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Sacred Texts

1. Introduction to Textual Resources

Sacred texts are among the aspects of indigenous spiritual ecology which evidence the tendencies among many if not most indigenes to think, feel, and live in unity with nature as the sacred. Such indigenes have an especially intimate, profound, and sensitive relationship with nature, including in their ideas, actions, and consequences. They emphasize kinship, interdependence, and reciprocity with nature as well as care, respect, and reverence for nature. Thus spiritual ecology for such indigenes is more likely to involve worship in nature rather than in human buildings apart from nature. All beings and things are seen as a sacred community and are involved in communication spiritually. Spirituality and nature coincide. At the very least, the sacred is manifest in and through nature in special sacred places. Accordingly nature is humanized and personified, while humans are naturalized and spiritualized. The following is a small sample of sacred texts that exemplifies such tendencies in the spiritual ecology of many indigenes.

2. Classic Resources

Please check this section in the future for classic resources accessible in print media formats.

 

 

3. Contemporary Resources

Gregory Cajete, Look to the Mountains

American Indians believe it is the breath that represents the most tangible expression of the spirit in all living things. Language is an expression of the spirit because it contains the power to move people and to express human thought and feeling. It is also the breath, along with water and thought, that connects all living things in direct relationship. The interrelationship of water, thought (wind), and breath personifies the elemental relationship emanating from “that place that the Indians talk about,” that place of the Center where all things are created.1


Martin Louie/Snpakchiin, Kettle Falls Okanagon/Salish elder

[I]t’s not only the Indians that sing the song at the Winter Dance. It’s all over the world. All nations, they all have a song. That’s what my people say. When you’re a baby the first thing you do is learn to hum, to make a little noise. That’s what they call a song. Each nation in their own language in their own way have a song. Clear ’round the world [the centering tree] in all the four directions . . . don’t matter what nation it is. The world has a song. The rivers, the creeks, the winds, the trees, everything has a whispering sound.2


Wub-e-ke-niew People, Wub-e-ke-niew We Have the Right to Exist

There are two very different religious philosophies on this Continent. One is the aggregate of the centralized, hierarchical world religions and the other rigid schools of thought, including Indian religion. The other is the philosophy and world-view of the Ahnishinahbaet jibway and other Aboriginal Indigenous people. The Ahnishinahbaet jibway Mid is a way of living in harmony and community; a facilitation of each person’s Sovereign relationship with Grandmother Earth, with Grandfather Mid, with the Circle of Life which encompasses us, and with the Great Mysteries of the Universe. The Mid is experienced, it is directly connected to Grandmother Earth; they are married. This is where we come from.3


Douglas Cardinal, vision quest narrative of a contemporary Canadian architect whose design for the Museum of the American Indian will occupy the last public space on the National Mall in Washington, D.C. Cardinal opens his 1989 interview saying:

So I said, “I’m ready to go. I feel at peace with myself.” He said, “It doesn’t matter whether you’re ready or not, you’re coming anyway. You’re still arrogant you know.” “Yeah, I know, I’m a human being,” I said. So I finally went. It seemed like I was a part of everything, and I felt very, very powerful. I just wasn’t there.

The elder came out in the morning and he untied the lodge. He tried to help me come back with sweetgrass and whatever. I could hear him in the distance, “Come back.” He was pulling me back. I thought, “I don’t want to go back. There’s no way I’m coming back. Why would I want to go back? I’m already on the other side and if I come back as a human being, I’m going to have to go through death again. Why should I come back? Then I’d be confined and limited and I would screw up and do all the stupid human being things. I’d be out-of-tune with myself and I’d have to go through all this pain and remorse and suffering. I’m already over here and why do I have to do all that again. Besides, I’m free.” The elder said, “You have to come back, just to see this day. You’ve never seen a day like today. There’s dew on the grass, and sun shining on the dew and this golden hue is all over everything. The clouds are all red. The sun is brilliant and the sky is blue. It’s the most beautiful day. You have to come back and see this beautiful day. It’s wonderful to be alive and walk on this earth.”

I thought, “It is wonderful to experience life.” I said to that being, whatever it was, “Can I go back for a minute and see that day?” He said, “Well, you’re a free spirit, you make your choice.” I said, “I’ll just check in for a minute and come right back.” I came back in my body and opened my eyes and saw that day. It was a beautiful, fantastic day. I never had seen a day like that. I’d never really looked. The elder said, “See what a beautiful day it is and how wonderful it is to be alive?” I said, “Yes, it’s just beautiful.”

He said, “Are you afraid of death?” I said, “No. I’m just afraid I ain’t gonna live right.” He said, “Then you’re a fearless warrior.”4

 

Endnotes
[1]
Gregory Cajete. Look to the Mountains: An Ecology of Indigenous Education (Asheville, N.C.: Kivaki Press, 1994) 42.

[2] Martin Louie/Snpakchiin (Kettle Falls Okanagon/Salish elder). Quoted in John Grim, “Cosmogony and the Winter Dance,” Journal of Religious Ethics 20 (Fall 1992) 401.

[3] Wub-e-ke-niew. We Have The Right To Exist: A Translation of Aboriginal Indigenous Thought (New York: Black Thistle Press, 1995) 198–99.

[4] Douglas Cardinal quoted in Dennis H. McPherson and J. Douglas Rabb. Indian From the Inside: A Study in Ethno-Metaphysics. Occasional Paper No. 14 (Thunder Bay, Ontario: Centre for Northern Studies, Lakehead University, 1993) 73.

 

Reprint Permissions
Permission to reprint the above materials has been given by the following publishers.

Contemporary Resources
Gregory Cajete. Look to the Mountains: An Ecology of Indigenous Education (Asheville, N.C.: Kivaki Press, 1994). Excerpt from Look to the Mountains by Gregory Cajete Copyright © 1994 Gregory A. Cajete by Kivaki Press is reprinted with the permission of Kivaki Press. All rights reserved.

Martin Louie/Snpakchiin (Kettle Falls Okanagon/Salish elder). Quoted in John Grim, “Cosmogony and the Winter Dance,” Journal of Religious Ethics 20 (Fall 1992). Martin Louie’s quotation, printed in Grim’s article “Cosmogony and the Winter Dance” published in the Journal of Religious Ethics Copyright © 1992 by Religious Ethics, Inc. is reprinted with the written permission of Blackwell Publishers and with the oral permission of Martin Louie. All rights reserved.

Wub-e-ke-niew. We Have The Right To Exist: A Translation of Aboriginal Indigenous Thought (New York: Black Thistle Press, 1995). Excerpt from Wub-e-ke-niew Copyright © 1995 by Wub-e-ke-niew is reprinted with the permission of Black Thistle Press. All rights reserved.

Douglas Cardinal quoted in Dennis H. McPherson and J. Douglas Rabb. Indian From the Inside: A Study in Ethno-Metaphysics. Occasional Paper No. 14 (Thunder Bay, Ontario: Centre for Northern Studies, Lakehead University, 1993). Exerpt from Indian From the Inside Copyright © 1993 by Centre for Northern Studies at Lakehead University is reprinted with the permission of the Centre for Northern Studies, Lakehead University. All rights reserved.

 

Copyright © 2001 Forum on Religion and Ecology.