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Indigenous Religions

A Kallawaya spiritual leader, Papa Pablo, doing a sunrise ceremony in the Cordillera Apolobamba, Bolivia. David Ducoin (Flickr).A Kallawaya spiritual leader, Papa Pablo, doing a sunrise ceremony in the Cordillera Apolobamba, Bolivia. David Ducoin (Flickr).There are thousands of Indigenous cultures around the world, and each has its own distinct understanding of spirituality and spiritual practices. Unlike many non-Indigenous cultures, Native spirituality is not a discrete part of life, but is integrated with the culture as a whole, with nature, and with generations gone by. Each issue of Cultural Survival Quarterly magazine features an article by an Indigenous shaman, healer, or other spiritual leader, discussing his worldview and his people’s religious practices. Drawing on Indigenous Peoples from around the world, these articles are produced from a partnership with the Ringing Rocks Foundations and in addition to being featured in our magazine they are broadcast in spoken form on community radio stations in Guatemala to more than a million Mayan listeners. Below are some of the pieces from recent issues.


Gary Holy Bull is a Lakota healer who was born on the Cheyenne River Reservation in Eagle Butte, South Dakota. As a young man he began having visions and was hospitalized for schizophrenia until his family removed him from psychiatric care and brought him to the Pine Ridge Reservation for a Yuwipi (Calling the Spirits) ceremony.  Today he performs Yuwipi ceremonies and educates young men about personal responsibility and domestic violence prevention. In his presentation he talks about his childhood and his experiences becoming a healer.

 Read the article.


Anank Nunink Nunkai is a spiritual leader of the Shuar people, who live in the Ecuadorian jungle in the province of Pastaza.  In his presentation he talks about the various ways in which the Shuar encounter Arutam, an all-powerful holy spirit. Arutam may be found during a rite of passage in which a young boy ventures alone into a storm, or during community rituals which take place under sacred waterfalls.

Read the article.


Sobonfu Some is a Dagara healer in the west-African nation of Burkina Faso.  She travels the world “on a healing mission,” speaking to various groups about the community life and rituals she experienced during her upbringing. In her presentation Sobonfu speaks about how she became a healer and explains Dagara healers’ unique conception of illness and conflict.

 Read the article.


Tlakaelel is a Tolteca elder who discusses how in his people’s tradition, the curandero (doctor) forms a personal partnership with his patient and how, beyond the plants and healing techniques, it is the doctor himself who creates the healing.