Traditional Aboriginal Spirituality Within the Prison System

Year Published:  1984  
Resource Type:  Article
Cx Number:  CX2976

Raises the issue of freedom of religion being denied to Native prison inmates who are not of Christian origin.

Abstract:  This article raises the issue of freedom of religion being denied to prison inmates who are not of 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, servere 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 modification."

The article points out that the World Council of Churches has recognized the Native sprirtual ways as one of the 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 tabacco, 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 perorm 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 relighion in any prison or jail, and that this right includes the Native spriritual ways."

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