Rites of Passage
By Sarah Sense-Wilson
In today’s modern multicultural society our collective regard for Rites of Passage ceremonies has been sorely neglected. Living in an urban setting with limited access to spiritual healers, or trained ceremonial leaders we as an intertribal community must contend with cultural barriers which interfere with both observing and participating in traditional Rites of Passage traditions. Rites of Passage ceremonies have been practiced by Indigenous cultures since time immemorial. Rites of passage are communal celebrations which publicly identify tribal members as they embark on necessary life cycle transitions. Various ethnic cultures celebrate manhood and/or womanhood with religious ceremonies such as Jewish tradition Bar Mitzvah or Mexican /Latino tradition of Quinceanera. These traditions are an opportunity for families and community to honor the individual and witness the initiation into a new role, new responsibilities, new rules, and expectations.
In mainstream American society Rites of Passage or initiations marking inclusion into a new social membership are often relegated by age and involve negative behaviors such as drinking (age 21), gambling (age 18), and smoking (age 18), rated R movies (age 17). As tribal people living in Seattle’s urban setting we have multiple forces which negate or undermine our traditional Rite of Passage ceremonies. Our youth require we organize ourselves to collectively sponsor, support and participate in modern Intertribal Rites of Passage ceremonies. Traditionally tribal members made Rites of Passage ceremonies a community event and community celebrated the changes or transition each person experienced. Naming ceremonies, womanhood ceremonies, marriages, death, births are examples of different life cycle events recognized as Rites of Passage. Usually these transitions marked new expectations, along with new roles, requirements, and new knowledge to prepare the member for these new responsibilities. Rite of Passage also elevated the person’s position within the community.
The graduation ceremony we (UAI/ANEA) hosted on June 21st 2011 was a tribute to our traditional way of recognizing our youth as they are now moving on and embarking on a more challenging path. In our modern intertribal urban society we must reclaim our rites of passage graduation ceremony as a necessary guiding force in support for our youth.
When our community demonstrates unity, solidarity, and cohesiveness our kids benefit, our kids experience the strength of knowing they are expected to make positive choices, they will feel an increased sense of responsibility, responsibility to family, self, tribe, and community. Our youth will naturally embrace their new roles as young adults, and recognize what their role is within our community. Rites of passage reinforce all these elements of life transitions. For most youth transitional periods are difficult, distressing, and confusing. Rites of Passage provide youth with collective support, accountability, recognition, visibility, and community acknowledgement. When we reclaim our rites of passage through modern modifications as necessary we reinforce the importance youth are within our community, we reclaim their importance as valuable members of our intertribal urban Native community.