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An Approach to Aboriginal Cultural Landscapes


Cosmological Relationship to Place

What is unique about the Aboriginal view of land and the human relationship to it?

The widespread view of all land as sacred derives from beliefs about cosmic relationships centred on earth and sky, land and water, and perceptions of power and place. The intensity of the relationship to the land is based in cosmological and mythological patterns of experience with the land over centuries.

For the Anishinaubaeg people of the Great Lakes region, for example, the sun, earth, moon, and thunder had kinship relationships as father, mother, grandmother, and grandfather. The Creator, Kitche Manitou, brought forth spirit beings who embodied the four directions. Mythic stories of Waubun, the east and morning, and Ningobianong, the west and evening, as well as Zeegum, summer, and Bebon, winter, who all engaged in eternal power contests, are moral tales for directing human behaviour among the Anishinaubaeg.(Johnston, 1976)

Is it possible to understand Aboriginal landscapes without knowing their particular cosmologies?

To understand the landscape requires an understanding of the related cosmologies. For the Beaver people of the subarctic, for example, the creation story focussed on Muskrat, the diver who brought a speck of dirt from the sea bottom to the surface, at a point that represented the coming together of trails from the four directions. Equally, it focussed on Swan, who flew into the sky and brought back the world and the songs of the seasons. Transformed in vision quest from the boy Swan to culture hero Saya, who travels across the sky as sun and moon, he was the first man to follow the trail of animals and thus established the relationship between hunters and their game.(Ridington, 1990b: 69-73, 91-93)

Meandering shoreline of lake from air.
Aerial view of Great Bear Lake, Northwest Territories
© National Archives of Canada / PA 43204, 1820s

Certain places embody these cosmological contexts. Ninaistákis [Chief Mountain] near the Montana/Alberta border, the home of Thunderbird, is sacred among the Niitsitapi (the three Blackfoot-speaking peoples) as the traditional and continuing focus of their spiritual activity.(Reeves, 1994: 265-282)

For the Cree, the rock which was flooded by the creation of Lake Diefenbaker in Saskatchewan was the gateway between the earth and the underworld. Its explosion in conjunction with the lake construction ended forever their hope that the buffalo, disappeared from the Prairies for nearly a century, would return from their underground sojourn.(Dr. George MacDonald, pers.comm)


Last Updated: 2008-10-17 To the top
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