Even though I’ve lived in the Ann Arbor area (more or less) for the last 35 years, somehow I’ve never managed to attend any of the Ann Arbor Pow-Wows held at Crisler Arena. I’ve known many people who’ve attended them – when I was mentioning this article to Gen, she told me that she’d been twice, which I never knew! – but somehow I’ve managed never to get to one. And sadly, this weekend was no exception. I’m part Native American myself (my mother’s fathers’ mothers’ grandmother was full-blooded Montagnais, so I’m told), but I admit I’ve never had an overwhelming interest in Native American culture. It interests me, sure, but not in the personal way that it does some other neo-Pagans. So no, I’ve never made it a priority to be there, but I’d like to at some point.
Thinking about the Pow-Wow this weekend reminded me of how our Grove decided to address these issues way back when I first joined. We had originally considered the spirits of the Native Americans to be our version of the Sidhe, those Irish spirits who were forced underground by the coming of Christianity, and so we included them in our offerings to the Nature Spirits. But as seems obvious now, this was a rather insulting way to address them. This was back when our Grove seers would take separate omens from the Kindreds, and while the omens from the Deities and Ancestors were consistently good, the ones from the Nature Spirits were always bad, if not downright nasty.
What to do, what to do. We didn’t want to ignore the Native Americans, as we thought that would be insulting to them as well. There was some talk of incorporating some kind of traditional Native American practice into our rites, but that could be considered just as insulting. “Hey, not only are we gonna steal your land, let’s steal your customs as well!” The remaining native tribes on this continent don’t go out of their way to share their religious traditions with outsiders, and we thought it best to respect that.
Looking at the practices of the ancient Indo-Europeans, we saw that even in cases where two tribes had fought over control of a region (and that happened a lot), there was still some level of respect between the two sides, and that when the fighting was done, there would be some kind of formal treaty between them, and the Bards would even compose ballads of the noble and heroic acts of their opponents. This seemed a far cry from what we Americans had done! Obviously there’s only so much our Grove can do to redress the misdeeds of our recent Ancestors, but in the spirit of treaty and honor, we added an invocation to the spirits of the Native Americans and the spirits that they themselves honored to the beginning section of our High Day rites. Addressing them as the Allies rather than the Sidhe, we offer them a place by our hearth, that they may join our rite if they so choose. In this way, we hope to honor them without co-opting their practices.
Rev. Rob Henderson
Senior Druid, Shining Lakes Grove, ADF
The Nature Spirits and the Allies: http://www.shininglakes.bravehost.com/deities/nsallies.html