The cross-cultural significance of the Sweat Lodge experience
Felix, Grace K.
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Conflict has marred the relationship between peoples of Aboriginal and European decent since contact. This study proposes to deal with the emergence of a relatively new area of dispute, one which relates directly to the sanctity of religious practices and beliefs of First Nations people. The study explores the proliferation and encroachment of non-Aboriginal peoples into the realm of First Nations religious practices and beliefs. Specifically, I will examine the effects and perceptions of three non-Aboriginal people who have participated in traditional Native Sweat lodges, and the perceptions of four First Nations people who facilitated similar events. The research for this study was conducted using a qualitative research design employing a reflective narrative approach. I was cognizant of the Cree First Nations' cultural protocol that was required to undertake this study, and sought to do so in a traditional, respectful manner that was in keeping with the Plains Cree custom. All the First Nations people involved in this study speak Cree and English fluently, so translation was not an issue. The research questions were as follows: What are the perceptions and cross-cultural significance and value of Aboriginal people who conduct Sweat lodge ceremonies for non-Aboriginal people who request to participate in a ceremony of this type? What is the cross-cultural significance of participating in a Sweat lodge ceremony for non-Aboriginal people? What are the consequences for Aboriginal people in having non-Aboriginal people participate in their spiritual traditions? What are the cross-cultural significance and value of having experienced a Sweat lodge ceremony among non-Aboriginal adults toward changing their perceptions, attitudes, and beliefs toward Aboriginal people? What does the pertinent literature reveal about non-Aboriginal participation in traditional ceremonies and cultural knowledge? The findings suggest that First Nations people want control of inclusion and exclusion of participation in their traditional religious practices and beliefs. They are fearful that the purity and sacredness may become corrupted through disrespect and ignorance. First Nations people are also concerned about the commodification of their spiritual knowledge. The study shows that Euro-Canadians who have participated in Sacred ceremonies have gained respect, understanding and appreciation of First Nations people. It would appear to suggest that participation in a traditional Sweat lodge can have a positive outcome for Euro-Canadians and First Nations people, if the individuals approach the Sweat with an open mind and have a spiritual experience that touches deep within the heart and soul The literature review was predominately against the inclusion of non-Aboriginal people in traditional Indian cultural ceremonies and in gaining cultural knowledge. Although First Nations people in general oppose inclusion of non-Aboriginal people in Sacred ceremonies, Elders are bound by cultural laws which provide very limited reasons for exclusion. An Elder may deny his/her services if they feel they cannot help the petitioner, in which case the Elder will not accept the traditional offering of tobacco. That is why it becomes vital for lobbyists to protect Indigenous knowledge, and to pursue legislation and global laws that are recognized throughout the world.