American Indian Council
Sweat Lodge Prayers
Native Christians wrestle with faith and tradition
By Trevor Persaud, From Christianity Today April 2011 page 13
A largely Christian community of Native North Americans in Quebec has banned a spiritual practice traditional to their people, the Cree. The decision has disappointed some ministers in native communities in the United States and Canada.
The Band Council of Quje-Bougoumou, a village of about 600 James Bay Cree, voted in October to dismantle a sweat lodge some residents had constructed. The council decided that Quje-Bougoumou’s Christian founding elders had not intended the community to partake in ‘native spirituality or practices.’
“The practice of the sweat lodge and its rituals are not restricted to merely medical [pursuit] of healing, but [are] in essence a way to contact and communicate with the spirit world through shamanism,” the resolution declared.
Jerry Yellowhawk, a Lakota Wesleyan minister from South Dakota, sees Quje-Bougoumou’s choice as a “backwards step.”
“It’s been very hard to try to bring the love of Christ… to Native American people.” Yellowhawk says. “Thing like this, when they happen it just makes it that much more difficult.”
Only about 5 percent of Native Americans are born-again believers, experts say. Many, notes Yellowhawk, still think of Christianity as a “white man’s religion.”
Today, Christians in Native American and Canadian communities sometimes use traditional practices. For Cree Christian Reformed Church pastor Harold Roscher, the sweat lodge remains a sacred space.
“It’s four rounds of prayer,” says Roscher, “an opportunity to pray to Jesus, to God. So I find it invaluable, especially working amongst my Cree people… it’s a good way to make a good connection.”
Some Native Christians object to this, “Where in the Bible can you go where sacred objects used by nations were ever redeemed and used to worship God?” asks Ojibwe evangelist Craig Smith, whose ministry is affiliated with the Christian and Missionary Alliance. “in the Old Testament, that didn’t bring God into the sanctuary. That drove him away.”
Emerson Falls, who leads the Fellowship of Native American Christians, says it depends on individual conscience and discernment. “There are some practices that may, in a particular location, convey a syncretistic message,” he says, “You have to know the culture and use discretion.” ۞
Manataka Response from Dr. Fred Wilcoxson, Elder
I would ask a few questions about the soundness of the decision Sweat Lodge Prayers: Native Christians wrestle with Faith and Tradition.. When will we as Christians regardless of origin learn that neither Christianity nor any other belief system can be legislated? How do we expect to convince a people who have had their population decimated by disease, starvation, and murder at the hands of good Christian westerners to be easily converted to their beliefs? This can be especially true when the Christians do not act and live out what they preach. The Indian has been kidnapped for the purposes of assimilation into a new life and new religion for the benefit of the new ruling race’s greed. Trust and integrity do come into play.
Are they going to close all the Scandinavian Spas and country club saunas? These places are used for relaxation, health, and often very spiritual purposes. And, by the way these places are also very sacred places. For many of us every place on this glorious Earth given to us by God our Creator and maintainer is sacred.
Pastor Roscher says, “I find it invaluable, especially working amongst my Cree people…” Jesus asked us to go forth… to inform and to teach and by our example show the world the love of God. We are to go to where they are and work with them by telling them about Christianity, teaching them (and learning from them and their traditions), and showing them who God is that we glorify and worship is by our countenance. Then the Holy Spirit may be invited in to their lives bringing the people into a right relationship, a Biblical re-birth.
I know many American Indians who are Christians from every denomination and I know many more that follow the traditions of the Indian Church or no church. For some the whole world is a church… which I feel is the heart’s desire of the Lord and Savior that I follow… one Holy, catholic, and apostolic church. We are all related but certainly at this point in time are not the same or treat equally.
Lex orandi, lex credendi ~ what we pray is who we are. Be blessed.
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