Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Protocols of Traditional Ceremonies: Barriers or Conformity.

I remember at Sundance getting a Pipe ready for the Old Man. I started to join the Pipe and then the Old Man gently told me to Smudge the Stem and Bowl before I joined them. Each time I was to clean the part of  the Pipe before it was used.  He went on to load the Pipe with Tobacco. Each time he took a pinch of Tobacco he acknowledged a direction. He did this as a ritual as old and older than he was. It was a practice he followed and continues to follow.  He wanted to start the life as new clean and on a clean way. The act of  joining the feminine and the masculine creates life; the stem and bowl. You use the life to speak with the Creator. Smudging the Pipe and the Tobacco was significant in what he felt was needed to start fresh. I was teased by my friend to "do it right next time".

There is a movement away from Protocols in Ceremony. People believe the protocols have become a barrier for people coming to Ceremony. Some say the protocols are out dated, sexist, even harsh. There is lot of hard feelings about Protocols. Some are upset of the notion for Women wearing a skirt at a Ceremony. They say it is just paternalistic control of Women. Some say Women preparing food at a Feast is paternalistic and degrading to Women.Men serving the food is practiced at Ceremony Feasts.  I remember teasing on social media to this well known radio personality about getting me tea, and she said she would spit in my tea if I expected her to serve me tea. For some they see protocol as a threat to their being. They will aggressively attack protocols. Of course serving me tea is not a protocol its just a being spoiled by my Mom thing.

Was talking to my cousin the other day at a Tie-up Ceremony and he was telling me about the Sweat Lodge Ceremony he hosts. He wants to get more youth to come out and take part. He said he doesn't go into a lot of protocol as he wants them to get interested and not turned off by rules. I can see that. Same with my friend who is Sundance Chief and Ceremony man. He says he is not too big on protocols. I can see that. Still I kind of like protocol. I may not be happy when I get schooled on doing things "wrong" but it Teaches me. Teaches me some of the meaning of the Ceremony itself.

I remember getting upset at this one Ceremony gathering. I walked away upset. I was helping cut Willow and cleaning off the limbs for its use as part of the frame for the Sweat Lodge. This lady gave me heck as I had one foot on the willow as I was trying to cut off limbs. She said not to step over it or on it. It was the tone of her voice and scolding which I took  offense to. So I dropped the willow and walked away and stopped helping; childish I know. She pissed me off... She was White. Shouldn't have been upset and should have taken it as a Teaching moment. There are so many rules to do things we don't know them all. Like going to pick the Willow in the first place on how we have to offer tobacco and thank the Willow for giving its life. We forget and just go cut it down and use it. No thought of the actions we are doing. But the protocol reminds we are connected and there is life in all things and we should be grateful. All that sort of stuff just from those protocols.

I guess what it is, is that we don't like being told what to do. Wear that skirt. Take your hat off when addressing food. Smudge your feet when you go into the Lodge, so you come in clean. Crawl when you go into a Sweatlodge, so you humble yourself by crawling; you are not any more than the four legged ones or your fellow beings.  You greet the Rocks when they enter the lodge as they have given their life so you can cleanse yours. You greet them as you would your Older relative, with respect and gratitude. Lot of protocols. How can we escape them?  I mean when we have Teachings like the Tipi Teachings which are symbolic of Women and the skirts they wear and the out stretched arms to the Creator?

I think protocols are necessary to have some consistency but more so to teach us of the meaning and the foundations regarding ceremony and our way of life. Some may be cumbersome to follow, I get that. Some may go against feminist ideals and that's true. So where do we challenge protocols and where do we accept them? At the same time we need to understand, not everyone has the Teachings or has a foundation of Teachings and the symbolism and understanding behind the protocols. We see the protocols with our 'new eyes' (modern vision, colonial thinking, Christian influence).  We can understand that their aggression to protocols might be from a modern world view. The modern world may not coincide with the old protocols.

Still, protocol is important. It lends itself to consistency, to a connection to our past and our Ancestors. It has the Teachings behind the protocols. My Cousin was telling me on his practice and the protocol use. He spent a lot of time with a respected Shake tent man in the community. He asked the Shake Tent man about Protocols. The Man said look at the ground it is Nin-gay-Aki, Mother Earth, it is where we get everything. My cousin went on to say, if you are not doing stuff with your Heart and just doing the protocols for the sake of protocols it is like going through the motions, just repetition. So the Protocols are good and we need them but remember to use your Heart. Many are foregoing the foundations of Ceremony in exchange for short cuts.

And yet Some protocols are ignored.

"I sat back two weeks watching the news (about Ray's sweat lodge incident), waiting for another tribe or individual to say something because they violated the way of life of the Lakota people," he says. "It is a way of life, our language, our custom, our culture. It's the way we live."

"In America, you are an individual. You can be whatever you want to be. When you're Lakota, we belong to each other. So when you take our way of life and put a price tag on it, you're asking for death, you're asking for something to happen to you."


  1. Protocols should have a simple truth. The purpose of ceremony is spiritual practice and not stir the pot this way or the hem of your dress. It the direct communication with the sacred.

  2. Miigwetch. I don't think it be any clearer than that.

  3. I am Two Spirit person of Scandinavian decent. The ceremony of my ancestors, long forgotten lost to the new world. Married with an Ojibwe Women 30+ years, I have grown to appreciate the culture and find great value in the ceremony and Protocols that bind the spiritual belief's of the people to the Land, the Water, the Creator and each other. A spiritual journey is an individuals path to a way of making sense of the world around us and the teachings that have been shared with me by the elders I have met have paved the way for me. I share hope and optimism for the culture to be renewed and the teachings of the elders to be honored... I've come to know My wife's Ojibwe Heritage as a rich and living Culture, supported by the protocols, the ceremony's, the lauguage... How-ever also brought into the 21st Century with an open mind.

  4. If you're White, you cannot be Two-Spirit... it is a form of being that only applies to indigenous folks.

  5. Actually "Two-spirited" is a relatively new term developed in Winnipeg by Activists of the Indigenous Gay Community. So I am not sure if it can be a label applied specifically to Indigenous. But I am not sure.