The rite of passage is without a doubt one of the most crucial aspects of First Nation cultures. Some traits are almost universal across regions – the boy or girl must journey and survive on his or her own in the wild – while some other traits are much more unique to individual regions.
One unique aspect of the Stein Valley First Nations’ rite of passage is that it requires the child to remain in a cave for 24 hours. They call it the Mother’s Cave. Located in what may be argued as the heart of the valley, the cave is rough at the center of several other of their sacred spots. Physically the area looks nothing immediately breathtaking – but there is a certain grace to it. A natural landslide area, a gigantic pile of rubbles and rocks and boulders has cut off the trail that naturally runs along the river. The cave is hidden near the bottom of the rocks.
The child is to spend 24 hours there in an almost pure darkness, doing nothing but… being. Existing. Some of them would choose to leave a painting on the wall of the cave – or outside after they leave. Of course there is no way for them to monitor if the child had truly stayed in the cave for all of 24 hours – but that’s partly the point.
She was my instructor in the outdoor education program that I enrolled into at my high school. She knew of their rite of passage because every year as part of the program’s curriculum she would take the class to Stein Valley for three days with F, a First Nation elder, as the guide.
On our trip F especially mentioned their rite of passage traditions as an essential part of not only their culture, but their identification with Stein Valley as their homeland.
An intriguing – and personal – aspect about this tradition is that it has been adopted by my outdoor education program. Every year on our last and longest trip, we would have a day reserved for “solo” – where each and every one of us had to spend 24 hours entirely alone. In this sense, then, this trip – and this program – would be our rite of passage.