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Indigenous Springtime Traditions

Stories from the spring camp

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Indigenous Springtime Traditions

Imagine yourself in the time before contact. During winter you’ve been with your family, living on preserved foods. It is spring, and you need fresh foods and medicines to renew, to strengthen bodies, minds, spirits, hearts.

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Indigenous spring traditions—origins

On the West Coast, winter ceremonies are finished. Memorials have been conducted, initiates into the old traditions nurtured. In Salish country, people will be moving to their camas grounds to prepare to harvest delicious bulbs. Elsewhere people are preparing for the coming of the oolichan, herring, grayling, and smelt runs.

In the Arctic, the ice is soft, and summer homes will need repair. On the Plains, there will be preparations for summer ceremonies. In the heart of the country, the Haudenosaunee are preparing to plant corn, squash, and beans. And, on the East Coast, the harvesting of fresh seafood will soon begin.

Everywhere, there are signs that the earth is renewing herself. This is the time to cleanse yourself—body, mind, spirit, and heart. In the north, south, east, and west, we will each retreat to our places for purification. Often this will include a solitary fast, as well as meditation, songs, and prayers for a spiritual, emotional, and mental clearing.

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Changes imposed by colonization

But these spring rituals changed after contact. Colonization dramatically impacted our diverse cultures and our approach to wellness. This included the imposition of Western health and other systems that disrupted ceremony, spirituality, governance, connection to the land, all of which are our natural and traditional ways of wellness and healing.

It is now difficult to find safe places to harvest medicines, to find knowledgeable traditional practitioners. However, many of our traditions have survived, and all people can benefit.

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Cultural resurgence

It is valuable to understand the traditions and practices across our diverse Indigenous, Métis, and Inuit cultures as offerings to the rest of the world.

A wonderful example of this sharing is the hugely anticipated spring Hobiyee celebration of Nisga’a New Year that marks the waxing crescent moon at the end of winter and begins the month of Buxw-laks.

During Hobiyee, the thundering of enormous box drums echo our Earth Mother’s heartbeat, and hundreds of dancers and singers move in unison. It’s a magnificent celebration to witness, often taking place in large centres such as Vancouver, and it draws thousands of people from all Nations and ethnicities.

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What might we learn from Indigenous ways of being?

How could Indigenous, Métis, and Inuit ways breathe life into, and shift, spring for all of us? Consider the following perspectives when thinking about the coming spring renewal.

  • A consumerist approach to living is killing the planet and is causing us to be off balance.
  • We must be keenly aware at every moment that our way of living impacts the whole ecosystem.
  • A return to a reciprocal way of living will ensure our survival.

While we do need to think of our self-care, we can think of it not from the view that we’re saving ourselves, but rather, from the perspective of preserving family, community, and the global ecosystem.

Then, while we’re thinking of self-care, instead of living with imbalance, we can choose to …

  • be authentic—with ourselves, with everyone
  • exercise self-honesty
  • realize that we’re individuals but that we’re responsible to ourselves and inescapably connected to everything and everyone
  • understand that caring for the self and the less fortunate also benefits the collective; think about how all our practices impact and benefit the collective
  • understand that our way of living in this world impacts all our human relations and the earth itself
  • practise gratitude by focusing on what we have and not on what we don’t have

Ask yourself these questions about self-honesty

  • Have I been true to myself?
  • What could I do to create balance within?
  • Have I been eating the most healthful way I can?
  • Have I fallen into dependency in any area of my life?
  • Have I treated myself and others with genuine unconditional love?
  • Do I treat myself like my best friend?
  • Do I practise self-love in every way?
  • Do I speak in kind words to myself?
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Spring is a time to fast

Cleanse from the toxins that are physical, spiritual, emotional, and mental. Fasting, purifying, and a four-day retreat are ancient, but still-practised, methods of renewal.

If we can’t retreat, we can still …

  • turn phones off; stay off social media; avoid the news
  • expose ourselves to uplifting music and film
  • join like-minded musical, faith, or creative communities for collective upliftment.

When we create joy together, we create true reciprocity—and the energy of joy reverberates everywhere.

“Man did not weave the web of life; he is merely a strand in it. Whatever he does to the web, he does to himself. All things are connected.” — Chief Si’ahl (Seattle), 1854.

Let us remember in gratitude that what we all have been longing for is the profound joy and priceless gift of being part of something greater, together.

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