On our recent trip back from B.C., as we drove through the prairies, we drove through the territory of the Blackfeet First Nation. The iniskim or “buffalo stone” played an important role in the spiritual life of Plains People. They use stones that often contained fossils with a spiral shell for thousands of years. According to legend, a woman was trying to find food for her family and band during a time of famine when an iniskim talked to her about to use prayers and ceremonies to find buffalo and bring them to the people to hunt. As a result Blackfoot children wore iniskim necklaces, warriors wore them woven into their hair, and shamans carried them in bundles. Often the dead were buried with them to provide sustenance after death.
Another important spiritual instrument was the medicine wheel. I have seen at least one in Saskatchewan. For millennia they have been a part of Indigenous spiritual life among people of the plains. These stone structures were usually centred on a pile of rocks (cairn) often on a prominent hill. Spokes of the wheel radiated outwards.
A famous one was built at Majorville about 5,000 years ago. 40 tonnes of rock were used and it was used when Europeans first made contact with the Indigenous People on the plains. At the centre of that wheel was soil 9 metres in diameter and 1.6 metres high. It was surrounded by an oval ring of stones about 29 metres by 26 metres. It contained 26 to 28 spokes.
The main spiritual ceremony of Plains people was the Sun Dance. I found it interesting that it was usually led by a woman. Unlike most Christian religions women were allowed to be leaders on the Plains. Who thinks the Europeans were the civilized ones? A woman usually decides when the dance was to be held. Often it was held in order to allow a woman who had a male relative or husband in danger. She vowed publicly that if this person were spared she would sponsor a Sun Dance.
The Sun Dance was later outlawed by Canadians who did not appreciate any competition from native spirituality for the religion they wanted to impose instead. That of course was Christianity.
Peter Nabokov in his book Native American Testimony: A Chronicle of Indian-White Relations from Prophecy to the Present 1492-1992, reported an anonymous Blackfoot response:
“We know that there is nothing injurious to our people in the Sun-dance…It has been our custom, during many years, to assemble once every summer for this festival…We fast and pray, that we may be able to lead good lives and to act more kindly to each other.
I do not understand why the white men desire to put an end to our religious ceremonials. What harm can they do to our people? If they deprive us of our religion, we will have nothing left, for we know of no other that can take its place.”
The abolition was finally removed from the Indian Act in 1951 when I was 3 years old. It took Canada that long to become civilized!