Spirituality

Native American Spirituality

I must preface this page with the recognition that no two tribes worship the same. In fact, one may find differences in clans within each tribe. Just as no two Baptist churches worship exactly the same, nor any two individuals within a particular congregation, so it has always been with First Nations people. Therefore, with over 560 federally recognized tribes in the United States today, it would be grossly inaccurate to assume we all believe the same.

Television, movies and “New Age” gurus and have done much to distort Native American spirituality. Consequently, by and large, organized religion (churches, synagogues, mosques, temples) have contributed to the misunderstanding by teaching as truth that which they knew very little about.

This practice is not new, unfortunately. It began when the European missionaries began their expansion and “Christianizing” across North America. Rather than take the time to understand the people who they were intent on “saving” they simply labeled us as “heathens”. They condemned our ceremonies, songs and dances and concluded we were all going to hell.

For instance, the Choctaw were labeled as polytheistic (believing in many gods) because the missionaries noticed we “prayed to the sun during the day and to the moon at night.” If they were sincere about understanding our ceremonies, they would have learned that most of the Choctaw believed in a single Creator who lived in the heavens. And the sun was simply a hole in the sky through which we hoped the Creator could hear our prayers more easily. The hole in the sky at night was the moon. (Had they taken time to understand our ceremonies, etc. who knows, they may have “converted” to our way of life!)

With this in mind, understand that most Native spirituality people know about today is inaccurate. Most Natives who live traditional lives today do so out of the spotlight. You will NOT find them at conferences, seminars and powwows smudging people for a price. You will NOT find them charging people for sweat lodges or having business cards with titles of Shaman or Medicine Man/Woman. In fact, you will be hard pressed to have them admit their role in the community.

According to most elders I have spoken with, to be Native means to respect yourself, respect others, respect creation and to worship the Creator.

The Red Road Ministry

When the European expansion into North America encountered the original inhabitants of this land they met, by and large, people who were quite hospitable. But because of our lack of “civilization” the Europeans placed very little value on us. With no value came no perceived sense of need for our people. And when you have no perceived sense of need for something, you simply learn to live without it (“One Church, Many Tribes” by Richard Twiss, www.wiconi.com ). And that is what has happened in North America. As a society, North Americans have learned to live without the First Nations people.

Not until we learn to recognize the value in Native Americans, just as God does, will we ever begin to fulfill the destiny that God has for this wonderful people group! There are specific reasons God placed our people on this continent. The Bible says “He determined the times set for them and the exact places where they should live” (Acts 17:26, NIV).

Therefore, if God knew our people would live in the North American continent and He knew we would not receive the written Word (Bible) until after 1492 AD, is it reasonable to think He would’ve neglected to reveal Himself to our people for thousands of years? Of course not! Romans 1:19-20 states, “since what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them. For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities – His eternal power and divine nature- have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse.”

So, if God knew He would place our people on this continent AND He planned on revealing Himself to us, then we must also agree with Peter when he said “I now realize how true it is that God does not show favoritism but accepts men from every nation who fear him and do what is right” (Acts 10:34-35, NIV). This is confirmed again when John said “after this I looked and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and in front of the Lamb” (Revelation 7:9, NIV).

The Red Road Ministry is devoted to the teaching of God’s love for Native Americans by showing how He was at work in North American long before the arrival of the Europeans. Armed with this knowledge, we want to see our First Nations people (regardless of their “degree of Indian blood”) rise up on reservations, in First Nations communities, throughout North America and around the world to share the love of Jesus with everyone within their sphere of influence! Jesus said that if we want to follow him, we must deny ourselves, take up our cross and follow Him (Luke 9:23). To this end, The Red Road also represents the blood stained road that led Jesus to the cross.

God in North America

Prior to European influence

I must preface this page with the recognition that no two tribes worshiped the same. In fact, one may find disparity in clans within each tribe. Just as no two Baptist churches worship exactly the same, nor any two individuals within a particular congregation, so it has always been with First Nations people.

Legends and stories from many different First Nations tribes bear witness to the fact that God was at work in North America long before the arrival of the Europeans! There are many cited examples of how Creator was speaking to the original inhabitants of North America, including “great flood” stories, similarity in names for Creator and Creation Stories.

Example 1: The word “Cherokee” derives from a Choctaw word, “Chalaque”, meaning “cave people, or cave dwellers.” The Cherokee people, however, did not refer to themselves this way. They knew themselves as “Ani-Kituhwa”, the people of Kituhwa (Keetoowah), based on the first Cherokee village which bares the same name. One of their words for Creator was “Yowah”, so Keetowah means “sheltered by Creator”. And as Randy Woodley (www.eagleswingsministry.com) points out in his book, “Mixed Blood, Not Mixed Up” if we are all descended from one root before the tower of Babel, this information should not come as a shock to us.

Example 2: The Choctaw recall the story of Oka Falamah (the returning waters) in which the Great Spirit became greatly displeased with the wickedness and corruption of mankind. The Great Spirit then sent a prophet from tribe to tribe and village to village to warn the people they were soon to be destroyed. No one believed him and they continued on in their wicked ways. Soon thereafter, a great wave came and swept over the earth destroying everyone and leaving the earth a desolate place. Only one man was saved: the prophet who had tried to warn the people. He had made a raft of sassafras logs, as directed by the Great Spirit. After many weeks of floating he was visited by a bluish bird which he followed to an island which was “covered with all varieties of animals – except the mammoth which had been destroyed.” The bluish bird was beautiful and kind, so he named it Puchi Yushubah (Lost Pigeon or turtle dove). This bird eventually became a woman whom he married and began to populate the world (“Social & Ceremonial Life of the Choctaw Indians” by John Swanton).

Example 3: Circling Raven, a medicine man of the Sin-ho-man-naish (Middle Spokane), was angry at Creator because of the great many deaths that were occurring among his people (smallpox epidemic in 1782). He went up on the top of Mount Spokane for four days of prayer and fasting to the creator, Quilent-sat-men (which means “He Made Us”). “At the conclusion of his fast Circling Raven received a vision of men of white skin wearing strange clothes and bearing in their hands leaves bound together. He was told to counsel his people to prepare for these chipixa, “white-skinned ones,” and to pay attention to the teaching that came from the leaves bound together” (“One Church, Many Tribes” by Richard Twiss).

North American Ministry

On reservations and in First Nations communities, approximately 3% of the population (70,000 of the 2.3 million) claim to be “Christians” but I have met very few Native Americans who are atheist. We are spiritual people and do not reject Jesus, rather we reject “Christianity” based on how it was presented to us. The greatest sin committed against the First Nations people was simply that when given the opportunity, the Europeans who traveled across North America neglected to bring us the real Jesus! They brought greed, hatred, disease, slavery, massacres, reservations, residential/boarding schools, Trail of Tears, etc. and gave it the name of “Christianity.” Had they brought us the real Jesus, we would have experienced “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control” (Galatians 5:22-23 NIV).

By recognizing this mistake, we hope to help solve the problem in the 21st century by giving back the real Jesus they failed to bring us. Graham Cooke, a British evangelist, has said “you know you have been healed when you are able to bless the people who have hurt you.” He refers to Genesis 45 as an example of how Joseph blessed his brothers even before they recognized their sin against him. This blessing led to Joseph’s brothers’ recognition of who he was…and reconciliation began with this act.

We have lived 500+ years without apologies and true repatriation. We can not expect the government nor the church to repent for their actions and reconcile for their misdeeds after these many years. Nor can we continue to live with the hate and anger in our hearts, as this is a cancerous seed which devours us, not those whose generational sin may have caused it. Therefore, the First Nations people must be willing to bless those who did them harm. Even before the church recognizes the damage done, the First Nations people must be willing to extend the hand of reconciliation. It was this way with Joseph (Genesis 45): his brothers did not even recognize him, yet Joseph chose to bless them. This blessing released a freedom and love that the family had been robbed of their entire life.

The Red Road desires to provide teaching, encouragement and tools for reconciliation and healing on reservations and in Native communities throughout North America using the principles listed above. We realize that we can not be effective in all communities on our own, therefore we work alongside established ministries already serving in these areas. If your church, organization or ministry would like more information on how we may be of service to you, please contact The Red Road.

“The greatest moments of Native history may lie ahead of us if a great spiritual renewal and awakening should take place. The Native American has been a sleeping giant. He is awakening. The original American could become the evangelists who will help win America for Christ! Remember these forgotten people!” – Billy Graham