Native American Traditions

Ghost Dance

The Ghost Dance was a religious movement among the Native peoples of the Plains and Rocky Mountains. It was initiated in 1870 by the spiritual vision of a Paiute prophet named Wodziwob, in which he saw the dead resurrected, the wild game returned in their former numbers, and traditional Native lifeways restored. The circle dance called for in the vision in order to bring these things about spread among the Paiute’s neighbors in the Great Basin and Northern California. In 1890, following the vision of another Paiute prophet named Wovoka, the Ghost Dance resumed and became even more widespread... Read more about Ghost Dance

Repatriation of Human Remains

Repatriation of Human RemainsIn 1990, after centuries of struggle to protect the integrity of the dead and material items of religious and cultural significance, Native communities witnessed the creation of an important process for protection: the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act (NAGPRA). However, the application of the act has been difficult, as it raises questions regarding Native American sacrality and requires a willingness to expend resources and negotiate between many parties.... Read more about Repatriation of Human Remains

Identity and Tribal Recognition: The Mashpee Community

Identity and Tribal RecognitionMany Native communities who chose not to enroll for recognition during the Indian Reorganization Act of 1934 are still unrecognized by the U.S. government. Without federal recognition, these Native communities’ treaties and lands are unprotected, and they do not have access to Indian health and welfare programs. Some efforts to recognize such communities, such as the Mashpee Wampanoag, have succeeded in recent years.... Read more about Identity and Tribal Recognition: The Mashpee Community

Sacred Lands and Treaty Rights: The Black Hills

Sacred Lands and Treaty Rights: The Black HillsNearly every Native American nation is engaged in a struggle to preserve sacred lands, due in part to the Native place- and space-based understanding of sacredness, which is at odds with American legal frameworks. Native American rights are often considered a secondary concern, and even when protections have been granted, the United States government and its citizens have often violated the agreements and protections for material reasons.... Read more about Sacred Lands and Treaty Rights: The Black Hills

Religious Freedom for Native Americans

Religious Freedom for Native AmericansThe constitutionally guaranteed free exercise of religion for Native Americans has been violated throughout the history of the United States. Violent repression of native practices, the withholding of resources from Native communities, and the devaluing of religious frameworks and practices that do not align with Protestant normativity have been and continue to be major obstacles in Native Americans realizing religious freedom in the United States. This issue has been taken up many times in the U.S. judicial system.... Read more about Religious Freedom for Native Americans

Wild Rice: A Sacred Food

Wild Rice: A Sacred FoodFor peoples native to the region of the Western Great Lakes, wild rice or manoomin is an essential spiritual, economic, and material resource. The rice harvest itself and the social gatherings that happen around the harvest are essential components of communal life for these tribes.... Read more about Wild Rice: A Sacred Food


TipiHistorically, the tipi was used as a home, social space, and ceremonial structure. The tipi’s construction, shape, and accompanying art also served to represent humanity’s relationship with the natural and spiritual worlds. Today, few Native Americans live in tipis, but tipis are still used for contemporary ceremonial gatherings and as symbols for Native American identity.... Read more about Tipi

Native American Church

Native American ChurchThe Native American Church of Jesus Christ is a spiritual movement that integrates the teachings of Christian life with the spiritual and ethical traditions of various Native cultures. A central component of the Native American Church is the sacramental ingestion of peyote during peyote meetings. In 1990, the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that the ritual ingestion of peyote is not a legally protected practice, despite its religious significance.... Read more about Native American Church

The Drum

The DrumFor the Ojibwe, the drum is the symbol of Native identity and spirituality, that which voices the collective prayers of the people. Drums are given a high level of respect when used for ceremonial functions and they are often cared for by a designated drum keeper. In the Ojibwe language, which grammatically distinguishes animate from inanimate objects, drums are considered to be animate.... Read more about The Drum

Apache Initiation Dress

Apache Initiation DressDuring an Apache initiation ceremony, the dress worn by the initiated girl plays a central role in the ritual transformation into womanhood. The components of the dress represent the various elements of the Changing Woman myth. The ceremonial songs, accompanying the preparation of the dress, are meant to bring forth Changing Woman’s power.... Read more about Apache Initiation Dress

Sweat Lodge

Sweat LodgeSweat lodge ceremonies are common to many Native American tribes. The ceremonies of the sweat lodge include rites of preparation, prayer, and purification. Sweat ceremonies involve heating stones until they are red hot, bringing them into the darkened chamber, and pouring water or aromatic herbal teas over them to punctuate the participants’ rounds of fervent prayer.... Read more about Sweat Lodge

Ojibwe Hymns

Ojibwe HymnsWhile Christian missionaries translated hymns into the Ojibwe language in order to effect further assimilation, the Ojibwe have translated and adapted Christian hymnals to serve their own cultural context. The singing of these hymns in the Ojibwe language at funerals and other significant community events reinforces a distinctive Ojibwe identity.... Read more about Ojibwe Hymns

Haudenosaunee Iroquois Religion and Politics

Haudenosaunee Iroquois Religion and PoliticsThe Iroquois nations in the regions of New York, Pennsylvania, and southeastern Canada refer to themselves collectively as the Haudenosaunee, “the people of the Longhouse." In this peace-making government, political positions and relationships are governed by ceremonial interactions and a body of oral literature. Today, in many cases, these traditional governing processes are forced to account for U.S. Indian governing policy and administration.... Read more about Haudenosaunee Iroquois Religion and Politics