The Globe and Mail reports on a clash between Christians and Traditionalists in Oujé-Bougoumou, a predominantly Christian Cree village 725 kilometres north of Montreal.
Redfern Mianscum built a sweat lodge in the backyard of a neighbour to connect with his roots. A history that goes back to before Europeans arrived on these shores.
Use of the sweat lodge was chronicled by the earliest settlers in America. In 1665, David DeVries of New York observed Indians “entirely clean and more attractive than before” while sweat bathing. Roger Williams of Rhode Island wrote in 1643: “They use sweating for two ends: first to cleanse their skin; secondly to purge their bodies, which doubtless is a great means of preserving them, especially from the French disease (probably influenza) which by sweating and some potions, they perfectly and speedily cure.”
There are specific instructions for building a sweat lodge
A traditional Sweat Lodge is a wickiup made up of slender withes of aspen or willow, or other supple saplings, lashed together with raw hide, or grass or root cordage…
The withes are bent over and lashed to form a low domed framework approximately 4 – 5 feet high at the center. The pit in the center is about 2 feet in diameter and a foot deep. The floor of the lodge may be clean swept dirt, or natural grassy turf, or may be covered with a mat of sweetgrass, soft cedar boughs, or sage leaves for comfort and cleanliness, kept away from the central pit…
In many traditions the entrance to the sweat lodge faces to the East and the sacred fire pit. This has very significant spiritual value. Each new day for all begins in the East with the rising of Father Sun, the source of life and power, dawn of wisdom, while the fire heating the rocks is the undying light of the world, eternity, and it is a new spiritual beginning day that we seek in the sweat ceremony.
Between the entrance to the lodge and the sacred fire pit, where the stones are heated, is an altar barrier, beyond which none may pass except the lodge or fire keepers, to prevent participants from accidently falling into the fire as they emerge from sweat.
Given the spiritual emphasis placed upon these lodges by the natives, it was inevitable that the christian missionaries would deem them to be a creation of Satan, and do their best to destroy the tradition. This 500 year old conflict is the origin of the current battle in Oujé-Bougoumou.
the band council passed a resolution ordering it dismantled, invoking the Cree nation’s right to self-determination.
“The community was founded by Christian faith and values of our elders and past leadership,” the resolution reads. “The members of the Cree Nation of Oujé-Bougoumou hereby declare that the sweat lodge along with any form of native spirituality practices and events such as pow-wows, rain dances, etc., do not conform with the traditional values and teachings of our elders.”
The scourge of Satan still resides in this northern community.
“We don’t want to confuse our youth,” said John Shecapio-Blacksmith, 61. “I’m a Christian. A lot of people here got saved through prayer. That’s why we don’t want to build anything.” He added: “You have to be careful what you bring into the community. You don’t want to bring in witchcraft.”
So there it is. The conflict between Native Superstition and Christian Mythology still exists. Sometimes it seems like we are still living in the Middle Ages.