Loss of Indigenous Eden and the Fall of Spirituality
by Blair Stonechild
Published by University of Regina Press
Review by Shelley A. Leedahl
$32.95 ISBN 9-780889-776999
Blair Stonechild’s made a name for himself as the skilled writer of numerous nonfiction books, and as a professor of Indigenous Studies at Regina’s First Nations University of Canada. Stonechild’s led an interesting life. He attended Residential School, obtained his doctorate and became an academic and historian, and he’s worked closely with First Nations Elders for more than forty years. He’s supremely well qualified to write on Indigenous spirituality, and that’s precisely what he’s mastered in his latest book.
In this ten-chaptered new title, Stonechild discusses how “the Indigenous world preceded that of modern civilization, that it contained values vital to human survival, and that the significance of ancient beliefs needs to be re-explained for today’s world”. The author’s travelled globally to visit other Indigenous communities, and writes that “we all share incredibly strong beliefs about the transcendent”.
He begins by discussing the fundamentally-held belief among Indigenous Peoples of the world that they possess a “sacred obligation” re: protecting the land and environment, and hold a common belief that “spirits lurk in every corner – in trees, in animals, and even in rocks”. “All things … have spirit essence and all interact in a web of interrelationships.” Humans are here to learn, Stonechild’s mentor, Saulteaux Elder Danny Musqua, told him, and our time on Earth is a journey “back to the Creator and the spirit world, their real home”. One of many things I learned from Stonechild’s book is that “stars” figure prominently in many Indigenous origin stories, including the Dakota, Navajo, Cree, and Aztecs.
So why, according to Indigenous spirituality, are we here? “To be the servant of the creator,” in the physical bodies we’re given, and, as Musqua professed, “physical life is intended to be a challenge”. Spiritual tools consist of Seven Disciplines: “fasting, sharing, parenting, learning, teaching, praying, and meditating”. (I know something of this: my brother, Ron Meetoos (RIP), a Cree from Thunderchild First Nation, was an Elder. I’ll never forget his dedication to his culture: he participated in a Sun Dance … I saw the wounds on his chest.)
I love to learn, and reading this book was a wide education. I didn’t know that the Dene that migrated from “what is now northern Canada to the American southwest” became Navajo. I didn’t know that when First Nations Peoples say “all our relations” in prayers, these relations include “natural and supernatural realms”. And I didn’t know that the Sweat Lodge represents “the womb of mother Earth and is for cleansing through symbolic rebirth”. But beyond Indigenous spirituality, Stonechild also shares information on several other diverse topics, from the history of world religions to globalization, from water degradation to depression and anxiety – “diseases of the soul”.
One need only consider the current Covid-19 pandemic to feel great despair for our world, but perhaps if more of us “maintain[ed] a strong belief in the cyclical nature of all created things,” as Indigenous Elders do, hope would supersede fear, and we’d all enjoy this journey on Earth far more.
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