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The Northern Lights: A Spiritual Connection to Ancestral Spirits in First Nations Culture

Updated: Dec 25, 2023

The Northern Lights, also known as the Aurora Borealis, is a stunning natural phenomenon that has captivated people for centuries. For the First Nations people in North America, the Northern Lights hold a significant place in their history and mythology. In this blog post, we will explore the First Nations history and mythology of the Northern Lights.

Dancing with Ancestors: The Significance of the Northern Lights in First Nations History and Mythology
The Significance of the Northern Lights in First Nations History and Mythology

History of the Northern Lights in First Nations Culture


The Northern Lights are believed to be a spiritual message from the Creator in First Nations culture. Many Cree people across North America believe that the Northern Lights are the spirits of their ancestors, who are dancing in the sky to communicate with the living. The Inuit people, who live in the Arctic regions of North America, believe that the Northern Lights are the spirits of their ancestors who are playing a game of soccer with a walrus skull.


Mythology of the Northern Lights in First Nations Culture

In First Nations mythology, the Northern Lights are often associated with the afterlife. According to the Dene people in Canada, the Northern Lights are the spirits of their loved ones who have passed away.


They believe that the spirits of their ancestors live in a place called the Land of the Dead, which is located in the Northern Lights.

Another First Nations legend tells the story of a warrior who died and went to the Land of the Dead. When he arrived, he was greeted by the spirits of his ancestors, who were dancing in the Northern Lights. The warrior was so moved by the beauty of the Northern Lights that he decided to stay in the Land of the Dead and dance with his ancestors forever.

In some First Nations cultures, the Northern Lights are also believed to have healing properties. The Inuit people believe that if a pregnant woman sees the Northern Lights, her baby will be born with good health. They also believe that if a sick person sees the Northern Lights, they will be cured of their illness.

Young first nations lady wrapped in a blanket looking at the northenr lights and reflection off a lake in Pinehouse Lake Saskatchewan
The Land of the Dead and the Northern Lights: First Nations Mythology

The First Nations history and mythology of the Northern Lights are deeply rooted in their

culture and spirituality. It is important to recognize and respect the cultural significance of the Northern Lights for First Nations people and to honor their beliefs and traditions.

The Northern Lights: A Testament to First Nations Culture and Spirituality
A Testament to First Nations Culture and Spirituality

Whistling at the Northern Lights is a tradition that has been practiced by some Indigenous peoples in North America for generations. According to First Nations culture, the Northern Lights are considered to be a spiritual phenomenon that represents the spirits of the ancestors and the Creator.


In some Indigenous cultures, it is believed that whistling at the Northern Lights can bring good luck, while in others it is believed to be disrespectful to whistle at the lights. The specific beliefs and practices around whistling at the Northern Lights vary among different Indigenous nations and communities.

A group of metis and first nations people standing around, holding hands, around a large fire

For some Indigenous people, the Northern Lights are also associated with the aurora borealis legend, which is a creation story that explains the origin of the Northern Lights. In this legend, the lights are said to be the spirits of the ancestors who have returned to the sky.


Overall, whistling at the Northern Lights is a deeply spiritual and cultural practice that is rooted in the beliefs and traditions of Indigenous peoples in North America.

Someone in a canoe on a lake looking up at the aurora borealis with mountains in the background

 

Empowering First Nations and Metis Communities Through Photography: Exploring Nature, Culture, and Relationships


By teaching and promoting photography in First Nations and Metis communities, individuals can reap multiple advantages such as developing a profound connection with nature, improving physical fitness, fostering meaningful connections, and gaining cultural insights. Young people are often drawn to learn more about their culture by the stunning Northern Lights in Northern communities, and this desire for knowledge tends to persist once they start exploring it.


 

Respecting the People and their Culture


In recent years, there has been a growing interest in the Northern Lights among tourists, which has led to concerns about cultural appropriation and exploitation. It is crucial to engage in responsible and sustainable tourism practices that support First Nations communities and their cultural preservation efforts.


Visitors should also take the time to learn about the history and mythology of the Northern Lights in First Nations culture and seek to understand the cultural significance of this natural phenomenon. By doing so, we can foster greater appreciation and respect for Indigenous cultures and traditions, and ensure that the spiritual and cultural significance of the Northern Lights is preserved for future generations.

A Teepee over snow with thje aurora borealis in the background
The Northern Lights: A Spiritual Connection to Ancestral Spirits in First Nations Culture

Conclusion

The First Nations history and mythology of the Northern Lights is a testament to the deep spiritual and cultural significance of this stunning natural phenomenon. For the First Nations people, the Northern Lights are more than just a beautiful light show in the sky – they are a connection to their ancestors and a symbol of the afterlife. By understanding and respecting the First Nations history and mythology of the Northern Lights, we can appreciate the beauty of this natural wonder on a deeper level.

a collage of aurora borealis pictures taken in Saskatchewan by Dre Erwinights in First Nations Belief
The Healing Power of the Northern Lights in First Nations Belief

Although I am not a member of the First Nations community, I hold them in high regard and deeply respect their culture and community. Working as a primary care nurse in Northern Saskatchewan and residing within their communities has allowed me to gain a thorough understanding and appreciation of not only their beliefs and history, but also their people.


Some tips for experiencing the Northern Lights in a culturally respectful and responsible way are to visit tourism businesses owned by Indigenous peoples, seek knowledge about the history and mythology of the Northern Lights from First Nations guides, and practice cultural sensitivity when taking photos or partaking in cultural activities.




If you have any additional insights to share, please do not hesitate to do so, as we would be delighted to hear from you. Thank you.


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References:

  1. "Fifteen Native Tales About the Northern Lights". Natural Habitat Adventures. Retrieved from https://www.nathab.com/blog/fifteen-native-tales-about-the-northern-lights/

  2. "Those are our ancestors in the sky": Sacred beliefs about the Northern Lights. (2021, November 15). CTV News. Retrieved from https://calgary.ctvnews.ca/those-are-our-ancestors-in-the-sky-sacred-beliefs-about-the-northern-lights-1.5661211

  3. Indigenous tourism offers rare glimpse of northern lights, traditional ways. (2020, February 11). iNews UK. Retrieved from https://inews.co.uk/inews-lifestyle/canada-indigenous-tourism-tours-northern-lights-first-nations-tepees-404416

  4. Legends of the Northern Lights. (2019, February 4). CBC News. Retrieved from https://newsinteractives.cbc.ca/longform/legends-of-the-northern-lights/

  5. Indigenous Stories - Aurora Village. (n.d.). Spectacular Northwest Territories. Retrieved from https://spectacularnwt.com/story/indigenous-stories-aurora-village

  6. "Whistling at the Northern Lights: A spiritual practice rooted in Indigenous culture". CBC News. Retrieved from https://newsinteractives.cbc.ca/longform/photographing-pinehouse/

  7. The Aurora Zone. Retrieved from https://www.theaurorazone.com/about-the-aurora/aurora-legends



A first nations Tee Pee in the middle of a winter scene with snow and boreal forest and the aurora borealis in the sky