Sociology Index

Aboriginal Culture and Tradition

Books Customs, Traditions, Aboriginal Peoples of Canada

The gift of Sweetgrass, Sweat lodge and the Ceremony, The Medicine Wheel and The Spiritual Circle.

Sweetgrass - One of the gifts the Great Spirit gave to the indigenous people (Aboriginals) was the use of sweetgrass. Since ancient times aboriginal people have burned sweetgrass as an incense for purification whenever they pray to the Great Spirit. Sweetgrass (savastana odorata) is found throughout the plains of central Canada. Aboriginals believe it is one of the gifts of the Creator, and when used in a ceremony the smoke is used to carry our prayers.

The grandfathers and grandmothers in the spirit world hear their prayers and through the smoke carry them to the Great Spirit. Aboriginals believe that the animals know that sweetgrass is sacred and so even the buffalo will not eat it. The Plains Cree also learned through dreams and fasting, that sweetgrass is sacred and its purpose was to be used in a ceremonial manner.

The Sweat Lodge - For the Aboriginals the sweat is a ceremony that cleanses body, mind and spirit to make us pure for spirit ceremonies, vision quests and the rigors of everyday life.

Sweats may be held to ask a blessing or give thanks. Sometimes they occur before or after a difficult physical or spiritual journey (retreat). Still others are conducted as healing sweats for people who are suffering from an illness or an injury. Today the ceremony is an integral part of Native alcohol and drug treatment programs.

The construction of the lodge is a willow framework covered over with hides, blankets or canvas tarps. The placement of the door depends on what group of people you are with. The plains Cree have their door facing south. The Sioux put their door facing to the west. Other groups have the door facing to the east.


To Aboriginals the medicine wheel is the universe. It is the cycle of all things that exist. It is the lodge of their bodies, their minds and their hearts. It is also change, life, death, and learning. Disabled Aboriginals use particular areas of the wheel to assist them with their coping in life.