The People include those who have died but still
live in another dimension of the Universe, those who exist
on this earth now, and those who will be born in the future.
The very notion of "The People" differs, based in part
from the previous notion, but in part from the belief that
the group that is alive today is not the only significant
collectivity interested in affairs within the community.
Where Marx and others have argued that "the people"
constitute the authority, and democracy is said to rest on
"the people," both understandings are rejected by Indigenous
philosophy. From the Indigenous perspective, one acts in a
respectful manner because, a) one is the extension of the
ancestral legacy in the present world and b) one is the
custodian of the ancestral spirit that will be embodied in
children to come.
Many Indigenous peoples believed (and believe) that an
individual has up to seven souls; two and four seem to be
the accepted number. One "shadow" stays near the body at
death, and hovers around the grave. Another goes to the sky
and joins the dance in progress there: the Northern Lights.
Children can also be said to be the ahtcak of a departed
person who has returned to live again with the people. This
is important because it would be very unwise for those
living today to undertake an activity that will be
detrimental to the coming generations…up to seven of them.
Bad behaviour is not, then, just personally unwise, it is
culturally destructive, since the spirits of the ancestors
might be disgruntled and bring disease and other misfortune
upon the miscreant and his descendants. Hence the living
community is made of those who have gone on and those who
will be born in the future time. This view is expressed in
the feast for the dead, as this selection reflects:
O yes, occasionally when a man killed the first ducks he
woud make a feast for the departed spirits. It would take
five or six ducks to make a feast. There has got to be a
pipe. They fill the pipe. Before they light it they ask
kicem (kicemenito) to see the stem. Then they put some duck
meat on a plate. Then light the pipe and point it south for
ahtcak-the departed spirit. Then point it straight
upward-then point it twice to the north and then down to the
Straight up is for Assini "Stone"; to the north for
tcahkapewatayohkan, "Touching Atay" and his sister
notogwewatayohkan, "Old Woman Atay." Then they point south,
they name the one that keeps the departed spirits,
kiceayican, "Old Man." When they point to the ground it is
for tcepaiyuicini, "Ghost Stone." First the pipe is pointed.
Then the plate is held up in the same directions. Mandelbaum
with Fine Day: June 25, 1935, AMNH Box 1 Folder 1:45 quoted in Ballaigeron, p. 138.
We call all the spirits manitowok or atayohkanuk. (That’s
what) we call angels we see in pictures and the face in the
I never heard tell of how the ahtcak was created. I don’t
understand the difference between ahtcak and atayohkan. We
know that kicemanito lives forever. The ahtcak goes and
lives with kicemanito. When you are about to be born
kicemanito gives you an ahtcak in the womb. When you are
born the ahtcak is with you right along. But nobody knows
where it is. The ahtcak directs our minds. When it is weak
and doesn’t help a person enough—this is what we call a
crazy man. When ahtcak leaves you—you are dead. Every
creeping thing has an ahtcak. Where it goes after it leaves
a man or beast I don’t know. (Mandelbaum with Fine Day, July
17, 1935. AMNH Box 1 Folder 5: V 1-2. Qtd in Ballaigeron, p. 142.