Native American Traditions

Social media helps Native Americans preserve cultural traditions during pandemic

February 9, 2021

Lawrence Wetsit misses the days when his people would gather by the hundreds and sing the songs that all Assiniboine children are expected to learn by age 15.

"We can't have ceremony without memorizing all of the songs, songs galore," he said. "We're not supposed to record them: We have to be there. And when that doesn't happen in my grandchildren's life, they may never catch up."

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Bill to ban Native mascots, logos and symbols in public schools is debated in the Washington state Legislature

February 6, 2021

In the center of Ivy Pete’s high school’s office sits a glass case caging two Native American mascots in tribal dress. To her, they do not represent a real group of humans or a culture. They symbolize “the defeated and extinct Native American, akin to animals in a zoo,” she said. 

Pete, a 16-year-old student from Spokane and member of the Paiute tribe, spoke in support of a bill introduced in the Washington Legislature to prohibit such displays in public schools, along with other Native American symbols considered by many to be insulting.

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Shoshone remember Bear River Massacre with smaller ceremony during pandemic

February 3, 2021

For members of the Northwestern Band of Shoshone Nation, Jan. 29 is an emotional day — a day of remembrance for the hundreds of ancestors who lost their lives 158 years ago near Preston, Idaho.

On Friday, they held a memorial for those victims of the Bear River Massacre overlooking the very land they were murdered on.

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The Largest Native American Two-Spirit Powwow Celebrates Its 10th Anniversary

February 1, 2021

On February 11, 2012, the Bay Area American Indian Two-Spirits organization (BAAITS) held the first ever Native American Two-Spirit Powwow. A powwow is a cultural celebration that includes traditions like singing, dancing, and drumming. The team behind the first BAAITS Powwow sought to de-gender these traditions and bring Two-Spirit people, those who do not identify within the gender binary, together from tribes across North and Central America. 

They did all of that and more.

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'Where is our humanity?': A Minnesota man is on a mission to keep Native burial customs alive during the pandemic

February 1, 2021

Long Hollow, S.D. – Braving bitter cold and gusting winds, nearly a dozen people said prayers in their native Dakota language as they watched a bonfire blaze through a deceased man's clothing, sending a thin trail of smoke drifting over the snow-covered hills on the Lake Traverse Indian Reservation in South Dakota.

The traditional burning of garments represented a final rite of passage for the spirit of Francis Jay Country Jr., a 66-year-old tribal elder and musician whose life was cut short this month by the coronavirus. The bonfire also culminated two days of...

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Harnessing People Power to Protect Alaska’s Last Remaining Wilderness

February 1, 2021

January has seen major progress toward protecting the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, thanks to the organizing power of three distinct communities—Indigenous activists, TikTok creators, and the makers of an unfinished documentary film—that came together toward a common goal.

In December, with an oil lease sale looming and the Trump administration trying to push through a seismic study for oil...

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What Does It Mean to Restore Bears Ears, in Words and in Spirit?

January 26, 2021

One of the lessons of the Trump era, taught mostly through negative example, is that words matter. What we call people affects how we treat people. This is also true for the land—what we call a place affects how it is treated.

Bears Ears National Monument—the 1.35 million acres of rugged and beautiful land in southeast Utah declared by President Obama in 2016 and reduced by 85 percent a year later by President Trump in US history’s largest public lands protection downsizing—has been called many names over the years, including Hoon’Naqvut, Shash Jaa’,...

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Tribal Elders Are Dying From the Pandemic, Causing a Cultural Crisis for American Indians

January 12, 2021

The virus took Grandma Delores first, silencing an 86-year-old voice that rang with Lakota songs and stories. Then it came for Uncle Ralph, a stoic Vietnam veteran. And just after Christmas, two more elders of the Taken Alive family were buried on the frozen North Dakota prairie: Jesse and Cheryl, husband and wife, who died a month apart.

“It takes your breath away,” said Ira Taken Alive, the couple’s oldest son. “The amount of knowledge they held, and connection to our past.”

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Multiple tribes protest drilling of 5,000 oil and gas wells in Wyoming

January 7, 2021

A landmark decision delivered by the Trump administration late last month gives five oil and gas companies the green light to forge ahead in drilling 5,000 wells over the next decade in northeastern Wyoming.

Though cheered by state officials and industry groups, leaders of several tribal nations with enduring ties to the land remain concerned the development will compromise air and water quality, violate existing treaty rights and destroy cultural resources. The Oglala Sioux Tribe ...

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“This is Not Our First Pandemic”

January 6, 2021

In reporting on the transformative thinking Native communities are putting into action in these tumultuous times, I heard time and time again: “This is not our first pandemic.” Since the 1500s, when ever-larger numbers of Europeans began arriving in this hemisphere, disasters have come thick and fast for the First Nations, including tens of millions wiped out within a century by continual waves of unfamiliar diseases—measles, influenza, smallpox, typhus, diphtheria, and more. Village after village stood empty. Enduring shock and grief, the survivors relied on ancient lifeways to support...

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The Radical Inclusiveness of Advent

December 18, 2020

On the dining room table in our house, a bundle of sage sits next to the Advent wreath.

Every night we read from our children’s Advent book, and then from Keepers of the Earth a book of Native American stories written by Michael Caduto and Joseph Bruchac.

I turn the Pandora station from Frank Sinatra Holiday Music to Powwow Dance in the middle of the day while I’m doing dishesbecause this is what an Indigenous Advent is like.

This is the way of walking two worlds with one spirit, one spirit...

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'Our DNA is of this land': The Cherokee quest to reclaim stolen territory

December 9, 2020

AMY WALKER, 79, gets emotional each time she drives from her home in Cherokee, North Carolina, to Kituwah, a sacred site just seven miles outside of town, to tend to her four-acre garden. There, in the place where her ancestors settled thousands of years ago, she plants heirloom beans and corn, the same crops they once grew.

An elder of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians (EBCI), Walker says the garden keeps her connected to her identity as an indigenous woman. “Down where there are 1,000 graves on the land,” she says. “Our ancestors’ spirits are there.”

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