Magazine Issues

1 | 2 | 3 | 4

Issue # 1

Issue # 1

Article Listing


Indians in Cyberspace
by Mike MacDonald

Who is
by Cheryl L'Hirondelle

First Nations in Cyberspace
by Mike Patterson

Image Credit: NASA JPL-Caltech E. Churchwell University of Wisconsin


First Nations in Cyberspace: Two Worlds and Tricksters - Where the Forest meets the Highway

by Mike Patterson

Return to Table of Contents

Chapter Three

Pre-Cyberspace Prophecies Now in Place: Light It Or Lose It. (7TH Fire)[1]

Part of the Native movement to self-determination today is contained in prophecies that call for a re-reckoning of the role of Natives in larger society. These prophecies can be seen as the philosophy or spiritual teaching behind Native self-determination. They are ancient and hard to date, but they arose with great strength in the early to mid-90s, as events such as Kahnesetake (Oka) in 1990 foreshadowed a resurgence of Native activism, and the arrival of a new generation to lead to the future, and into cyberspace.

There is a reclaiming of Native values in cyberspace, after 500 years of resistance to European views. The European (largely Christian) worldview labeled people as good or bad, and organized society into submissive and dominant (class system). "Bad" behavior (that is, not responding to authority) was to be punished. Within 30 years of first contact with the Jesuits around 1600, the Wendat (Huron) and Innu went from being a consensual, egalitarian people to a "hierarchical" and "self-policing" group that began meting punishment on its own children, women and men. "Women were especially singled out for surveillance and punishment on the grounds that they posed the greatest potential threat to the collective well-being," as they were now instruments of the Devil (Anderson 1991: 96-98).

Missionization began with the Migmag, Innu, Wendat and Iroquois in the 1600s, and spread to Algonquin and Ojibwe through the 1700s, reaching the Cree and Dene in the West and Cree in the North some 100 years later. In the 1800s, the Oblate missionaries and Protestant groups such as the Wesleyan Methodist Missionaries worked with the traders on a new North American colonizing imperative that took in the whole of the Great Lakes area as far North as James Bay (Devens 1992: 45-46), and continued into Western Canada.

Native Men, including medicine people trying to preserve their status, would adopt trappings of the Christian religious and economic system while the women more often "declined conversion and instead stressed the importance of older rituals and practices." Confrontations escalated as the women "scorned priests and converts alike for flouting tradition." Some Iroquois and Ojibwe women "had little patience for Christians who threatened eternal damnation to those who clung to heathen practices" (Devens 1992: 22); I can say the same is true today. Whether men or women complied with missionaries' efforts, however, the "evangelization of Huronia (and many other areas) was destined never to be completed. This mirrored the general picture in New France: "evangelism produced a few religious vocations among Amerindian women" (Dickason 1992: 127), and almost none among the men.[2]

European attitudes were shaped by social subjugation, class differences and male supremacy, and the European model of life imported by the Jesuits and other missionaries in Canada was strictly hierarchical and exclusive.[3] By contrast the Iroquois are a consensual society, with institutions designed to integrate knowledge and customs from other peoples. The Iroquois accepted the dances, customs and ceremonies of all of their member nations. The print version of the Great Law of the Iroquois states that: "The rites and festivals of each nation shall remain undisturbed..." (Parker 1991: 56).

The Iroquois also accepted the dreams, visions and beliefs of individuals, and promoted each individual's responsibility for one's own life and relations with the natural world. On a personal and social level, differences were recognized and celebrated. Unlike the Europeans, Natives "do not see history as a meaning that humans can confer on life; for them, the sense of life is, instead, the liberty of every being" (Sioui 1992: 23). This perspective was not entertained by the monarchies of Europe at the time of contact, but was adopted later on (in principle at least) by the founding fathers of democracy in the U.S.

Missionization was a powerful tool for colonization and assimilation, yet the erosion of tradition was not complete. Although surrounded by Christian institutions and teachings, Natives still kept their own spiritual leaders and individual beliefs, hidden from white eyes. While it has been argued that "White colonizers destroyed the Natives' political, economic, kinship and, in most cases, religious systems" (Frideres 2000: 4) (emphasis mine), the continuance of traditional teachings and Native worldview by many elders gave Native people the strength to survive this process.[4]

Dickason notes how in the late 1600s, "the Iroquois had managed to keep their confederacy intact in the face of disasters (war losses, disease, starvation and desertion to Catholic missions)[5] and despite the relentless pressures of European settlement." Iroquois society was changing, and the communal traditional Longhouse dwelling was abandoned for single family units. "Nevertheless, the Iroquois identity remained strong" (1992: 155), and the Longhouse teachings survived.

Europeans brought the Bible and other books, and a way of looking at the world through books as something separate from people. They brought the idea of a world with a beginning and end (like a book) and introduced linear and segmented thinking to a people who were used to seeing the whole of things. "For native peoples, human beings are at one with the universe and do not conceive of themselves as separate from Ônature' as we do within our own set of beliefs" (Beaudry 1992: 72-73).[6]

In her book Countering Colonization,Devens shows how the colonizing process also undermined Native social structure by reorganizing relationships between the sexes. The Jesuits promoted a male dominated nuclear family, which was unnatural to Natives who lived in extended family groups and who were used to women sharing in the socioeconomic and spiritual life of the group. Traditionally, women had public lives and councils - as did the men. The missionaries and traders favoured "the productive activities of native men" while often ignoring women altogether.[7] As the men moved from "subsistence hunters to fur traders" and capitalist conditions on reserves replaced natural migratory and social patterns including "communal relations," the extended family disintegrated (Devens 1992: 4; 28).[8]

Women were not fit to rule in the European Christian framework, and so the matrilineal and matrifocal (meaning the inclusion of women in the governing process) nature of Native society was also weakened. Karen Anderson discusses how, in the Jesuit Relations, women are classified either as "non-converts, who are lewd, unnatural seductresses" or "chaste, innocent women and girls who had embraced Christianity and who were now compliant and fearful" (Anderson 1991: 89). In either case, their traditional role as partner in the consensual governing circle was diminished. The inclusive (circular) nature of Native society was damaged.

Today, this history is well understood in Indian Country, and efforts to re-emphasize Native perspectives take up much of the time of traditional Natives. These perspectives can be seen in the following prophecies. They are helping to heal and strengthen within Native communities, and are an answer to the colonizers and the colonization process of the last 500 years ¾ and they are heard in cyberspace as well.

Next: 3.1 The Seventh Fire Prophecy

Return to Table of Contents


[1] Message on a tombstone at the end of the 1994 video for The Cheque is in the Mail, written and performed by 7TH Fire, an Ottawa-based band of Ojibwe and other ancestries, named for the Seventh Fire Prophecy, which calls for the lighting of the Eighth Fire.

[2] These "converts" were often acting for the Native people. "By the 1830s the category of 'Noble Savage' included Indian missionaries trained to act as translators and teachers. Their writings attempted to raise the awareness of the whites on both sides of the ocean to the realities of Indian life" (MacDonald 1993: 31). George Copway, an Ojibwe Methodist missionary, published Recollections of a Forest Life in 1851. Rev. Peter Jones, a Mississauga Ojibwe also trained as a Methodist minister, lectured new England and Britain, where he was presented to King William in 1832. He wrote: "Oh, what an awful account at the day of judgement must the unprincipled white man give, who has been an agent of Satan in the extermination of the original proprietors of the American soil !" (in 1993: 31). The first Native priest to be ordained was probably Abbé Prosper Vincent in 1870, a Wendat who was also an informant of Marius Barbeau. Date from liner notes for Francois Kiowarini and Claude Vincent's album Huron Ritual Songs.

[3] Hiawatha was the lawgiver who helped Dekinawida "establish the Great Peace." Dekinawida planted the "Tree of the Great Peace" and said that "Roots have spread out of the Tree of the Great Peace, and the name of these roots is the Great White Roots of Peace. If any man of any nation outside the Five Nations shall show a desire to obey the laws of the Great Peace, they may trace the roots to their source and they shall be welcomed to take shelter beneath the Tree of the Long Leaves" (in Parker 1991: 8-9). The Great Law was given to the Onkwehonwe sometime around 1390 (1991: 61).

[4] This is my understanding from many of the people I have spoken with. Through the darkest times of the last 500 years, there have always been teachers and elders to remind the people of the old ways.

[5] The Iroquois War of 1609-1701 was largely fought over trade competition (among Native nations and the English, French and Dutch) and to maintain Iroquois territory in the face of European incursions. At this time the Iroquois were surrounded by the French and their allies, which included the Wendat and Algonquin. the Attiwandaron (Neutrals), the Erie and Susquehannocks. Between 1689 and 1698, it is estimated the Iroquois lost half their fighting forces (Dickason 1992: 149-156). Around this time "the Five Nations suffered mass defections" to Jesuit missions, and during the 1690s "fully two-thirds of the Mohawk decamped for the two French missions around Montreal" (1992: 156).

[6] Frideres explains it this way: "We (Whites or Europeans) think in terms of minutes, hours or days. Implicit in this linear thinking is the view that time flows one way and cannot be made up. Linear thinking lends itself to singular thinking, (toward) values which imply 'one answer,' 'one way.'" In contrast, the "cyclical" and "holistic" Native view "begins with the premise that everything is is a generalist perspective rather than a specialist one," and "there is no beginning, no end," rather repetitive and cyclical phases and patterns and since "all parts are interrelated, each part is equal to all the others" (1993: 269-270).

[7] The role of women in pre-contact societies has often been misunderstood. Devens shows how a late 19th-century "invented tradition of male supremacy" observed by Ruth Landes and A. Irving Hallowell among the Southern Ojibwe is a colonial phenomenon, and how studies by Diamond Jenness, Frank Speck, Frances Densmore and Eleanor Leacock with the more isolated Northern Ojibwe and Montagnais-Naskapi (Innu) show that women also hunted, dreamed of game, danced, drummed and sang before the white influence took over (Devens 1992: 114-121). Diamond-Cavanagh notes that "the feminist anthropological critique" argues that "the Jesuits undermined the strength of the extended family and greatly undermined the role of women" (1992: 382). Also see Cavanagh 1985, 1989.

[8] "Integration into an economy based on production for exchange rather than for use, instead of providing for greater security, introduced new variables that had a destabilizing effect on Amerindian ways of life" (Dickason 1992: 203).

  Copyright © 2006 Urban Shaman Inc.
Home  |  SiteMap