This map offers important knowledge about an ancient sacred land and waterscape. The yellow area is Akikpautik, the location where Creator placed the First Sacred Pipe. The red area is an ancient burial ground and the green illustrates ancient portage trails. Map source: Pilon, J. & Boswell, R. (2015)
I have been hearing people offer the rationale that ‘all land is sacred’ as the excuse to desecrate land and waterscapes that are particularly sacred to the Algonquin Anishinaabeg. Intuitively most people are able to quickly realize that burial sites are particularly sacred and that the argument is poor.
In his book “God is Red: A Native View of Religion” the well-known and highly respected author, theologian, historian, and Indigenous activist Vine Deloria Jr. (1933-2005) offers important thoughts that can guide us in thinking through the desecration and destruction of so called development. Deloria offers us four categories of sacred places.
The first category involves land and waterscapes to which we attribute sanctity because it is a location where, within our known history, something of great importance took place there. One such example is the Gettysburg National Cemetery and the ground where the Twin Towers in New York City were once located. Another example is Wounded Knee, South Dakota. These places are considered sacred sites because of recent human activity.
Second, other lands are sacred not due to human events, but rather due to a higher power. These are land and waterscapes where people have a special experience and this experience is attributed to the sacred. Said another way, within a secular context there is an experience that is attributed to the holy. One example is the town of Buffalo Gap at the south eastern edge of the Black Hills of South Dakota which is the location where the buffalo first emerged in the spring and which marks the beginning of the Plains Indians’ ceremonial year.
Third, Deloria explains there are indeed locations of overwhelming holiness. At these places a higher power, on its own initiative, is revealed to human beings. Afterward this location and revelation is then preserved in story and shared for future generations to remember, revere, and direct them forward in a good way. Interestingly Deloria offers, “Indians who have never visited certain sacred sites nevertheless know of these places from the community knowledge, and they intuit this knowing to an essential part of their being” (271).
One such place is Akikpautik, the location where Creator placed the First Sacred Pipe, also known as the Great Sacred Pipe. The sacredness of this particular land and waterscape has been preserved and taught to Algonquin Anishinaabeg and settler allies by the late Grandfather William Commanda (Gehl 2018).
Lastly, Deloria offers there is a fourth category of sacred lands in that higher spiritual powers will always communicate with human beings of future. His point is we must always be open and ready to experience new revelations at new locations that will then become particularly sacred places. In this way Deloria values that Indigenous knowledge is alive, it growths, it is fluid, it is a verb, and it continues on into the future.
References and Additional Sources
Cicero, M. (2018). Condos on an Algonquin sacred site? Panels examines ongoing colonialism. Leveller. Retrieved from https://leveller.ca/2018/11/condos-on-an-algonquin-sacred-site/
Deloria, V. Jr. (1992). God is Red: A Native View of Religion. Golden, CO: Fulcrum Publishing.
Dumont, A. (2014). Free the Falls. Retrieved from http://albertdumont.com/free-the-falls/
Gehl, L. (2018). Akikodjiwan: The Destruction of Canada’s Heart of Reconciliation. Watershed Sentinel. Retrieved from https://watershedsentinel.ca/articles/akikodjiwan/
Gehl, L., & Lambert, L. (2018). Reconciliation Really?: A Timeline of the Desecration of Akikodjiwan and Akikpautik, An Anishinaabeg. Leveller. Retrieved from https://leveller.ca/2018/03/reconciliation-really/
Lambert, L. (2016). Chaudière Falls is an Indigenous Cathedral. Anishinabek News. Retrieved from http://anishinabeknews.ca/2016/10/01/chaudiere-falls-is-an-indigenous-cathedral/
Neigh, S. (2017). Canada 150 and the violation of an Algonquin Anishinaabe sacred site. Rabble. Retrieved from http://rabble.ca/podcasts/shows/talking-radical-radio/2017/01/canada-150-and-violation-algonquin-anishinaabe-sacred-s
Pilon, J., & Boswell, R. (2015). Below the Falls; An Ancient Cultural Landscape in the Centre of (Canada’s National Capital Region) Gatineau. Canadian Journal of Archaeology, 39, 257-293.
© Lynn Gehl, Ph.D. is an Algonquin Anishinaabe-kwe from the Ottawa River Valley. In 2017 she won an Ontario Court of Appeal case on sex discrimination in The Indian Act, and is an outspoken critic of the Algonquin land claims process. Recently she published Claiming Anishinaabe: Decolonizing the Human Spirit. You can reach her through, and see more of her work, at www.lynngehl.com.