Introduction The Native American religion isn’tnecessarily an easy religion to cover and that is because of the fact thatthere are many different tribes within the Native American religion, in whichsome of them have their own beliefs (even though some of them were similar inthe most important aspects). Like it was stated in the book “Religion Of TheWorld” 13th edition by Brett R. Hendrickson, “There are hundreds ofNative American religions. It is difficult, if not impossible, to generalizeabout them. Native American cultures are equally diverse, ranging historicallyfrom small bands of hunter-gatherers to large-scale states and empires.” (Hendrickson 9) Inthis paper, I would like to take an inside look at some of the different tribeswithin the Native American religion.
I also would like to shine some light onthe different and similar religious beliefs these tribes had with each other.This includes, the different or similar types of practices, ceremonies andtraditions within each tribe. Also I want to give you a little more informationabout the Native American religion as a whole and how some of it (if any) stillinfluences any of the religions of today.DifferentTribes “When speaking of the religion ofNative Americans, we must be aware that we are not speaking of a monolithicstructure.” (Hendrickson 23) NativeAmericans have lived on many different parts of the Americas, which helpedinfluence the different tribes and their religious beliefs due to living indifferent environments with completely different standards of living. Therewere Native American tribes that were considered the hunters and the gatherers,while others lived in established cultivated societies. Some where a group ofwanderers, while some tribes assembled many different places to settle within. Intoday’s world, many Native Americans live among us and have adapted to ourreligion, monetary system and culture.
While other Native Americans live onreserved territory recognized by contracted agreements with the U.S.government. (Hendrickson 23) I would like to take some time andtalk about at least three different Native American tribes. Those tribes arethe Cherokee tribe, Apache tribe and the Powhatan tribe. In the next section, Iwill be covering the history of these three tribes.
CherokeeTribe Cherokee people have been consideredas the most informally and traditionally progressive of all Native Americantribes since coming into contact with the European settlers. The Cherokee tribedwelled in the southeastern section of the United States and has flourishedthere for hundreds of years before then. (OurHistory) The Cherokee tribe is also a decedent of the Iroquoians. Theyoriginally came from the Great Lake Area, but later settle in the east coast. The Cherokee people were a strong tribe thathad smaller sections within the tribe, which were all led by chiefs. TheCherokee people were completely religious and spiritual. Ultimately in the 1800s, theCherokee tribe started to implement the philosophy that the Europeans broughtto them. This of course meant the way they dress, farming and building methodsand even becoming Christians.
Unfortunately due to gold being found in theirland in 1828, the Cherokee tribe was forced out of their homes and made themhave to find another place to settle. This led to the origin of The “Trail ofTears” where they had to travel thousand of miles to try and find a new placeto live. At the end of it all, around 4,000 Cherokees lost their lives duringthe journey. In today’s world, the CherokeeNative Americans still have a strong sense of pride in their culture. TheCherokee rose is now the state flower of Georgia. Now, most of the CherokeeNative Americans can be found in the state of Oklahoma where there are three federallyrecognized Cherokee communities with thousands of residents. (Cherokee Indians)ApacheTribe The Apache Indians originated from the Alaskan region, Canada, andportions of the American Southwest.
Eventually the Apache tribe moved towardthe United States further down south, and separated into two regions, with theRio Grande River serving as the separating line. The Apaches were typically wanderers,meaning they moved around, never quite settling in one place. The Apachesusually survived by eating buffalo meat. They used the skin of the buffaloas protective clothing. It is also known that they were one of the firsttribes to learn how to ride and use horses. By 1700, a great amount ofthe Apache Native Americans moved to the Kansas plains. They were not used toliving and farming on the plains, but they managed with some crops such aswatermelon, beans, and corn.
Eventually, another tribe called the Comancheovertook their weakness. The Apaches had lost and the Comanche tribe took theirland, making them to move to areas like New Mexico and Arizona. Still otherswent even more down south into Texas and even parts of Mexico. Inthe 1730s, the Apache Native Americans began to go to war with the Spaniards.The war was long and bloody, and even ended in many deaths. Then in 1743 aSpanish leader agreed to assign areas of Texas for the Apaches to live, easingthe war over land. In a ceremony in 1749, an Apache chief buried a hatchet toshow that the fighting was over, which created the term we use today, “bury thehatchet.
” As time progressed, the Apache Native Americans built up a strongbond with the Europeans of the area. Relationships were strong, and the Apachefelt well protected. As things continued to move on, raids began to take placethat included the murder of the Apache people and the theft of their goods andlivestock. In 1940, there was a record of only 35 Apache Native Americansliving in the state of Oklahoma, and in 1970 a record of about 1,500 weredocumented in New Mexico.
(Apache Indians)Powhatan Tribe Atthe time English colonists arrived in the spring of 1607, the Powhatan NativeAmericans, an Algonquian-speaking people, inhabited coastal Virginia. ThePowhatan tribe was consisting of 30 or so tribal groups, with a total populationof about 14,000, under the control of Wahunsonacock, or sometimes referred toas “Powhatan.” The Powhatan tribe lived in villages with houses built ofsapling frames covered by reed mats or bark.
One tribe had it’s own villagewithin the same area. Every tribe had its own “werowance” or chief, who was afollower of Wahunsonacock. Although the chiefs were usually men, they acquiredtheir positions of power through the female side of the family. Farmingproducts such as corn, beans and squash made up about half of the Powhatandiet. The men would hunt deer and fished, while the women plowed and collectedwild plant foods. The women prepared the food and made clothes from thedeerskins. The tools and equipment were made from stone, bone and wood.
ThePowhatan Native Americans partook in a widespread trade network with NativeAmerican groups within and outside the tribe. With the English people, thePowhatan Natives traded foods and furs in exchange for metal tools, Europeancopper, European glass beads, and jewels. Ina hierarchical civilization of rulers, great warriors, priests and commoners, rankingwas determined by achievement, usually in fighting, and by the heirloom ofluxury goods like copper, shell beads and furs. Those of higher rank had largerhomes, more wives and sumptuous dresses. The Powhatan tribe worshipped a peckingorder of gods and spirits. They offered gifts to Okee to prevent him fromsending them harm and Ahone was the creator and giver of good things.
Asthe English settlement spread in Virginia during the 1600s, the Powhatan tribeswere forced to move internally away from the productive river valleys that hadlong been their home. As their territory diminished, so did the Native Americanpopulation, falling victim to the English diseases, food shortages and war. ThePowhatan people endured by accepting the new lifestyles while keeping their traditionalpride and leaving a legacy for today, through those decedents who still areliving in Virginia. Inthe next section, I will be covering the different (or similar) religiousbeliefs that the three tribes have. Herewe will learn more about the different (or similar) practices, ceremonies and traditionsthat each tribe had.
I will also be trying to shed some more light on theirreligion and how some of it (if any) is still used in today’s religion. (Egloff, Pocahontas Powhatan Indians) Cherokee Tribe Religious Beliefs TheCherokee tribe worshipped the Deer God. They often said to the Deer God,”We only kill what is needed to feed our families, and we are sorry.
“This was important to do for the Cherokee tribe because they did not want theDeer God to be angry at them, or the Deer God might make all the deerdisappear. Just as the buffalo was important to the Plains Native Americans(the Apaches), the deer was important to the Cherokee. The Cherokee NativeAmericans also believed in many other animal spirits. So the skills of thoseanimals would be shared with them, they wore animal skins as clothing. They alsobelieved everything in nature had a spirit and they prayed to those spirits forgood health. TheCherokee tribe had medicine men that were very skilled.
They used bark to curemany diseases that the European doctors could not cure. They also used roots tomake medicine. Some actually studied with the European doctors because theybelieved that the more they knew, the better they could cure their own people.They held many festivals and one in particular were called the “Green CornFestival”, which was held yearly. During this festival, The Cherokee tribethanked their gods for their good fortune, and prayed to their gods forcontinued good luck. (Cherokee IndiansReligion)Apache Tribe Religious Beliefs Justlike how the Cherokee tribe believed that all things in nature had a spirit, theApache tribe believed spirits lived in mountains and in streams and underrocks. They believed spirits were everywhere and that they could even be foundinside a rock. In ancient times, the Apache tribe believed that mystical beingslived with them.
They could not see them, but they felt as though they werethere. The Apache tribe also believed in cleanliness. They often took frequentbaths because they believed they were cleaning their bodies of both bad luckand evil spirits. The Apache tribe believed that their ancestors were rocks,trees, the wind and other things of nature.
When they prayed to the spirits,they were praying to their ancestors. Althoughmost Indians did not use stringed instruments in the past times, the Apachetribe did create a strange instrument that had only one string on a bow. Thisinstrument was called the Apache Fiddle. The string was pulled to make a noise,which made a very eerie sound. They added this instrument to drums and rattles,and played the Apache Fiddle at ceremonial dances. (Apache Indians Religion)Powhatan Tribe Religious Belief ThePowhatan tribe has a deep-rooted connection to their spiritual and religiousbeliefs. Their belief in the spirits guide everyday actions and influence thePowhatan tribe traditions and rituals.
As it is common with other NativeAmerican tribes, the spiritual traditions and rituals have been passed downfrom generation to generation, through history to the present. There are manyspirits that are worshiped by the Powhatan tribe. One of the main spirits thatthe Powhatan tribe prays to is Okee. Okee is the only spirit who is said tohave more of a human-like image. The Powhatan people work hard to vie with Okeethrough their rituals and traditions. The other spirit that the Powhatan tribeworship is Ahone.
Just like how the Powhatan people treated the settlers, Ahoneis a kind and nonviolent spirit. Another spirit is known as the Great Hare, whois the creator god that made the world around the Powhatan people. There is an anonymous female spirit that ispresent between life and the afterworld that helps to guide those who pass ontothe spirit world. The sun is also an important spirit for the Powhatan tribe.
The sun, often associated to fire, is important in upholding life, health and home. Thetraditions of the Powhatan are mainly based on their spirituality. TheQuiocosin is a mystically significant dwelling and house used by the kwiocosuk,or shaman.
These buildings are set in isolated locations in the forests. A shaman or chief are the only ones who areable to enter the quiocosin. A lot of work and detail goes into the carvingsthat are inside the quiocosin, which represent the spirits or ancestors. Theshamans that live in these buildings serve as doctors and spiritual advisors.
Theshamans handle relations between the Powhatan people and the spirits. In orderto keep this connection, shamans will enter into a trance, or perform ritualsand dances. Thereare many rituals that the Powhatan tribe uses to connect with their spirituality.The men would cut their hair to emulate the spirit Okee. The Powhatan tribeoffered sacrifices, such as deer’s blood or food to Okee to protect the huntersor to keep the spirit’s favor. The shamans to heal patients and end sicknesswith the help of the spirits use the ritual of medicine, such as red puccoonroot. They also perform rituals for important events, such as a boy becoming aman or the death of a chief, to help move him on to the spirit world. Dancingis used to connect the Powhatan people with the spirit world, through the helpof the shaman.
Dancing is also a ritual that was observed by John Smith duringthe settlement of Jamestown. He saw that each dance lasted three days with eachday ending in a feast. Participants were dressed in regalia, such asheaddresses, snakeskins and animal furs with painted faces. Circles were madearound the fire with corn meal to represent the world and spirits around thePowhatan people. There were other dances that were used to celebrate theharvest or hunting season. Today, traditional regalia are used in dancing atpowwows to celebrate the beliefs and holiness of Native American people. (Heutmaker, Religious Beliefs of thePowhatan)Native American Religion as a Whole Likeall other beliefs, the Native American civilizations of North America hoped to recruitthe aid of the supernatural in controlling the natural and social world. Eachtribe had its own set of religious adherences devoted to that aim.
Individualstried to persuade or satisfy powerful spiritual entities with private prayersor sacrifices of valuable items (e.g., furs, tobacco, food), but when entire groupslooked for divine assistance to guarantee a successful hunt, a good harvest, orvictory in war, they called upon shamans, priests, and, in some tribes,priestesses, whom they believed to have acquired mystical powers throughvisions. These uncommon abilities included predicting the future and influencingthe weather, which were matters of vital interest to whole tribes. But shamansmight also assist individuals by explaining dreams and curing or causingoutbreaks of witchcraft. Aseven this short account specifies, many key Native American religious beliefsand practices bore wide-ranging but outstanding resemblances to those currentamong early modern Europeans, both Catholic and Protestant. These cultures,too, attributed a creation myth (as set forth in Genesis), acclaimed a CreatorGod, feared a spiteful secondary divine being (Lucifer), and looked forward tothe individual soul’s immortality in an afterlife greater in every respect tothe here and now. They, too, appeased their divine being with prayers andofferings and relied upon a particularly trained ministry to support their peopleduring periods of crisis.
Finally, the great mainstream of early modernEuropeans feared witches and considered the meaning of their dreams. Eventhough it is important to appreciate the similarities between the religious philosophiesof Native Americans and early modern Europeans (and Euro-Americans), there werereal differences that have to be kept in mind. The most important is that NativeAmericans did not differentiate between the natural and the supernatural. Onthe opposite, Native Americans perceived the “material” and “spiritual” as aunified realm of being (or a kind of extended association network). To theNative Americans, plants, animals and humans partook of spirituality throughtheir close connection with “guardian spirits,” a multitude of “supernatural” beingswho instilled their “natural” kin with life and power. By distinction,Protestant and Catholic traditions were more motivated to highlight the gulf thatseparated the pure, spiritual beings in heaven (God, the angels, and saints) fromsinful men and women caught up in a blasphemous world filled with temptationand evil. (Heyrman, Native AmericanReligion)Conclusion Inconclusion, the Native American religion beliefs are different depending on thetribe but it can also show a lot of similarities.
Although there are manydifferent tribes that all have many different beliefs and ways of practicingtheses beliefs, there are also a lot of similar within these tribes. From thethree tribes that I did my research on, I can see that all of them are veryconnected to nature in which they belief have spirits or are spirits of anancestor that has passed on to the afterlife. Also, a lot of the NativeAmerican tribes rely on people that are looked on to have great spiritualpowers such as a shaman, priest or priestess for spiritual guidance. Thereare also a lot of similarities within Native American religion and today’sreligion. Just like today’s religion, Native Americans believed in a highspiritual being that was looked at as the creator of all things. They alsobelieved in another spiritual being that could cause them harm, just like howtoday’s religion believe in a spiritual being that causes harm (i.
e. Lucifer).They also believe in worshipping, praying to and pleasing these Gods just like today’sreligion worships, pray and do things to please the God that they believe in(such as sacrifice and give offerings).