What is the Relationship between Indigenous Peoples and Animals

From time to time people ask me about the relationship between Indigenous peoples and animals. For some, the knowledge of the natural world - the land, plants, animals, seasons and cycles of nature - has been a central tenet of their lives and worldviews since the dawn of time. Their understanding of the natural world is sophisticated and comprehensive. The natural world, now commonly referred to as the “environment”, is not viewed as a separate entity but one, interconnected aspect of the whole. This interconnectedness equates to a moral responsibility to care for, live in harmony with, and respect the natural world.

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Indigenous Peoples Worldviews vs Western Worldviews

Leroy Little Bear: "Any individual within a culture is going to have his or her own personlal interpretation of the collective cultural code; however, the individual's world view has its roots in the culture - that is, in the society's shared philosophy, values and customs. If we are to understand how Aboriginal and Eurocentric worldviews clash, we need to understand how the philosophy, values and customs of Aboriginal culture differ from those of Eurocentric cultures" [1]

The world we live in is multi-cultural with a corresponding plethora of worldviews. In this article we provide a definition of "worldviews" and a comparison of Indigenous and Western worldview perspectives. Understanding the core differences between Indigenous worldviews and Western worldviews is an important component in achieving cultural harmony and respectful relationships. We are speaking in very general terms in the description of these differences and are in no way indicating that individual Indigenous cultures share the same worldviews; ditto for generalizations of Western worldviews.

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First Nation Sacred Sites

For First Nations, their identity, nationhood, and cultural survival are all interconnected to their relationship with the land and cannot be separated out from their specific lands. This inexorable connection is celebrated in oral histories, creation stories, ceremonies and cultural practices.

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First Nation Relationship to the Land

“Indigenous peoples have the right to maintain and strengthen their distinctive spiritual relationship with their traditionally owned or otherwise occupied and used lands, territories, waters and coastal seas and other resources and to uphold their responsibilities to future generations in this regard.” [1]

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The Wampum with Ken Maracle

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What is an Aboriginal medicine wheel?

Bob Joseph

"The circle, being primary, influences how we as Aboriginal peoples view the world. In the process of how life evolves, how the natural world grows and works together, how all things are connected, and how all things move toward their destiny. Aboriginal peoples see and respond to the world in a circular fashion and are influenced by the examples of the circles of creation in our environment". [1]

There isn’t a simple answer to the question as medicine wheels (sometimes called hoops) come in more than one form, and their significance and use is culture-specific. There is, however, one fundamental similarity besides the shape - medicine wheels represent the alignment and continuous interaction of the physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual realities. The circle shape represents the interconnectivity of all aspects of one’s being, including the connection with the natural world. Medicine wheels are frequently believed to be the circle of awareness of the individual self; the circle of knowledge that provides the power we each have over our own lives. 

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Aboriginal Sacred Plants: Sage

This is the last in our series on Aboriginal sacred plants. Sage, along with sweetgrass,red cedar and tobacco, is one of the four plants considered sacred by First Nations and Métis Peoples. Sage is used broadly for many purposes by both First Nations and Native Americans - and is described here in only the most general of terms. Similar to sweetgrass, it is used in many geographical locations in North America, whereas red cedar is primarily used in ceremonies on the northwest coast.

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Aboriginal Sacred Plants: Tobacco

Tobacco, one of the four (sweetgrass, sage and red cedar being the other three) aboriginal sacred plants of Aboriginal Peoples has a very long history and a conflicted present. Considered to be a sacred medicine, it was used in religious ceremonies by Aboriginal Peoples in North and South America long before contact with Europeans. Sacred use of it is so entwined with some Aboriginal cultures that it literally is present at every stage of life: it is associated with birthing rituals, courtship, marriage, death and personal prayer. Sacred tobacco is sometimes not tobacco but is a blend of a variety of plants such as kinnikinick and the bark of the red osier dogwood.

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Sacred Red Cedar

Sacred Red Cedar, along with sweetgrass, sage and tobacco, is one of the Aboriginal sacred plants used by First Nations and Métis Peoples (cedar does not feature in Inuit ceremonies as it does not grow in their region).

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Sweetgrass - Sacred Plant in Aboriginal Ceremonies

Sweetgrass is one of the four plants (tobacco, sage, red cedar and sweetgrass) considered as sacred to First Nations, Inuit and Métis Peoples. It is known for its sweet scent, which is intensified when it rains or when burned. It is usually associated with the Prairies but is found in many different growing conditions from low meadows, forest openings, along lake shores but also in subalpine and alpine zones. It is found across North America, Northern Europe below the Arctic Circle.

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