First Nations culture explored
By Frank Flegel
REGINA — Archdiocesan ecumenical representatives received a daylong lesson on First Nations customs and traditions when they gathered Sept. 28 at Leboldus Catholic High School in Regina.
Elder Robert Bellegarde in the morning session and Sister Bernadette Feist, OSU, in the afternoon described the meaning of the various ceremonies and both pointed to similarities in First Nations customs and biblical teachings.
Bellegarde began his presentation with an explanation of the items used in preparation for getting permission to speak.
“Tobacco and sweetgrass given as gifts begin all ceremonies,” said Bellegarde. “Tobacco opens the door to dialogue and sweetgrass gets rid of all negative energies and invites positive energies.”
Sweetgrass is braided and each strand is a prayer. When it is burned in the smudging ceremony the smoke rises to the Creator much like incense used in some Roman Catholic celebrations.
An honour song usually opens a ceremony, accompanied by a hand drum, the beating of which represents Mother Earth’s beating heart.
Bellegarde was the first to be smudged by one of his sons who lit the sweetgrass and fanned it with an eagle feather. Everyone in the room was then smudged before Bellegarde continued.
It seems at one time almost everything in daily living requires some form of ceremony. He explained setting up the teepee, “a Lakota word meaning lodge,” is done in a very particular way. Fifteen poles are used, 13 inside and two outside, and erected in a specific pattern and each has a meaning, as do the four wrappings to complete the structure. The teepee, he said, belongs to the women. It is their domain and is a child’s classroom.
Bellegarde referred to Christ telling Peter “upon this rock I will build my church” and to us, said Bellegarde, the earth is one big rock.
Feist has 32 years of experience working in Native ministry, including time in the north and in the Qu’Appelle Valley out of Lebret where she now serves. She explained that First Nations people are not linear but circular.
“Everything they do is related to the circle. We are all in this
“You can accept both ways as long as you don’t divide,” she said. She also admitted that after so many years working with First Nations people, “I find it harder to live in our bureaucracy than in my Native ministry.”