Native American Traditions

Ancestral remains, objects from Mesa Verde to be returned to tribes

October 3, 2019

The Navajo Nation and Hopi tribes may soon see the return of Native American ancestral remains and funerary objects taken from the Mesa Verde site more than a century ago.

President Donald Trump and President Sauli Niinistӧ of the Republic of Finland announced an agreement on Wednesday to return the ancestral remains and objects from Finland to 26 tribes traditionally associated with the Mesa Verde National Park located in Colorado, according to a White House press release.

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vision quest

Among Native Americans, vision quests are a common means of establishing contact with the spirit world and seeking the guidance of a special manifestation of the divine power. The quest is often associated with coming to adulthood, though it may take place any time one needs spiritual discernment. After preliminary rites of purification, one would go to an isolated place, especially one of the many sacred places associated with vision quests, such as the Black Hills in South Dakota or the Medicine Wheel in the Bighorn Mountains of Montana. The three or four day ordeal includes fasting and... Read more about vision quest

pipe ceremony

The sacred pipe plays a key role in the spiritual and cultural vitality of many Native American peoples. Each part of the pipe—stem and bowl, tobacco, breath, and smoke—is symbolic of fundamental relationships that keep the cosmos in motion. In ceremonies, numerous pinches of tobacco mark prayers for blessings on behalf of each part of creation. Lit by the fire of the Great Spirit, inhaled, and exhaled as smoke, the prayers become visible offerings.

Religious Freedom Restoration Act

The Religious Freedom Restoration Act was passed by Congress in 1995 to insure that the government show a “compelling governmental interest” in any restriction of religious freedom.

sweat lodge

The sweat lodge of Native Americans consists of a lashed structure o. bent poles covered with blankets, hides, or tarps to hold in the heat, which is provided by hot stones brought into the lodge. The prayer offered by those who enter the lodge is accompanied by pouring water over the stones. The rites of the steamy sweat lodge are undertaken for purification, healing, and well-being. In one form or another, the sweat lodge is part of the life of many Native peoples of North America—from Alaska to the Great Plains to the Eastern Woodlands.


Peyote is the popular name of the cactus Lophophora williamsii, which was called peyotl by the Aztec. The hallucinogenic buttons of the cactus are ritually harvested and ingested by various Native peoples of the Americas. The Native American Church combines the rituals surrounding the ingesting of peyote with Christian traditions.

Green Corn Ceremonies

Green corn ceremonies have played an important role in the ritual life of the Native American tribes of the southeastern United States. These agricultural rites celebrate the ripening of the corn harvest, marking the New Year and the renewal of all life. Homes and public spaces receive a thorough cleaning, all fires are put out, and old food is eaten. The New Year begins with a priest silently kindling a new flame and offering the first of the ripening corn to celebrate the renewal of all life. A dance and feast follows.


A powwow is a gathering of dancing, singing, drumming, and socializing that Native Americans generally consider to be more celebration than ceremony. Today they are a central expression of an intertribal Native American identity that complements tribal identities. Each year there are more than 900 powwows held throughout the United States and Canada.


Myths are stories human beings tell about the nature of reality: how the order of things we know came to be and by what deep truths the this order operates. Myths may concern the events of creation, the divine dramas of God or the gods, or the discoveries and struggles of superhuman ancestors. In any case, myths do not function to convey historical or scientific truth, for the truth they bear is a deeper truth that orients human beings in the cosmos and grounds their deepest values.

Sun Dance

The Sun Dance is a ceremony of purification and renewal widely practiced among Native American Plains tribes. Although the various rites often described by the term differ from one another in many significant ways, they all include a rigorous marathon of dancing oriented around a center pole in a lodge especially constructed for the three or four days of the Sun Dance. Also common to the dance ceremonies are acts of self-mortification and fasting, often accompanied by powerful visionary experiences. Such rites are said to help replenish the creation, renew the spiritual vitality of the... Read more about Sun Dance

Native American Church

The Native American Church integrates Native American spiritual and ritual traditions involving the sacramental ingestion of hallucinogenic peyote with Christian teachings. Visions are not sought for their own sake, but are searched for the meanings they might hold for healing and guidance in daily life. Its fourfold ethical code includes brotherly love, family responsibility, self-reliance, and the avoidance of alcohol. The Native American Church is the largest Native religious organization in the U.S.