For more than three decades, SPIRIT has been addressing issues of cultural misappropriation, especially of sacred ceremonies like the Lakota Inipi (sweat lodge).
The Center for the Support and Protection of Indian Religions and Indigenous Traditions (SPIRIT) was founded more than 30 years ago to address the issue of cultural misappropriation. In 1993 the Lakota Nation, with the support of the National Congress of American Indians, announced the “Lakota Declaration of War Against Exploiters of Lakota Spirituality.” (see sidebar)
SPIRIT played an active role in educating the public about why this “Declaration of War” was necessary, and why cultural misappropriation is particularly harmful to Indigenous peoples.
This is the final phase of genocide. First whites took the land and all that was physical. Now they're going after what is intangible.
—John Lavelle, Santee Sioux Lakota, Founder of SPIRIT, 1993
This 1993 New York Times article about SPIRIT gives a sense of the origins of the organization and of this movement.
The issue of cultural appropriation isn’t new. Over the last few decades, there have been increasingly clear statements by Indigenous peoples about this, such as the 2003 “Looking Horse Proclamation on the Protection of Ceremonies.” There is also an increasingly robust international and national legal system to give Indigenous people the ability to address this matter in a court of law, if needed. Many organizations have come to realize the harm that is done to Indigenous people when our sacred ceremonies and traditions are stolen and commercialized, and have stopped harmful misappropriation. Yet some people continue to violate the clear wishes of the Lakota Nation and Indigenous Nations in general.
The ManKind Project (MKP) has come to the attention of SPIRIT as the largest organization in the world to sell sweat lodge ceremonies, medicine pouches, and in many ways demonstrate a deep disrespect of Indigenous traditions. SPIRIT had been less active in recent years, but after reviewing what is happening with The ManKind Project, SPIRIT is moving into action, for now focusing exclusively on the egregious behavior of MKP.
The primary role of SPIRIT in this matter is to serve as a source of information about the ManKind Project’s misappropriation. SPIRIT will gather information about the ManKind Project and share it with Indigenous organizations and nations, and we trust that they will act as they see fit once they are fully aware of the situation.
SPIRIT will also provide educational materials on this matter so that members of MKP and the general public can learn more about this matter and take action .
SPIRIT will continue doing this until the ManKind Project dissolves their “Lodge Keepers Society,” halts all cultural appropriation, and engages in a public Truth and Reconciliation process with tribal leaders.
From the 1993 "Declaration of War Against Exploiters of Lakota Spirituality"
... Whereas individuals and groups involved in the “New Age Movement,” in the “men’s movement,” in “neo-paganism” cults and in “shamanism” workshops all have exploited the spiritual traditions of our Lakota people by imitating our ceremonial ways and by mixing such imitation rituals with non-Indian occult practices in an offensive and harmful pseudo-religious hodge-podge.
... We hereby and henceforth declare war against all persons who persist in exploiting, abusing, and misrepresenting the sacred traditions and spiritual practices of the Lakota, Dakota and Nakota people. ...
... We urge our people to coordinate with their tribal members living in urban areas to identify instances in which our sacred traditions are being abused, and then to resist this abuse, utilizing whatever specific tactics necessary and sufficient, for example: demonstrations, boycotts, press conferences, and acts of direct intervention.
Source: The People's Paths
Verlinda Montoya, Spokesperson
Verlinda Montoya, also known by her given Indian name, Mato Tá Pejuta Wákan Nawjín, (Mato Winyan), is an elder, medicine woman and spiritual leader from the Picuris pueblo of New Mexico. Her tribe is Northern Tiwa/Hopi and she comes from a maternal blood line of Medicine People. Adopted by the Lakota-Sioux tribe, she has been facilitating Native American ceremony (Lakota and Hopi) for over 20 years, conducting traditional Lakota ceremony under the guidance of Lakota medicine people.
With a Master's Degree in Health Education and Health Service Administration, Mato Winyan founded Heart of Humanity, the first agency in Marin County, California to practice integrative medicine, and has received numerous awards for her work, serving as president for non-profit organizations and other boards, committees and diversity panels, as well as two appointed terms as Commissioner for the Marin Women's Commission for the Novato District. She has also produced and hosted 20 TV productions and served as keynote speaker for more than 40 organizations.
Members of SPIRIT
Mato Tá Pejuta Wákan Najín
Verlinda Montoya RN, MH, MHSA Tribal Member Picuris Pueblo Lakota Adopted EagleElk Family Spiritual Leader
Chief John Bravehawk Sundance Chief, Elder Sicangu/Lakota Tribe Rosebud Reservation
Wilbur Morrison Sr Oglala Sioux Traditional Singer Pine Ridge Reservation Sylvester Byrd Traditional Singer Oglala Sioux Pine Ridge Reservation Joey Silvas Spiritual Leader Wylacki Tribe Round Valley CA Jaime Ceferino Rosario Boriken Taino Canada Dr Ellen Faryna Psychologist Adopted Pueblo Nation
Wounded Knee DeoCampo
AIM Advisor (American Indian Movement)
Me-Wuk Tribal Member
Activist for Indigenious Rights
Amah Mutsun Tribal Band
Nathen “Thunderheart” Costello
Oglala Sioux Omaha Tribal Member
Wambli Ho Waste “Jacob” Arapahoe
Traditional Singer Ceremonial Leader
Pine Ridge Reservation
Julia Jalalat LCSW
Choctaw Tribal Member
Pitt River Tribe
Northeast, Shasta County
Heather Moss, Civil Rights Attorney
Attorney, Advisor, Litigator
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3 Things Indian Spirit Guides Can Protect You From
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You may not have realized it yet, but you have invisible companions who are helping you every step of the way since the moment you were born into this world.
In fact, one of the most powerful beings in your life right now is your Native American Spirit Guide, also known as your Indian Guide.
A spirit guide that looks like a Native American Indian is called an Indian spirit guide (also known as Native American guide).
You will have both spiritual and physical protection when you have your Native American Indian Spirit Guide by your side.
From a wizened chieftain to an honorable warrior, Indian Spirit Guides weave their supernatural powers to ground you, so you can make use of the gifts of the earth. While at the same time bringing you wisdom, so you can reach the lofty heights of your personal goals.
They also keep you safe from forces unknown to you that may be affecting your life in ways that are hard to imagine.
Here’s how your Native Indian Spirit Guide can protect you night and day.
The Mystery of Your Indian Spirit Guides
Many people are drawn to their Indian Spirit Guide, and there is an air of mystery surrounding these stalwart Spirit companions.
Before I tell you everything you need to know about Indian Spirit Guides, first, let me refresh your thoughts about Spirit Guides in general.
Spirit Guides are invisible beings who were once human but now reside in the spiritual realms along with other positive beings who are also of a higher vibrational frequency.
During their time on earth as humans, Spirit Guides have mastered all of the earthly lessons they needed to learn, therefore, no longer needing to be reborn again.
We get to choose some of the Spirit Guides who will accompany us when we are reborn again on earth. Some of the Spirit Guides we choose have been with us in several of our past lifetimes.
And since some of our Spirit Guides have been with us in some of our lifetimes before, they already know the things we need to learn in this life, along with the goals we need to accomplish.
Guiding and protecting us is at the core of what our Spirit Guides do and they are very powerful companions to have, indeed!
There are many different kinds of Spirit Guides, but in this article, I will only be focusing on your Indian Spirit Guide.
What Is An Indian Guide?
Native American Indians are highly spiritual and known for their deep affinity with nature and the cosmos. Their age-old wisdom and intimate spiritual connection with the universe make them exceptional Mediums and guides.
Native American Indians prize spiritual wisdom and bring their spirituality and reverence for nature to all aspects of their lives. It, therefore, comes as no surprise that Native Indian Spirit Guides are treasured for the wisdom and guidance they provide.
The Indian Guide is also the guide that’s most likely to present himself or herself to you during a psychic reading.
Each of your Spirit Guides is with you for a specific reason, and the reason for your Indian Guides is to provide you with wisdom, clarity, and belongingness in your community and surroundings, along with a higher sense of spirituality.
Native American Indian Guides are also drawn to work with Psychic Mediums, as well as those who are highly intuitive.
With your Native American Indian Guide by your side, finding your own spiritual path will become easier for you. Your Indian Guide will help you to be more attuned to nature and the energy of the Universe.
Your Indian Spirit Guide can also protect you from negative invisible forces if needed.
The Things Your Indian Spirit Guide Protect Your From
When it comes to keeping you safe from harm, your Indian Spirit Guide is a strong protector capable of shielding you from negative forces. Here are just a few examples of the things your Native American Indian Guide can protect you from:
Just as Spirit Guides are beings of a higher vibrational frequency and positive energy, there are also negative entities at work around us, which vibrate at a much lower negative energy.
Whenever you feel depressed, or stuck in life, a negative entity might be attaching itself to you leeching your drive for action, and rendering you incapable of happiness.
Your Indian Guide can use his or her special powers to banish such negative spirits or forces.
Psychic attacks are generally negative thoughts or emotions being directed at you by other people.
Usually, people launch psychic attacks when they are jealous of you or envious of the successful life you’ve created. When a person is mad at you, you might also get attacked psychically.
Most people do this by wishing bad things upon you, or by wanting you to lose the things you have that they secretly want for themselves. There are also some individuals who are not aware that they are, in fact, psychically attacking you!
Your Indian Guide is very good at warding off psychic attacks. Sometimes they can cloud your auric field so that you will be very hard to psychically attack.
Actual Physical Harm
There are several cases where people report seeing the image or outline of a Native American Indian who they felt kept them from being hurt in an accident, or who helped guide them to safety.
One such individual, a 25-year old banker from Sedona, Arizona, was saved by her Indian Spirit Guide while having a leisurely horseback ride.
Your Indian spirit guide will protect you physically, spiritually, and even emotionally.
Suddenly, her horse became startled by a bird that unexpectedly flew out of the bush they were passing, and she feared she was going to get bucked off.
But in that same moment, from the corner of her eye, she caught a glimpse of a tall man who appeared, and he was as a Native American Indian. Suddenly this shadowy form started to stroke the horse’s head while whispering in its ear.
Immediately, her horse calmed down. And then, when it was clear the horse was okay, the shadowy figure of her Indian Spirit Guide, disappeared!
Since then, she told me her Indian Guide occasionally makes his presence felt to her when she talks to him, or during the times when she needs help.
Getting the Protection Of Your Indian Spirit Guide
Your Indian Spirit Guide will be a loyal companion who will journey with you through life.
If you want to establish a connection with your Indian Guide, I can help. As a Psychic and a Medium, I have been communicating with the spiritual realm since I was a child.
This means I am able to connect and communicate not only with the Spirit Guides of others.
And I can also show you how to welcome your Indian Guide, along with all your other Spirit Guides into your life, and how to use their special abilities to your favor.
If you have been sensing a presence, or have experienced a ringing in one ear, these are signs your Indian Spirit Guide is near.
Other signs also include seeing spheres of light or seeing a sequence of three objects or three numbers. I can help you interpret these signs and the messages your Indian Spirit Guide is trying to tell you.
Schedule an appointment with me by clicking here and filling out the form on my Psychic Reading Page.
You Might Also Enjoy Reading These Other Articles If You Liked This Article:
Spirit Guides – Signs When They Are Around You
Spirit Guides – How To Interpret Their Messages
8 Different Spirit Guides And The Roles They Serve
Spirit Guides – How To Ask Your Joy Guide For Some Happiness
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This is absolutely incredible. I knew nothing of spirit guides when I went to bed last night. However, when I woke up I knew I had met mine in my dream. They even put me in a canoe for protection from the river. I had never seen such a boat before and when I looked up old Native American canoes it was the first image that showed up. I very recently realized that I am an empath. Could the timing of my realization and the new presence of my Native American Spirit Guide be connected?
When I was 4 years old I saw a spirit Indian women standing near me and smiling She was very beautiful with her blue black hair and her tiny feet. A naked baby boy lay near her and I heard him crying the Indian women told me with her thoughts not words not to touch her I could see a light around her and feel warm energy of course at 4 I didn’t know she was Indian and I ran to get my mom to see her but the Indian women was gone. I have seen her twice more in my life in dreams I act Actually died and she wouldn’t let me by her she told me to go back not yet my time. I wanted to stay there but I couldnt. Another time I saw her in a dream she was my sister in another lifetime we were making items and clothing to trade and we sat under a big oak tree away from the hot sun I would love to know why I have seen her and shared the experiences I’ve had with her
Hello My Indian name is Raincloud .I named myself when I was a child in the YMCA Indian Guide program..I have been Indian spiritual ever since…Im gonna fast forward… I I bought some land near Savannah River in Martin SC…Heavy Indian population many years ago.I started to collect alot of arrow heads took them home and are on display..I would tell guest not to steal any arrow heads from me our you may be cursed.I said that many times…Well one night at my property I began to talk to the Indian spirits not knowing if im heard or not..I ask the spirit to show me a sign im heard..The next morning I went looking for arrow heads..What i found was a huge spear head or tomohawk head not sure..I felt this was the spirit showing me I was heard..To this day this artifact is my best find..I was so proud of it I did not put it on display fearing someone would steal it.I put it in my gun safe..Well my house was broke into and the safe was stolen with my arrow head in sidegun case…I began to talk to my Indian spirit and ask to help me get my arrowhead guns and money back….A friend was at the house while police were there I told my friend the thief is cursed..My friend said oh my I have heard that from you before..Two days latter safe was found by a good citizen in some deep woods..I was notified went out to the woods and yes it was mine .The thief never got in it .He beat the safe up very bad…I took safe home and felt like i won the lottery…Cops put up cameras ..One hour latter thief shows up with tools to get in safe ..all the cursed thief got was his picture taken.A week later was arrested and admitted he broke in my house stole safe..Without my Indian guide spirit and my confidence I have one I would not have retreived my stolen property…RAINCLOUD
Some years back I experienced the most wonderful appearance of an American Indian. I lay in my bed he stood by my side wearing all the clothing on an warrior Indian. He looked straight ahead folded his arms he did not make eye contact. His face was old . His appearance felt like a lo g time but probably a few minutes. I did not feel any fear only I lovely feeling of peace. Next morning I didn’t question what his purpose for appearing to me . If someone told me this story before I seen him ,yes I would probably think them mad . Many years have passed I I still think of him a lot . I times of trouble and confusion in my life I ask for his help . There was a situation in my life when I almost died in a serious car accident.The car a was driving was crushed with the roof almost flat . I walked out of the car with not even a scratch on me . I believe he was there for me . I wish he would appear to me again ? I still ask myself “why did he appear to me ” why me ?
I had a dream that continued for 3 days. I was in an apartment and all of a sudden the most attractive native man appeared wearing white doe skin, This was the first night of the dream. He had a wolf with him. The wolf was huge, muscular and was dying. I could smell the death. At first I was terrified. The native man told me that he and the wolf had looked for me for many years. That the wolf needed me to assist him in passing over. The native man asked if I would help the wolf. At first I said no and told both of them to leave. I was frightened and thought the wolf would hurt me in some way. They both left. There was no actual talking, more like telepathy. The second night, the Native man appeared again with the wolf. He let me know the wolf would not hurt me. He explained they needed my assistance for the wolf to pass on. So I finally said I would do it. That night we went through a doorway in this apartment that was not there but appeared when we started walking. We walked through the doorway into what looked like a museum. There were all kinds of indigenous artifacts everywhere. We walked for a while and started to walk through the wall on the other side of the museum. I woke up at that point. The 3rd night the dream started again with us being in the museum. We walked through another doorway that led into a cavethat was not there before. While we were in the musuem I heard drums beating. As we entered the cave, I heard the drums even louder and I could hear singing. The singing was in an indigenous language that was unknown to me. Then I realized the walls were even beating to the drums. We came into a room in the cave. There were 2 stone tables. It reminded me of sacrificial rituals that I had seen in movies. I again became scared. The native man let me know I was in no danger. I believed him. The Native man helped the wolf up on one of stone tables. I got on the other stone table. The wolf looked into my eyes and I felt like the wolf was telling me “Thank you!” Then all of sudden the top of the cave opened and this bright light came down on both of us. The next thing I see, the wolf is going into the bright light. I stayed on the table and just watched with awe! After the wolf was gone, the top of the cave closed. The drumming stopped and the singing stopped. The Native Man was no longer there. I then remember waking up in what was my apartment and was no longer in the cave. I remember the wolf was not an ordinary wolf of today’s time. It was more like a dire wolf. I still am not sure why the wolf would need me to pass on; as the Native man said they had looked for me for years. I went to my brother and asked him about this dream. My brother said it was a sundance. My brother could not tell me why the wolf needed me to pass over. I felt like I had been taken to a very ancent time when this happened. I do have other dreams but not about wolves. Some of my dreams come 3 times-that is when I know it has meaning.
Thank you for sharing that, Katherine.
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Ancient Symbols of Protection From Around the World
- Expanded Consciousness
- Unexplained Universe
The world has always been a place filled with powers that challenge humans in strange and awe-inspiring ways. The basic human need for protection is as old as creation itself. From the ancient Greeks, to Native American tribes; from Celts and Vikings, to Pagans, Wiccans, and Christians, ancient symbols of protection emerged with the same goal in mind – to navigate the unknown, frightening, and perceived evil.
If you feel drawn to ancient symbols of protection, it can be overwhelming to navigate the myriad options available. To explore the many kinds and types, it’s helpful to understand the places and cultures from where the symbols originate. Many of the symbols emerge from earth-bound connections, to mythology, to the darker side of our psyche.
From Animals to Eyes: Ancient, Spiritual Symbols of Protection
Native American cultures relied on their deep connection to the earth and animal spirits for protective symbols and spirits. Some of the most common include:
- Bears represent leadership, physical strength, and personal courage
- Crows embody wisdom and high levels of intelligence
- Eagles are a symbol of courage, wisdom, and strength
- Deer show the way to safety, gentleness, prosperity, and shelter
- Gila monster portrays preservation and survival
- Dragonfly is a sign of happiness, speed, purity
- Lightning is related to the Thunderbird, the rain bird, a legendary powerful spirit.
In addition to spirit animals, Native American tribes believe in other symbols of protection such as:
— Arrows – symbolize defense and protection. An arrow pointing to the left keeps away evil; an arrow pointing to the right also represents protection; an arrow facing downward represents peace. Arrowheads signify alertness and direction.
— Cacti – are the embodiment of warmth , protection, and endurance, as well as maternal love that endures regardless of harsh conditions and circumstances
— Drums – a central part of all Native American ceremonies, are the means to communicate with the Great Spirit.
— Eagle feathers – used during sacred rituals and prayer, represent the truth.
— Medicine bags – usually made out of animal hide, contains items such as a pipe, minerals, tobacco, sage, and other protective items. In ancient times, medicine bags were thought to have the power to protect in times of battle and war.
Egyptian, Celtic, Christian and Greek Symbols of Protection
Not only the protective realm of the Native American culture, ancient Celts also have a deep belief in animal spirits , from the bull, the sign of wealth, status, and fertility, to the salmon, which symbolizes wisdom and the sanctity of life.
While cultures have their unique protective symbols, there are some which reach across traditions, such as the cross, wreaths, hands, and eyes.
— Cross : Usually associated with Christianity and the crucifixion of Jesus Christ, and a sign of benediction, the cross also has significance in other cultures. The ancient Egyptian ankh is the representation of life, with the rounded top symbolizing a mirror of self-reflection. The Greek cross represents the four directions of the earth, as does the cross in Native American Cultures.
— Eyes are an important protective symbol in ancient Egyptian culture. The Eye of Horus , resembling the right eye of the falcon God Horus, and the Eye of Ra , or the Sun God, represent the universe, masculine/femine energies, and the sun and moon. The Eye of Horus is considered protective and healing and the eye as a universal protective symbol is also seen in the Masonic eye, as well as in the modern pharmaceutical symbol.
— Believed to ward off the “evil eye,” the protective symbol of the hand , or hamsa, is worn around the neck, or hung on the walls. Hamsas can be traced to the Middle East with roots in Arabic, Hebrew, and North African cultures, as well as in ancient Egypt and some Christian sects.
— Wreaths harken back to early Christianity , from the choice of the kind of branches, to the shape itself. When a wreath is displayed on a door, the symbol stands as an invitation for the spirit of Christ to enter the home. Others associate the wreath with Ancient Rome, which was hung on doors after a victorious battle. For most people, wreaths are a symbol of the circle of life, as well as the evergreen, which represents resiliency through harsh conditions.
Hamsa hand, protection amulet, symbol of strength
Beyond Religion: Protective Symbols in Pagan and Occult Cultures
In addition to the protective symbols religious associations, they also stand at the center of many Pagan, Wiccan, and occult beliefs The Wiccan practice of walking labyrinths signifies the full life cycle, as well as a protective path as one cannot get lost in a labyrinth; there is always a way in and a way out. For the Norse tradition, Y ggdrasil , the tree of life, is a protective representation of a universal and central connection. Other pagan and pre-Christian symbols include:
- Viking symbols of protection such as the Helm of Awe , whose eight-pronged trident protects against hostile forces, and Thor’s Hammer , the symbol of protection of humans, as well as blessings for marriages.
- Wicca — The pentagram, a five-pointed star is thought to ward off witches and demons, while elevating spirit over matter.
- Mistletoe , while normally thought of as a cute Christmas decoration, it has deep Celtic roots and is considered to be a protective symbol for everything from love, to livestock, and babies.
Norse Symbol: The Helm of Awe
Protective symbols can also be viewed as stemming from the desire for a more expansive relationship to all the universe has to offer — from the good, to the dark, to the in-between. The importance that protective symbols in ancient and modern cultures have in our lives could be seen as a level of humility toward powers larger than us. When life gets complicated and challenging, accessing our shared protective symbols can serve as the ultimate spiritual lighthouse, helping to guide us through life’s uncertain waters.
About the Author
Do We Live in a Holographic Universe?
The Holographic Universe idea suggests that our universe contains a hidden order that connects every point to every other point in the universe. It tells us the whole of the universe is in every gram, thus providing subtle connections between seemingly unconnected events and places. This perspective also relates to the idea of a simulated or virtual universe, whereby our sensory experience is just an illusion produced by an artificial reality.
When you look around your surroundings, you get the feeling you’re living in a three-dimensional world full of visceral shapes, textures, patterns, and objects of all types. You have the feeling that you can interact with these physical objects and get an instantaneous subjective feeling in your body of their depth, size, temperature, texture and weight. This gives you a sense of the physical space around you and your location within it.
But what if this experience of space, location, and depth is all an illusion, a construct of your mind that is beautifully sustained from moment to moment? What if the apparent solidity and shape of the world around you is, in fact, an incredibly well-orchestrated hallucination produced by your brain. Perhaps we live in a purely informational space where matter and energy are not our reality’s fundamental qualities.
Believe it or not, a theory in physics that has been gaining traction recently is the Holographic Universe idea . It suggests to us that our perception of three dimensions is the product of our mind decoding information that arises from a two-dimensional, flat world. This occurs in the same way that a computer constructs a realistic, moving computer game from billions of bits of ones or zeroes embedded in a CD or hard drive. In other words, our senses are only perceiving information and not real physical objects, people, or things. That feeling of physicality is an illusion produced by our brain.
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Native American Spirituality
- Rituals and Ceremonies
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- Wicca Traditions
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Deities and spirits, vision quests and spiritual journeys, the medicine man and shamanism, reverence for the ancestors, the dangers of cultural appropriation.
- B.A., History, Ohio University
Occasionally, modern Pagans, particularly in the United States, include aspects of Native American spirituality in their practice and belief. This is for a variety of reasons–some people are descended from the many tribes that are indigenous to North America, and so are paying homage to the beliefs of their ancestors. Others, with no discernible genetic link whatsoever, find themselves drawn to Native American beliefs simply because those practices and stories happen to resonate with them on a spiritual level.
It’s impossible to write a summary of Native American spirituality that encompasses all the aspects of the belief systems–after all, there are hundreds of tribes, from all over North America, and their beliefs and practices are as varied as they were. A tribe in a southeastern mountainous area has very different elements to their beliefs than, say, a tribe from the plains of South Dakota. Environment, climate, and the natural world around them all has an impact on how these beliefs have evolved.
However, that being said, there are still some common threads found in many (although certainly not every) forms of Native American practice and belief. Many tribal religions include but are not limited to the following elements:
Most Native American belief systems include creation stories —that is, not only stories of how humankind came to exist, but also of how the tribe came to be, and how man relates to the cosmos and the universe as a whole.
An Iroquois tale tells of Tepeu and Gucumatz, who sat around together and thought up a bunch of different things, like earth, the stars, and the ocean. Eventually, with some help from Coyote, Crow, and a few other creatures, they came up with four two-legged beings, who became the ancestors of the Iroquois people.
The Sioux tell a story of a creator who was displeased with the people who originally existed, so he decided to create a new world. He sang a number of songs, and created new species, including Turtle, who brought mud up from under the sea to create the land. The creator reached into his pipe bag and brought out the animals of the land, and then used the mud to create the shapes of men and women.
Native American religions often honor a vast array of deities. Some of these are creator gods, others are tricksters, deities of the hunt, and gods and goddesses of healing . The term “Great Spirit” is applied often in Native American spirituality, to refer to the concept of an all-encompassing power. Some Native tribes refer to this instead as the Great Mystery. In many tribes, this entity or power has a specific name.
There are a number of spirits that also take their place among the Native American belief systems. Animals, in particular, are known to have spirits that interact with mankind, often to guide people or offer their wisdom and other gifts.
For many Native American tribes, both in the past and today, a vision quest is a crucial part of one’s spiritual journey. It is a rite of passage that marks a significant change in one’s life, and often involves communing alone with nature, connecting with the inner self, and typically includes a vision that is both personal and to be shared with the community at large. This may include sun dances or sweat lodges as part of the process. It's important to note that these types of practices can be disastrous if led by someone who has no training, as evidenced by the case of James Arthur Ray , a non-Native self-help guru who was charged with manslaughter following the October 2009 deaths of three people during one of his Spiritual Warriors retreats.
The term “shamanism” is an umbrella term used by anthropologists to describe a vast collection of practices and beliefs, many of which have to do with divination, spirit communication, and magic. However, in the Native American community, the word is rarely used, because it is typically associated on academic level with Indo-European tribal peoples . Instead, most Native tribes use the phrase “medicine people” to refer to the elders who practice these sacred rites.
Many modern medicine people will not discuss their practices or beliefs with non-Native American individuals, simply because the rites and rituals are sacred and not to be shared commercially.
It is not uncommon to see a strong sense of reverence for the ancestors in Native American practice and belief. As in many other cultures, ancestor veneration is a way of showing honor and respect not only to the members of one’s own family, but to the tribe and community as a whole.
Cultural appropriation is a term that refers to, quite simply, the appropriation of one culture’s practice and belief system by another, but without the true cultural context. For example, NeoWiccans who integrate totem animals , vision quests, and sweat lodge sessions as an homage to Native Americans–but who are not Native Americans themselves, and do not understand the usage of those practices on a cultural level because of it – could arguably be accused of cultural appropriation. For more on this, and the way that different people view this issue, be sure to read Cultural Appropriation.
A great article warning about what to look for if you’re a non-Native who is interested in learning about Native American religions can be found here: Native American Religion .
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- Shamanism: Definition, History, and Beliefs
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Indigenous Americans: Spirituality and Ecos
Jack D. Forbes is professor emeritus and former chair of Native American studies at the University of California at Davis. © 2001 by Jack D. Forbes. All rights reserved.
The cosmic visions of indigenous peoples are significantly diverse. Each nation and community has its own unique traditions. Still, several characteristics stand out. First, it is common to envision the creative process of the universe as a form of thought or mental process. Second, it is common to have a source of creation that is plural, either because several entities participate in creation or because the process as it unfolds includes many sacred actors stemming from a First Principle (Father/Mother or Grandfather/Grandmother). Third, the agents of creation are seldom pictured as human, but are depicted instead as “wakan” (holy), or animal-like (coyote, raven, great white hare, etc.), or as forces of nature (such as wind/breath). The Lakota medicine man Lame Deer says that the Great Spirit “is not like a human being. . . . He is a power. That power could be in a cup of coffee. The Great Spirit is no old man with a beard.” 1 The concept perhaps resembles the elohim of the Jewish Genesis, the plural form of eloi , usually mistranslated as “God,” as though it were singular.
Perhaps the most important aspect of indigenous cosmic visions is the conception of creation as a living process, resulting in a living universe in which a kinship exists between all things. Thus the Creators are our family, our Grandparents or Parents, and all of their creations are children who, of necessity, are also our relations.
An ancient Ashiwi (Zuñi) prayer-song states:
That our earth mother may wrap herself In a four-fold robe of white meal [snow]; . . . When our earth mother is replete with living waters, When spring comes, The source of our flesh, All the different kinds of corn We shall lay to rest in the ground with the earth mother’s living waters, They will be made into new beings, Coming out standing into the daylight of their Sun father, to all sides They will stretch out their hands. . . . 2
Thus the Mother Earth is a living being, as are the waters and the Sun.
Juan Matus told Carlos Castaneda that Genaro, a Mazateco, “was just now embracing this enormous earth . . . but the earth knows that Genaro loves it and it bestows on him its care. . . . This earth, this world. For a warrior there can be no greater love. . . . This lovely being, which is alive to its last recesses and understands every feeling. . . .” 3
Or, as Lame Deer puts it:
We must try to use the pipe for mankind, which is on the road to self-destruction. . . . This can be done only if all of us, Indians and non-Indians alike, can again see ourselves as part of the earth, not as an enemy from the outside who tries to impose its will on it. Because we . . . also know that, being a living part of the earth, we cannot harm any part of her without hurting ourselves. 4
European writers long ago referred to indigenous Americans’ ways as “animism,” a term that means “life-ism.” And it is true that most or perhaps all Native Americans see the entire universe as being alive—that is, as having movement and an ability to act. But more than that, indigenous Americans tend to see this living world as a fantastic and beautiful creation engendering extremely powerful feelings of gratitude and indebtedness, obliging us to behave as if we are related to one another. An overriding characteristic of Native North American religion is that of gratitude, a feeling of overwhelming love and thankfulness for the gifts of the Creator and the earth/universe. As a Cahuilla elder, Ruby Modesto, has stated: “Thank you mother earth, for holding me on your breast. You always love me no matter how old I get.” 5 Or as Joshua Wetsit, an Assiniboine elder born in 1886, put it: “But our Indian religion is all one religion, the Great Spirit. We’re thankful that we’re on this Mother Earth. That’s the first thing when we wake up in the morning, is to be thankful to the Great Sprit for the Mother Earth: how we live, what it produces, what keeps everything alive.” 6
Many years ago, the Great Spirit gave the Shawnee, Sauk, Fox, and other peoples maize or corn. This gift arrived when a beautiful woman appeared from the sky. She was fed by two hunters, and in return she gave them, after one year, maize, beans, and tobacco. “We thank the Great Spirit for all the benefits he has conferred upon us. For myself, I never take a drink of water from a spring, without being mindful of his goodness.” 7
Although it is certainly true that Native Americans ask for help from spiritual beings, it is my personal observation that giving thanks, or, in some cases, giving payment for gifts received, is a salient characteristic of most public ceremonies. Perhaps this is related to the overwhelmingly positive attitude Native Americans have had toward the Creator and the world of “nature,” or what I call the “Wemi Tali,” the “All Where” in the Delaware-Lenápe language. Slow Buffalo, a teacher, is remembered to have said about a thousand years ago:
Remember . . . the ones you are going to depend upon. Up in the heavens, the Mysterious One, that is your grandfather. In between the earth and the heavens, that is your father. This earth is your grandmother. The dirt is your grandmother. Whatever grows in the earth is your mother. It is just like a sucking baby on a mother. . . .
Always remember, your grandmother is underneath your feet always. You are always on her, and your father is above. 8
Winona LaDuke, a contemporary leader from White Earth Anishinabe land, tells us that:
Native American teachings describe the relations all around—animals, fish, trees, and rocks—as our brothers, sisters, uncles, and grandpas. . . .
These relations are honored in ceremony, song, story, and life that keep relations close—to buffalo, sturgeon, salmon, turtles, bears, wolves, and panthers. These are our older relatives—the ones who came before and taught us how to live. 9
In 1931 Standing Bear, a Lakota, said when reciting an ancient prayer:
To mother earth, it is said . . . you are the only mother that has shown mercy to your children. . . . Behold me, the four quarters of the earth, relative I am. . . . All over the earth faces of all living things are alike. Mother earth has turned these faces out of the earth with tenderness. Oh Great Spirit behold them, all these faces with children in their hands. 10
Again in 1931, Black Elk, the well-known Lakota medicine man, told us that “The four-leggeds and the wings of the air and the mother earth were supposed to be relative-like. . . . The first thing an Indian learns is to love each other and that they should be relative-like to the four-leggeds.” 11 And thus we see this very strong kinship relation to the Wemi Tali, the “All Where”: “The Great Spirit made the flowers, the streams, the pines, the cedars—takes care of them. . . . He takes care of me, waters me, feeds me, makes me live with plants and animals as one of them. . . . All of nature is in us, all of us is in nature.” 12
At the center of all of the creation is the Great Mystery. As Black Elk said:
When we use the water in the sweat lodge we should think of Wakan-Tanka, who is always flowing, giving His power and life to everything. . . . The round fire place at the center of the sweat lodge is the center of the universe, in which dwells Wakan-Tanka, with His power which is the fire. All these things are Wakan [holy and mystery] and must be understood deeply if we really wish to purify ourselves, for the power of a thing or an act is in the meaning and the understanding. 13
Luther Standing Bear, writing in the 1930s, noted:
The old people came literally to love the soil and they sat or reclined on the ground with a feeling of being close to a mothering power. It was good for the skin to touch the earth and the old people liked to remove their moccasins and walk with bare feet on the sacred earth. . . . The soil was soothing, strengthening, cleansing, and healing. . . . Wherever the Lakota went, he was with Mother Earth. No matter where he roamed by day or slept by night he was safe with her. 14
Native people, according to Standing Bear, were often baffled by the European tendency to refer to nature as crude, primitive, wild, rude, untamed, and savage. “For the Lakota, mountains, lakes, rivers, springs, valleys, and woods were all finished beauty. . . .” 15
Of course, the indigenous tendency to view the earth and other nonorganic entities as being part of bios (life, living) is seen by many post-1500 Europeans as simply romantic or nonsensical. When Native students enroll in many biology or chemistry classes today they are often confronted by professors who are absolutely certain that rocks are not alive. But in reality these professors are themselves products of an idea system of materialism and mechanism that is both relatively modern and indefensible. I have challenged this materialist perspective in a poem, “Kinship is the Basic Principle of Philosophy,” which I will partially reproduce here as indicative of some common indigenous perspectives:
. . .For hundreds of years certainly for thousands Our Native elders have taught us “All My Relations” means all living things and the entire Universe “All Our Relations” they have said time and time again. . . . Do you doubt still? a rock alive? You say it is hard! it doesn’t move of its own accord! it has no eyes! it doesn’t think! but rocks do move put one in a fire it will get hot won’t it? That means won’t you agree? that its insides are moving ever more rapidly?. . . So don’t kid me my friend, rocks change rocks move rocks flow rocks combine rocks are powerful friends I have many big and small their processes, at our temperatures, are very slow but very deep! I understand because, you see, I am part rock! I eat rocks rocks are part of me I couldn’t exist without the rock in me We are all related! No, it’s alive I tell you, just like the old ones say they’ve been there you know they’ve crossed the boundaries not with computers but with their very own beings! 16
About a thousand years ago, White Buffalo Calf Woman came to the ancestors of the Lakota, giving them a sacred pipe and a round rock. The rock, Black Elk said,
. . . is the Earth, your Grandmother and Mother, and it is where you will live and increase. . . . All of this is sacred and so do not forget! Every dawn as it comes is a holy event, and every day is holy, for the light comes from your father Wakan-Tanka; and also you must always remember that the two-leggeds and all the other peoples who stand upon this earth are sacred and should be treated as such. 17
Here we see not only the expression of relatedness on a living earth, but also the sacredness or holiness of events that some persons take for granted: the dawn, the day, and, in effect, time and the flow of life in its totality. In relation to all of these gifts, human beings are expected to be humble, not arrogant, and to respect other creatures. An ancient Nahua (Mexican) poem tells us that
Those of the white head of hair, those of the wrinkled face, our ancestors. . . They did not come to be arrogant, They did not come to go about looking greedily, They did not come to be voracious. They were such that they were esteemed on the earth: They reached the stature of eagles and jaguars. 18
Lame Deer says: “You can tell a good medicine man by his actions and his way of life. Is he lean? Does he live in a poor cabin? Does money leave him cold?” 19 Thus, humility and a lack of arrogance are accompanied by a tendency toward simple living, which reinforces the ideal of nonexploitation of other living creatures. A consciousness of death also adds to the awareness of the importance of concentrating on the ethical quality of one’s life as opposed to considerations of quantity of possessions or size of religious edifices. “A man’s life is short. Make yours a worthy one,” says Lame Deer.
Juan Matus, in Carlos Castaneda’s Journey to Ixtlan, captures very well the attitude of many Native people: “. . .You don’t eat five quail; you eat one. You don’t damage the plants just to make a barbecue. . . . You don’t use and squeeze people until they have shriveled to nothing, especially the people you love. . . .” 20 This kind of attitude is found over and over again in the traditions of Native people, from the basketry and food-gathering techniques of Native Californians to the characters in the stories of Anna Lee Walters (as in her novel Ghostsinger, the stories in The Sun is Not Merciful, or in Talking Indian ).
Respect and humility are the building blocks of indigenous life-ways, since they not only lead to minimal exploitation of other living creatures but also preclude the arrogance of aggressive missionary activity and secular imperialism, as well as the arrogance of patriarchy.
But Anglo-American “ecologists” often have a very narrow conception of what constitutes “ecology” and the “environment.” Does this contrast with the Native American attitude? Let us examine some definitions first. The root of the concept of environment has to do with “rounding” or “that which arounds [surrounds] us.” It is similar to Latin vicinitat (Spanish vecinidad or English vicinity ), referring to that which neighbors something, and also to Greek oikos (ecos), a house and, by extension, a habitation (Latin dwelling) or area of inhabiting (as in oikoumene , the inhabited or dwelled-in world). Ecology is the logie or study of ecos, the study of inhabiting/dwelling, or, as defined in one dictionary, the study of “organisms and their environment.”
Ecos ( oikos ) is “the house we live in, our place of habitation.” But where do we live and who are we? Certainly we can define ecos in a narrow sense, as our immediate vicinity, or we can broaden it to include the Sun (which is, of course, the driving power or energy source in everything that we do), the Moon, and the entire known universe (including the Great Creative Power, or Ketanitowit in Lenápe). Our ecos, from the indigenous point of view, extends out to the very boundaries of the great totality of existence, the Wemi Tali.
Similarly, our environment must include the sacred source of creation as well as such things as the light of the Sun, on which all life processes depend. Thus our surroundings include the space of the universe and the solar/stellar bodies that have inspired so much of our human yearnings and dreams.
Ecology, then, in my interpretation, must be the holistic (and interdisciplinary) study of the entire universe, the dynamic relationship of its various parts. And since, from the indigenous perspective, the universe is alive, it follows that we could speak of geo-ecology as well as human ecology, the ecology of oxygen as well as the ecology of water.
Many indigenous thinkers have considered humans part of the Wemi Tali, not separate from it. As I have written:
For us, truly, there are no “surroundings.”
I can lose my hands and still live. I can lose my legs and still live. I can lose my eyes and still live. . . . But if I lose the air I die. If I lose the sun I die. If I lose the earth I die. If I lose the water I die. If I lose the plants and animals I die. All of these things are more a part of me, more essential to my every breath, than is my so-called body. What is my real body?
We are not autonomous, self-sufficient beings as European mythology teaches. . . . We are rooted just like the trees. But our roots come out of our nose and mouth, like an umbilical cord, forever connected with the rest of the world. . . .
Nothing that we do, do we do by ourselves. We do not see by ourselves. We do not hear by ourselves. . . . We do not think, dream, invent, or procreate by ourselves. We do not die by ourselves. . . .
I am a point of awareness, a circle of consciousness, in the midst of a series of circles. One circle is that which we call “the body.” It is a universe itself, full of millions of little living creatures living their own “separate” but dependent lives. . . . But all of these “circles” are not really separate—they are all mutually dependent upon each other. . . . 21
We, in fact, have no single edge or boundary, but are rather part of a continuum that extends outward from our center of consciousness, both in a perceptual (epistemological-existential) and in a biophysical sense—our brain centers must have oxygen, water, blood with all of its elements, minerals, etc., in order to exist, but also, of course, must connect to the cosmos as a whole. Thus our own personal bodies form part of the universe directly, while these same bodies are miniature universes in which, as noted, millions of living creatures subsist, operate, fight, reproduce, and die.
Anna Lee Walters, the Otoe-Pawnee teacher and writer, in speaking of prayers, notes:
“Waconda,” it says in the Otoe language, Great Mystery, meaning that vital thing or phenomenon in life that cannot ever be entirely comprehensible to us. What is understood though, through the spoken word, is that silence is also Waconda, as is the universe and everything that exists, tangible and intangible, because none of these things are separate from that life force. It is all Waconda. . . . 22
Thus ecos for us must include that which our consciousness inhabits, the house of our soul, our ntchítchank or lenapeyókan, and must not be limited to a dualistic or mechanistic-materialistic view of bios. Ecology must be shorn of its Eurocentric (or, better, reductionist and materialist) perspective and broadened to include the realistic study of how living centers of awareness interact with all of their surroundings.
At a practical level this is very important, because one cannot bring about significant changes in the way in which the Wemi Tali is being abused without considering the values, economic systems, ethics, aspirations, and spiritual beliefs of human groups. For example, the sense of entitlement felt by certain social groups or classes, the idea of being entitled to exploit resources found in the lands of other groups or entitled to exploit “space” without any process of review or permission or approval from all concerned—this sense of superiority and restless acquisitiveness must be confronted by ecology.
The beauty of our night sky, for example, now threatened by hundreds or thousands of potential future satellites and space platforms, by proposed nuclear-powered expeditions to Mars and space-based nuclear weapons, cannot be protected merely by studying the physical relations of organisms with the sky. The cultures of all concerned have to be part of the equation, and within these cultures questions of beauty, ethics, and sacredness must play a role. Sadly, the U.S. government is the greatest offender in the threat to space.
When a mountain is to be pulled down to produce cement, or coal, or cinderstone, or to provide housing for expanding suburbanites, the questions that must be asked are not only those relating to stream-flow, future mudslides, fire danger, loss of animal habitat, air pollution, or damage to stream water quality. Of paramount importance are also questions of beauty, ownership, and the unequal allocation of wealth and power that allows rich investors to make decisions affecting large numbers of creatures based only upon narrow self-interest. Still more difficult are questions relating to the sacredness of Mother Earth and of the rights of mountains to exist without being mutilated. When do humans have the right to mutilate a mountain? Are there procedures that might mitigate such an aggression? Are there processes that might require that the mountain’s right to exist in beauty be weighed against the money-making desires of a human or human group?
We hear a great deal about “impacts” and how “impacts” must be weighed and/or mitigated. But all too often, these considerations do not include aesthetics (unless the destruction is proposed for an area where rich and powerful people live), and very seldom do we hear about sacredness or the rights of the earth. Indeed, we have made progress in the United States with the concept of protecting endangered species, but it is interesting that, for many people, the point of such protection is essentially pragmatic: we are willing to preserve genetic diversity (especially as regards plant life) in order to meet potential human needs. The intrinsic right of different forms of life each to have space and freedom is seldom evoked. (Even homeless humans have no recognized right to “space” in the United States). 23
All over the Americas, from Chile to the arctic, Native Americans are engaged in battles with aggressive corporations and governments that claim the right to set aside small areas (reserves) for Native people and then to seize the rest of the Native territory and throw it open to Occidental Petroleum, Texaco, or other profit-seeking organizations. Often, as in the case of the U’wa people, the concept of the sacredness of the living earth directly conflicts with the interests of big corporations and the revenue-hungry neocolonial governments that support them.
It has to be said that some indigenous governments and groups have also allowed devastating projects to be developed on their territories. Sometimes there has been grassroots resistance to the extraction of coal, uranium, and other minerals, but very often the non-Native government has encouraged (or strong-armed) the indigenous peoples into agreeing to a contract providing for little or no protection to the environment.
In her recent book, All Our Relations, Winona LaDuke focuses on a number of specific struggles involving Native people in the United States and Canada. She points out that “Grassroots and land-based struggles characterize most of Native environmentalism. We are nations of people with distinct land areas, and our leadership and direction emerge from the land up.” 24 LaDuke shows in each of her chapters how different groups of First Nations people are facing up to serious problems and are seeking to address them at the local, community level. They are also forming national and international organizations that seek to help individual nations, in great part through the sharing of information and technical assistance. In the final analysis, however, each nation, reserve, or community has to confront its own issues and develop its own responsible leadership. This must be stressed again and again: each sovereign Native nation will deal with its own environmental issues in its own way. There is no single Native American government that can develop a common indigenous response to the crisis we all face.
Mention should be made here of the work of Debra Harry, a Northern Paiute activist from the Pyramid Lake Reservation who is spearheading an information campaign relative to biopiracy and the dangers of the Human Genome Diversity Project. The collection of Native American tissue samples and DNA/mtDNA information represents a very serious environmental threat, since the discovery of unique genetic material could be used not only for patenting and sale but also for future campaigns of germ or biological warfare. The latter may seem extreme, but Native peoples have reason to be cautious about sharing potentially dangerous information with agencies, governments, and organizations not under their own control. The entire field of biopiracy, the theft of indigenous knowledge about plants and drugs, represents another area of great concern, since Native peoples could find themselves having to pay for the use of their own cultural heritage or for treatment using genetic material of indigenous origin. 25
Many activists are concerned primarily with the environmental responses of Native Americans belonging to specific land-based communities recognized as sovereign by the U.S. or Canadian governments. But in addition, there are millions of Native people who do not have “tribal” governments that are recognized as legitimate by a state. In California and Mexico, numerous Mixtec communities must deal with the hazards of agricultural pesticide, crop-dusting on top of workers, poor housing, inadequate sanitation, poor or polluted water sources, and a host of other issues. The Mixtec have responded by organizing around farm-labor issues, as well as developing their own ways of coping. For example, in Baja California they are often forced to build their own houses on steep hillsides where they must use old cast-off truck and auto tires as retaining walls to provide a level area for living.
Many Native groups, including Kickapoos, Navajos, Papagos, Zapotecs, and Chinantecs, produce a number of migrant agricultural laborers. These workers often remain rooted in home villages to which they may return seasonally. Such persons have a primary responsibility to their families; they cannot be expected to devote much energy to environmentalism, apart from attempting to obtain clean water, healthy food, and sanitary living conditions.
On a positive note, the environmental awareness of many indigenous American groups translates into a high respect for women in their communities. It would be hypocritical to seek to control women or restrict their opportunities for full self-realization while pretending to respect living creatures. This is a significant issue, because a great deal of evidence has shown that when women have high status, education, and choices, they tend to enrich a community greatly and to stabilize population growth. Many traditional American societies have been able to remain in balance with their environments because of the high status of women, a long nursing period for children, and/or the control of reproductive decisions by women. 26 Many of the leaders in the Native struggle today are women.
Many Native homelands are much reduced in size from former years and are often located on land of poor quality. These conditions can create overuse of resources. Human population growth is, of course, one of the fundamental issues of environmental science. Along with the unequal distribution of resources and the taking away of resources (such as the removal of oil from indigenous lands, leaving polluted streams and poisoned soil) from militarily weaker peoples, human population growth is one of the major causes of species loss and damage to ecos. These are major issues in ecology but also must be overriding concerns for economists, political scientists, and political economists. In fact, the tendency in North America to ignore the impact of money-seeking activities upon nonmarket relations is a major source of environmental degradation. The recent effort to “charge” the industrial nations for the damage they have caused to world environments (as a new form of “debt” from the capitalist world to the rest of the world) is an example of how we must proceed. 27
To many of the more materialistic peoples of the world, indigenous people have often seemed “backward” or “simple.” They have seemed ripe for conquest or conversion, or both. The fact is, however, that the kind of ethical living characteristic of so many indigenous groups, with its respect for other life forms and its desire for wholeness of intellect, may be the best answer to the problems faced by all peoples today.
Yet there are some who challenge the environmental record of Native Americans, seeking to prove that in spite of the ideals expressed in indigenous spirituality, Native peoples were actually large-scale predators responsible some ten thousand years ago for widespread slaughter and even species annihilation. This viewpoint, shared primarily by a few anthropologists, overlooks the fact that during the Pleistocene era and later extinctions occurred in Eurasia and elsewhere, and that Native Americans cannot be blamed for a global phenomenon. In any case, indigenous Americans have always belonged to numerous independent political and familial units, each with its own set of values and behavioral strategies. One can hardly assign blame to modern Native people as a whole group when the “culprits” (if there were any) cannot even be identified.
In dealing with the sacred traditions of original Americans and their relationship to the environment, we must keep in mind a common-sense fact: not only do different Native groups have different traditions, stories, ceremonies, living conditions, challenges, and values, but each family or group has its own unique approach to “together-living” or “culture.” We must also factor in time, since different days, years, and epochs have presented different circumstances. In short, humans do not live by abstract rule alone. They live as well through a unique set of decisions informed by inspiration, personality, situation, and opportunity.
Native Americans, like any other group, are capable of acts that might well conflict with the major thrust of their sacred traditions. We must, therefore, differentiate between the concrete behavior of a people and their ideals. But in the case of indigenous Americans, such a distinction is perhaps less important than in other traditions. Why? Because Native Americans often lack a single, authoritative book or set of dogmas that tells them what their “ideals” should be. On the contrary, Native American sacred traditions are more the result of choices made over and over again within the parameters of a basic philosophy of life. Thus, we must look at the ideals expressed in sacred texts (including those conveyed orally), but also at the choices that people actually make.
Nonetheless, I believe that we can make the kinds of generalizations that I have, at least as regards those Native North Americans still following traditional values.
. . .The Old Ones say outward is inward to the heart and inward is outward to the center because for us there are no absolute boundaries no borders no environments no outside no inside no dualisms no single body no non-body We don’t stop at our eyes We don’t begin at our skin We don’t end at our smell We don’t start at our sounds. . . . Some scientists think they can study a world of matter separate from themselves but there is no Universe Un-observed (knowable to us at least) nothing can be known without being channeled through some creature’s senses, the unobserved Universe cannot be discussed for we, the observers, being its very description are its eyes and ears its very making is our seeing of it our sensing of it. . . . Perhaps we are Ideas in the mind of our Grandfather-Grandmother for, as many nations declare, the Universe by mental action was created by thought was moved So be it well proclaimed! our boundary is the edge of the Universe and beyond, to wherever the Creator’s thoughts go surging. . . . 28
Native people are not only trying to clean up uranium tailings, purify polluted water, and mount opposition to genetically engineered organisms; they are also continuing their spiritual ways of seeking to purify and support all life by means of ceremonies and prayers. As LaDuke tells us: “In our communities, Native environmentalists sing centuries-old songs to renew life, to give thanks for the strawberries, to call home fish, and to thank Mother Earth for her blessings.” 29
1 John Fire, Lame Deer, and Richard Erdoes, Lame Deer, Seeker of Visions (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1972), 39–40.
2 Ruth Bunzel, “Introduction to Zuni Ceremonialism,” Forty-Seventh Annual Report, Bureau of American Ethnology (Washington: Government Printing Office, 1932), 483–486.
3 Some writers have attacked Carlos Castaneda; however, I find that many of the insights in his first four books are quite valuable. Since he was most assuredly a man of Indigenous American ancestry, I am willing to quote him without arguing over whether his works are fiction or nonfiction. Carlos Castaneda, Tales of Power (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1974), 284–285.
4 Fire, Lame Deer, and Erdoes, Lame Deer, Seeker of Visions, 265–266; emphasis added.
5 Ruby Modesto and Guy Mount, Not For Innocent Ears: Spiritual Traditions of a Desert Cahuilla Medicine Woman (Angelus Oaks, Calif.: Sweetlight Books, 1980), 72.
6 Sylvester M. Morey, ed., Can The Red Man Help The White Man? (New York: G. Church, 1970), 47.
7 Black Hawk, Black Hawk; An Autobiography (Urbana, Ill.: University of Illinois Press, 1955), 106.
8 John Gneisenau Neihardt, The Sixth Grandfather: Black Elk’s Teachings Given to John G. Neihardt, ed. Raymond J. DeMallie (Lincoln, Nebr.: University of Nebraska Press, 1984), 312.
9 Winona LaDuke, All Our Relations: Native Struggles for Land and Life (Cambridge, Mass.: South End Press, 1999), 2.
10 Neihardt, The Sixth Grandfather, 288.
11 Ibid., 288–289.
12 Pete Catches, Lakota elder, quoted in Fire, Lame Deer, and Erdoes, Lame Deer, Seeker of Visions, 137–139.
13 Black Elk, The Sacred Pipe: Black Elk’s Account of the Seven Rites of the Oglala Sioux, rec. and ed. Joseph Epes Brown (Baltimore: Penguin Books, 1971), 31–32.
14 Luther Standing Bear, Land of the Spotted Eagle (Lincoln, Nebr.: University of Nebraska Press, 1978), 192–193.
15 Ibid., 196.
16 Jack D. Forbes, “Kinship is the Basic Principle of Philosophy,” Gatherings: The En’owkin Journal of First North American Peoples VI (Penticton, B.C.: Theytus Books, 1995), 144–150.
17 Black Elk, The Sacred Pipe , 7.
18 Miguel Leon-Portilla, La Filosofia Nahuatl: Estudiada en sus Fuentes (Mexico: Universidad Nacional Autonoma de Mexico, Instituto de Investigaciones Historicas, 1966), 237–238. My translation.
19 Fire, Lame Deer, and Erdoes, Lame Deer , 155–158.
20 Carlos Castaneda, Journey to Ixtlan: The Lessons of Don Juan (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1972), 69–70; Fire, Lame Deer, and Erdoes, Lame Deer , 16.
21 Jack D. Forbes, A World Ruled by Cannibals: The Wetiko Disease of Aggression, Violence, and Imperialism (Davis, Calif.: D-Q University Press, 1979), 85–86. See also Jack D. Forbes, Columbus and Other Cannibals (Brooklyn: Autonomedia, 1992), 145–147.
22 Anna Lee Walters, Talking Indian: Reflections on Survival and Writing (Ithaca, N.Y.: Firebrand Books, 1992), 19–20.
23 See Jack D. Forbes, “A Right to Life and Shelter,” San Francisco Chronicle , 28 May 2000, zone 7, 9.
24 LaDuke, All Our Relations , 4.
25 Debra Harry is executive director of Indigenous Peoples Council on Biocolo-nialism, 850 Numana Dam Road, P.O. Box 818, Wadsworth, NV 89442, USA.
26 Forbes, Columbus and Other Cannibals , 109–110.
27 This is a proposal made by Third World nations that seeks to “capitalize” the costs of environmental damage.
28 Jack D. Forbes, “The Universe Is Our Holy Book,” unpublished poem, 1992.
29 LaDuke, All Our Relations , 3.
The Spiritual Life
“Windows To Spirituality”
Native American Prayers
Native american prayers and blessings.
We have collected some of the best Native American Prayers and Blessings to use in request to God. May these prayers for safety bring you comfort and peace of mind. May these prayers for strength encourage your spirit and strengthen your faith.
Native Americans , also known as American Indians , First Americans , Indigenous Americans and other terms, are the indigenous peoples of the United States; sometimes including Hawaii and territories of the United States, and other times limited to the mainland. There are 574 federally recognized tribes living within the US, about half of which are associated with Indian reservations. “Native Americans” (as defined by the United States Census) are indigenous tribes that are originally from the contiguous United States, along with Alaska Natives.
I give you this one thought to keep: I am with you still – I do not sleep. I am a thousand winds that blow, I am the diamond glints on snow, I am the sunlight on ripened grain, I am the gentle autumn rain.
When you awaken in the morning’s hush, I am the swift, uplifting rush of quiet birds in circled flight. I am the soft stars that shine at night.
Do not think of me as gone — I am with you still — in each new dawn!
For you are one who does not hesitate to respond our call, you are the cornerstone of peace
O Great spirits of Ancestors I raise my pipe to you; To you messengers in the four winds, and to Mother Earth who provides your children, Give us the wisdom to teach our children to love, To respect and to be kind to one another So that we may grow with peace in mind. Let us learn to share all good things That you provide us on this Earth.
Thus I pause in this unending prayer, ending as was begun, with undying gratitude for everything You have given and for all that You have done.
— Wanish, (Thank you) Blue Turtle
Native American Prayer
Short version, long version.
Listen Grandfather Where I Stand
Hey-a-a-hay! Lean to hear my feeble voice. At the center of the sacred hoop,
you have said that I should make the tree to bloom. With tears running O Great Spirit, my Grandfather, with running eyes I must say….
The tree has never bloomed. Here I stand, and the tree is withered.
Again I recall the great vision you gave me. It may be that some little root of the sacred tree still lives….
Nourish it then, that it may leaf and bloom and fill with singing birds!
Hear me, that the people may once again go back to the sacred hoop, find the good road, and the shielding tree.
— Black Elk
Oh, Eagle; come with wings outspread in sunny skies. Oh, Eagle, come and bring us peace, thy gentle peace.
Oh, Eagle, come and give new life to us who pray. Remember the circle of the sky; the stars, and the brown eagle, the great life of the Sun, the young within the nest. Remember the sacredness of things.
— Author Unknown
Power Animal Song
Come to us: Eagle, Wolf, Bear And Cougar. Dance we now The Power dances.
Eagle soaring above the Peaks, Share with us freedom, Majesty and fighting skills. Teach us lessons we need to Learn.
Dance with us The Power dances.
Wolf, cunning tracker, by day Or night. Share with us endurance, Courage and adaptability. Teach us lessons we need To learn.
Bear, trampling along earthen Paths, Share with us mighty strength And sense of smell. Teach us lessons we need To learn.
Cougar, lonely tracker of terrains, Share with us agility, Stamina and endless curiosity. Teach us lessons we need to learn.
Movements slow Movements rapid. Frenzied swaying Upward, downward. Dipping, turning Round and round.
Dance we now The Power dances.
Dancing partners, You and I. With me, In me I am you, You are me. Together as one, Yet separate, too.
Dance we now The Power Dances.
Awaken now All Spirit beings. To Dance the dances With your human kin.
Dance the cycles of life and death, Hope and fear, Good and evil. Dance the cycles, Now and again.
Lower world, Upper world, Journeying now and forever more, Of time and space. All is once, There is none. Dance the dances Again and again.
Mother E a rth Prayer
Mother Earth hear your child, As I sit here on your lap of grass, I listen to the echoes of your voice In my brother, the Wind, As he blows from all corners and directions. The soft and gentle raindrops are the Tears you cry for your children.
Teach me the Lessons you offer: To nurture my children, as you nurture yours, To learn the Lessons of the Four Kingdoms, that make up this World of Physical Things, and To Learn to Walk the Path chosen so long ago.
Mother Earth, hear your child, Be a bond between the Worlds of Earth and Spirit. Let the Winds echo the Knowledge of the Grandfathers.
Who await, unseen, yet visible if I only turn my eyes to their World.
Let me hear their Voices, in the Winds that Blow to the East.
From the East: I seek the Lessons of Childhood: To see with the trusting innocence of a small one, The Lessons of Spirit, Given in Love by our Creator.
From the South: to Learn the Ways of Questioning: The Fire and Independence of adolescence, The Truths, and how they help us Grow along this Path.
From the West: where the Grandfathers teach us Acceptance of Responsibility That come during the years of Marriage and Family.
That my own children grow Strong, and True.
From the North: where the Elders, who by their long lives Have learned and stored Wisdom and Knowledge. And Learned to Walk in Balance and Harmony with our Mother, the Earth.
Mother Earth, hear your child. Hold my hand as I Walk my Path in this World. Guide me to the Lessons I seek, bring me closer to Our Creator, Until I return to the Western Direction, to once again Enter the World of Spirit, Where the Sacred Fire Awaits, and I rejoin the Council of the Elders, In the Presence of the One Who-Created-All.
— KiiskeeN’tum- She Who Remembers
Native American Prayer
Great Spirit, Give us hearts to understand Never to take from creation’s beauty more than we give, Never to destroy want only for the furtherance of greed, Never to deny to give our hands for the building of earth’s beauty, Never to take from her what we cannot use.
Give us hearts to understand That to destroy earth’s music is to create confusion, That to wreck her appearance is to blind us to beauty, That to callously pollute her fragrance is to make a house of stench, That as we care for her she will care for us.
Give us hearts to understand We have forgotten who we are. We have sought only our own security. We have exploited simply for our own ends. We have distorted our knowledge. We have abused our power.
Great Spirit, Whose dry lands thirst, Help us to find the way to refresh your lands.
Great Spirit, Whose waters are choked with debris and pollution, Help us to find the way to cleanse your waters.
Great Spirit, Whose beautiful earth grows ugly with misuse, Help us to find the way to restore beauty to your handiwork.
Great Spirit, Whose creatures are being destroyed, Help us to find a way to replenish them
Great Spirit, whose gifts to us are being lost in selfishness and corruption, Help us to find the way to restore our humanity.
— Author Unknown
Oh GREAT MYSTERY!
Creator of all we are! All we have! All we ever shall be! I give to You my most humble gratitude. I thank You for life and all that pertains to life about me. I thank You for giving me this opportunity of life in this form so that I may walk among Your wonders with knowledge and given the option to be considerate and to care.
I give You gratitude for those untold billions of lives that graciously gave themselves over to maintain this life over these many years, humbling me by their unselfish sacrifice just to keep me walking here. So much so as to realize the sacredness of life, upon this earth I share. Doubly grateful with each day, just knowing You placed them there.
I ask Your forgiveness Oh Great MYSTERY for all the petty things I’ve done. Cursing, griping and groaning over pains and shames thats done, with so little consideration for all the wisdom won.
With gratitude for all that was given and all that may yet to come. I give myself unto Your keeping to let Your will be done. Humbly asking and beseeching to use this aged parchment to face Your drum. Stretch it to its limit until under Your slightest touch it gives its loudest strum. Your drum signals given to all about and all that’s yet to come.
Forgive me if I sound selfish Oh Mystery after all you have already done. But for myself I have but one wish, perhaps a foolish one. That on that day when the mystery unfolds before me, when the work of this flesh is done, That I may utter with my final breath, “I DID ALL I SHOULD HAVE DONE!”
Who will sing my name?
When I see the eagle no more, Will you call my name?
When the end of my path is reached, Will you sing my name in prayer?
The Old Ones fade and are no more, And no one calls their names.
Our People vanish and come to ashes, And no one sings the prayers.
We were once strong and many, I call the names of those before.
Those who remain have no knowing, For them I sing my prayer.
But when I am gone, who follows me, Who will call my name?
When I have given up my breath, Who will sing my name in prayer?
Ga lu lo hi gi ni du da Sky our grandfather
Nu da wa gi ni li si Moon our grandmother
E lo hi gi ne tse Earth our Mother
Ga li e li ga I am thankful
Si gi ni gé yu We love each other
O sa li he li ga We are grateful
A Native American Prayer for Peace
O Great Spirit of our Ancestors, I raise my pipe to you. To your messengers the four winds, and to Mother Earth who provides for your children. Give us the wisdom to teach our children to love, to respect, and to be kind to each other so that they may grow with peace in mind. Let us learn to share all the good things you provide for us on this Earth.
— U.N. Day of Prayer for World Peace
Cheyenne Prayer for Peace
Let us know peace. For as long as the moon shall rise, For as long as the rivers shall flow, For as long as the sun shall shine, For as long as the grass shall grow, Let us know peace.
— Cheyenne Prayer
The Great Spirit and Mother Earth
The Great Spirit is in all things, He is in the air we breathe. The Great Spirit is our Father, but the Earth is our Mother. She nourishes us, that which we put into the ground, She returns to us…
— Big Thunder (Bedagi) – Wabanaki Algonquin
Grandfather, Great Spirit, once more behold me on earth and lean to hear my feeble voice. You lived first, and you are older than all need, older than all prayer. All things belong to you — the two-legged, the four-legged, the wings of the air, and all green things that live. You have set the powers of the four quarters of the earth to cross each other. You have made me cross the good road and road of difficulties, and where they cross, the place is holy. Day in, day out, forevermore, you are the life of things. Hey! Lean to hear my feeble voice. At the center of the sacred hoop You have said that I should make the tree to bloom. With tears running, O Great Spirit, my Grandfather, With running eyes I must say The tree has never bloomed Here I stand, and the tree is withered. Again, I recall the great vision you gave me. It may be that some little root of the sacred tree still lives. Nourish it then That it may leaf And bloom And fill with singing birds! Hear me, that the people may once again Find the good road And the shielding tree.
Grandfather Great Spirit All over the world the faces of living ones are alike. With tenderness they have come up out of the ground Look upon your children that they may face the winds And walk the good road to the Day of Quiet. Grandfather Great Spririt Fill us with the Light. Give us the strength to understand, and the eyes to see. Teach us to walk the soft Earth as relatives to all that live.
— Sioux Prayer
Give us the wisdom to teach our children to love, to respect and to be kind to one another that we may grow with peace in mind.
— Native American Prayer
Oh Great Spirit, Creator of all things; Human Beings, trees, grass, berries. Help us, be kind to us. Let us be happy on earth. Let us lead our children To a good life and old age. These our people; give them good minds To love one another. Oh Great Spirit, Be kind to us Give these people the favor To see green trees, Green grass, flowers, and berries This next spring; So we all meet again Oh Great Spirit, We ask of you.
— Mohawk Prayer
Cover my earth mother four times with many flowers. Let the heavens be covered with the banked-up clouds. Let the earth be covered with fog; cover the earth with rains. Great waters, rains, cover the earth. Lighting cover the earth. Let thunder be heard over the earth; let thunder be heard; Let thunder be heard over the six regions of the earth.
— Zuni Prayer for Rain
Earth teach me freedom as the eagle which soars in the sky. Earth teach me regeneration as the seed which rises in the spring. Earth teach me to forget myself as melted snow forgets its life. Earth teach me to remember kindness as dry fields weep with rain.
— Ute Prayer
A Chinook Prayer
May All I Say
May all I say and all I think be in harmony with thee, God within me, God beyond me, maker of the trees.
— Chinook prayer , Pacific Northwest Coast, North America
May the sun bring you new energy by day, may the moon softly restore you by night, may the rain wash away your worries, may the breeze blow new strength into your being, may you walk gently through the world and know it’s beauty all the days of your life.
— Apache Blessing
Grandfather, Sacred one, Teach us love, compassion, and honor. That we may heal the earth And heal each other.
— Ojibway Prayer
O Great Spirit, help me always to speak the truth quietly, to listen with an open mind when others speak and to remember the peace that may be found in silence.
— Cherokee Prayer
One With This World
My words are tied in one with the great mountains, with the great rocks, with the great trees, in one with my body and heart. All of you see me, one with this world.
— Yokuts Prayer
What is Life
What is life? It is the flash of a firefly in the night. It is the breath of a buffalo in the wintertime. It is the little shadow which runs across the grass and loses itself in the sunset.
— Crowfoot, Blackfoot warrior and orator
Oh Eagle, come with wings outspread in sunny skies. Oh Eagle, come and bring us peace, thy gentle peace. Oh Eagle, come and give new life to us who pray. Remember the circle of the sky, the stars, and the brown eagle, the great life of the Sun, the young within the nest. Remember the sacredness of things.
— Pawnee Prayer
Prayer For Peace
Oh Great Spirit who dwells in the sky, lead us to the path of peace and understanding, let all of us live together as brothers and sisters. Our lives are so short here, walking upon Mother Earth’s surface, let our eyes be opened to all the blessings you have given us. Please hear our prayers, Oh Great Spirit.
When the earth is sick and dying, There will come a tribe of people From all races… Who will put their faith in deeds, Not words, and make the planet Green again…
— Cree Prophecy
I Give You This One Thought
I give you this one thought to keep I am with you still – I do not sleep. I am a thousand winds that blow, I am the diamond glints on snow, I am the sunlight on ripened grain, I am the gentle autumn rain.
When you awaken in the morning’s hush, I am the swift, uplifting rush of quiet birds in circled flight. I am the soft stars that shine at night.
Do not think of me as gone – I am with you still – in each new dawn.
The Warm Winds
May the warm winds of heaven blow gently on your house, and may the great spirit bless all who enter. May your moccasins make happy tracks in many snows, and may the rainbow always touch your shoulder.
A Prayer for Healing
Mother, sing me a song That will ease my pain, Mend broken bones, Bring wholeness again. Catch my babies When they are born, Sing my death song, Teach me how to mourn. Show me the Medicine Of the healing herbs, The value of spirit, The way I can serve.
Mother, heal my heart So that I can see The gifts of yours That can live through me.
Sioux Indian Prayer
Hear me, four quarters of the world– a relative I am! Give me the strength to walk the soft earth. Give me the eyes to see and the strength to understand, that I may be like you. With your power only can I face the winds. Great Spirit…all over the earth the faces of living things are all alike. With tenderness have these come up out of the ground. Look upon these faces of children without number and with children in their arms, that they may face the winds and walk the good road to the day of quiet. This is my prayer’ hear me!
Great Spirit Prayer
Oh, Great Spirit, Whose voice I hear in the winds and whose breath gives life to all the world. Hear me! I need your strength and wisdom. Let me walk in beauty, and make my eyes ever hold the red and purple sunset. Make my hands respect the things you have made and my ears sharp to hear your voice. Make me wise so that I may understand the things you have taught my people. Let me learn the lessons you have hidden in every leaf and rock.
Help me remain calm and strong in the face of all that comes towards me. Help me find compassion without empathy overwhelming me. I seek strength, not to be greater than my brother, but to fight my greatest enemy: myself. Make me always ready to come to you with clean hands and straight eyes. So when life fades, as the fading sunset, my spirit may come to you without shame.
— Translated by Lakota Sioux Chief Yellow Lark in 1887
Prayer for Life
Our old women gods, we ask you! Our old women gods, we ask you! Then give us long life together, May we live until our frosted hair is white; May we live till then. This life that now we know!
— Tewa (North American Indian) Traditional Prayer
Only For a Short While
Oh, only for so short a while you have loaned us to each other, because we take form in your act of drawing us, and we take life in your painting us, and we breathe in your singing us.
But only for so short a while have you loaned us to each other. Because even a drawing cut in obsidian fades, and the green feathers, the crown feathers, of the Quetzal bird lose their color, and even the sounds of the waterfall die out in the dry season.
So, we too, because only for a short while have you loaned us to each other.
— Aztec Indian Prayer
The Garden is Rich
The garden is rich with diversity With plants of a hundred families In the space between the trees With all the colours and fragrances. Basil, mint and lavender, Great Mystery keep my remembrance pure, Raspberry, Apple, Rose, Great Mystery fill my heart with love, Dill, anise, tansy, Holy winds blow in me. Rhododendron, zinnia, May my prayer be beautiful May my remembrance O Great Mystery be as incense to thee In the sacred grove of eternity As I smell and remember The ancient forests of earth.
— Chinook Psalter
Cherokee Prayer Blessing
May the Warm Winds of Heaven Blow softly upon your house. May the Great Spirit Bless all who enter there. May your Mocassins Make happy tracks in many snows, and may the Rainbow Always touch your shoulder.
Peace and happiness are available in every moment. Peace is every step. We shall walk hand in hand. There are no political solutions to spiritual problems. Remember: If the Creator put it there, it is in the right place. The soul would have no rainbow if the eyes had no tears. Tell your people that, since we were promised we should never be moved, we have been moved five times.
Earth, Teach Me
Earth teach me quiet — as the grasses are still with new light. Earth teach me suffering — as old stones suffer with memory. Earth teach me humility — as blossoms are humble with beginning. Earth teach me caring — as mothers nurture their young. Earth teach me courage — as the tree that stands alone. Earth teach me limitation — as the ant that crawls on the ground. Earth teach me freedom — as the eagle that soars in the sky. Earth teach me acceptance — as the leaves that die each fall. Earth teach me renewal — as the seed that rises in the spring. Earth teach me to forget myself — as melted snow forgets its life. Earth teach me to remember kindness — as dry fields weep with rain.
An Ute Prayer
Treat the earth well. It was not given to you by your parents, it was loaned to you by your children. We do not inherit the Earth from our Ancestors, we borrow it from our Children.
A Pueblo Indian Prayer
Before our white brothers arrived to make us civilized men, we didn’t have any kind of prison. Because of this, we had no delinquents. Without a prison, there can be no delinquents. We had no locks nor keys and therefore among us there were no thieves. When someone was so poor that he couldn’t afford a horse, a tent or a blanket, he would, in that case, receive it all as a gift. We were too uncivilized to give great importance to private property. We didn’t know any kind of money and consequently, the value of a human being was not determined by his wealth. We had no written laws laid down, no lawyers, no politicians, therefore we were not able to cheat and swindle one another. We were really in bad shape before the white men arrived and I don’t know how to explain how we were able to manage without these fundamental things that (so they tell us) are so necessary for a civilized society.
— John (Fire) Lame Deer , Sioux Lakota (1903-1976)
Wakan Tanka, Great Mystery, teach me how to trust my heart, my mind, my intuition, my inner knowing, the senses of my body, the blessings of my spirit. Teach me to trust these things so that I may enter my Sacred Space and love beyond my fear, and thus Walk in Balance with the passing of each glorious Sun.
A Three Step Morning Prayer
First Step: Plant your feet firmly on the earth. Using your five senses, give thanks to our Creator God for the countless ways God comes to us through creation- for all the beauty that your eyes see, for all the sounds that your ears ear, for all the scents that you smell, the tastes that you taste, for all that you feel (the sun, wind, rain, snow, warm, or cold). Pray this day that you may be open and attuned to the countless ways that our Creator God comes to us through your senses, through the gifts of creation.
Second Step: Let go of all the pain, struggle, regret, failures, garbage of yesterday – step out of it – leave it behind- brush the dust of it from your feet.
Third Step: With this third and final step, step into the gift of the new day, full of hope, promise, and potential. Give thanks for the gift of this new day, which God has made!
— Jos e Hobday
Prayer of The Seven Directions
Begin facing EAST – This is where the sun comes up, and so the direction of new beginnings, hope, promise, and potential. Pray that you may be open to receiving these gifts this day.* Each turn is a quarter turn to your right.
Turn SOUTH – This is the direction of warmth, growth, fertility (!), also known as creativity and productivity. In addition, this direction represents faith, trust, and faithfulness in relationships. Pray for these things this day.
Turn WEST – This is the direction where the sun goes down. Thus, it is the direction of rest, of our dream lives, and of closure and endings that need to take place in order for there to be new beginnings. Pray for these things this day.
Turn NORTH – This is the direction of the cold, of winds, of strength, courage, fortitude, might, single-mindedness, focus, clarity and purpose. Pray for these things this day.
Turn back to the EAST – and turn UPWARD. For Native Americans this is the direction of Father Sky. Pray that your heart, mind, soul, and spirit will not forget to look upward this day, to the One who is so much greater than we are.
Turn DOWNWARD – and touch our Mother, the earth. Pray that everything you do this day will be in honor and reverence of our Mother Earth.
Turn INWARD – Place your hand on your heart and pray that all that you do this day will be true to the Spirit of God, the Spirit of Christ, the Holy Spirit who dwells within you.
— Jos e Hobday
The simplest and most obvious prayer is a request to God that the adversity end and that one be restored to health. Such prayers often involve “affirmations.” There is a considerable psychological literature on the healing power of affirmations, and many cancer patients use them. Here is a beautiful Navajo prayer that uses affirmation:
O you who dwell In the house made of the dawn, In the house made of the evening twilight . . . Where the dark mist curtains the doorway, The path to which is on the rainbow . . . I have made your sacrifice. I have prepared a smoke for you.
My feet restore for me. My limbs restore for me. My body restore for me. My mind restore for me. My voice restore for me.
Today, take away your spell from me. Away from me you have taken it. Far Off from me you have taken it.
Happily I recover. Happily my interior becomes cool. Happily my eyes regain their power. Happily my head becomes cool. Happily my limbs regain their power. Happily I hear again. Happily for me the spell is taken Off.
Happily I walk. Impervious to pain, I walk. Feeling light within, I walk . . . In beauty I walk. With beauty before me, I walk. With beauty behind me, I walk. With beauty below me, I walk. With beauty all around me, I walk.
It is finished in beauty. It is finished in beauty. It is finished in beauty.
As I Walk with Beauty
As I walk, as I walk The universe is walking with me In beauty it walks before me In beauty it walks behind me In beauty it walks below me In beauty it walks above me Beauty is on every side As I walk, I walk with Beauty.
— A Traditional Navajo Prayer
Traditional Navajo Prayer
Now I walk in beauty, beauty is before me, beauty is behind me, above and below me.
The mountains, I become a part of it… The herbs, the fir tree, I become a part of it. The morning mists, the clouds, the gathering waters, I become a part of it. The wilderness, the dew drops, the pollen… I become a part of it. – Navajo Chant
The Navajos ( Navaho , Navajo: Diné or Naabeehó ) are a Native American people of the Southwestern United States. The Navajo people are politically divided between two federally recognized tribes, the Navajo Nation and the Colorado River Indian Tribes.
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Legends of America
Traveling through american history, destinations & legends since 2003., medicine bags or bundles.
Medicine bags, 1910. Image available for photo prints HERE .
The mountains, I become a part of it… The herbs, the fir tree, I become a part of it. The morning mists, the clouds, the gathering waters, I become a part of it. The wilderness, the dew drops, the pollen…I become a part of it.
– Navajo Chant
A Native American medicine bag or medicine bundle is a container for items believed to protect or give spiritual powers to its owner. Varying in size, it could be small enough to wear around the neck, or it could be a large bag with a long strap called a “bandolier.” The size of the bag is determined by how many items need to be carried.
In historical times, medicine men and shamans generally carried a large medicine bundle that could hold numerous items such as seeds, herbs, pine cones, grass, animal teeth or claws, horsehair, rocks, tobacco, beads, arrowheads, bones, or anything else of relatively small size that possessed spiritual value to the bundle’s owner. Warriors also carried bundles that included important items, such as rattles, animal furs, special stones, or anything that meant something to the owner.
Ojibwa Bandolier Bag
Because the medicine bag is considered a very precious possession representing a person’s spiritual life, it and its contents are generally regarded as holy by the tribal community. Its contents are meant to be kept secret by the owner. The bundle should never touch the ground, which is why the bundles are to be securely wrapped. Prayers and rituals usually accompany the manufacture and opening of medicine bundles.
Medicine bundles can also be maintained for an entire tribe. This bundle would be much larger and contain special objects that can only be handled by certain tribe members and are only opened on special occasions. All bags and bundles can possess powers for protection, good luck, good hunting, or healing. Medicine bundles are sometimes buried with the owner or handed down from one generation to the next.
In traditional Native American medicine, the pouch or bundle is usually made out of leather and stitched with sinew or rawhide lace to be worn or hung. They can also be made using cloth. The bags might be very plain or richly decorated. Of the latter, they might be painted, beaded, or quilled with tribal designs, medicine wheels, totems, and more. Embellishments might include feathers, beads, metal, fringe, etc.
In many cultures, some of the items carried in the bag would often be procured through a vision quest , a right of passage that includes personal sacrifice such as fasting and prayer over several days in an isolated location. The purpose is to contact natural spiritual forces that will guide the individual in reaching their potential and increase their understanding of themselves, their community, and the world. During the vision quest, a guardian spirit will generally come to the individual in a dream or a vision, which is afterward interpreted with the help of a Shaman. Some items within the individual’s medicine bag would represent their guardian spirit.
Though many people associate medicine bags with the native tribes of North America, they have been used by numerous cultures throughout the world. The use of medicine bags dates back at least 5,000 years, as evidenced by the ancient remains found high in the Swiss Alps in 1991. Among his possessions was a medicine pouch. Other historians believe the use of these bags dates back even further — as far as 10,000 years — based on murals found in an ancient city excavated in Turkey.
Your Medicine Bag
Meant to give guidance, good luck, good health, protection, abundance, and even love to the individuals who carry them, some may wish to carry their medicine bag tailored just for them.
In the Native American tradition, each bag contains an item from the plant kingdom, the animal kingdom, the mineral kingdom, and the human world. Examples from the “kingdoms” might include a flower, feather, stone, and a key.
Sage, Sweetgrass, Cedar Corn, Beans, and Squash Seeds Flowers, Leaves Tobacco Roots
Lock of hair, mane, or tail Bone or Tooth Feather Claw or Nail Shell
Stone Fetish Healing Stone Gems and Crystals Flint Stone, Arrowhead Dirt, Sand
Photo Key Charm Personal Item Coin
Incense over a medicine bundle, by Edward S. Curtis, 1908
Other items in the bag might include any small items which have a personal meaning to the owner – a charm, an inherited item, a shell found during an extraordinary vacation, a baby’s picture, a special note — things that make you smile.
Do some research on what your totem animal might be. Also referred to as your power animal or spirit animal, Native beliefs further explain that a totem animal is with you for life, both in the physical and spiritual world. Once you have determined what your spirit animal is, your bag should represent this powerful spirit. (See: Native American Totem Animals & Their Meanings )
Take a walk in Nature — observe, listen, pick things up. Do you feel a strong and clear connection with the item? Have you brought things home in the past and wondered why? Something like a rock, or a leaf, a memento of a special occasion. These are items that may belong in your bag. These articles create the energy in your medicine bag that represents your power to heal, guide, assist, and protect yourself and others.
Think about what special needs you might have, what you wish for, or what you want to maintain. For instance, if you are searching for balance in your life, you may want to represent that need within the medical bag, such as something that represents balancing symbols or Amethyst stones which work to promote balance, as well as improving motivation, enhancing memory, and having strong healing powers. Another individual looking to increase their mental and physical strength might add an arrowhead or agate stone to their bag; if you want to be more loving, you could place a small piece of rose quartz in your medicine bag.
Some people keep several medicine bags; each carried for different reasons – one for dealing with stress, another for a specific healing purpose, another for happiness.
The medicine bag is a sacred item and often worn around the neck, close to the heart. It can also be worn on a belt, put in a pocket, carried in a briefcase or purse, under clothing, on a saddle, in your car, or even placed under your pillow at night. By keeping it close, you are connecting with your spiritual self and helping yourself in healing.
Fill your medicine bag at Legends’ General Store
© Kathy Weiser / Legends of America , updated September 2021.
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Sage, sacred to Native Americans, is being used in purification rituals, raising issues of cultural appropriation
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Helen A. Berger receives funding from the Society for the Scientific Study of Religion, Association for the Sociology of Religion, and West Chester University.
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White sage, which is sacred to a number of Native American tribes in the southwest United States, has been adopted by both some contemporary Pagans and New Age practitioners for purification rites . As Emily McFarlan Miller reported in a recent Religion News Service article, this is resulting in overharvesting and shortages of the plant, making it harder for Native Americans to find enough for their sacred ceremonies.
In her groundbreaking book “ Purity and Danger ,” anthropologist Mary Douglas illustrates how purity and its maintenance are central to religion. It is a way to keep danger at bay as well as provide a way to separate the sacred from the mundane.
As a sociologist of religion who has studied contemporary Paganism for more than 30 years, I am aware of how important both contact with the spirit world and purification are in this religion. Contemporary Paganism is a set of religions that base their practice on what is known about pre-Christian religions in Europe, mixed with literature, science fiction and personal inspiration.
Within these religions nature is viewed as sacred , to be celebrated and protected. The celebration of nature takes several forms, the most common being a series of rituals that commemorate the changing seasons. Cleansing is a way to provide a safe place to interact with the spirit world, which is always part of Pagan rituals.
Purification can be done using a number of substances, including salt, rosemary and sometimes white sage. When purification includes the use of sage, it raises the issue of appropriation, as it has traditionally been used by Native Americans in their rituals.
Protection and cleansing
Pagan rituals take place outdoors, when possible, or sometimes in people’s homes or in occult bookstores. There is no set liturgy that everyone follows, and it is possible for people to create their own rituals.
Because there is no dedicated sanctified place, cleansing and protection become particularly important within Paganism . More mainstream religions have buildings, such as churches or synagogues, where they maintain sanctuaries for religious purposes only.
Pagans, to the contrary, have ritual areas that must be transformed from mundane to sacred use. Possibly more importantly, rituals are meant to open up the individual to the spiritual or other world. Magic, the process of changing reality to your will through incantations, is done in this realm.
As I learned when I was doing my research , most Pagans believe entering this realm holds both great possibilities and dangers. The cleansing and purification of the place and the participants are meant to protect them by keeping out unsavory spirits.
Purification can be done in several ways. When I began my research in 1986, it was most commonly done using salt and water. At Pagan ceremonies that I attended as a researcher, those leading the ritual would “cut” a sacred circle. This entailed walking around the circle carrying a ritual knife known as an athame while chanting an incantation that marked the area as a safe place that only the spirits called would enter. They then used salt and water to purify the circle.
In some of the rituals participants were already standing in the circle when this part of the ritual was done; in others they entered afterward. The participants were also purified, with salt, water, smoke from a candle, incense or rosemary and a crystal or rock, symbolizing Mother Earth.
White sage and cultural appropriation
Sometimes white sage was used for purification in a ritual. It was used because it was associated with Native American practice. As religious studies scholar Sarah Pike found among contemporary Pagans, cultural borrowing from Native Americans was seen as connecting the participants to the spirits that lived in the land around them.
Participants believed they were honoring the first people on the continent by incorporating elements of their spiritual practice. Some of the Pagan practitioners had received training from a Native American teacher. For many contemporary Pagans, Native American spirituality was a practice they wanted to emulate because of its connection to the land, to a spirit world, and because it predates Christianity and is native to the region. As contemporary Pagans often piece together different elements to create their spirituality, for many it seemed natural to include Native American practices.
As Pike notes, in the early 1990s Native Americans from several tribes began to express their rage at what they saw as “cultural strip mining,” the stealing and watering down of their culture and their spirituality, which they described as an extension of colonization that had stripped them of their original lands. The use of sage was not the only cultural artifact that these Native American spokespeople objected to being used by nonnatives. Traditional dress and eagles’ feathers were two other examples of commonly appropriated items .
As Pagans pride themselves on being sensitive to practices of diverse cultures, most quickly gave up the use of sage; the use of other Native American artifacts in Pagan practices became less common as well. Those who had been using sage returned to using either salt and water or rosemary for purification.
The use of sage by non-Native Americans is again becoming more prevalent. I noticed while doing my research in 1986 that white sage was sold at stores catering to the occult. It is now being more widely marketed by stores such as Walmart and Anthropologie.
The market has become larger as aspects of Pagan or New Age practices have seeped into more general practice and the number of Pagans has increased . It has become common, for example, for younger Americans to cleanse their homes of bad spirits with white sage even if they do not identify as Pagans. Added to this, those who are new to Paganism are often unaware of the history of appropriation and are repeating the errors of an earlier generation of Pagans and using sage in their rituals
Native Americans who normally pick the herb as they need it are complaining that they are unable to find enough for their spiritual needs. Fears have also been raised that overharvesting could result in the plant’s becoming extinct, resulting in the extinction of the animals that are dependent on it as well.
It would be both ironic and sad if in celebrating Mother Earth, Pagans helped to make a sacred herb extinct.
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How legal and cultural barriers keep Indigenous people from protecting sacred spaces off tribal land
When it comes to protecting sacred spaces off tribal land, tribes are challenged by outdated laws and a misunderstanding of their religious practices..
PHOENIX – Tourists speeding toward Grand Canyon National Park rarely notice the rocky protuberance that juts above the flat expanse of Arizona's Coconino Plateau.
But to the Havasu 'Baaja, known to the world as the Havasupai Tribe or "People of the Blue-Green Water," the isolated hill forms the center of their lands and spiritual life.
Red Butte (Wii'I Gdwiisa or "Clenched Fist Mountain") is the abdomen of Mother Earth. Mat Taav Tiivjunmdva, a meadow about three miles north of the distinctive mountain close to the Canyon's South Rim, is her navel.
But Red Butte and Mat Taav Tiivjunmdva are part of the Kaibab National Forest and do not lie within the trust land borders of the Havasupai, who were evicted from Grand Canyon National Park in 1919. That means a federal agency and not the Havasupai control the land, deciding who uses it and how. It means the Havasupai must argue their interests alongside other public land users.
And often it means someone else is allowed to use the land and, in the eyes of the Havasupai, desecrate it.
Native people have always regarded certain places like mountains, springs , particular groves of trees, rock formations or petroglyph sites as sacred spaces. These sites serve as churches, much like synagogues, mosques, temples or other structures serve Christians, Jews, Muslims, Hindus and other religious communities.
But like Red Butte and Mat Taav Tiivjunmdva, many of these spaces lie outside of tribal trust land borders, often on public lands. Some of the most well-known places are in Arizona and the southern Colorado River Valley.
Federal laws meant to protect these spaces or Native American religious practices often come up short. Some legal experts say the federal government seems to practice a double standard when it comes to upholding the religious rights of Native people.
Tribes must deal with a revolving door of federal officials and opposition by stakeholders like recreation companies or extraction firms. They also face a lack of knowledge by the public about these places and why Indigenous people fight to keep them from harm, or at least further harm.
Money is not worth the future , the destruction, the contamination of our home, the waters, the air, the earth, plant life, wildlife.
At Red Butte, the conflict has grown out of the forests and other lands surrounding the Grand Canyon, which are permeated with uranium ore that pierces the ground beneath in long, thin "breccia pipes."
The Mining Act of 1872 gives U.S. citizens the right to stake claims on federal lands. One claim led to a now-idled mine on the plateau in the vicinity of Mat Taav Tiivjunmdva.
The 750-member Havasupai Tribe, the only U.S. tribe that still lives below the South Rim of the Grand Canyon, has long been concerned about the mine. Members fear radioactive materials will contaminate their water supply and spoil the sparkling turquoise waters tourists seek out that provide tribal members with their principal revenue source, rendering what's left of their ancestral homeland uninhabitable.
The environmental damage could irreparably alter the ecology of the Canyon, the Havasupai say, and as it worsens, they could perish as a distinct people.
"When (the mining company) heard about our protest (against them), they approached us and offered us money and we told them, 'No, we don't want your money,'" the late Havasupai Chairman Rex Tilousi said during a 1992 hearing on uranium mining in Indigenous communities.
"Money is not worth the future, the destruction, the contamination of our home, the waters, the air, the earth, plant life, wildlife. When these things are contaminated, money will never cover the destruction which is going to happen if we let these mining companies come in and desecrate the areas we regard as very sacred."
The Havasupai and their environmentalist allies have lost at least two legal battles to prevent the mine from further development . In one case, the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals determined that because Red Butte had not been designated as a "historic property" eligible for inclusion on the National Register of Historic Places until 2010, the Forest Service did not have to consider the site when it conducted an environmental impact study and tribal consultation in 1986.
The tribe said its only hope to prevent any other mines from opening is a mining ban on land near the Canyon, a measure that passed the U.S. House in February and awaits Senate action.
But the mine near Red Butte would not close because it would predate the legislation.
It's that sort of bureaucratic obstacle Native people continue to fight across Arizona and the Southwest. Their long-held spiritual ties to the land have been broken by laws, redrawn boundaries and the regulations that open public lands to profitable uses.
Near Flagstaff, Arizona, the San Francisco Peaks have been the center of conflicts over reclaimed-wastewater use on a peak known as the home of the Hopi katsinam, the holy people who bring life-giving rain to the three mesas of the Hopi, among other activities. More than a dozen tribes consider the peaks sacred.
South Mountain in Phoenix, part of the nation's second-largest urban park, is a sacred space to the O'odham and Pee Posh, yet a spur of the peak was demolished for freeway construction.
Mount Graham in eastern Arizona was lost to Apaches at the stroke of a presidential pen and severely damaged by decades of logging, recreation and a huge observatory.
Oak Flat, near Superior, Arizona, is under sentence of obliteration despite being a vitally important sacred place to Apaches.
The Blythe Intaglios, some of the largest geoglyphs in the U.S., hold some protection, but others in the area are threatened by vandalism or unintentional destruction.
Tribes have tried to preserve these spaces, but they have lost court cases and administrative decisions, their spiritual claims pushed aside by the law.
And over time, these places held sacred by Indigenous people have become disputed spaces.
Centuries of anti-Native sentiment, laws hamper site protection
The federal government's philosophy of asserting moral and religious superiority over Native people may date back to a directive issued by a 15th century pope.
Steven Newcomb, Shawnee and Lenape, has studied how international law affects U.S. laws that apply to Indigenous nations and people for nearly 40 years. His research revealed that in 1493, the issuance of a papal bull , or decree, bestowed authority over the Western Hemisphere on Christian rulers.
That decree influenced how the U.S. regards Christianity as a superior religion, said Newcomb, author of "Pagans in the Promised Land: Decoding the Doctrine of Christian Discovery." U.S. Supreme Court Chief Justice John Marshall referred to the " Doctrine of Discovery " in at least one of the three decisions he wrote in the early 19th century known as the Marshall Trilogy that laid the foundation of federal Indian law.
Marshall wrote that in 1496, King Henry VII of Britain commissioned explorer John Cabot to discover countries then unknown to Christians and claim them in the king's name. He asserted a right to take possession of the United States, "notwithstanding the occupancy of the natives, who were heathens, and, at the same time, admitting the prior title of any Christian people who may have made a previous discovery."
"The distinction that the chief justice made is between Christian people and Natives who are 'heathens,'" Newcomb said. "What's being used against Native nations is the Bible and Christianity, and the idea that the chosen people have been chosen to take over the lands that God bequeathed to them as an everlasting possession or inheritance."
From 1883 until 1934, the U.S. officially forbade Native American religious practices through the " Code of Indian Offenses ." The document was intended to obliterate Native cultures by halting religious and cultural practices.
Retired law professor Robert N. Clinton noted in a 2008 blog post that medicine practices, Native dances, giving marriage gifts to the bride's family, traditional reciprocal gift-giving and other customs were all made punishable offenses, sometimes by denying food for violations, other times with jail terms.
Commissioner of Indian Affairs John Collier took a more progressive approach to Native issues. He issued a 1934 circular ending the practice: "The cultural liberty of Indians is in all respects to be considered equal to that of any non-Indian group."
Congress passed the American Indian Religious Freedom Act of 1978 , known as AIRFA . The legislation sought to reverse longtime federal policies that prohibited Indigenous people from practicing their religions.
This policy statement established federal policies to "protect and preserve for American Indians their inherent right of freedom to believe, express, and exercise the traditional religions of the American Indian, Eskimo, Aleut, and Native Hawaiians." The legislation also called for access to cultural sites, use and possession of sacred objects, and the freedom to worship.
The Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993 prohibits state or federal governments from placing substantial burdens on a person's religious exercise except under certain conditions.
Other federal laws also govern how agencies make decisions about projects on public lands and protect Indigenous cultural and religious spaces.
Marc Fink, a senior attorney with the Center for Biological Diversity, said laws like National Environmental Policy Act , or NEPA, give the public a chance to participate in public land decision making; allow for other agencies like the Environmental Protection Agency, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and state agencies to weigh in on projects; and create the opportunity for public land agencies to "look before they leap" into projects that may have an impact on ecologies.
But Fink said the courts have made clear that NEPA is a procedural law, not an enforcement act. This means federal agencies don't have to heed the reports they generate when issuing a final decision on a project known as a Record of Decision , except to comply with enforceable laws like the Endangered Species Act or the Clean Water Act.
Although these laws contain some provisions for private and state lands, NEPA and the National Historic Preservation Act of 1966 , or NHPA, extend protections of cultural heritage sites, ancestral burials and landscapes primarily to public lands, said Shannon O'Loughlin, chief executive and attorney at the Association on American Indian Affairs.
She said this situation creates a "checkerboard" of cultural heritage protection among federal land, other public lands and private land.
"Our cultural heritage and sacred places should be treated with that same kind of protection holistically all across the country, not just on federal land," she said.
In some Midwestern states or along the Mississippi River, where mound-building cultures held sway for centuries before Europeans arrived, O'Loughlin said, non-Native people feel they have carte blanche to dig up and loot sacred places.
"Those states have treated those sites like they are their own cultural heritage instead of the Indigenous peoples' around them," she said.
Tribal consultation, which is mandated in all areas of federal land project proposals, is a sore subject for tribes.
"NEPA and NHPA only require that consultation processes be followed," O'Loughlin said. "To many, consultation is just a procedural check-off box."
And, she said, effective consultation depends on personnel on-site at any particular time. "It's dependent on who's staffing the agency," O'Loughlin said.
That gives federal land managers great discretion in land and resource use and protection, said John Welch, a professor at Simon Fraser University in British Columbia and head of landscape and site protection programs at Archaeology Southwest.
"Sacred sites lack specific and enforceable protections," he said.
The Arizona Republic, part of the USA TODAY Network, talked with many tribal leaders and tribal organizations who almost unanimously agreed with O'Loughlin's and Welch's assessments.
In one example, The Republic obtained a letter from the Pueblo of Zuni to President Joe Biden regarding an executive order directing the advancement of racial equity and support for underserved communities .
"Without directly, foundationally, and restoratively confronting and continually materially addressing and redressing geographical injustices of governmental and colonial-settler actions, programs, and procedures that have occurred – and continue to occur – over space and time, the Biden-Harris Administration ... cannot sincerely, meaningfully, honestly, or effectively advance any reasonable levels or forms of equity and support for Native peoples," said the letter, signed by Zuni Governor Val R. Panteah.
"On the contrary," the letter said, "the Administration will simply perpetuate and reproduce ongoing injustices of ethnically cleansing Native peoples from Native lands."
Agencies frequently make only cursory consultations or, in the worst cases, claim that simply sending a notification letter to the tribe fulfills consultation protocols. Others reach out to a tribal community only at the end of a project, which gives the tribe no opportunity to participate in discussions or to help develop the project in a way all parties can live with .
O'Loughlin, a citizen of the Choctaw Nation, contrasted cultural and sacred site protection with clean air and water legislation or endangered species protection, which are regulated nationwide and not just on public lands.
"If an eagle dies and falls on a piece of property out here, I have absolutely no right to that eagle," O'Loughlin said. "I can't take a part of it, I can't use it, and can't make something out of it. I have to call the feds."
She's referring to federal laws and regulations that protect eagles and their parts. Even as a member of a federally recognized tribe that has legal rights to own and use eagle feathers or eagle parts, O'Loughlin still must abide by these laws.
O'Loughlin said that because the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act , or NAGPRA, doesn't require that burials be left in place, the government's stance seems to be, "We just have to dig it up and pay to have the ancestors stored in a museum."
The result: "There is nothing in federal law that's required for a site to be sacred," O'Loughlin said. "There's no legal requirement to save a sacred place."
'Catastrophic' damage to religious and cultural sites
The damage to Indigenous cultures from destroying sacred sites can be catastrophic, said David Martinez, an associate professor of American Indian studies at Arizona State University.
"If you put a road through a sacred site, then you put something that doesn't respect that space as belonging to the spirits that dwell there," he said. "One of the most immediate consequences is that part of your culture is likely to perish."
Native cultural rights advocates point out that the land itself is what gives a place its sacred significance. If those sites are altered or destroyed, they say, the spirituality they hold disappears.
The belief of many communities is that the development has disrupted the communication between the people and the spirit.
That's because once the place contains artifacts that Martinez said Americans regard as progress, many medicine people won't return to that site.
"They think it's contaminated," said Martinez, an enrolled member of the Gila River Indian Community who is Akimel O'odham and Hia Ced O'odham.
Despite decades of studies conducted by federal agencies, Native religious practices that depend on specific sites are consistently given short shrift when land use decisions are made.
The Republic examined reports covering the past decade in Arizona and found that federal environmental impact studies carefully explain the cultural damage that could occur with project alternatives and suggest mitigation strategies, such as removal of archaeological artifacts.
Mining firms and developers argue that their projects will be environmentally sound. They promise to fund archaeological firms and hire tribal members to salvage what artifacts or plants they can before the land succumbs to excavation or paving.
But tribal cultural practitioners and legal experts say the laws and policies meant to bolster First Amendment religious rights fall far short of protecting Native religious rights. Law professors Stephanie Hall Barclay and Michalyn Steele recently published an article in the Harvard Law Review detailing those laws' shortcomings.
"The callous destruction of Indigenous sacred sites is not just a troubling relic of the past," they wrote. As recently as 2020, the U.S. blew up Apache burial sites to clear the land for the border wall. In 2018, a federal court ruled that a Native burial ground and stone altar still used for religious ceremonies could be bulldozed "merely to expand a road."
The scholars wrote that the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, the Free Exercise Clause in the First Amendment, and other such legal protections have been eviscerated by the courts when it comes to Native religion, stripping them of their ability to protect sacred sites.
Lyng v. Northwest Indian Cemetery , a case that's taught in many Indian law classes as one of the chief culprits in weakening the American Indian Religious Freedom Act, set the stage for other Native sacred site cases to come.
In 1988, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled against Northern California tribes seeking to prevent a logging road from irreparably damaging sacred sites, even after the environmental impact study recommended against the U.S. Forest Service constructing the road.
"Even assuming that the Government's actions here will virtually destroy the Indians' ability to practice their religion, the Constitution simply does not provide a principle that could justify upholding respondents' legal claims," Justice Sandra Day O'Connor wrote on behalf of the majority.
The court also wrote that the federal government has the right to use its land however it decides, and that if the government does not force a tribe or tribal member to forgo a government benefit such as Social Security or other benefit to practice their religion, there is no substantial burden on those religious practices.
"When the government has created an obstacle that physically impedes the ability of Christian worshippers to access their sacred spaces, we view this as a particularly egregious burden on religious exercise," wrote Barclay, a non-Indian, and Steele, who is a citizen of the Seneca Nation of Indians of New York. "But when the government desecrates, destroys, and removes access to Indigenous sacred sites – making previous religious ceremonies physically impossible at those locations – the coercion evaporates."
Barclay and Steele agreed with O'Loughlin's assessment that protected species often receive more protections than do Indigenous people for their religious practices on government land.
In recent years, several sacred and cultural sites in Arizona and Southern California have been threatened or damaged. Tribal cultural practitioners and advocates say they have been spiritually, chemically or physically contaminated, resulting in cultural and religious losses, sometimes forever.
"The belief of many communities is that the development has disrupted the communication between the people and the spirit," Martinez said.
And if ceremonies cease to take place at that site, he said, or if medicine people or other cultural practitioners quit practicing their religion, the cultures suffer from neglect and can eventually perish.
'Trying to understand our humanity'
Sacred lands still face new threats. One development that concerns the Mojave as well as the Quechan, the Chemehuevi and other southern desert people is the expansion of solar plants.
"With the encroachment of solar," Colorado River Indian Tribes Chairwoman Amelia Flores said, "we have tried to establish a relationship with the BLM, since it controls those lands that hold sites that our ancestors carved out, whether it be the petroglyphs, the rock shrines or even the trails."
About 10 million acres of Bureau of Land Management-controlled lands in the Mojave and Sonoran deserts in California fall under the Desert Renewable Energy Conservation Plan .
Developed by federal and state agencies, the plan, which encompasses a total of 22.6 million acres of federal and nonfederal lands, acknowledges the rich cultural and tribal heritage of southeastern California as well as a diverse range of plants and animals like desert tortoises, which are threatened. The plan seeks to protect sensitive cultural and ecological sites while allowing for solar plants in selected places.
But tribes are still concerned that the millennial-long evidence of their existence in the harsh lands will disappear underneath bulldozers and pavement. Environmental groups share that concern, particularly after the Trump administration attempted to amend the plan to allow for faster approvals of renewable energy projects and broadband infrastructure. The Biden administration rescinded that move in February.
Biden has made tribal consultation and building stronger intergovernmental relations a priority. The day he took office, Biden issued a memorandum to federal agencies that he said reaffirmed the principles of the Clinton-era executive order.
A memorandum of understanding created cross-agency protocols for sacred site protection in 2012. The original agreement was slated to expire in 2017 but was extended through 2024.
On her first day in office in March, Interior Secretary Deb Haaland met with several Native American journalists, including a Republic reporter, about her goals in managing the nation's largest agency. During the online meeting, she pledged to give tribes a greater voice in public land management.
"I want to make sure that every tribe has an opportunity to speak to me, to speak to other agencies across the federal government, and that those voices are extremely important," she said. "I want the era where tribes have been on the back burner to be over, and I want to make sure that they have real opportunities to have a seat at the table."
The Interior Department declined further comment for this story.
The Forest Service "committed to ensuring a consistent level of protection for American Indian and Alaska Native sacred sites on National Forest System lands," said an Agriculture Department spokesperson.
The agency has a strong working relationship with the Interior Department and has a goal of reviewing and updating the interagency sacred site protection memorandum of understating, the spokesperson said. The agency also wants to ensure that "tribes have a proper voice on land issues about Indian sacred sites."
Our spiritual ties with nature is something that will never be understood outside of Indigenous cultures.
Native rights supporters suggest a variety of moves that can help make protecting cultural and sacred sites easier , or at least not as fraught as in past years .
Consultation early and often between tribes and agencies is one strategy that can help protect sacred sites, said O'Loughlin.
"We need to define consultation as a substantive right and manage it that way," she said.
As some Indigenous groups are doing in other nations, tribes could find resources to evaluate religious and cultural heritage sites in advance of proposed uses like mines and logging. Those evaluations would be held as confidential by the tribal government unless they're needed, O'Loughlin said.
The Zuni tribal letter called for the assessment and transformation of the National Historic Preservation Act and National Environmental Protection Act that the tribe said create structural barriers to tribal input and respect for tribal cultural values.
These and other such laws embed the concept of tribal cultural material as archeological, which the tribe said enables governments to "de-legitimize nonarchaeological claims about the role of material culture in supporting claims to certain cultural affiliations and traditions and, thus land."
Martinez said more Americans should recognize that cultures are worth protecting.
"I think that American society is still influenced by this archaic melting pot ideology that became popularized 100 years ago with Teddy Roosevelt's political agenda," he said. "That ideology was imposed upon Indians in the reservation system, including the whole boarding school project, to assimilate into the American melting pot."
Cultural preservation should be regarded as a vital part of democracy and not just within the realm of historians and anthropologists, Martinez said.
"It's America's agenda for its future, because the more diversity that exists, including Indigenous diversity, I think the better it is for a democracy like the United States, which purports to represent a broad spectrum of people, and it presumes to have people from all parts of the globe living here."
Martinez hopes to educate people to understand that when they hear an Indigenous culture is under threat, they respond in the same manner as they would if they heard whales are in danger. In other words, he said he wants people to "feel more outrage that these things are happening in the first place."
Cora Maxx-Phillips, a Navajo human rights activist, said the issue goes far beyond how laws are interpreted. "When we come to the word 'sacredness,' Westernized society does not have an inkling as to what that is," she said. "Our spiritual ties with nature is something that will never be understood outside of Indigenous cultures."
But Maxx-Phillips also has an idea how to resolve that misunderstanding. "I'm looking at how we begin working on doing some more cross-cultural understanding," she said.
"I think that, that will maybe help us in trying to understand our humanity."
Follow reporter Debra Krol on Twitter: @debkrol.
Arizona Republic coverage of Indigenous issues at the intersection of climate, culture and commerce is supported by the Catena Foundation and the Water Funder Initiative.
Unlocking the Mystery: Native American Spirit Guide Meanings
The Native American Spirit Guide meaning holds a profound significance in the spiritual beliefs and practices of many Native American tribes. These spirit guides, also known as power animals or totems, are believed to be wise and powerful beings that assist individuals on their journey through life. They are said to provide guidance, protection, and support, and their presence is often sought during important rituals and ceremonies. Understanding the meaning behind these spirit guides can offer valuable insights into the Native American worldview and shed light on their deep connection with nature and the spiritual realm.
But what exactly do these spirit guides represent, and how do they communicate with humans? The answers lie in the rich tapestry of Native American mythology and folklore, which we will explore in this article. We will delve into the various animal archetypes that serve as spirit guides, each possessing unique qualities and characteristics. Whether it be the cunning and resourcefulness of the fox, the strength and perseverance of the bear, or the grace and agility of the eagle, each spirit guide brings its own wisdom and teachings to those who seek its guidance. So, join us on this captivating journey as we unravel the mysteries of Native American spirit guides and discover the profound meanings they hold for those who embrace their presence.
Understanding the meaning behind Native American Spirit Guides can be a challenging and perplexing journey for many individuals. These ancient spiritual beings, deeply rooted in Native American traditions, offer guidance and support to those seeking a connection with their higher selves. However, the lack of comprehensive resources and accessible information on this topic can leave individuals feeling lost and confused. Many struggle to find authentic and accurate interpretations of their Spirit Guide’s messages, leading to frustration and uncertainty. Additionally, the cultural appropriation and misrepresentation of Native American traditions further compound the pain points experienced by those sincerely seeking a genuine understanding of their Spirit Guide’s significance.
The main points to consider when exploring the meaning of Native American Spirit Guides and related keywords are the rich cultural heritage they originate from, the importance of respecting and honoring Native American traditions, and the significance of connecting with one’s higher self through these spiritual beings. It is crucial to recognize the deep-rooted wisdom and spiritual practices of Native American cultures when delving into this topic. By approaching the subject with curiosity, respect, and a desire for genuine understanding, individuals can embark on a transformative journey of self-discovery and connection with their Spirit Guides. Engaging in appropriate research, seeking guidance from knowledgeable sources, and embracing the teachings and symbolism associated with Native American Spirit Guides can pave the way towards a more meaningful spiritual journey.
Native American Spirit Guide Meaning
The Native American culture is deeply rooted in spirituality, and one of the most significant aspects of their belief system is the concept of spirit guides. These spiritual beings are thought to assist individuals in navigating life’s challenges and provide guidance on their spiritual journey. Understanding the meaning of Native American spirit guides can offer valuable insights into their rich cultural heritage and profound connection with nature.
Origins of Native American Spirit Guides
The notion of spirit guides is not unique to Native American tribes; it can be found in various indigenous cultures worldwide. However, the Native American understanding of these spiritual entities is deeply intertwined with their reverence for nature and the interconnectedness of all living things.
In Native American traditions, spirit guides are believed to be powerful beings from the spirit world who assume various forms, such as animals, ancestors, or mythical creatures. Each individual is said to have a primary spirit guide that serves as their guardian throughout life. Additionally, they may have secondary spirit guides that appear during specific times or circumstances to offer guidance and protection.
Symbolism of Animal Spirit Guides
Animals play a vital role in Native American spirituality, and they are often regarded as messengers from the spirit realm. Different animals are associated with specific qualities and characteristics, making them ideal spirit guides for various aspects of life.
The bear, for example, symbolizes strength, courage, and introspection. It represents the ability to face challenges head-on and find inner strength during difficult times. The eagle, on the other hand, embodies wisdom, foresight, and spiritual illumination. It is often associated with messages from the divine and acts as a guide to higher realms of consciousness.
Other common animal spirit guides include the wolf (loyalty, teamwork), the deer (gentleness, sensitivity), and the owl (intuition, wisdom). Each animal spirit guide has its unique symbolism and is believed to provide specific guidance and protection to those who connect with them.
Connecting with Spirit Guides
Native Americans believe that everyone has the ability to connect with their spirit guides through various spiritual practices and rituals. These practices often involve meditation, prayer, and spending time in nature.
One common method for connecting with spirit guides is through vision quests. Vision quests are solitary journeys undertaken by individuals seeking spiritual enlightenment and guidance. During these quests, individuals may fast, meditate, or engage in other rituals to open themselves up to communication from their spirit guides.
Another way to connect with spirit guides is through dream interpretation. Native Americans believe that dreams are a powerful medium for receiving messages from the spirit world. By paying attention to their dreams and interpreting their symbolism, individuals can gain valuable insights and guidance from their spirit guides.
The Role of Spirit Guides in Daily Life
Native Americans view spirit guides as constant companions who offer support and guidance in all aspects of life. They believe that spirit guides can help individuals make important decisions, overcome challenges, and find their true purpose.
For example, if someone is facing a difficult decision, they may seek guidance from their spirit guide through meditation or prayer. The spirit guide may offer insights and perspective that help the individual make a more informed choice.
Additionally, spirit guides are thought to provide protection and ward off negative energies. Native Americans often invoke their spirit guides for assistance in times of danger or when facing spiritual threats.
Respecting the Wisdom of Spirit Guides
In Native American culture, it is essential to approach spirit guides with respect and humility. They are seen as powerful beings with vast wisdom and knowledge, and their guidance should be honored and followed.
Native Americans believe that spirit guides communicate through signs and omens in the natural world. These signs can manifest as animal encounters, unusual weather patterns, or other synchronicities. By paying attention to these signs, individuals can deepen their connection with their spirit guides and gain a better understanding of the guidance they offer.
The concept of spirit guides holds immense significance in Native American culture. By embracing the symbolism and wisdom of animal spirit guides, individuals can tap into a deeper understanding of themselves and the world around them. Connecting with spirit guides allows Native Americans to navigate their spiritual journey with guidance, protection, and a profound sense of harmony with nature.
Whether through vision quests, dream interpretation, or daily rituals, the Native American belief in spirit guides remains a vital aspect of their spiritual practices. By respecting and honoring the wisdom of these spiritual beings, Native Americans continue to pass down their rich cultural heritage and strengthen their profound connection with the natural world.
The Native American spirit guide meaning refers to the concept of spiritual beings or entities that guide and protect individuals on their life journey. In Native American cultures, it is believed that every person has a unique spirit guide who offers wisdom, support, and guidance in times of need. These guides can take the form of animals, ancestors, or even mythical creatures.
Native Americans have a deep connection with nature and believe that animals possess powerful spiritual qualities. Each animal is associated with specific traits and qualities that can be interpreted as messages or lessons from the spirit guide. For example, the eagle is often seen as a symbol of strength, freedom, and vision, while the bear represents protection, healing, and introspection.
The Native American spirit guide meaning goes beyond just animal symbolism. It encompasses a wide range of spiritual beings, including ancestors and mythical creatures. Ancestors are revered and respected in Native American culture, and they are believed to offer guidance and protection from the spirit world. Mythical creatures, such as dragons or unicorns, are also considered spirit guides in some tribes, representing wisdom, magic, and transformation.
Overall, the Native American spirit guide meaning is deeply rooted in the belief that there is a spiritual realm interconnected with the physical world. These guides serve as intermediaries between the two realms, offering insights, protection, and support to individuals seeking spiritual guidance.
Listicle of Native American Spirit Guide Meaning
1. Animal Guides: Native Americans believe that animals possess spiritual qualities and can serve as guides. Some common animal guides include the eagle, bear, wolf, and owl.
2. Ancestor Guides: Ancestors hold a significant place in Native American culture, and their guidance is highly valued. They offer wisdom, protection, and a connection to one’s heritage.
3. Mythical Creature Guides: Some tribes believe in the presence of mythical creatures as spirit guides. These creatures symbolize various qualities like magic, transformation, and wisdom.
4. Signs and Symbols: Native Americans interpret signs and symbols from their spirit guides as messages or lessons. These signs can appear in dreams, visions, or through encounters with animals in the physical world.
5. Personal Journey: Each individual’s spirit guide is unique and tailored to their personal journey. The guide may change throughout one’s life, reflecting different needs and growth opportunities.
The Native American spirit guide meaning is a rich and complex concept that encompasses a deep connection with nature, ancestors, and the spiritual realm. It offers individuals guidance, protection, and a sense of belonging in the world.
Question and Answer: Native American Spirit Guide Meaning
1. Q: What is a Native American spirit guide? A: A Native American spirit guide is a spiritual entity that is believed to provide guidance, protection, and assistance to individuals within Native American cultures.
2. Q: How do Native Americans connect with their spirit guides? A: Native Americans connect with their spirit guides through various practices such as meditation, prayer, rituals, and ceremonies. These practices help them establish a spiritual connection and open themselves to receiving guidance and wisdom from their spirit guides.
3. Q: Can anyone have a Native American spirit guide? A: Yes, anyone can have a Native American spirit guide. It is not limited to individuals of Native American descent. Spirit guides are believed to be universal and can connect with anyone who seeks their guidance and is open to their presence.
4. Q: What is the significance of Native American spirit guide symbolism? A: Native American spirit guide symbolism often involves animals, elements, or natural forces. Each symbol carries its own unique meaning and message, providing guidance and insights into various aspects of life such as personal strengths, challenges, or spiritual growth.
Conclusion of Native American Spirit Guide Meaning
In conclusion, Native American spirit guides play a significant role in the spiritual beliefs and practices of Native American cultures. These spiritual entities offer guidance, protection, and support to individuals who seek their assistance. Through various practices, individuals can connect with their spirit guides and benefit from their wisdom and insights. The symbolism associated with spirit guides, often represented by animals or natural elements, further enhances the understanding of their messages and helps individuals navigate their spiritual journeys. Regardless of cultural background, anyone can connect with a Native American spirit guide and experience the profound spiritual connection it offers.
Thank you for taking the time to visit our blog and learn about the fascinating world of Native American spirit guide meanings. We hope that this article has provided you with valuable insights and a deeper understanding of the significance of spirit guides in Native American culture.
Throughout history, Native Americans have held a deep spiritual connection with nature and the animal kingdom. One of the ways they tapped into this connection was through their belief in spirit guides – powerful beings that offer guidance, protection, and support. These spirit guides take the form of animals, and each animal holds a specific meaning and symbolism.
By understanding the meaning behind different spirit animals, we can gain a greater understanding of ourselves and the world around us. For example, the hawk represents vision and insight, while the bear embodies strength and healing. These animals can serve as powerful allies and sources of inspiration as we navigate our own spiritual journey.
We hope that this article has shed some light on the significance of spirit guide meanings in Native American culture. Remember, these meanings are deeply personal and can vary from individual to individual. So, if you feel drawn to a particular spirit animal, take the time to explore its symbolism and see how it resonates with your own life and experiences.
Thank you once again for joining us on this exploration of Native American spirit guide meanings. We encourage you to continue seeking knowledge and embracing the wisdom of these ancient traditions. May your spiritual journey be filled with guidance, growth, and harmony.
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Native American Spirit Guides: Meanings and Significance
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Native American cultures have a deep connection to the spirit world, believing that spirits can provide guidance, protection, and healing. These spirits are commonly referred to as spirit guides or totems. Each tribe and indigenous group has their own unique beliefs and practices when it comes to spirit guides. In this blog post, we will explore the meanings and significance of Native American spirit guides.
What are Native American Spirit Guides?
Native American spirit guides are often seen as personal protectors and teachers who assist individuals in navigating through life’s challenges and discovering their true path and purpose. These guides can manifest in different forms such as animals, plants, celestial bodies, and natural elements. They are believed to possess wisdom and supernatural abilities that they can share with those who seek their guidance.
The concept of spirit guides is prevalent in Native American cultures across the Americas, including but not limited to tribes such as the Lakota, Navajo, Cherokee, Apache, and Hopi. However, it is important to note that each tribe has its own unique interpretation and understanding of spirit guides.
Types of Native American Spirit Guides
In Native American cultures, spirit guides can appear in various forms, each carrying its own symbolic meaning and teachings. Here are some commonly recognized types of spirit guides:
Animal Spirit Guides
Animal spirit guides are one of the most well-known and prevalent forms of spirit guides in Native American traditions. Different animals are associated with specific qualities and characteristics. For example:
These are just a few examples, and the symbolism behind animals may vary between tribes. Animal spirits are believed to offer their unique qualities and teachings to those who connect with them.
Plant Spirit Guides
Similar to animal spirit guides, plant spirit guides are considered sacred and offer their unique wisdom. Plants such as sage, cedar, tobacco, and sweetgrass hold significant spiritual value in Native American cultures. Each plant has its own unique medicinal and ceremonial uses and is believed to possess particular spiritual powers.
Celestial Spirit Guides
Celestial spirit guides refer to spirit entities associated with celestial bodies such as stars, the moon, and the sun. Native American tribes often interpret celestial phenomena as messages from the spirit realm. For example, an eclipse might signify a time of transformation and change, while the rising of a specific star might indicate the arrival of a guiding spirit.
Natural Element Spirit Guides
The elements of nature, such as fire, water, earth, and air, are believed to have their own spirits that can act as guides. These elements are considered essential forces of life and are deeply respected in Native American culture. Each element carries its own symbolism and teachings.
Connecting with Native American Spirit Guides
Connecting with Native American spirit guides requires openness, respect, and a willingness to learn. Here are some practices that individuals may use to establish or strengthen their connection:
A vision quest involves spending time alone in nature, seeking guidance and clarity from the spirit realm. The quester may engage in fasting, meditation, and other rituals to facilitate communication with spirit guides.
Native Americans place great importance on dreams as a means of communication from the spirit world. Keeping a dream journal and analyzing dreams for symbols and messages can aid in connecting with spirit guides.
Meditation and Prayer
Regular meditation and prayer provide opportunities for quiet reflection and an open channel for communication with spirit guides. Creating a sacred space and using ritual objects such as feathers, drums, and smudge sticks can enhance the experience.
Rituals and Ceremonies
Participating in traditional Native American rituals and ceremonies can deepen the connection with spirit guides. Sweatlodges, smudging ceremonies, and sacred dances are just a few examples of the spiritual practices used to honor and connect with spirit guides.
Significance and Impact on Daily Life
Native American spirit guides hold deep significance in the lives of individuals who connect with them. They can offer guidance and protection during times of uncertainty, provide comfort and healing during difficult situations, and help individuals make important decisions.
Many Native Americans incorporate the teachings of their spirit guides into their daily lives. For example, if someone has a bear as a spirit guide, they may embrace qualities such as strength and introspection in their personal and professional pursuits.
Native American spirit guides also contribute to the preservation of cultural identity. They provide a spiritual link to ancestral traditions and help maintain a connection with the natural world, promoting respect and harmony between humans and the environment.
Native American spirit guides play a fundamental role in the spiritual practices and beliefs of indigenous cultures. Whether manifested as animal, plant, celestial, or natural element spirits, these guides offer guidance, protection, and wisdom to those who seek their assistance. Connecting with spirit guides requires openness, respect, and a willingness to learn from the teachings they offer. By honoring and embracing the meanings and significance of Native American spirit guides, individuals can deepen their connection with the spirit world and their own personal journey through life.
Remember, each tribe and indigenous group has their own unique interpretations and practices regarding spirit guides. It is essential to approach these beliefs with reverence and an appreciation for the diversity of Native American cultures and traditions.
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Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act
The Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act of 1990 (NAGPRA) ( 25 USC 32 ) and associated regulations ( 43 CFR 10 ) governs the return of Native American remains, funerary objects, sacred objects, and objects of cultural patrimony to lineal descendants, culturally-affiliated Indian Tribes, and Native Hawaiian organizations.
Through the provisions of NAGPRA, the federal government acts to treat the remains of Native ancestors and their belongings with dignity, and to return them to their communities with respect for their customs, religion, and traditions.
How NAGPRA Works
NAGPRA requires federal agencies and institutions that receive federal funds (including museums, universities, state agencies, and local governments) to repatriate or transfer Native American human remains and other cultural items to the appropriate parties by:
- Consulting with lineal descendants, Indian Tribes, and Native Hawaiian organizations on Native American human remains and other cultural items;
- Protecting and planning for Native American human remains and other cultural items that may be removed from federal or Tribal lands;
- Identifying and reporting all Native American human remains and other cultural items in inventories and summaries of holdings or collections; and
- Giving notice prior to repatriating or transferring human remains and other cultural items.
NAGPRA at the Bureau of Indian Affairs
The Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) is the caretaker of a large collection of Native American human remains and other cultural items. The BIA is working to inventory and identify these items so they can be returned to culturally-affiliated Tribes and Native Hawaiian organizations. As of 2023, the BIA has repatriated over 2,608 ancestors and 35,816 associated funerary objects to their Tribes, communities, and descendants.
The BIA continues to consult with Tribal communities and publish inventories of Native American remains and cultural items housed in museums and universities across the United States. The BIA has located 37 institutions who possess part of the BIA’s NAGPRA collection, encompassing 1,111 individual human remains and over 3,900 associated funerary objects.
The number of institutions identified as holding NAGPRA items will increase as the inventory of the NAGPRA collection is completed and the BIA’s repatriation efforts continue.
NAGPRA Next Steps
Lineal descendants, Indian Tribes, and Native Hawaiian organizations may submit requests for repatriation in response to notices published in the Federal Register . Learn more about how to find notices and submit requests .
Federal agencies that have excavated or discovered Native American human remains or other cultural items on federal or Tribal land after November 16, 1990 should review the Compliance on Federal and Tribal Lands guide on the National NAGPRA website .
What Would You Like to Do?
What you need to know, additional information, additional resources.
- National Park Service: Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act
- Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act (25 USC 32)
- Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act Regulations (43 CFR 10)
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