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Native American Religions
Transcript of Native American Religions
Native American religion has two separate periods on the world timeline. The first period is one of isolation. North and South American religion existed completely separate from Asian or European influence. During this period many religious temples, earthworks, large carved statues, and rich forms of artwork were produced. The second period was not until 1492 with the arrival of Christopher Columbus and decline of Native American populations. Native American religious culture went underground. Christianity was forced upon people.
Native American Religions
Native American religions have no biblical canon.
So how do they share their beliefs and practices?
Many Native American tribes have developed a religious system that includes cosmologies, or creation myths, which explained how their society had come into being. Many tribes have passed down their religious principles verbally.
Most native people worshiped an all-powerful "spirit", and their worship was done through oral stories.
Heyrman, 2009 & Native American Religion 2015)
of Native American Religion
Oral stories and sacred narratives contain important cultural beliefs and practices that are passed on from generation to generation.
Although there is no biblical canon, Native American religions pass down their stories/messages in their practice of rituals.
Types of rituals include: feasts, chanting, dancing, sacrificing, and typical "story-telling".
Natives tried to appease the all-powerful Spirit with private prayers or sacrifices.
Who can tell these stories?
Bilhartz (2006) and the Society for American Archeology (1996) state that there are rules that must be followed when it comes to storytellers, and the practice of sharing.
1. The storyteller must know the appropriate time and place to tell a story or sacred narrative
2. The storyteller must be cautious when telling a story as to not accidentally call forth a dangerous spirit into the world
(Society for American Archeology, 1996 & Heyrman, 2009 & Bilhartz, 2006)
Post Contact Period
What spurred the growth of organized religion was the transition from hunter-gatherer tribes to farming and agriculture communities. "The advent of agricultural advances triggered cultural advances as it released growing numbers from the burden of subsistence activities and provided them with time/luxury to specialize in other things- artisanship, government, religion, art, engineering, and philosophy" (Bilhartz, 2006).
Native American tribes never had written scripture until
modern times. There are depictions of gods on temples, earthworks, and other forms of artwork. Tribes felt that oral tradition carried more value. It took dedication and commitment to learn traditions. The oral traditions were often part of rituals. "In Native Languages, to name or speak of a person, a being, or a phenomenon in Nature is to make present or call forth the spiritual essence of that which is named" (Brown,2001).
Modern scripture has been produced in an attempt to preserve oral traditions. Although much of the tradition has already been lost. There is no canon of writing that is accepted among groups. What we do have is limited and only captures a small portion of a culture that existed prior to the industrialization of America. There are no main authors.
God is depicted as creator of the world. The Lakota call Him Waken Tanka, the great mystery. The Zuni call Him the All-Father. The Incas called God Viracocha (Hare, 2010). Some animals are depicted as pranksters. The only other characters are spirits and the souls of people. Spirits can reside within animals (American Native Spirituality, 2015). Native American religion operates on a cyclic timeline. Everything happens in repeating seasons, or a never ending series. Life leads to death which leads to life, and so on (Brown,2001).
Zuni depiction of God
The Spirit of the Mask
Alchin, L. (2015, March). Native Americans Land. Retrieved from Native American Indians: http://www.warpaths2peacepipes.com/native-american-indians/native-americans-land.htm
American Native Spirituality. (2015). Retrieved May 17, 2015, from http://www.tahtonka.com/spirituality.html
Bilhartz, T. (2006). Sacred Words. Native American Religions (pp. 317-374). New York, NY: McGraw Hill.
Brown, J. E. & Cousins, E. (2001). Teaching spirits: Understanding Native American religious traditions. Cary, NC: Oxford University Press.
Heyrman, C. L. (2009). Native American religion in early America. Divining America. Retrieved May 17, 2015, from http://nationalhumanitiescenter.org/tserve/eighteen/ekeyinfo/natrel.htm
Hare, J. (2010). Inca Religion. Retrieved May 19, 2015, from http://www.sacred-texts.com/nam/inca/index.htm
Hoxie, F. (1996). Encyclopedia of North American Indians. Retrieved from: http://web.archive.org/web/20050325021752/http://college.hmco.com/history/readerscomp/naind/html/na_000107_entries.htm
Long, T. (n.d). The Bible: An Introduction to the Jewish Scriptures.
Miigwech Prayer. (n.d) Ojibwe. Retrieved from http://ojibwe.net/projects/prayers-teachings/miigwech-thank-you-prayer/
Native American Religion. (“Indians", n.d.). Retrieved from http://www.indians.org/articles/native-american-religion.html
Society for American Archaeology. (1996). Working together: Native American oral traditions. Mondo New Orleans: An alternative perspective, 14(2).
The Raven Story. (n.d.) WGVU: PBS. Retrieved from http://wgvu.pbslearningmedia.org/resource/echo07.lan.stories.raven/the-raven-story/
Tlingit Creation Story. (“Indigenous People”, 2004). Retrieved from http://www.indigenouspeople.net/creatlingit.htm
Wishart, D. (2011). Encyclopedia of the Great Plains. Retrieved from Encyclopedia of the Great Plains, University of Nebraska-Lincoln: http://plainshumanities.unl.edu/encyclopedia/
“How Raven Gave Light to the World" is the telling of a Tlingit myth (The Raven Story, 2015).
In this Tlingit creation story, the literary form of cosmogonic myth is employed. As we learned in class, a cosmogonic myth is one that describes the beginnings of the universe, or a creation story. This Tlingit myth tells the of how light came to be. As Native American tribes frequently used animals as symbols to represent ideas, it is common to use them to represent creation of nature (Tlingit Creation Story, 2004).
I’iw nama’ewinan, maaba asemaa, miinwaa n’ode’winaanin gda-bagidinimaagom.
(We offer our prayers, tobacco and our hearts.)
Miigwech gda-igom n’mishomissinaanig miinwa n’ookomisinaanig jiinaago gaa-iyaajig, noongom e-iyaajig miinwaa waabang ge-iyaajig.
(Thank you for the Grandfathers and Grandmothers of yesterday, today and tomorrow.)
Miigwech manidoog iyaajig noodinong, iyaajig nibiing, iyaajig shkodeng miinwa iyaajig akiing.
(Thank you spirits of the winds, water, fire and earth.)
Miigwech manidoog iyaajig giiwedinong, waabanong, zhaawanong miinwa epangishimok.
(Thank you spirits of the north, east, south and west.)
Daga bi-wiidokawishinaang wii mino bimaadiziyaang.
(Please help us to live a good life.)
Miigwech (Thank You) Prayer
The Miigwech (Thank You) Prayer is an example of a hymn in Native American Religion. Often, their prayers were sung or chanted.
Long describes that hymns typically involve praise and expression of gratitude to one's creator - in this case, the all-powerful Spirit.
How are these "scriptures" divided?
Oral stories, rituals, and practices vary between different Native American Tribes.
There are two basic types of "scriptural text" for Native American tribes: emergence stories and trickster tales.
Emergence stories are detailed stories that talk about how humans came to be, and how they made Earth their home.
Trickster tales are those that are told of a god, goddess, spirit, man, woman, or anthropomorphic animal. These tales are told to teach moral lessons.
Symbolism, mostly with the use of animals, is common with Native American tribes.
This symbolism is used to represent ideas, characteristics, and spirits.
For example, the Tlingit Indians' creation story is focused on a raven.
(Native American Religion, 2015 & SAA, 1996)
(Miigwech Prayer, n.d.)
(Miigwech Prayer, n.d.)
Scripture in the Native American community
These traditional oral stories were told to exemplify good and evil in the world and to help heal and give guidance to the native people.
The passing down of these stories helps to provide younger generations with values, knowledge, moral lessons, and traditions.
These stories expressed the belief that most tribes had: immortality of the human soul and an afterlife.
Shaman and medicine men were said to be able to "communicate with the spirits". They are considered the most wise and experienced with storytelling and the rituals performed.
They had important roles in decisions, ceremonies, and traditions.
(Heyrman, 2009; Native American Religion, 2015 & SAA 1996)
Native American Religions are based on spiritual beliefs that were primarily passed down orally through face to face teachings rather than a written form. The Native American people did not have access to writing until European explorers entered the country. The sacred text of the Native American people that are known today were composed by scholars in the 19th and 20th centuries who lived with the people for several years and then were allowed to transcribe the oral teachings.
Issues of Globalization
Gender Role and Identity
According to David Wisehart, gender roles of the Plains Indians were well defined and crucial for the function and survival of the tribe (Wisehart, 2011) .
Early European Americans
As seen by the early European Americans, Native American women were hard workers doing all the cooking, cleaning, camp setup, harvesting, planting, and even bison hunting while the men were seen as lazy sitting around camp smoking, gambling, and tending to the horses (Wisehart, 2011).
People who witnessed the Plains Indians for extended periods of time noticed that women had a greater role than originally perceived. Although women did not have as much ceremonial or political power they did possess more than early European American Women. Women typically owned the housing, had the rights to crops, and provided the majority of the food for the tribe (Wisehart, 2011).
Native Americans believed that all things on the Earth had spirits or souls, because of this land could not be owned for exclusive use by any one person. Rather than singular ownership the land was occupied and lived on by the community. Although various tribes fought over the right to hunt and farm the lands ownership did not exist (Alchin, 2015).
Conflicts and Violence
The vastly different views of a spiritual Earth and the legal right to own property lead to many vicious battles over territory. Additionally the belief of the Native American people to burn or bury all of a deceased person’s belongings further alienated the feuding groups. As the European settlers began to conquer and claim land after their death the land was passed on to the next of kin rather than redistributed back to the community (Alchin, 2015).
Issues of Globalization
Politics and Government
The role of politics and government in with Native Americans, especially those from the Great Plains, has changed tremendously since the arrival of Europeans. Political authority used to be held tribal leaders or other important people of the tribe. However, the Europeans started to push the Native Americans off of their land which caused unrest and tension for the tribes, often resulting in battles between tribes (Wishart, 2011).
Some tribes were closely related and had a lot of similar practices and rituals. These tribes would come together for events such as religious ceremonies, hunting, and war. “For example, the Cheyennes had ten bands, each with four chiefs; when the ten bands came together each spring, the four chiefs of each band, plus a few other elders, formed a tribal council” (Wishart, 2011).
The Cheyennes as an Example
Role of Religion in the Public Realm
There are two types of public realms to be considered when looking at Native American Religions: the tribe and the Euro-American public. Each realm has a different way of looking at Native American religious practices (Hoxie, 1996).
In the tribe, the traditions practiced were not often considered religious at all. “spokespeople insist, their whole culture and social structure was and still is infused with a spirituality that cannot be separated from the rest of the community's life at any point” (Hoxie, 1996).
In the Euro-American public, “outsiders may identify a single ritual as the "religion" of a particular people” because there is often a lack of perspective into the rest of the tribe’s life and how the single ritual relates (Hoxie, 1996). When Euro-Americans try to learn and participate in these rituals, like a vision quest, the rituals become perverted into an individualistic view that violates the communal view traditionally held.