, the tree symbol is used because the notion of the tunnel -up and down- is the constant).

In order to find what she is searching for, the Spirit Doctor's understanding allows her to give of her soul for a time. The giving of her soul means she uses her energy in the service of the patient(s) in order to provide a receptacle to bring back what is needed. She cannot lose or leave her own soul behind because (a) she understands what the journey entails and is so prepared, (b) she could die, and (c) the drum, the rattle and trusted aides keep her connected.

Upon entering the world of altered consciousness, the Spirit Doctor picks a mental point in his tree to enter and begin his journey. If, for example, he is in search of a lost guardian spirit, he goes to the Lower world to acquaint himself with the roots (or past) of the patient. He may, indeed, find the spirit there.  If not, he travels to the Upper world, the future (branches/leaves) to see if the spirit has 'gone ahead'. If he finds the spirit, he comes back down the trunk and exits at the point of entry. Upon his return, he blows the spirit back into the patient through the chest/head areas. The Tsimshian Spirit Doctor, for example, uses a 'soul catcher'. It is usually carved from hollowed bone, and is intricately carved (see below). If the spirit has been lost and a new one found, he returns and blows the new spirit into the patient's body whereupon the patient must rise and begin to dance, making noises and movements of the new spirit so that it can feel at home and want to stay.  If a physical disease is the problem, the Spirit Doctor goes in search of the special cure that is needed.

What is important to understand is not only the connections the Spirit Doctor has with herself and her guardian spirits, but the connection she has with the patient(s). There is, put in modern words, a contractual agreement between the two and interestingly, when the Spirit Doctor begins her journey (along with the drum and rattle), she will lie down beside the patient, with a view to sharing the energy of Great Spirit. The patient must feel that she has an investment in the cure in order for it to be long lasting.

The Spirit Doctors’ spirits can move freely and are often gone during waking hours. They will meet the Spirit Doctor as he enters the tunnel inside the trunk. They may all go to the Lower world and work together or some may go to the Upperworld and beckon the Spirit Doctor upwards if they find what he is looking for. Since this is a mental journey, time is based on the Spirit Doctor (of course, if it is an immediate life-death situation, the Spirit Doctor will stay conscious of the time).

As mentioned above, the Spirit Doctor does not invalidate anyone's experiences; he will never tell another that only a fantasy exists. He completely understands that everything occurring is a reality and occurring in real time and that every symbol in his journey has a message. He will contemplate even the most unusual happenings and see how they fit in with what he already knows, for all matters are part of the truth by which he lives. As a side note, a Spirit Doctor may wear a mask when journeying so that a lost spirit, for example, will recognize the face of its owner and come back. Pacific northwest coast Spirit Doctors do not wear masks.

Spirit Doctors, like anyone else in service professions, carry heavy responsibilities to serve the people well and judiciously. From predicting the hunt to accurately naming a child to healing the physically infirm to repairing the mentally infirm, it falls to the Spirit Doctor to underwrite the survival of the people. It takes, as it does with anyone who has the responsibility of maintaining groups of people, tremendous physical stamina, strength of purpose and courage of conviction to carry on, walk in one’s own truth and stay true to one's destiny.

The Spirit Doctor embodies the warrior, healer, teacher and visionary archetypes. They represent the four directions on the medicine wheel and accurately describe the kind of person a Spirit Doctor must be as the backbone of healthy tribal life.

In summary, the primary purpose of the Spirit Doctor is to help others; by helping patients transcend their ordinary realities, the Shaman can help them rise above their view of themselves as sick or diseased.  When they can do this, the Spirit Doctor knows from the results of his work that she has become a true Spirit Doctor.

There are five main symbols attached to the Spirit Doctor:

 DRUM: Referred to by some Native people as 'horse', 'canoe', such reference implies a vehicle of sorts.  In other words, on the heartbeat (Mother Earth) is contained with the drum rhythm, while keeping the Spirit Doctor grounded in the present world, carries her to the unseen worlds where she must travel to find the necessary properties for healing purposes.  The drum calms her body and provides a focus of sound.

RATTLE/SHAKER: A higher, sharper pitch of sound, the rattle serves to  keep the Spirit Doctor connected to his Ancestors (Grandmothers, Grandfathers, Ancestor Spirit Doctors) and is used to call them to come and assist. Often the Ancestors are sleeping or traveling, and must be called back gently from their deep sleep, the shaker serves this purpose. While the intensity of the sound recedes the further down/up he goes, it is vibrant enough for the Spirit Doctor to hear it in the background. Its secondary use of the shaker also helps to keep him connected in the present world.

STAFF OR WALKING STICK: Used to direct and receive the higher spiritual energies.  It is often decorated with symbols of her personal power; feathers, fur, small bells, animal teeth, hair, coloured ribbons, anything deemed important for spiritual connection. While other items may come and go, the walking stick is a permanent tool, once it has been completed.

MEDICINE BUNDLE/BAG: When beginning his career, the Spirit Doctor must undergo visionquests that allow him to find his true power, his guardian spirits (which may number to several hundred depending on his age and experience).  The guardian spirits may vary; he might have a power animal(s), plants, inorganic objects such as stones or gemstones, all of which fulfill certain functions and aid him in his journey of discovery. He must also have the knowledge of medicines, history of his people, good oratory skills, dancing and singing ability.  He also has assistants who will drum and rattle for him as he journeys.

SOUL CATCHER (PACIFIC NORTHWEST COAST): The Soul Catcher was used for healing work, not necessarily for use after the patient had gone to his/her day of quiet. In death, it was expected that the soul would leave and find its way to the light. There were other ceremonies to ensure this happened.

The Tsimshian, Inuit, Tlingit Spirit Doctors used soul catchers as an important part of their healing work, as physical, mental, emotional and spiritual health are all intertwined. They make up the four realms of human existence. A healthy spirit (soul) anchored the other three parts. If the soul became lost while separated from the body during a dream, or was driven out by sorcery (either self-inflicted or by someone else), the body was now empty. A spirit doctor was engaged to find the lost soul, capture it in a soul catcher and restore it to the patient. Soul retrieval is a very complex and special ceremony.

Once the soul was found, the Spirit Doctor then placed one end of the soul catcher near the solar plexus and blew the person’s spirit back into them. This prevented illness from invading the "empty" body. Loss of soul can also be considered a metaphor for some sort of mental or emotional breakdown.

Soul Catchers were most often carved from the leg bone of a grizzly or brown bear. Because bear femurs were large, much bigger soul catchers could be created to plug the smoke hole of the healing house just in case the soul tried to make a premature getaway! There were also 'plugs' made from cedar bark to plug the holes at either end of the soul catcher to hold the soul until it was blown back into the patient.


More on the Pipe, Effigy Pipes & Other Sacred Items




A sweat lodge (the one of the left is Navaho) was originally created for men, so that they could experience the peace of spiritual, emotional, physical and mental cleansing and purification that women naturally experienced on their monthly moon time. Much later the sweat lodge ceremony was extended to women as long as women sweated by themselves, as did the men;  Modern sweat lodges now allow for 'mixed' sweats.  I do not subscribe to mixed sweats because the testosterone of the men in this environment can often overwhelm the women, leaving the women bereft of a positive experience. Some things are better left separated.

In one form or another, the sweat lodge pervaded cultures from the Alaskan Eskimo south into the land of the Mayans. The one on the left is a more typical lodge. The purpose, in most cases, went beyond getting the body clean. The sweat lodge provided a cure for illness, revitalization for aching muscles, a connection to the Ancestors and a sense of both cultural and spiritual identity. A chance, in other words, to reconnect to both the seen and unseen worlds.

The Europeans saw the sweat lodge, with its sacred and spiritual implications, as a threat. But, then many of them didn't have a clue about personal cleanliness. Even after Natives cultures were subdued, Christian missionaries and government officials systematically denied the use of the sweat lodge, eventually, in the case of Canada, outlawing it in 1884, thereby interrupting a continuity that lasted thousands of years. Enforcement depended upon how great a threat they felt from a particular tribe.

Sweating rids the body of wastes and gives the body an almost magical and very thorough cleaning. In this modern sedentary age of pollution, artificial environments, synthetic clothing and lack of regular exercise, a sweat lodge can open clogged skin pores and stimulate the healthy flow of a body's own natural sweat. A Navajo who fought in World War II once said that he had came back for a sweat "to rid himself of evil accumulated during war."

The ceremony was adopted by many Native tribes in post-European contact history who were undertaking the arduous task of healing themselves. It was prompted by the influence of European paternalistic attitudes with their corrupting effect on Indigenous culture. In pre-contact times there was no need for having a Sweat Lodge for such purposes. With the deliberate introduction of alcohol and the inhumane treatment of Native people, the need to re-purify was vital as bodies became increasingly poisoned by ingesting large quantities of alcoholic mixtures (traders would use water and other things such as beer to dilute the whiskey to save on money). It also brought about abusive behavior towards women and children that had  never occurred before by Native culture.

Needing to try to find a way back to their traditional beliefs, Native tribes found part of the answer in the re-introduction of the Sweat Lodge. Not only could they draw out the poison of alcohol and other substance abuse, but also the behavior that went along with drunkenness, through intense heat and steam. With the help of Medicine Men and Women they also started repairing the damage done to their own spirits, it was a place of refuge and healing but also a place to receive answers and guidance by asking spiritual entities, spirit guides, the Creator and Mother Earth for help.


  • The sweatlodge is usually a domed structure which generates hot moist air. It may be a small structure made of a frame of saplings, covered with skins, canvas or blanket; it can also be built with hard wood walls.

  • Inside, a depression is dug in the center into which hot rocks (called grandfathers) are positioned (or rocks can be positioned at the side beside the leader-(Nez Percé)). Each Grandfather represents a living being, the first rock into the lodge represents Great Mystery. Other rocks, flyers, swimmers, Standing people (trees), etc. Each rock is greeted by the participants as it is placed in the hole by the Firekeeper. The Firekeeper does not enter the lodge but remains outside tending the fire and ensuring the safety of all participants. He or she is usually in training with an Elder and sweatlodge teachings and being a firekeeper are part of the training. The rocks are usually not reused.

  • The ground inside is covered with a bed of cedar (physical healing) and thoroughly smudged before use in order to clear it of previous energies.

  • Opening prayers are spoken by the Convener; pipe is passed around (not all the time). Water is thrown on the rocks to create steam. As many as a dozen people can be accommodated in some lodges.  At some point each person is asked to speak a few words if they so choose.

  • The ceremony can last for hours, or be relatively short.  Depending on the beliefs, there are usually four rounds of seven stones each, with the flap being opened at the end of each round to let the steam out. In other ceremonies, the door remains closed for the entire ceremony (Nez Percé).

  • The door usually faces East where the fire is built.


Sweatlodge is a sacred ceremony, one of the highest in Indigenous culture. If payment is required by those leading the sweat then it is not a true sweatlodge ceremony and like Elvis, the Ancestors will leave the building. It is believed by most Elders that participants will not have a good experience.  When a request for a lodge, gifts including tobacco should be offered to the Sweatlodge Leader.  It will be her decision whether or not you are ready for it. 

There is an enormous amount of preparation that goes into setting up the sweatlodge ceremony. Upon arrival at the site another gift of tobacco PLUS an additional gift should always be offered to the sweatlodge leader, the firekeeper and any Elders who may be in attendance. (It is always best to find out who will be there).

OFFERING OF MONEY: If money in any denomination is offered to help defray costs, it is considered a gift and therefore acceptable. Never ask how much, because then it becomes a fee and that is definitely not acceptable. Nonetheless, tobacco and another non-monetary gift should accompany the monetary offering. 

WOMEN AND SWEATLODGE It is still the case today that women on their menstrual cycle are not allowed to go into a sweatlodge because it will upset the spiritual balance of the lodge. This skewed reasoning comes from the assumption that the Creator is MALE.  There is nothing to prevent a women from engaging in any sacred activity at any time of the month if she so chooses. But then I am a forward-thinking, logical Elder who does not subscribe to this type of gender control drivel that came directly out of post-European Christian precepts. 

WARNING:  I do caution, however, that the heat from a sweatlodge is many times hotter than the average sauna and so women on their moontime should contemplate carefully about how much they think their body can handle. Further dehydration while on moontime is not a good thing. Moreover, it can cause a disruption if, in the middle of the ceremony,  a woman has to leave the lodge.


More on Women





  • It is always a positive and uplifting experience 

  • "We can and do relate to the universe as a whole since we are a microcosm of that macrocosm and this relationships intoxicates us." (Thomas Aquinas)

  • We are all born with a little mysticism in our souls. We do and can 'star gaze' and dreams the dreams that contents our lives.

  • Our connections to the Universe ground our souls in something greater than ourselves and reminds us that we are not the most powerful living beings, in fact it is the opposite, humans are and always will be, the weakest.

  • It is a life-long journey that balances itself in four ways: the positive aspects of the journey; the negative aspects of the journey, the creative way through acknowledge creativity; the transformative way through living in a 'good way' - that is with justice, balance, harmony, dignity, wisdom, courage, healing, compassion, love and celebration.

  • Everyone can sing, dance, pray, meditate.  Everyone can empower themselves and release themselves into the unknown - we can empower each other and our communities.

  • We are the descendants of that which created the Universe in the first place, therefore, we carry divine blood in ancient brains.

  • We know that we are connected to all living beings by an unbreakable, unshakeable belief that we are the children of The Great Mystery.

Do Not Be Afraid to Gaze at the Universe and Greet Your Sisters and Brothers!



A satellite that can peer so far back in time  has snapped the first "baby pictures" of the universe only a few hundred thousand years after the Big Bang. The above is called the "cosmic microwave background" and Astronomers are giving a current date of 13.7 billions years to the age of the Universe.

According to the scientists, the world is in a serious mid-life crisis. The satellite currently orbiting the sun 1.6 million kilometres farther out than the Earth measures temperature changes down to the millionths of a degree. The energy left over from the Big Bang has taken more than 13 billion years to reach Earth, traveling at the speed of light. It is similar to energy generated by a microwave oven.

Dark Energy is on the rise. No, this is not a new superhero movie. Dark Energy is a force that is steadily increasing to the point that it is dominating the universe causing it to blow apart at a rapidly accelerating rate (and here we thought we just had problems with our world!)




Physicist, Dr. Fotini Markopoulou (Waterloo, Ontario, Institute for Theoretical Physics) is thinking in a bold new way about the universe. Even Einstein was stumped in coming up with a theory that combined the two dominant yet contradictory descriptions of how the universe works - relativity vs. quantum mechanics.

Relativity: describes space and time at the grand scale where gravity is the dominant force.

Quantum Mechanics describes the smallest scale, far down inside atoms where different forces prevail.

So how do you combine the small picture with the big picture and still have a plausible explanation?  Just ask the young and brilliant Dr. Markopoulou.  She says that by combining the two theories into a single view of "quantum gravity" or "Theory of Everything."  In other words, the universe is not a smooth space-time continuum as Einstein posited, but, rather a "lumpy tabletop" of a network of individual atoms that are themselves composed of small packages of space-time ("Quanta" is another word for small packages).

Not only is this a whole new idea, it is provable!  Dr. Markopoulou's theory will be tested by a NASA telescope scheduled to go into orbit in three years.  The telescope will search for gamma ray bursts that erupt from stars.  If the universe is "lumpy", then smaller photons of light from the burst will take longer to reach Earth than bigger photons.  Dr. M. postures that, "the smaller photons will wind up traveling farther because they dip down into the gaps between the lumps."  Who knew?

Photon: Electromagnetic energy that has both particle and wave properties: it has no charge or mass but possesses momentum and energy, rather like the Pacific Northwest Coast Transformer Figure, Raven.




Young boys before or at puberty, back in the day were encouraged to enter into a period of fasting, meditation and physical challenge. He separated himself from the tribe and went to a wilderness area. The goal was to receive a vision that would guide his development for the rest of his life. He also sought to acquire a guardian spirit who would be close and supportive for his lifetime. In the ancestral times girls were not usually eligible for such a quest because it was thought they regularly experienced a connection with the ancestral world on their monthly ‘moontime’ (menstral cycle). Also the post-European male attitude that women on their menstral cycle were too powerful and therefore not eligible for such sacred quests - Sigh! Now, both boys, girls, men and women, if the need arises, go out on visionquest. 


  • An extended time of solitude and fasting spent in nature for purposes of revisiting, reclaiming and remembering one’s ancestry, life dream or creative spirit. No food or water is consumed during this period of sacrifice.

  • Associated with the East - home of rising run, Great Spirit, Elders, desert creatures, serpents, lizards and turtles.

  • An opportunity to ‘cry’ for a vision of spiritual guidance.

  • An occurrence usually around the Summer Solstice (June 21) during the Sun Dance ceremonies (Plain). Nowadays, an individual can go out at any time.

  • A quest to guard against false "self"; that is rehearsed emotions, editing of thoughts, lies and general self-defeating messages which leads to self-abandonment.

  • A quest can last upwards of four days, depending on the individual and the purpose for doing it in the first place.

Back in the day, The young man remained secluded in a forest or mountain with no food, water or shelter, and wept, prayed, slept naked before the Elements. He remained in that place until a vision was achieved. He sought assistance of supernatural beings and animal spirit guides some of which were sown onto regalia to make him a more powerful warrior. Before a vision quest there was (and is) a purifying Sweat Lodge ceremony. Upon return from the quest, there would be another sweat. Elders helped him assemble sacred objects that were told to him in vision, Also known as a ‘medicine bundle’ - wrapped in hide, and contained a warrior’s dearest possessions. He would unwrap these sacred objects before any significant event (hunt, war). Elders also kept an eye on the young man while he was out. Upon return, there was a great celebration to mark this life-changing moment. (photo right: Kwakwaka'wakw (often referred to as Kwakiutl)

Tsimshian: Back in the day, going out in nature meant without creature comforts. Sometimes, a small blanket was allowed to be taken, but essentially no food or water was ingested, and the individual had to fend for himself in terms of creating fire and shelter with no tools. Often they would strike themselves with hemlock leaves, or wear a crown of hemlock leaves. Such activity was usually in the fall and winter (the time of ceremonials) when everyone was less busy with the normal tasks of survival.

In modern times, the visionquest is an opportunity for a person (male or female), to sit out in nature in silent meditation and reflection. It usually takes place for two-four days somewhere out in a secluded, natural space.  The modern visionquest allows for shelter, but no food or water.  

Visionquests are sacred time periods. If payment
is required by those who organize it, it is believed by most Elders that the participant will receive no positive effect for the experience.  Fee for a Vision is not a concept that works for the Ancestors either!!  A gift of tobacco and another gift should always be given to those who are running the visionquest. If money in any denomination is offered to help defray costs, it is considered a gift and therefore acceptable.  Never ask how much, because then it becomes a fee.


  • Protection - much like a sweatlodge the visionquest lodge can be built from alder trees and covered with a tarp OR a small tent.  It is also good to cover the tent with a tarp to protect from inclement weather

  • Candles (a dozen tea lights) help to keep the inside of the lodge dry in case of rain; a dish to put them in

  • Blanket, pillow, some sort of mattress

  • Bug repellant (depending on time of year)

  • Comfortable clothing (that will last four days!)  Layers are the way to go depending in weather; hat

  • Smudge, smudge bowl, waterproof matches

  • Water is permitted if this is your first visionquest - even so, one litre should last 4 days (half litre two days) - NO FOOD

  • Sacred items used to create altar (feathers, crystals, rocks, etc.)

  • Drum, shaker (if applicable)

  • Sweatlodge clothes (women: gown, large towel)

  • Gifts for Traditional Teacher or Elder who is watching out for you

  • Tobacco pouches (for sweatlodge)

There is nothing to prevent a women from engaging in any sacred activity at any time of the month if she so chooses. But, then, and it's worth repeating, Thunderbird is a modern, well-informed Elder and does not subscribe to this type of gender control drivel that came directly out of post-European Christian precepts.



"Natives who beat drums to drive off evil spirits are objects of scorn to smart Americans who blow horns to break up traffic jams."

Mary Ellen Kelly