First Nations Religion: Overview

Given the great diversity of the sacred ways of First Nations' peoples, an outline of sacred beliefs and ceremonies of a selected number of First Nations peoples is all that can be attempted here. In Saskatchewan, there are three major language families: Algonquian, which includes languages such as Cree, Saulteaux (also called Ojibwa, Ojibwe, Chippewa, Bungi, or Anishinabe), and Blackfoot (in Alberta); Athapascan or Dene, which includes languages such as Chipewayan, Dogrib, Hare, and Beaver (in the Northwest Territories); and Siouan, which includes Dakota, Lakota, and Nakota (Assiniboine).

Ceremonies that have come to public knowledge include the Sweat Lodge, the Pipe Ceremony, and smudging. Another major ceremony done by many First Nations of the plains is called the Sun Dance, Rain Dance or Thirst(ing) Dance, depending on who is hosting the ceremony. Observing and reporting about the sacred beliefs as followed by traditional First Nations peoples must always be done respectfully, taking care not to intrude on the practice, role, or observance of those beliefs. One of the greatest difficulties is to define the sacred belief systems of First Nations people in terms of religion, because they encompass much more than just religious ritual. Those who practice these sacred beliefs do so in a holistic manner: attempts to isolate them from First Nations cultures make them basically meaningless. These sacred beliefs have become what can be called the total life-way of the people.

William Asikinack