2) Foundations of Native American Spirituality
It is important to understand that for most Native Americans there was no distinction between things spiritual and things cultural. Their social and cultural structure was infused with a spirituality that could not be separated from the rest of daily life. They viewed the world through spiritual lenses. To the Native American, every act, every event, was sacred. In the three hundred languages, there was no word for “religion”. It was not viewed as a separate part of life, but as life itself. .
It is also critical to realize that our understanding of traditional Native American spirituality is based largely upon oral tradition. There are no sacred texts. Understandings of spiritual truths, principles and values were handed down from generation to generation through stories and customs, some mythical, some based on facts or actual events in the life of the tribe, some based on experience. This strictly oral basis complicated White understanding, because Native Americans were typically forbidden or reluctant to disclose the details and nuances of their religion to Whites. It was not until the twentieth century that elders and medicine men, fearing that the ancient ways, if not documented, would be lost forever, wrote about, and dictated to White authors, the foundations and nuances of Native American Spirituality and Culture.
For Native Americans, there was no compartmentalization of secular and sacred. There was no “Separation of Church and State”. Religion was not something reserved for Sunday. It was not something separate from everyday life, but an integral part of everyday life. Worldview, philosophy and religion were inseparable. To The People, to be human was to be religious.
Every day was considered a sacred day, a holy day, a day to be appreciated and for which to give thanks. A morning prayer to the Great Spirit, which predates by centuries the arrival of white missionaries, expressed this attitude:
“I thank you for another day. I ask that you give me the strength to walk worthily this day, so that when I lay down at night I will not be ashamed.”
Bear Heart – Muskogee Creek
To the Indigenous People, religion was not about holding the right beliefs and the recitation of creeds, but about understanding life and how one was supposed to live. Their religion had an intimate connection with the world around them. They did not rely upon the fear of hellfire or of divine retribution to convince people that they should be religious. They worshipped to show thankfulness for life and its blessings and because it was an important and integral part of their lives.