Exploring Native American faith traditions

Published 4:12 pm Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Many of us think of ourselves as informed about the great religions of the world. We have a working understanding of Western faiths such as Judaism, Christianity and Islam. We are also somewhat familiar with many of the Eastern religions such as Hinduism, Buddhism, and Confucianism.

Why do we know so little about the spiritual practices that existed in North America before the colonies? One main reason is that the United States did its best to destroy the Native Americans’ faiths and cultures. It was only in 1978 that a federal law was passed repealing all laws that banned the practice of indigenous American religions and ensured Native Americans access to traditional holy sites. Apparently the First Amendment did not apply to Native Americans.

Many of the Native American faith traditions can best be described as earth-centered. Similar belief systems existed or still exist in Africa, the Indian sub-continent, and Southeast Asia and was much more common before the colonial times. A common thread in these faiths is that when the Universe was created, the Creator’s spirit became part of all things. Hence, the Creator’s spirit is manifest in everything, but may show itself in many different ways.

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You may know that traditional Native Americans don’t celebrate Thanksgiving on just one day of the year. This is true and is a first step to acknowledging a gap in (most of our) educations.

This Sunday’s leader at the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship, Annette Wells, will begin to address this gap. Join her in exploring some core spiritual beliefs of the First Peoples of North America. (Though there are over 560 ethnically distinct tribes with their own cultures and languages, there are some common spiritual values shared by most.)

You may find resonance in these core values with your own system of beliefs, and perhaps an expanded worldview. Unitarian Universalists believe that there are truths and wisdom in all of the word’s faith traditions and encourage their members to develop their own belief systems based upon their own study and experience.

Annette Wells is a semi-retired professor of fine arts, and taught humanities core courses and comparative religion for nearly 20 years. She was married to a Cherokee spiritual elder for 10 years, and has personal knowledge of and experience in several Native traditions. In 2006, she and her then husband were invited presenters on “Honoring Native American Spiritual Traditions in Hospital Settings” at the Association of Professional Chaplains annual convention in Atlanta, Ga.

The meeting will be this Sunday at 10:30 a.m. at 835 N. Trade St. in Tryon. For more information call Phil Nungesser at 828-625-3060.

– submitted by Phil Nungesser