Traditional Aboriginal Spirituality Within the Prison System

Year Published:  1983
Resource Type:  Article
Cx Number:  CX2840

This article raises the issue of freedom of religion being denied to prison inmates who are not Christian origin, especially Natives. This denial led to a series of fasts by Native prisoners recently at Kent Penitentiary in British Columbia; they were protesting the denial to them of the essential rites of the Native spiritual ways. As a result of the action, severe and brutal punishment was handed out to one of the men, who was moved first to Millhaven and then to the special handling unit at Laval for "behavioural modificaiton."

The article points out that the World Council of Churches has recongnized the native spiritual ways as one of th great religious traditions of the world, and has urged listening to its teachings. The article explains the significance of the essential ceremonies such as the pipe ceremony, the burning of sweetgrass, sage, and tobacco, prayer, fasting, and drum beating. It suggests that these ceremonies could be accommodated by the prisons without endangering security, and it urges that the Native elders who help perform these ceremonies receive funding assistance in the same way that chaplains of other faiths do.

Not all prisons deny all ceremonies, but what is needed, according to the article, "is the general understanding that prisoners have the right to practice their religion in any prison or jail, and that this right includes the native spriitual way.

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