First Nations Pipe Ceremony
What is a pipe ceremony?
- First Nations believe that the most powerful way of communicating with the spirit world is to smoke tobacco in a sacred pipe. Even before the tobacco is put into the pipe, the prayers have already begun.
- During the pipe ceremony, the smoke from the tobacco carries the prayers to the Creator and is offered to the Creator and the 4 directions.
- Generally, 4 puffs of the pipe are taken. This creates the connection between the human world and the spirit world.
- Prior to European tobacco distribution, First Nations people used their own tobacco in ceremonies. This tobacco was a mix of red willow bark and other plants referred to as “kinikinik”.
- Tobacco is also an important part of medicine bundles used for protection and keeping one safe.
Participating in the pipe ceremony:
- In many First Nations culture when a female is menstruating, it is referred to as her “moon time”.
- It is expected that First Nation females abstain from participating in ceremonies during their moon time.
- Most First Nations traditions request that females during her “moon time” should refrain from touching sacred traditional and ceremonial objects.
- Many First Nations worldview believe that because a female can give life, they are most powerful during their moon time. Their strong energy would draw power away from the sacred prayers during ceremony.
What to wear at a pipe ceremony?
- Traditionally, females wear a skirt below the knee in length to show honour and respect for womanhood. A regular skirt or ribbon skirt is acceptable.
- If a female is wearing pants, they are encouraged to bring a shawl, jacket, or small blanket and drape it over your legs while seated.
- Females wearing tank tops/short sleeves/plunging necklines are not appropriate attire for any traditional ceremony gatherings. It is respectful to be covered while attending ceremony.
- Men are generally required to wear pants at ceremonies.
- Two spirited individuals are encouraged to check with the Elder or Oskâpêwis (Elder helper) prior to the ceremony to confirm if they can wear a skirt or pants.
Arriving at the pipe ceremony:
- When you arrive at the pipe ceremony, some First Nations cultural traditions will have the men and women sit in the same circle, but on opposite sides, and other cultural traditions will have the women sit in an outer circle of the men.
- Two-spirited individuals should ask the Elder or Oskâpêwis (Elder’s helper) prior to participating in the ceremony regarding where to sit.
- Prior to the start of the ceremony, the Oskâpêwis (Elder’s helper) will start clockwise around the seated participants, inviting individuals to smudge.
- To smudge, you will motion the smudge (smoke) towards the forehead, eyes, mouth, and heart.
- This signifies that a person may think clearly, see clearly, speak clearly, and speak from the heart during the ceremony.
- After smudging, the Elder will share a few words of welcome and will then use his language to offer prayer.
How to sit at the pipe ceremony:
- Females will typically sit with their legs off to one side, fully extended in front, or sitting on knees tucked underneath. It is disrespectful for a female to sit cross-legged. A female keeping their knees together is always respectful when sitting in ceremony.
- Males will typically sit cross-legged (“warrior style”).
Can I smoke from the pipe?
- This will be the decision of the pipe carrier. Some male pipe carriers only allow males to smoke and touch the pipe.
- There are some female pipe carriers that only allow females to smoke and touch the pipe.
- The pipe carrier and Oskâpêwis (Elder’s helper) will let participants know who can smoke or touch the pipe.
- The Oskâpêwis (Elder’s helper) will pass the pipe around in a clockwise direction.
- An individual does not have to smoke from the pipe, instead they can hold the pipe for a moment and pass it back to the Oskâpêwis (Elder’s helper).
- The Oskâpêwis (Elder’s helper) will guide the individual regarding smoking or touching the pipe.
- The tobacco that is used is free from today’s chemicals and toxins and is a mixture of natural tobacco and plants.
- Depending on the Elder’s direction, females and children might sit in the outer circle and pray during the ceremony.
- Some First Nations traditions believe that when we pray as a collective, our prayers are much stronger.
Pictures and recording at the ceremony:
- It is always respectful to ask the Elder or Oskâpêwis (Elder helper) if photos or recording can occur before, during, or after the ceremony.
- Most often, once the Elder takes the sacred pipe out of its holder, no recording or photo taking shall occur.
- Once the pipe is retired and placed back into its holder, photos or recordings may take place, but only if approval is provided by the Elder.