January 15, 2010

Atikamekw in What Are Dreams?

PBS repeated the What Are Dreams? episode of NOVA (airdate: 11/24/09) last week. It included a bit about Natives.

TV Program DescriptionWhat are dreams and why do we have them? NOVA joins leading dream researchers as they embark on a variety of neurological and psychological experiments to investigate the world of sleep and dreams. Delving deep into the thoughts and brains of a variety of dreamers, scientists are asking important questions about the purpose of this mysterious realm we escape to at night. Do dreams allow us to get a good night's sleep? Do they improve memory? Do they allow us to be more creative? Can they solve our problems or even help us survive the hazards of everyday life?

NOVA follows a number of scientists, including Matthew Wilson of MIT, who is literally "eavesdropping" on the dreams of rats, and other investigators who are systematically analyzing the content of thousands of human dreams. From people who violently act out their dreams to those who can't stop their nightmares, from sleepwalking cats to the rare instances of individuals who don't seem to ever dream, each fascinating case study contains a vital clue to the age-old question: What Are Dreams?
Comment:  After a lot of science, the show notes that dreams are important in many cultures. The example it gives are the Atikamekw who live in the "forests of northern Canada."

AtikamekwThe Atikamekw are the indigenous inhabitants of the area they refer to as Nitaskinan ("Our Land"), in the upper St. Maurice valley of Quebec (about 300 km north of Montreal). Their population currently stands at around 4500. One of the main communities is Manouane, about 160 kilometers northeast of Montreal. They have a tradition of agriculture as well as fishing, hunting and gathering. They have close traditional ties with the Innu people, who were their historical allies against the Inuit.

Atikamekw, a variant of the Cree language in the Algonquian family, is still in everyday use, but their land has largely been appropriated by logging companies and their ancient way of life is almost extinct.
According to the show, interpreting dreams is part of the Atikamekw's daily lives. Each morning they gather in dream circles, and elders draw on folklore to interpret their dreams.

Speaking in their native language, one woman says she dreamed of a river flooding and the waters rising toward her son. An older woman says that indicates a sickness of the soul. Then the first woman says she dreamed of the water receding and her son waving good-bye. The second woman says that means her son will be cured of his drug addiction.

Nice of What Are Dreams? to take Native customs seriously and to use them as an example of an alternative to scientific interpretation. That's the way it should be.

For more on the subject, see TV Shows Featuring Indians.

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