Spiritual Beliefs of Aborigines of Canada

The Inuit people are native to Canada's Arctic.
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The indigenous people of Canada originated in all provinces throughout the nation. Historically, each culture had its own religious customs and traditions. In spite of their differences, most Canadian aborigines shared spiritual beliefs founded on animism, the faith in a spiritual dimension that interrelates with the physical world. In native Canadian cultures, shamans often played an important role, acting as spiritual intercessors.

1 Algonquin People

The Algonquin people are native to Canada, tracing their origins to the Ottawa River region of Quebec and Ontario. Like other Canadian aborigines, the Algonquin traditionally held spiritual beliefs based on animism. They believed in a supreme spirit known as Kitchi Manitou, a creative force omnipresent in nature. They also believed in an evil, destructive spirit called the Wendigo, a mischief-maker responsible for illness and other misfortunes. Shamans, or medicine men, served a significant purpose in Algonquin culture. Among the shamans' tasks were communicating with spirits, curing the sick and interpreting dreams, which had spiritual value to the Algonquin people.

2 Mohawk People

The Mohawk people have ancestral roots in Quebec and the northern United States. They are members of the Six Nations, previously called the Haudenosaunee Confederacy. Their own name for Mohawk is Kanienkehaka, meaning "people of the flint." Because of interaction with Jesuit missionaries in the 1600s, Mohawk spiritual beliefs were influenced by Christianity. Nevertheless, the basic principles of Mohawk religion endured. Traditional beliefs were centered on the battle of good versus evil. According to the Mohawk faith, a woman created the universe by giving birth to twin sons representing those conflicting forces. Teharonhiawako, or Holder of the Heavens, embodied all that was good, while his brother Sawiskera, or Mischievous One, signified all that was evil.

3 Inuit People

European explorers derogatively called them Eskimos, meaning "raw meat eaters," but these native people are the Inuit, a word that just means "people." The Inuit occupy the northernmost part of Canada, chiefly the territory of Nunavut in the Arctic polar region. Traditional Inuit religion was a form of shamanistic animism. Rather than worshiping deities, the Inuit believed in a multitude of spirits or souls, with whom only shamans could communicate. According to Inuit beliefs, humans had three souls. The first, the breath, expired with the body. The second, the name, was transferred upon death to a newborn baby. The third, called the tarniq, meaning spiritual essence, went on to the afterlife.

4 Tlingit People

Indigenous to British Columbia and Yukon Territory, the Tlingit people had contact with Europeans, particularly Russian explorers, in the 18th century. Traditionally, Tlingit spiritual beliefs were based on an omnipotent raven god with the combined attributes of bird, human and spirit. As with most aboriginal cultures in Canada, the Tlingit people held shamans in high regard. Shamanic duties involved, among other things, caring for the sick, since they were believed to possess supernatural powers of healing. In the 19th century, after European infectious diseases like small pox resulted in widespread fatalities, the Tlingit began rejecting shamanism in favor of Orthodox Christianity.

Shannon Leigh O'Neil, a New York City-based arts and culture writer, has been writing professionally since 2008. Her articles have appeared in "GO Magazine," "The New York Blade" and "HX Magazine," as well as online media. O'Neil holds a Master of Arts in modern art history from the City College of New York, where she also studied French and minored in classical languages.