Direction and guidance on support for Indigenous spiritual practices
The Royal Canadian Chaplain Service is committed to providing spiritual assistance to members of the Canadian Armed Forces, including its Indigenous members and their families wishing to practice and enhance their ancestral cultures, of which spirituality is an essential dimension. This document provides key guidance for achieving this commitment.
1. The Royal Canadian Chaplain Service (RCChS) is committed to providing spiritual assistance to members of the Canadian Armed Forces (CAF), including its Indigenous members and their families wishing to practice and enhance their ancestral cultures, of which spirituality is an essential dimension.
2. Indigenous people believe and follow a wide variety of traditional spiritualties, based on their regional origins or personal preferences. Additionally, certain members adopt monotheistic/Abrahamic religions or a version of Christianity with Indigenous influences.
3. Under section 35 of the Constitution Act, 1982, there are three categories of Aboriginal people (Indigenous Canadians): First Nations (634 communities and 60 languages), Inuit (50 groups and 3 dialects) and the Métis (3 definitions of their sense of identity).
4. CAF Indigenous members may identify themselves through a voluntary self-identification questionnaire (form DND 1209-E).
5. In 2016, the RCChS created a new position for an Indigenous Advisor to the Chaplain General (IACG). The IACG has the responsibility to provide guidance and educational support to assist the RCChS, in addition to developing a network to meet the traditional Indigenous spiritual needs of its CAF members. (For more details regarding the IACG’s mandate, please consult chapter 8 of the RCChS Manual.
6. This document provides key guidance for achieving this commitment to the CAF Indigenous members and their families.
7. This directive is divided into four components:
- A brief overview of the legal framework;
- The establishment and maintenance of a national network of Indigenous cultural resources;
- Spiritual support and logistical assistance for facilitating traditional Indigenous spiritual practices and ceremonies; and
- An educational commitment, focussed on the continuing professional development of chaplains on Indigenous spiritual practices.
8. Legal Framework
- Indigenous military members have the right to practise their cultural and spiritual ancestral methodologies while serving within the CAF, in accordance with: the Canadian Human Rights ActFootnote 1 ; Section 35 of the Constitution Act, 1982Footnote 2 ; the Indian ActFootnote 3 ; the Royal Proclamation of King George III of 1763: and the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP).
- Endorsed by the Government of Canada in 2010, UNDRIP provides an internationally recognized framework for protecting the human rights of Indigenous people, setting the “minimum standards for the survival, dignity and well-being of the Indigenous peoples of the world.” Several provisions directly relate to rights associated with practising Indigenous Spirituality, including but not limited to Articles 12(1), 25, & 34.
9. National Network and Ressources
- The reasons for an Indigenous member to request a meeting with an ElderFootnote 4 or Knowledge Keeper are very diverse. Indeed, the nature of these requests may be for spiritual or emotional support, but may also be for ceremonial reasons or to build on traditional teachings. Local chaplains are responsible for helping Indigenous members access the necessary support and resources in a timely manner, based on the nature of the request.
- Chaplains can obtain prompt assistance from the IACG and take advantage of the broad national network in place.
- Chaplains will establish their own network of Indigenous representatives, who are recognized by their respective communities for their authenticity, humility and ancestral traditional knowledge.
10. Facilitating Indigenous Spiritual and Traditional Practices
- The RCChS is committed to supporting and assisting Indigenous CAF members in celebrating their rich spiritual heritage and practising their ancestral ceremonies. Indigenous Spirituality is woven within the current and next generation of Faith Centres.
- Chaplains are encouraged to proceed with the recognition of the territory in an appropriate manner prior to the beginning of a commemorative Service held in a CAF Faith Centre. However, during public ceremonies, recognition of the territory will usually be done by a master of ceremonies or other designated person.
- The IACG provides guidance and familiarization with Indigenous policies and practices to CAF members, for instance, the significance of traditional hairstyles, and their spiritual dimension (Ref A).
- Traditional Indigenous spiritual practices and ceremonies generally require the use of specific items, objects, medicines, some of which are considered to be sacred by those practising the traditional ceremonies. For some Indigenous people, sacred objects are living/animated, cared for and protected with many protocols and ceremonies. Caring for these objects between ceremonial practices is considered to be an honour and an may be for spiritual or emotional support, but may also be for ceremonial reasons or to build on traditional teachings. Local chaplains are responsible for helping Indigenous members access the necessary support and resources in a timely manner, based on the nature of the request.
- Sacred Indigenous items/objects/medicines may include but are not limited to: traditional tobacco, sweet grass, cedar, sage, prayer cloth, star or button blanket, eagle feather, cedar box, roots, ceremonial shawl, Inuk drum, hand drum, drum stick, big drum, rattles, dream catchers, medicine pouch, qulliq and beadwork materials. Please note that some items (i.e. fire wood for sweat lodge, fabrics, string, etc.) are not sacred but still necessary components to sacred ceremonies. Therefore, Public Funds is authorized for the purchase of all items required for sacred ceremonies.
11. Continuous Professional Development of Chaplain
- CAF Chaplains shall assist and support all forms of Indigenous spirituality. To that end, chaplains shall acquire a minimum understanding and awareness of Indigenous history and culture. Chaplains are encouraged to augment their appreciation and knowledge of Indigenous culture, spirituality, traditions by participating in, or attending local traditional ceremonies or events.
- The RCChS has initiated Indigenous Awareness Training through the Chaplain School & Centre located in CFB Borden. In addition, the IACG may offer training opportunities across the CAF.
12. In line with the efforts undertaken, the RCChS is an organization that ensures the respectful expression of religious and spiritual diversity for all CAF members, including the needs of Indigenous members and their families to practice and enhance their ancestral cultures.
Major-General J.J.G. Chapdelaine, OMM, CD, QHC
29 May 2019
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