Tue | Apr 25, 2017

Native American spirituality still strong (Part 1)

Published:Sunday | September 14, 2014 | 9:00 AM
Glenville Ashby
Sarah Ortegon (left) and Sean Carlton participate in the potato dance competition during the 25th Annual Friendship Powwow at the Denver Art Museum in Denver on Saturday, September 6, 2014. The event included representatives from Native American tribes around the country.-AP photo
James 'Flaming Eagle' Mooney (right) and Richard Swallow.- Contributed
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Glenville Ashby, Contributor

"The Indian marks the shifts from fresh air to poison gas in our political atmosphere; and our treatment of Indians, even more than our treatment of other minorities, reflects the rise and fall in our democratic faith ..."

- Felix S. Cohen

In an era when nature seems to be revolting against man's excesses, and at a time when climate change has twisted the order of things, timeless lessons of native peoples ring true. Brutalising and raping the environment from deforestation and carbon emissions will not go unanswered.

In prophetic terms, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) identified some of the effects of climate change brought on by our indiscretions:

"Shrunken glaciers, the premature thawing of ice on rivers and lakes, the shifting of plant and animal ranges, trees are flowering sooner, loss of sea ice, accelerated sea level rise and more intense heat waves."

Interestingly, the native Indian in every land has long understood the importance of harmonious living with nature, including our relationship with our fellow man and our community. These truisms James 'Flaming Eagle' Mooney reiterated throughout our detailed conversation.

Mooney, who resides in Utah, belongs to the Seminole tribe. He is a medicine man of the Oklevueha Native American Church (ONAC), and is the indigenous representative for the Hospitaller Order of Saint Lazarus of Jerusalem, a healing organisation located in Malta. Under his purview are many members of the Apache, Cherokee, Sioux, Navajo, Lumbi, Seminoles, Paiutes, Comanche and Chickasaw tribes.

The native Indians' bonding with the environment is tied to their spiritual and bioethical lore. Spirituality is all-encompassing and is not solely tied to supplications to a Higher Agency. This is where ceremonies that are nature-influenced play an integral role in their holistic development.

Ceremonies are conducted weekly by ONAC, an institution that maintains, protects and preserves a 12,000 year Paleo-Indian ceremonial observation site in Northern Virginia, twice as old as Stonehenge and three times as old as the pyramids. ONAC also conducts ceremonies on US Navy vessels, Navy bases and veteran hospitals.

Mooney recounted the countless testimonials received from individuals who have benefited from Native American spirituality. "These are known as ONAC habilitation programmes that have helped thousands of people suffering from a host of problems including substance abuse, sexual addiction and other amoral behaviour," stated Mooney.

He said the overriding philosophy is responsibility; that no one is a victim, and everyone is ultimately responsible and in control of his or her own destiny.

These ceremonies are syncretic, combining some Christian practices with, for the most part, authentically native practices. Mooney spoke of the Sacred Breath Ceremony, the Sacred Purification Ceremony, Sacred Prayer Pipe and Native American Sacraments.

Of their responsibility to nature, Mooney explained the impact of these ceremonial programmes in changing attitudes. According to Mooney, "These practices help develop a relationship with the Great Spirit and Mother Earth."

Mooney's Native American Churches devotes much of its resources to instilling this ethical principle to a society bent on self-destruction due to greed and immediate gratification.

The renowned medicine man addressed the commercialisation of these practices by non-Indians who are untrained. For example, the potential dangers of sweat lodges were brought home when three participants died and scores were injured at a Sedona retreat in Arizona a few years ago.

"There is no record of there having been a single injury when this ritual was conducted by the Native American Church," charged Mooney, as he argued that 'Native' spirituality stresses respect for one's parents, for the ancestors, the earth, and for the universal spirit.

Love and respect for one's culture and heritage are essential for personal transformation and growth.

"Personal atonement for past injuries to others and forgiveness of those that may have caused you injury are also important." Mooney stressed that the 'Native Church' is non-denominational and does not adhere to any theological dogma.

As such, prospective participants in any of its programmes are encouraged to live the precepts of their chosen religion. It is mandatory, though, that everyone strives to connect to the Great Spirit or God.

Dr Glenville Ashby is a social critic and president of Global Interfaith Council Corp. Feedback: glenvilleashby@gmail.com or follow him on Twitter @glenvilleashby