By Ingrid Peritz, Globe and Mail, June 18, 2011
In time, the aboriginal sweat lodge that Redfern Mianscum had built in his Quebec village was forcibly dismantled – not by outsiders, but by members of his own aboriginal community.
“Sweat lodges are part of our native way of life,” said Mr. Mianscum, 34. “It’s a place of healing. And here, it was taken down.”
The last place one would expect to see a sweat lodge destroyed is in a native community. Yet that is what happened in Oujé-Bougoumou, a predominantly Christian Cree village 725 kilometres north of Montreal. Instead of helping heal, the sweat lodge exposed a rift between Christian teachings and a younger generation’s embrace of once-taboo native practices.
Now Mr. Mianscum has retained high-profile Montreal human-rights lawyer Julius Grey to fight his case on the basis of his religious freedoms.
Mr. Mianscum built the sweat lodge in a friend’s backyard last fall to connect with his aboriginal roots and help his community. The homemade structure, held up by logs and branches from the vast surrounding bush, quickly stirred up suspicion in the village of 700.
A petition demanding its removal was started by opponents, who eventually collected about 130 signatures. Then the band council passed a resolution ordering it dismantled, invoking the Cree nation’s right to self-determination.
“The community was founded by Christian faith and values of our elders and past leadership,” the resolution reads. “The members of the Cree Nation of Oujé-Bougoumou hereby declare that the sweat lodge along with any form of native spirituality practices and events such as pow-wows, rain dances, etc., do not conform with the traditional values and teachings of our elders.”
No both-and here! No coming together and merging the best of both native spirituality and Christian teachings! No tolerance for both traditions here. Only violent dismantling of the sweat lodge by native people, to prevent confusion among the young.
The "brand" of christianity being practiced here is Pentecostal, a fundamental, evangelical, literalist band that converts its following and enthusiastically boasts hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of converts. In a very confused and confusing time, black and white answers have considerable appeal to anyone struggling with how to answer many real-life questions. And now those black-and-white answers have collided with the native tradition of the sweat lodge. Even the Roman Catholic priest would prefer the people to be working together rather than fighting among themselves.
Have we so entrenched a binary thought process that excludes any form of combination of two traditions?
Have we so alienated the First Nations people, who in this village just buried another twenty-three-year-old victim of suicide, and whose village is experiencing domestic violence, and alcohol abuse, that they cannot see their way to accommodating two traditions, or better accommodating their language and culture and history to the best of a christian teaching.
It is the resistance to the mystical and the mystery that really astounds this writer. There is, and there must always be a mystery and a mystical element to any real and potential relationship between humans and their God. There is always more outside our understanding. There is always more we can and must learn. And that process, by definition, is not finite. And all mysteries have not been revealed, even the mystery of God.