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10 Rocks and Minerals of the American Indians

Rocks & minerals of the native americans.

Would you guess that on the first Thanksgiving, the American Indians made use of Rocks and Minerals to set the scene for the feast? Without tools to till the field, grind the flour, and light the fire, the feast of Native Americans and pilgrims may not have commenced!

We at Rockology are grateful today for the Rocks and Minerals that made the first Thanksgiving possible.

Without modern day plastics and advanced tool-making technologies, the tribes of Native American Indians had thought up a wide range of ways to make use of Rocks and Minerals that naturally occur on Earth. The lack of materials present created a resourceful people who turned to the rocks, minerals, plants and animals to fashion each thing needed.

Native American Rocks & Minerals Use:

  •        Tools
  •        Pottery
  •        Weapons
  •        Fine Jewelry
  •        Colored Paints
  •        Building Materials

Sulfur was burned by the medicine man, flints were used as fire starters and arrowheads, and halite (salt) to tan animal hide and preserve foods. Some served decorative purposes such as hematite—that when grinded down—mixed in animal fat to form vibrant colors to be used in cave wall paintings. What made rocks and minerals so useful to American Indians was the natural hardness of rocks and special chemical properties of minerals.

1. Red Jasper

Red Jasper was a common stone used by the American Indians for various ceremonial purposes. It was once used as an offering during rain-making rituals and was thought to offer the wearer guidance when dowsing for water. Some Native American tribes thought Red Jasper increased one’s sensitivity to the Earth.

Various types of Quartz were used by the American Indian tribes. Rose Quartz was held in high value for its healing powers, and clear quartz was worn by some for good luck. Two derivatives of quartz, chert and flint stones are both microcrystalline quartz used in the tools and weapons (arrowheads, spear points) of the Native Americans.

3. Turquoise

To some American Indian tribes, Turquoise was a legendary gift. As the Indians rejoiced with the arrival of the rain, tears of joy mixed with this rain and fell to Mother Earth to create Turquoise—“the fallen skystone”. For this reason, Turquoise was highly prized by various tribes and used to craft fine jewelry or talismans of beauty, spirituality and life-giving power for over 7,000 years.

Rocks that formed large flat slabs were often used by the American Indians to make the mortar and pestle. These “grinding stones”—the mortar and pestle could be used for various reasons, such as grinding ingredients for cooking or mixing materials for building purposes. Wild grains were crushed with this tool into flour, or long slabs of Granite were also used to roll dough to be cooked over the fire.

Various types of igneous rock were used by the Native Americans, and Pumice is one such rock that was ground down and used in the clay to mix pottery. Pumice is a type of volcanic glass. White Pumice is a particular type of the stone that can be found commonly used in the pottery of various tribes.

6. Sandstone

In addition to Granite, Sandstone was also a popular rock used by tribes in the mortar and pestle design. Some American Indians also created molds from Sandstone for silver-casting.  Another handy use for this particular stone was its ability to sharpen and sand tools, which provided a way to craft fine weapons from other materials.

The stone Azurite has always held mysterious sacred qualities, and was once used by some Native American tribes as an amulet to help the wearer contact a spirit guide. It was said that when worn or carried, Azurite allows you to feel the presence of a guide and understand the meaning of the message spoken. It was also used alongside Alabaster in the Zuni tribe sculptures.

8. Alabaster

The softer stone Alabaster was a common material of the Zuni fetishes or small statuary carvings by the peoples of the Zuni tribe. These highly prized sculptures were made for ceremonial purposes from the easy-to-carve Alabaster and used as power objects or mediators by the Pueblo Indians of New Mexico.

9. Catlinite (Pipestone)

Many know that various types of Mudstone were used to mix the clays of the American Indians, but this particular type held an even higher purpose. That is, Calinite or Pipestone was a material used to carve the peace pipes of many American Indian tribes. This material takes on a reddish-brown color. One particular mine of Catlinite at Pipestone forms the second softest rock in the world often found in a layer just underneath the Sioux quartzite sediment—the second hardest rock in the world!

Thus, it’s quite hard to reach—and can only be quarried by enrolled Native Americans.

10. Obsidian

Last is the black beauty, Obsidian. This particular glass formed igneous rock was used by American Indians to create stunning jewelry with Apache Tears and was carved into sharpened tips on hunting weapons that were made to pierce.

If you would like to know more about the Rocks and Minerals, Rock and Mineral uses or about other must-have rocks for collectors, be sure to download our free Rocks 101 eBook.

cc: Hans Splinter

The post 10 Rocks and Minerals of the American Indians appeared first on Rockology - Nature's Rarest & Most Extreme Minerals .

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native american spirit rocks

The Mystical Power of Native American Spirit Stones


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Native American cultures have a rich and fascinating spiritual tradition that includes the use of various sacred objects and rituals. Among these objects are spirit stones, which hold immense significance in their culture. These stones are believed to possess unique mystical properties that connect individuals to the spiritual realm and offer protection, guidance, and healing.

Origins and Significance of Spirit Stones

The concept of spirit stones dates back thousands of years, originating from the indigenous tribes of North America. Each tribe has its unique interpretation of spirit stones, but they are commonly believed to be imbued with the essence and power of the natural world. These stones are often found in sacred locations, such as mountains, rivers, and caves, and are considered gifts from the earth and the spirits that dwell within it.

The native peoples see spirit stones as living beings, channels to communicate with the spiritual realm. They believe that each stone carries a unique spirit or energy that can have a profound impact on an individual’s life. These stones are believed to possess healing qualities, bring good fortune, and ward off negative energies or harm.

Varieties of Spirit Stones

Native American spirit stones come in a wide array of forms, each carrying its distinct symbolism and purpose. Here are some of the most notable varieties:

1. Turquoise

Turquoise holds immense significance in Native American culture and is often considered the master healer stone. It is believed to connect the earth and sky, offering protection and bringing balance to the spirit. Its vibrant blue-green color is associated with tranquility, wisdom, and positive energy.

2. Amethyst

Amethyst is a popular spirit stone known for its powerful spiritual properties. It is revered for its calming energy, spiritual protection, and ability to enhance intuition. Native American tribes often use amethyst during meditation and spiritual ceremonies to connect with the divine and seek guidance.

Jasper is a stone deeply rooted in Native American culture. Its earthy tones symbolize strength, courage, and stability. This stone is believed to promote grounding and ease emotional stress. Jasper spirit stones are often used to enhance the connections between individuals and their cultural heritage.

4. Obsidian

Obsidian is a powerful protective stone commonly used in Native American spiritual practices. Due to its volcanic origin, obsidian is associated with transformation and grounding. It is believed to shield individuals from negative energies and provide clarity during times of upheaval or change.

Spirit Stones in Native American Rituals

Native American spirit stones play crucial roles in various rituals and ceremonies, serving as conduits for spiritual energy. Here are a few examples of their uses:

1. Medicine Bags

Native Americans often carry medicine bags, small pouches containing spirit stones and other sacred items. These bags are believed to offer protection, guidance, and healing. They are considered highly personal and are often worn or kept close to the body.

2. Vision Quests

A vision quest is a traditional Native American rite of passage that involves spending time alone in nature, seeking spiritual guidance and understanding. Spirit stones are often used during vision quests to enhance the connection with the spiritual realm and facilitate introspection.

3. Healing Ceremonies

In Native American healing ceremonies, spirit stones are used to enhance the healing process. These stones are believed to carry the healing energy of nature, channeling it into the individual’s body and spirit. They can also be placed on specific areas of the body to alleviate physical or emotional pain.

4. Blessings and Offerings

Spirit stones are also used in various rituals to bless people, places, or objects. They are considered potent gifts to the spirits and are often offered in gratitude or supplication. These offerings range from simple rituals to more elaborate ceremonies, depending on the significance of the occasion.

Respecting Native American Culture

It is vital to approach Native American culture and practices with respect and understanding. These spiritual traditions are not just decorative ornaments but deeply rooted belief systems that have survived for centuries. If you are interested in acquiring spirit stones or participating in Native American ceremonies, it is essential to do so with permission and under the guidance of Native American elders or spiritual leaders.

It’s also important to source spirit stones ethically. Many authentic Native American craftspeople create and sell spirit stones, ensuring the cultural integrity and sacredness of the stones. Supporting indigenous artisans helps preserve Native American traditions while respecting their cultural rights and economic opportunities.

The world of Native American spirit stones is a fascinating and deeply spiritual one. These revered stones connect individuals to the essence of the natural world and offer guidance, protection, and healing. Through their use in rituals, ceremonies, and personal adornment, spirit stones play a significant role in connecting the physical and spiritual realms.

However, it is important to approach these cultural practices with respect and reverence, recognizing the historical and spiritual significance they hold. By embracing the beauty and power of Native American spirit stones responsibly, we can honor their rich heritage and forge meaningful connections with ourselves and the spiritual world around us.

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native american spirit rocks

  • Col. A. B. Welch’s Biography Col. A. B. Welch’s
  • Welch Dakota Papers
  • Master Index This is the Comprehen
  • Contact Us To contact Everett Co

Native American Sacred Stones and Holy Places described by Col. A. B. Welch

Chapter I, Wakantonka, The Great Mystery  –  

Chapter II, Sacred Stones  –  

Chapter III, The Standing Rock  – 

Chapter IV, Mandan Legends  –  

Chapter V, Medicine of the Plains Indians  –  

Chapter VI, The Sacred Object of the Mandans  –  

Chapter VII, The Blue Cloud Stone and Dream Stories  –  

Chapter VIII, Ancient Religious Beliefs of The Sioux  –  

Chapter IX, Circles of Stone  –  

Chapter X, Gros Ventre Graves near Shell  –  

Chapter XI, Children’s Funeral Tree at Fort Berthold  –  

Chapter XII, Mayan Statuette Found near Mouth of Heart River  –  

Chapter XIII, Winter Counts  –  

Chapter XIV, White Spirit Woman’s Story  –  

Chapter I, Wakantonka, The Great Mystery

     Invocations, Prayers and Songs   

A noted man has said “Men show by what they worship what they are.”  The old time Plains Indian was a person of great intensity of religious ideas.  The Sioux worshipped Wakantonka, which is well interpreted “The Great Mystery.”

His prayers and songs for good hunting and long life, for bodily strength and mental and moral courage, not only for himself but for his friends and relatives, or the tribe in general, and his invocations for favorable weather and success in the chase, or raids against his enemies, were all addressed to Wakantonka.

His vows were always taken in His name and his thanks were made to Him in every case; previously promised sacrifices were tendered to Wakantonka, in answer to prayer or supplication and, even in the Sun Dance, of which no more barbaric or painful sacrifice was ever made by aboriginals – the Great Mystery was addressed in song and prayer by the principal.

     Sacrifices and Vows            

His call to God was a personal one, distressingly abrupt, brutally direct, even as he would address a friend for a favor of assistance.  A vow of sacrifice generally followed, the greatest of which was a promise to take part in the Sun Dance and to “bleed for Wakantonka.”  Vows were declared publicly.

Failure to perform the promises, made in connection therewith, subjected the maker of the vow to personal ridicule and, instances are known, even to the loss of influential tribal position and honor.

     Heraldric Devices & Penalties for Cheating

Generally the principal was given the right to proclaim the execution of a vow by a drawing upon his lodge or by the wearing of a feather or other heraldic device, and these were readily known and read by the people.

For one to wear such an article of heraldry or to paint upon his tipi or horse or robe or shield a pictographic history of such vow, not actually performed or fulfilled, subjected the owner to sneers and, sometimes, even to severe penalty, which might be extended to the loss of his property or expulsion from the camp in the case of more serious lapses of honor, into the wilderness for a certain period of time.

During this time no one would call him friend or notice him in any manner, although his relatives might be permitted to carry food to a place where the exile might find it.

     Incorporating the Forces of Nature         

So we find that the Indian was a religious person and, quite naturally then, to these children of the plains and bad lands and wooded valleys of the Mighty Missouri, the forces of nature became the visible agencies of the power and work of Wakantonka.  The elements were his servants, yes, even a part of him.

Around these visible elements and forces of nature he fabricated his mythological history.  The sun became the mother of the earth which, in turn, was the mother of men, through the power of her radiating kindness and displeasure.

     The Holy Earth Place           

In certain ceremonies a spot in the earth was dug up and the ground was pulverized and cleared of all foreign substances, such as roots and rough stones.

This spot was a square with the sides corresponding to the principal points of the compass and the four angles were sharply extended toward the intermediate points.  Two forked sticks were set into this soft earth and a cross-piece rested in the forks.

Upon this “Holy Earth Place” fresh wild sage and sweet grass were scattered.  A buffalo skull, denoting plenty, was placed upon the sweet-scented sage and, against the cross-piece, leaned the stem of the ceremonial red stone pipe, with its significance, when used as a pledge, in conferences, of peace or war, or as between two or more individuals, of harmony or discord.

Thus was the bosom of Mother Earth prepared as a shrine in order that the primal vibrations and influences of the Earth might permeate the buffalo head, the source of their supplies, and the pipe, which was the visible and ceremonial agency of their peace and happiness, without disturbance or interference from any impure earthly agencies or unkindly spiritual mischief makers.

In the vicinity of this shrine no discordant subject was broached.  The people rested in harmonious accord with each other and calm, dignified demeanor was manifested, even as with ‘more enlightened’ peoples in other sacred places in the presence of Deity.

Photo of Sioux Sun Dance Altar at last Sun Dance, 1937


     Solitary Meditation      

The souls of some of our most highly respected men and women have been profoundly moved when alone upon the mountain summit, as that of Moses of old; in the dark depths of the forests, as the naturalist, Muir; or when standing alone upon the plain, as did Father De Smidt, beyond the treacherous Missouri.

These men, and countless others, have received inspiration and spiritual strength when confronted by savage nature in her most terrible needs and awful grandeur; the sublimity of the “Force” gripped them and their souls as they, with downcast eyes, whispered the words of the ancient poet, “What is Man, that Thou are mindful of him?”  These words find a corresponding echo in the heart of the Indian.

He who was not enlightened, but with the soul of a psalmist, sought solitude upon the summit of the western butte where, after much preparation and with fasting and prayer, he struggled to understand the Infinite, the “Mystery” of the Indian.

At these times of prayer, his soul was moved with wonder and spiritual yearning, even as more favored souls of this earth have been when in the same receptive mood.  As the pleading tones of a cathedral organ influence the waiting worshippers, so did the roar of the storm when the world was held in the icy fingers of the frost, or the scarcely heard, but audible, voices of nature in the  hush of a soft summer’s night, gripped the recipient soul of the Indian, and he cried out to Wakantonka, “I am weak and Thou art mighty.  Make me strong and let me live.”

     Objects of Veneration

In keeping with that strange and almost universal custom which prevails among all people and, more especially, those who have not received the written word of God, the Indian selected some physical object which, in a manner, was the expression of Wakantonka toward him and which became, as it were, the medium of understanding between the spirit world and mortal beings.

This object was generally revealed to the Indian in a dream and often was an animal.  Turtles, bears, hawks, wolves and other creatures of the same habitat as the Indian are examples.  The skin, teeth or claws, horns or hoofs or other part of the animal was carried closely with the person or hung up in the lodge and, in many cases, the eating of the flesh or killing of that particular animal became “taboo” to its owner.  Stones of various sizes were also a common medium of religious sentiment.

In the medicine bags of the notorious “Medicine Man,” Sitting Bull, are two stones.  One is a petrified shell and the other is a small, black, smooth pebble.  They were part of his medicine, or charms, through which he worked his power and influence.

Larger stones might be mentioned, such as the famous Standing Rock (Iyanboshodata) at Fort Yates, N.D., the “Oracle Stone” mentioned by Lewis and Clark, the Iyan Wakan Gapi of the Cannon Ball River, the “Two Faced Stone” of the Mandan Village of the Crying Hill at Mandan, N.D., the Dead Grass Lodge Stone of the old Federated Villages at Fort Berthold and several others which are known to the writer.

     The Medicine of the Indian

These horns, hoofs, shells, stones and other objects became known to the early trappers, traders and frontiersmen as “Medicine,” and it became the custom of the wild, white trappers and explorers of the old days to wear “Medicine” just the same as did the Indian.

The charm was consulted by its owner when in the presence of imminent danger or when contemplating the performance of any great, important undertaking.  Feasts and presents were made to the medicine and it was supposed that the spirit was either displeased or satisfied according as the adventure failed or ended successfully.

The larger stones, which have been addressed and appealed to and which were subjects of veneration and respect by the people of the tribes in general, all are located in the present Indian country.  No doubt there were many others, the identities of which have been lost during the lifetime of the present generation.

In the olden times, when a tribe made a general migration, or exodus, it was the custom to take them along if it could be done.  As the teachings of the missionaries were better known and understood, and the people slowly became converts to Christian forms and ceremonies, these stones were more neglected until, in recent years, the sticks with their fluttering pieces of calico, which formerly were so commonly seen near the stones, are to be seen no more.  The white skulls of buffalo, splashed with red paint and the horns wound with cloth, which were also common in the immediate vicinity of these holy stones, are to be found in but one place known to this writer.

The old practice of railing and singing by Indians has almost stopped and it is doubtful if any individual, with the possible exception of some very old men who still cling to the old ways, ever goes to them to read their destiny in the shades and shadows of the glacial scratches upon their surfaces.

     Decline of Medicine’s Power

In the gradual transition period, during which the majority of the Indians neglected and departed from the so-called heathen rites and accepted Christian religious customs, the numerous altar stones, while still held in reverence by the older people, became nothing to the younger generation but objects of awe and they talk freely about them with none of the fear or reluctance apparent in their fathers, regarding “talking about holy things without the right.”

As many of these sacred objects present no different appearance from hundreds of other stones, and as the younger generation is not seriously interested about preserving them or even sufficiently concerned to know their locations, it is quite evident that they will soon be lost or their locations become unknown.  In fact, one such stone, which was in the Mandan Indian country, close to the present city of Mandan, is known to have been shattered by dynamite and used to build the foundation of a residence, while others have been removed by farmers and road builders.

     White Man’s First Encounter with the Indians.

The first white man who is positively known to have come into the country west of the Missouri River in the Mandan, Arikara or Sioux territories was the Chevalier Francois de la Verendrye, the twenty-three year old heir of an old French military family which had settled upon the St. Lawrence river at Three Rivers.

In 1738 this youthful adventurer explored the country from a  Lake Winnipeg base and penetrated as far as the Mandan villages in the vicinity of the Heart River.  There he planted the flag of France and took possession of the country drained by the Missouri River in the name of the French King, Louis XV.

One of the six Mandan villages at which he called was the Village of the Crying Hill, and while the ruins of many of the permanent lodges of this fortified village are still to be seen, others have been leveled and given place to residences in the present city of Mandan, N.D.

Verendrye had spent his entire lifetime among Indian tribes and, on account of the fact that things seen every day become common and of no especial interest, it is unfortunate that the young adventurer failed to reduce to writing many of the things he most certainly must have seen.  In fact, his journals and letters were not sufficiently clear as to preclude argument in even such an important exploration as that in which he discovered “The Shining Mountains,” now supposed to be the Big Horn Range.

     Lord of Life & First Man 

In the year 1742 he spent a considerable time at the five Mandan villages on the west, or right, banks of the Missouri River, in the district drained by the stream called by the Mandans, the Heart River.  So named because it flowed out of the “country of the middle hole” and was the place where the Lord of Life and First Man created the earth and all vegetation and animal life.

While several of these “Talking Stones” must have been observed by him, his only reference was to “two bits of stone,” which he had received from the “Christineaux Indians,” who attributed to them great medicinal powers, having taken them from a mountain somewhere from which flames issued with a great noise.

Chapter II, Sacred Stones

     The Painted Rock (Idol of the Holy Stone)     

Many stories and legends are told among the old people of the North Dakota tribes and frequent allusions are made in these legends to a large rock, sometimes called “The Painted Rock,” situated in the country deserted by the Mandans and Arikara as the Sioux pressed northward, upon the North Fork of the Cannon Ball river, not far from Brisbane in Grant County, N.D.

This probably was the most revered object of all the stationary medicine, or holy, stones of the tribes which have held the country, including the Cheyenne and Sioux, during the last one-hundred and twenty-five or more years, and has been frequently consulted by many tribesmen who are still living.  It is known to the Sioux as the Iyan Wakan Gapi (Idol of the Holy Stone) and they call the river upon which it is situated Iyan Wakan Gapi Wakpa (River of the Idol of the Holy Stone).  This stream is marked upon maps as the Cannon Ball and Le Raye mentions it by that name in 1801.

     Reclining Bear’s Story of the Holy Idol Stone     

Reclining Bear, an old time Hunkpapa Teton speaks as follows of the stone itself:

“I have been there.  Many people went there often.  The Palani went there too.”

Palani, or Padani, is a Sioux word properly applied to the Arikara.  While the Dakotah, or Sioux, have separate names for the Mandans and Hidatsa, or Gros Ventre, the term Palani is commonly used when speaking of these three northern tribes as a separate federated body.  When speaking of any of these tribes as a separate people, they use the name Mowahtani for the Mandans, Hewaktokta for the Gros Ventre and Palani for the Arikara.

Reclining Bear used the term in the general sense meaning the people of those three tribes.  Continuing, he said:

“This stone is a big one.  It is a little distance from the water of the Cannon Ball.  It is as big as a log house, where it stands.  It has many marks upon it.  The marks are made by the spirits.  When we came near to it, we sung songs and acted very respectfully then.  We camped on the water and not too near it.

Then when we were ready, some old man carried a pipe to it.  He carried the stem in both hands in front of his body.  He extended it toward the sky and toward the holy stone then.  There he sat down and smoked with four draws through it.  He placed the pipe there.  He poured out some tobacco there.  He sung a good song then.  He wanted plenty of buffalo and he wanted the people to live a long time.  He sung that way.  He went away from there.

The next day he went again.  When he went again there were other marks upon the stone.  Some good men would tell what they meant to the people.  Some times there was paint marks upon it.  The marks were made by spirits.

They were never the same marks like they were before.  It told us what to do.  It said when to strike the enemy.  It told where the buffalo had gone to.  If the people did like it said, they were all right.

One time it sung a song with words.  We saw an old woman walk into it one time.  She went right in it.  She was gone.  It is very holy.  It was there when we came across the Missouri.  I think it had been an Arikara stone.  I think they found it first.  The put things there, too.  No one would strike an enemy around that place.  Every one was safe there.  There were always many presents there.  There were weapons and things to eat and valuable cloth on sticks.  There were buffalo heads there, too, for meat to come around.  It is very holy.  It is there yet.  I do not want to talk much about it.”

     Offerings to Stones      

The custom of placing offerings before certain stones was noticed by many of the early explorers.  There can be little doubt that Lewis and Clark, in 1804-05, while wintering with the Mandans at a point a few miles above the present city of Mandan, N.D., referred in their journals to this identical stone mentioned by old Reclining Bear.  Many of the traditions told today by members of the three Federated Tribes relate to this stone.  It is often mentioned as a sort of “Zero Milestone” when they endeavor to locate some point in the country, by saying that “It is a day’s journey by wagon from the Painted Stone on the Cannon Ball.”     

     Holy Idol Stone Mentioned in Lewis & Clark Journals.   

In the “Expeditions of Lewis and Clark” – Hosmare, Vol.I, p. 175, the Journal is quoted:

“Thursday, 21st (February, 1805).  We had a continuation of the same pleasant weather.  Cheenaw and Shahaka came down to see us, and mentioned that several of their countrymen had gone to consult their medicine stone as to the prospects of the following year.  This medicine stone is the great oracle of the Mandans, and whatever it announces is believed with implicit confidence.  Every spring, and on some occasions during the summer, a deputation visits the sacred spot, where there is a thick porous stone twenty feet in  circumference, with a smooth surface.  Having reached the spot, the ceremony of smoking to it is performed by the deputies, who alternately take a whiff themselves and then present the pipe to the stone; after this they retire to an adjoining wood for the night, during which it may safely be presumed that all do not sleep; and in the morning they read the destinies of the nation in the white marks on the stone, which those who made them are at no loss to decipher.  The Minnitares (Hidatsa) have a stone of a similar kind, which has the same qualities and the same influence over the nation.  Captain Lewis returned from his excursion in pursuit of the Indians…”


     The Minnitari Stone             

The “Medicine Stone – sacred oracle” mentioned by Lewis and Clark is none other than the Iyan Wakan Gapi of the Sioux on the Cannon Ball River.  The “Minnitari” stone spoken of, according to information given to the writer by living members of the Mandan and Hidatsa people, was a large, detached, granite boulder – – – which was in the Valley of the Middle Hole country, and a little ways from the river which flows there.  The Crying Hill Village people went there.  It was north of the water on a hill side.  It is gone now.  Some white man put powder in it and built a house with it.  It was a holy stone.  It belonged to the Hidatsa.  It had marks upon it like the one on the Cannon Ball.

They were marks of buffalo, birds and wolve’s feet.  They were different every time.  The old people knew how to read these marks.  It told them all about everything.  It is too bad that it is spoiled.

There was the other one in the Sioux country.  It was bigger than this Minnitari (Hidatsa) stone.  When we passed by there we smoked.  While we were close there, we were not attacked by anyone.  It was dangerous around there after we left the stone.  It was in the Sioux country.  When we left there we always rode clear to the Heart River before we stopped.   They could steal our horses then.  But between the Heart and the Cannon Ball it was dangerous country.  We were safe at the stone.  On the Heart we could keep watch and they could steal our horses if they were brave enough to come after them there.”

     Stone Idol Creek Journey     

The Lewis and Clark Expedition reached the Arikara villages on the Grand River in the early part of October, 1804, and those people desired that one of their chiefs would be permitted to accompany the boats to the Mandans for the purpose of concluding a peace parley.  Accordingly, the Chief of the upper village, by the name of Ahketahnasha (“Chief of the Village”) went aboard.  On the trip up river to the Mandan villages north of Mandan, N.D. much information was obtained from him regarding the names of the creeks and rivers flowing into the Missouri.  It is observed that in nearly every instance where he gave the name of deserted village sites, he called them Mandan villages.

The expedition, in following up the Missouri River from the Arikara villages in the vicinity of the Grand River, came to a small creek coming in from the east, or left, bank, on Saturday, October the 13th.  This creek now bears the name of “Morphrodite Creek” and is in Campbell county, S.D., near the North Dakota line.  To this creek they gave the name of Stone Idol Creek, and their journal contains these remarks about it:

“…At ten and a half miles we reached the mouth of a small creek on the north, which takes its rise in some ponds a short distance to the northeast; to this stream we gave the name of Stone Idol Creek, for after passing a willow and sand island just above its mouth, we discovered that a few miles back from the Missouri there are two stones resembling human figures, and a third like a dog, all of which are objects of great veneration among the Ricaras.  Their history would adorn the metamorphoses of Ovid.  A young man was deeply enamored with a girl whose parents refused their consent to their marriage.  The youth went out into the fields to mourn his misfortunes; a sympathy of feeling led the lad to go to the same spot, and a faithful dog would not cease to follow his master.

After wandering together and having nothing but grapes to subsist upon, they were at last converted into stone, which beginning at the feet, gradually invaded the nobler parts, leaving nothing unchanged but a bunch of grapes which the female holds in her hands to this day.  Whenever the Ricaras pass these sacred stones they stop to make some offering of dress to propitiate these deities.  Such is the account given by the Ricara chief, which we had no mode of examining except that we found one part of the story very agreeable confirmed, for on the river where the event is said to have occurred we found a greater abundance of fine grapes than we had yet seen…”

By Sunday, October 21st, the same expedition had ascended the great waterway to “a creek on the south called Chisahetaw, about thirty yards wide and with a considerable quantity of water.”  This is the famous Heart River of the Mandan Indians and is so called to this day.  Continuing, the journal states:

“Our Ricara tells us that at some distance up this river is situated a large rock which is held in great veneration and visited by parties who go to consult it as to their own or their nations destinies, all of which they discern in some sort of figures or paintings with which it is covered.  About two miles off from the mouth of the river the party on shore saw another of the objects of Ricara superstition; it is a large oak tree standing alone in the open prairie, and as it alone had withstood the fire which has consumed everything around it, the Indians naturally ascribe to it extraordinary powers.  One of their ceremonies is to make a hole in the skin of their necks through which a string is passed and the other end tied to the body of the tree, and after remaining in this way for some time they thing they become braver…”

The stone mentioned in the foregoing paragraph by the old chief of the Ricaras, as being situated “at some distance up this river,” is the Minnitari Stone, and was drilled and split up for building stone by the white settlers in Mandan, and the basement of Mr. G.W.Renden’s residence is built of the fragments of this holy stone of the inhabitants of the Village of the Crying Hill of one hundred and fifty years or more ago.

     Maximilion Visits the Painted Rock

In the records of the German scientist, naturalist and explorer, Maximilion, Prince of Weid, who spent some time with the Mandan Indians in the winter of 1833-34, we also find reference to the sacred stone of the Cannon Ball River, the Iyan Wakan Gapi of the Dakotah.

Speaking of a Holy Stone, Maximilion says:

“Another curiosity of a similar nature is the Medicine Stone, which is mentioned by Lewis and Clark and which the Minnitaries likewise reverence.  This stone is between two and three days journey from the villages on Cannon Ball River, and about 100 paces from its banks.  I was assured that it was on a tolerably high hill, and in the form of a flat slab, probably of sand stone.  The stone is described as being marked with impressions of the footsteps of men, and animals of various descriptions, also sledges with dogs.  The Indians use this stone as an oracle, and make offerings of value to it, such as kettles, blankets, cloth, guns, knives, hatchets, medicine pipes, etc., which are found deposited close to it.  The war parties of both nations, when they take the field, generally go to this place, and consult the oracle as to the issue of their enterprise.  Lamenting and howling, they approach the hill, smoke their medicine pipes, and pass the night near the spot.  On the following morning they copy the figures on the stone upon a piece of parchment or skin, which they take to the village, where the old men give the interpretation.  New figures are undoubtedly drawn from time to time upon this stone, near to which the celebrated ark, in which part of the nation was saved from the deluge, formerly stood.”

This “Medicine Stone” of Maximilion is, without doubt, the Iyan Wakan Gapi of the Dakotah, and the description he gives to it is quite accurate.

     Four Swords Story

Four Swords, an aged Sioux, living today upon the Standing Rock Indian Reservation, when questioned regarding the stone, said:

“This stone.  I have seen it.  It is west of Shields.  It is about days’ travel from that place (via horses and wagon).  It is on the north branch of the Cannon Ball River.  It is near the water.  (He pointed across the street to a building about 150 feet distant).  It is that far.  This stone is not high.  It is flat and very large.  It is not red or black or white.  It is more like this color (here he pointed to a tan shade in the rug).  It is not on a high hill.  The ground is not high there.

It is Wakan, this stone.  People sat around it many times in the old days.  ‘Hekton’ – they smoked there.  Many things were placed there.  They placed sticks in the ground with red cloth on them.  They poured out tobacco in little piles there.  Many people sat together there.  The Palani came there too (here he used the term of the Federated Villagers).  We sat together there.  We did not fight then.

I never saw any Wicasa Kangi (Crows) there.  Some might have been there.  They visited the Minnitari (Hewaktokta – the Gros Ventre).  I do not know.  When nighttime came, we went to our camp down by the water.  In the morning there were new tracks on the stone.  There were buffalo tracks there, those of the yearling cows.  That meant good meat.  There were bird tracks and tracks of the wolf, too.  In the grass were tracks of the buffalo and elk.  The spirits had been there.  This stone is there today.  Some old people might go there today, but we have better spirits now.  We go to church.”

The town of Shields is on the left bank of the North Fork of the Cannon Ball, on the New England branch of the Milwaukee and St. Paul Rwy., and in Grant County.  A sub-agency of the Standing Rock Indian Reservation, also called Shields, is located in the same vicinity, but on the right bank and in Sioux County.  Four Swords location would place the stone almost south of Brisbane and in the valley of the Cannon Ball, and agrees with Maximilion, that “This stone is between two and three days journey from the villages on the Cannon Ball River and about 100 paces from its banks.”

     A Mysterious Incident at the Painted Rock

Emeron ‘White,’ an educated Teton Sioux, told me this story as he passed through Mandan after a visit with the Mandans, Arikara and Gros Ventre upon the Fort Berthold Reservation.  As it relates to the “Iyan Wakan Gapi” of the Cannon Ball River, it is given here, verbatim:

“The people up north told me this story while I was with the Arikara: They said that they sent some men out to look for a place to build a village.  There were four of these men and they went out along the valley of the Missouri to find a good, flat place with high bluffs over the water.”

“They came at last to a single earth lodge like they lived in then.  They had never seen this lodge before and they were very much surprised to find it there.  They approached it carefully and there was an old woman standing there all alone.  There were no men around that they could see.  They all ran toward her to strike her for honors.  She did not run, but she did not speak either, but just turned and looked around all the time.  They were afraid to strike her then.  They tried the sign language, but she did not answer them in that either.  She just looked around all the time.  They were afraid of her because she did not speak to them.  Finally they all went away from that place.  They went to their own camp and reported all they had seen and what had taken place.  So then the old men did not believe them at all, for they did not know about that stranger lodge either.”

“They decided to prove the story told by the hunters.  They all went there, guided by the four men.  The lodge was still there.  They finally looked within.  There was no old woman there at all.  There was nothing in the lodge except some branches where some one had slept.  There was no pottery or anything else.  But they found a mark outside which looked like some one had dragged a dead horse or deer or some heavy body through the bush and the grass.  The grass was trampled down all around the mysterious lodge.”

“They followed the sign of the dragged thing and, at last, the trail ended, but a buffalo cow’s track led away from the end of the dragged trail.  These tracks are smaller and more slender than a bull’s track.  They followed these tracks for a long time.  They followed them to the Cannon Ball River and picked them up on the other side.  The tracks led straight to the Iyan Wakan Gapi, where the drawings were, and went inside the rock there.  This is the reason why this Cannon Ball stone was sacred to the Arikara, because this spirit woman went inside the stone.  This was during the time of “Red Man’ or “Red Bear” who was killed by the stone by the road by the Sioux, at Fort Abraham Lincoln.”

This “Red Man” was Arikara, and was born among the Pawnees, cousins of the Arikara people, in 1793.  He was killed while scouting for the soldiers at Lincoln in 1872.  His son was called “Pretty Elk,” whose mother was “White Corn Woman.”  After his father’s death he took the sun dance and his father’s name.  He also was a scout and was present at the “Testimonial Ceremony” at Mandan, July 4th, 1924.

Chapter III, The Standing Rock

     The Standing Rock (1924)  

The most important and largest Indian reservation in North Dakota is in the southern part and extending west from the Missouri for a great distance and reaches from the Cannon Ball River to the Grand River in South Dakota.  It is the home of several thousand Sioux and is named Standing Rock Reservation.  The seat of the Indian Department is at Fort Yates and, here, the Superintendent and his corps of assistants live and the work of the Indian Department is carried on from there.

Directly in front of the Executive Offices, which face the river, stands a tall flagstaff, from which the Government flag flies as at any other government establishment.  In the shadow of this flag is a brick monument built seven or eight feet high.


On the top of this monument stands a black stone.  This stone is not over three feet tall and there is nothing to distinguish it from many other stones which lie scattered about over the prairies and hills where they have been left by the last glacial flow.  But this particular stone is different, for it has a name and history, for this is the famous Standing Rock of the inhabitants of the plains, and is known to the Indians of many states and reservations.

     First Location of the Standing Rock 

It has not always stood upon its present base, for before the whites came into the country, and long afterward, it stood upon a low, gently-sloping hillside, several miles north of the location at Fort Yates and about a mile south of the Porcupine river.  At the point where the Porcupine flows into the Missouri bottoms, that stream appears to have broken through a high range of hills which extend in a north and south direction for many miles, and to have dug out a passage which today forms a valley a half mile wide.  The range of hills ends abruptly a mile south of the Porcupine and the sloping south end turns east toward the wide wooded bottoms of the Missouri.

It is at this end where the Standing rock stood when first observed by the white people, and at a point nearly down to the lowlands.  The old military trail from Mandan and Fort Abraham passed closely to it, winding around the hills, reaching for Fort Yates. Deep ruts, 100 feet wide in places, are still to be seen and are still traveled by Indian wagons and riders and loose cattle and horses.  The auto prefers the graded highway, which now follows the straight section lines.

Major James McLaughlin (b.1842 d.1923), who was Indian Agent at the Standing Rock for many years during those stirring times which followed the Battle of the Little Big Horn and who was in charge when the order came from the Department to “get Sitting Bull,” was a great friend of the Indian and knew their customs and traditions and respected their beliefs.  He removed this stone from its age-long resting-place and bringing it to Fort Yates caused it to be erected upon a stone pedestal.  This was later changed to a brick base, upon which it still remains.

Mrs. John Grass talks about the Standing Rock, April 28, 1921:

“The first I saw it was 49 years ago (1872).  It was north of the hill at Fort Yates.  It was a Wiceyelo Stone.  They were the people who lived north of where Fort Yates is now.  It was not a stone of the Teton people.  I saw it many times after that.  The people prayed to it.  It was holy.  There were red blankets there by that stone.  There was cloth there and food to eat.  If a man was sick he prayed to get well.  If he got well he tied some tobacco in a bag and hung it there on a stick.  Sometimes the Tetons would steal what was around the stone.  It did not hurt them any.  Then after that some agent carried the stone to Fort Yates and put it up where it is now.  It was an old woman turned to stone.”

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Talking Rocks

Geology and 10,000 years of native american tradition in the lake superior region.

Ron Morton and Carl Gawboy Illustrations by Carl Gawboy

native american spirit rocks

An earth scientist and a Native American elder explore the natural history of the Lake Superior region, examining both the science and the spirit of the land.

native american spirit rocks

Minnesota and the Upper Midwest , Cultural Criticism , Native American and Indigenous Studies , Nature

Join the conversation as an earth scientist and a Native American elder—wise men from two cultures—explore the natural history of the Lake Superior region, examining both the science and the spirit of the land.

As the geologist carefully presents a modern scientific perspective, the storyteller eloquently recounts a traditional Native American understanding, passed on through tales, myths, and symbols that illustrate how intimately his people have known and honored the earth and its history for over a hundred centuries. Talking Rocks is not only a story of geological history told from two perspectives, it is also a chronicle of two people from very different cultural and scientific heritages learning to understand and appreciate each other’s distinct yet complementary ways of viewing the land we share.

$17.95 paper ISBN 978-0-8166-4430-8 224 pages, 6 X 9, 2003

Ron Morton is professor of geology at the University of Minnesota-Duluth, where he teaches economic geology, volcanology, and other earth science courses. An avid advocate of geology for lay people, Ron enjoys translating technical scientific concepts into everyday language and experience.

Ojibwe by heritage, Carl Gawboy is an accomplished artist and retired professor of American Indian studies at the College of St. Scholastica. Carl has a lifelong interest in exploring the connections between ancient pictographs and traditional Native American understandings of astronomy and the constellations.



Author's Note


Part I: Old Man and the Spirit of Summer Part II: When the Great Panther Rises


Part I: Origins Part II: The Nothing Part III: Food to Go


Part I: Introduction Part II: People of the Rocks Part III: People of Gichi Garni Part IV: The Four Seasons


Part I: The Fire of Manidoo and the Old Man Part II: People of the Red Metal Part III: Minong


Part I: Tambora and the Little Ice Age Part II: Shooting the Wintermaker Part III: The Fur Trader


Part I: The Red Stone Part II: Coyote and the Gift


Part I: Fisher and Friends Part II: The Immensity of It All



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Ancient Origins

The Tradition of the Piasa and the Mysterious Rock Art of the Mississippi

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Along the river of the Mississippi Valley where its banks form the boundary between Illinois and Missouri, there exists thousands of ancient pictographs carved or painted on rocks, on walls in cave shelters, and beneath overhanging cliffs. For hundreds of years these images have been described in the journals of explorers, heard about through whispers of townspeople, scrawled in old town records and in innumerable reports of ethnologists and archaeologists. One would be hard-pressed to find a more enigmatic and curious image than that of the Piasa. Its name is Native American and in the Illini signifies, “ The bird which devours men”.

In the town of Alton, Illinois is a narrow ravine through which a small stream flows into the Mississippi River. Near the mouth of this stream, a hundred feet high up on the face of the cliff side is a modern representation of the Piasa. The image was first written about in 1673 by French missionary priest Jacques Marquette while recording his journey down the Mississippi with Louis Joliet. Marquette describes the image as “ as large as a calf, with horns like a roebuck, red eyes, a beard like a tiger and a frightful countenance. The face was something like that of a man, the body covered in scales, and the tail so long that it passed entirely around the body, over the head and between the legs, ending like a fish.”

The original image was visible until 1847 when the entire face of the bluff was quarried away, however, the legend endures.

The legend of the Piasa Bird dates back to long before European explorers came to region. It has been traced to a band of Illiniwek Indians who lived along the Mississippi in the vicinity north of present-day Alton. This tribe, led by a chief named Owatoga, hunted and fished the valley and the river and lived a contented life until the "great beast" came. In 1836 John Russel, a professor of Greek & Latin at Shurtleff College in Upper Alton published an account of the legend as told by the Illini.

Many thousand moons before the arrival of the pale faces, when the Mastodon & great Magalonyx were still living in the land of green prairies, there existed a bird of such dimensions that he could easily carry off in his talons a full grown deer. Having obtained a taste for human flesh, from that time he would prey on nothing else. He was artful as he was powerful and he would dart suddenly and unexpectedly upon an Indian, bear him off into one of the caves of the bluff and devour him. Hundreds of warriors attempted for years to destroy him, but without success. Whole villages were nearly depopulated, and consternation spread through all the tribes of the Illini.
Such was the state of affairs when Ouatogo, the great chief of the Illini fasted in solitude for the space of a whole moon, and prayed to the Great Spirit that he would protect his children from the Piasa. On the last night of the fast the Great Spirit appeared to Ouatogo in a dream, and directed him to select 20 of his bravest warriors, each armed with a bow and poisoned arrows, and conceal them in a designated spot. Near the place of concealment another warrior was to stand in open view, as a victim for the Piasa, which they must shoot the instant he pounced on his prey. The next morning the warriors were quickly selected and placed in ambush as directed. Ouatogo offered himself as the victim. Placing himself in open view on the bluffs, he soon saw the Piasa perched on the cliff eying his prey. The Piasa rose into the air and darted down on his victim. Scarcely had the horrid creature reached his prey before every bow was sprung and every arrow sent into his body. The Piasa uttered a fearful scream, that sounded far over the opposite side of the river, and expired. Ouatogo was unharmed. There was wild rejoicing among the Illini and the brave chief was carried in triumph to the council house, where it was solemnly agreed that, in memory of the great event in their nation’s history, the image of the Piasa should be engraved on the bluff.

The Piasa

The Piasa. Image Source .

John Russel, in his 1836 report continues, “ My curiosity was principally directed to the examination of a cave, connected with the tradition as one of those to which that bird had carried its human victims. Preceded by an intelligent guide, I set out on my excursion. The cave was extremely difficult of access and at one point I stood at an elevation of 150 feet on the perpendicular face of the bluff, with barely room to sustain one foot. After a long, perilous climb we reached the cave. The floor of the cavern throughout its extent was one mass of human bones. To what depth they extended I was unable to decide, but we dug to the depth of 3-4 feet in every part of the cavern, and still we found only bones. The remains of thousands must have been deposited here.”

In the years following Marquette’s description, a number of explorers spoke of the pictograph, as well as others that were reported to have been seen on the bluffs as far as 30 miles away from the original. St. Cosme reports seeing the images in 1699. The Piasa is mentioned in a book by A.D. Jones with the title, “ Illinois and the West” written in 1838. One of the most satisfactory pictures of the Piasa comes from a German book called “ The Valley of the Mississippi Illustrated” published in 1839.

As with the Illini tribes, there can be found traditions of similar large birds and dragons throughout the world. The Dacotah tribe believed that thunder was a monstrous bird flying through the air and claimed that these birds were large enough to carry off human beings. In the ancient Buddhist caves of India there can be found a number of carved and painted dragons that easily fit with the descriptions of Piasa. There have also been found in the area of the Mississippi Valley thousands of burial vases which have dragon-like heads pronounced, standing up from the rim of the vessel.

One theory regarding the origin of the Piasa is that it may have been an older iconograph from the large Mississippian culture city of Cahokia, which began developing about 900 AD and was at its peak about 1200 AD. It was the largest prehistoric city north of Mexico and a major chiefdom. Icons and animal pictographs, such as falcons, thunder-birds, bird men, and monstrous snakes were common motifs of the Cahokia culture. The Piasa creature may have been painted as a graphic symbol to warn strangers traveling down the Mississippi River that they were entering Cahokian territory.

However, others have questioned whether the so-called mythical creature could have been an ancient species of bird that actually existed.  That so many cultures and groups of people separated by thousands of miles and years have similar tales of immense flying creatures is curious to say the least.

Featured image: The Female Piasa Bird. Credit: FoolishLittleMortal

By Greg Sorrell

Records of Ancient Races - W.M. McAdams 1887

The Valley of the Mississippi Illustrated - H. Lewis 1839

Illinois and the West - A.D. Jones 1838

Parkman's Discoveries of the Great West 1838

The myths of North America and other continents are strong proof that a monstrous winged lizard lived within the memories of mankind. The only counter-evidence to pterosaurs living just 10,000 years ago is the dating techniques that are championed by orthodox scientists.

"if you look at the transcribed story" Point well taken, LOL

Looks like I should count to "10" before tapping out a comment, Eh?

if you look at the transcribed story, it mentions that the event that inspired the legend took place roughly sometime in the Pleistocene period, by mention of mastodons and the Megalonyx giant ground sloth. around that time there were a number of these teratorns existing throughout the Americas, with the largest, Argentavis, having a wingspan of 7 meters. They, along with a large number of animals, went extinct during the Pleistocene-Quarternary Extinction event..... curiously coinciding with the currently accepted time frame of human arrival in the Americas from the Eurasian landbridge. 'currently accepted'

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"I was a student of Archeology and Geology for many years and bought into the millions of years crap until I saw the light, and it wasn't the Bible. It was realizing that concrete is actually rock, or rock is concrete and it doesn't take millions of years for a house foundation to "set up". What about the thousands of rock layers? I see deposition like that on construction sites after just one rain event, dozens of layers of deposited sediment, albeit on a much smaller scale, but the mathematics are the same. Imagine the deposition of a Continental scale flood. Just my two cents."

Math Fellow, you are a fellow after my own heart. I live in a geologically interesting area and, over time, I too began to notice things that did not seem to match what I had learned from textbooks. Finding a few things like that resulted in me paying a lot more attention to the stone around me. I began finding many strange and wonderful things, and began to ask questions.

Google, that endlessly patient info-servant with its googolplex of busy internet tentacles, could not help me identify the weird rocks I was finding, but it did find other interesting things for me.

In particular, your comments about rock/concrete reminded me about one very interesting thing Google brought to my attention a few years ago. In Judah there are thousands of rock-cut caves beneath the surface. They're called the Bell Caves .

These caves have many interesting features....but look at this:

So.... after the caves were cut, that sediment flowed in and hardened.....wonder how old these caves really are?

Thanks for your response.

We really don't know when the animals deposited themselves in the LaBrea Tar Pits, all we have to go on is the Archeological community's storyline that's been perpetuatured and emblazoned for 120 years. But I'll bet the oldest of those creatures walked into the hydrocarbon goop not 2,000 years ago and some as recently as just a century ago. Heck, they've found house cats entombed in 4 feet of that tar, so the "10's of thousands of years" Fairy Tale is so full of holes it just plain doesn't float. That story, as well as, 97% of "modern scientific interpretations" are intended for the consumption of gulible uneducated masses. I'm not including you in that group necessarily, as I realize we are all being lied to on a daily basis about the (theory) of Evolution as though it is absolute fact. The far-fetched backstories and other accompanying fiction are exactly that: Pure fantasy.

I was a student of Archeology and Geology for many years and bought into the millions of years crap until I saw the light, and it wasn't the Bible. It was realizing that concrete is actually rock, or rock is concrete and it doesn't take millions of years for a house foundation to "set up". What about the thousands of rock layers? I see deposition like that on construction sites after just one rain event, dozens of layers of deposited sediment, albeit on a much smaller scale, but the mathematics are the same. Imagine the deposition of a Continental scale flood. Just my two cents.

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Greg Sorrell

I've been interested in the mysteries of our world for as long as I can remember. My fascination began when I was young boy reading stories about Bigfoot and The Loch Ness Monster and has since grown into an almost... Read More

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10 Places to See Native American Pictographs & Petroglyphs in the West

By Joseph A. Williams Last updated October 20, 2023

native american symbols

Humans have been creating rock art since paleolithic times. The oldest known of which (so far) is cave art found on an Indonesian island dating to some 45,000 years ago. In the Old West, Native American rock art, including pictographs and petroglyphs, while relatively younger, is equally evocative.

Native American Pictographs and Petroglyphs

Rock art is divided into two categories: pictographs and petroglyphs .

Both pictographs and petroglyphs are found throughout North America, but are especially famous in the West. Pictographs are paintings on rock. These are found all over the west but they generally do not preserve well except in some rare occasions.

More common are petroglyphs. These are symbols and icons that Native Americans chiseled into the stone face itself. 

Pictographs and petroglyphs were not a language like Egyptian hieroglyphics. Generally, rock art could convey meaning or directions, but it was not a transmitter of language.

Rather, these symbols were typically abstract and spiritual. In the west, rock art was usually created by those who had undergone vision quests or to mark a place of deeply profound spiritual importance. In some instances they may have just been an expression of art. Interpretations are all subjective and speculative, which makes these images particularly alluring to viewers.

Here’s a look at 10 places in the American West where you can still see preserved indigenous works of spirit, art, and thought.

1. Legend Rock Petroglyph Site, Wyoming

native american symbols

Among the numerous petroglyphs in the West, there are few as dramatic as the Legend Rock Petroglyph Site in Wyoming.

A Wyoming State Park , the location features vertical cliffs that stretch for over 1,300 feet. The importance of Legend Rock to Native American spiritual beliefs is significant, having been a sacred site for thousands of years.

The first petroglyphs were carved perhaps as far back as six milenia and today a visitor can see about 300 petroglyphs on 92 different panels. The style has been attributed to the “ Sheepeaters ” in the Dinwoody style, an ancestor group of the Shoshone.

These petroglyphs show figures in headdresses with decorated torsos. Later tribes who may have carved into the cliffs were the Crow, Arapahoe, Sioux, Kiowa, Blackfoot, and Cheyenne.

Humans, animals, and geometric shapes appear in abundance. Perhaps the most well-known petroglyph from the site is that of the mythical thunderbird.

Visiting Legend Rock is simple. It is accessible for day visitors from May to September. A hiker just has to make sure to bring plenty of water and watch out for rattlesnakes.

Related read : 7 Facts About Cheyenne Dog Soldiers & Their Warrior Legacies

2. Great Basin National Park, Nevada

Upper Pictograph Cave rock art

In the Great Basin, archaeologists discovered a Native American culture dating from the 13th century CE which was dubbed the “ Fremont Indian ” culture after the Fremont River.

These people were, unlike their ancestors or their descendants, a sedentary people that practiced agriculture. They also avidly created pictographs. Some of these are found in Nevada’s Great Basin National Park , where the westernmost edge of Fremont culture spread.

Upper Pictograph Cave is the most well-known site within the park. To create their pictographs, the Fremont created paints which proved to last centuries. This usually entailed using an inorganic pigment such as the mineral hematite which would then be used with a binding agent such as eggs, blood, or oil, mixed with a fluid such as water, urine, or juice to create the paint.

The images have been dubbed the “Fremont-style” because of their distinct trapezoidal look for both human and animal figures. Other images such as lines or dots were abstract. 

Visitors today can go to the park and approach the cave. However, they are forbidden to enter in order to preserve not only the rock art, but also the significant archaeological findings on the site. You can easily view the pictographs from outside the cave.

Related read : 7 Ghost Towns in Nevada and the History Behind Their Rise and Fall

native american symbols book

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Spirits of the Earth: A Guide to Native American Nature Symbols, Stories, and Ceremonies

“I recommend this book to anyone who wishes to know what the symbols of Native American meant, and how to make use of it in todays world.” – Amazon review

3. Nine Mile Canyon, Utah

Nine Mile Canyon, Utah

While it is called Nine Mile Canyon, this canyon is really over 40 miles long . It is suggested by Atlas Obscura that the nine-mile moniker came from a surveyor named John Wesley Powell who used a technique called the “nine-mile transect.”

In any case, Nine Mile Canyon is also dubbed the “world’s longest art gallery” due to the numerous pictographs and petroglyphs at the site.

The diversity of pictographs found in Nine Mile Canyon is impressive. These have been inscribed over the course of a millennium from the early Fremont culture circa 400 CE to 1400 CE. Later, Anglo settlers even put their own carvings on the rock.

The carvings range from animal life, hunting scenes, to abstract images. Some even contain directional guides such as a dragonfly symbol which indicated a bountiful land overlaid with cardinal directional points. This was meant to convey to a traveler which way to go.

What’s more, there are images that guide people on how to monitor the sun in order to best provide direction for when to plant and harvest crops.

Aside from these sites, the canyon also features a ghost town called Harper, making it well worth the visit. The site is managed by the Bureau of Land Management .

Related read : When Did the Wild West Really End?

4. Petroglyph National Monument, New Mexico

Petroglyph National Monument, New Mexico

One of the largest rock art sites in the United States is Petroglyph National Monument in New Mexico. This site features rock art from up to seven centuries ago with an estimated 25,000 petroglyphs along 17 miles of escarpment.

Most of these were made by the ancestors of the Pueblo and most were created from the 14th to the late 17th centuries CE. This artform came crashing to an end with the Spanish conquest of the area. 

These petroglyphs are generally believed to be sacred symbols rather than containing any sort of mundane meaning. Most are abstract. For example, Britannica notes that common motifs include spirals, geometric shapes, people, animals, and stars.

For each it is important to look at individual petroglyphs in context to see how it was integrated into the environment about it. In 1990, the site was established as a national monument.

Today, it is still considered a sacred space by Native American people who conduct important religious ceremonies on the grounds. The site is open year-round with multiple trails to view these alluring images.

Related read : 20 Wild West Towns that are Still Inhabited Today — and Well Worth Visiting

5. Saguaro National Park, Arizona

Saguaro National Park, Arizona

In Arizona’s Saguaro National Park are a collection of images wrought by the prehistoric Hohokam people . Saguaro has both petroglyphs and pictographs that were created from 550 to 1550 years ago.

These include shapes and objects that are easily recognizable but also a large amount of abstract images that people still wonder over. The largest collection of the petroglyphs and pictographs may be found in the park on Signal Hill , a low-lying rocky hill that is distinct in the district.

Unfortunately, the pictographs have not worn well over the centuries and are barely visible. However, the petroglyphs fare better and are evocative. One example found here is the so-called “ Great Spiral .”

The petroglyph’s design of a spiral alone upon a rock is simple yet thoughtful leading one writer to comment that the petroglyphs “evoke a mysterious presence, a complex sense of the divine, expressed by ancestors who once peopled this continent.”

The most common wisdom is that the petroglyphs found in Saguaro were of religious importance. Beyond that it is purely speculative. Perhaps they told a story or represented a clan, or ensured the support of the spirits. Each visitor may have their own interpretation. 

Related read: Tom Jeffords and Cochise: Blood Brothers of Arizona

6. Shavano Valley Rock Art Site, Colorado

Shavano Valley Rock Art Site

The Shavano Valley contains the largest concentration of rock art in western Colorado. The site contains 37 different rock art panels that were composed between 1000 BCE and 1900 CE.

That’s a long time and as a result the diversity of the pictographs and petroglyphs has been used as a point of tracing continuity and change in Native American culture in that region. What makes understanding the petroglyphs of Shavano easier than other sites, is that they were carved until recently so they are within near living memory.

Twenty seven panels of the rock art were created by archaic and Ute peoples. The remaining 11 panels are of more recent origin containing inscriptions and graffiti. However, these are considered historically important since they are also a record of early white settlement in the region.

The Native American panels offer some unique insights into cultural developments in western Colorado. The early petroglyphs are of a singular straight line style showing images of animals as well as human-type figures. Later styles are more mixed with curved lines.

One well known image is found on Panel 1 which depicts three bears climbing in trees. Experts believe that this may tie into an Ute legend. Generally considered a premier site of the Native American past, it is not open to visit by the general public. However, private tours may be arranged through the Ute Indian Museum .

Related read : The Complicated Legacy of Peacemaker Ute Chief Ouray

7. Pictograph Trail in Little Blair Valley, California

Anza-Borrego Desert State Park

In the Little Blair Valley of southern California, the Kumeyaay people left a record of impressive yellow and red rock art. These images are quite alluring in their abstraction consisting of chains of diamonds and chevrons.

While the site is not the most extensive of rock art sites, it is certainly one of the most important since it one of the few archaeological records of Native American people from that region.

One writer reasons that the images may have been painted by young men to identify and thank the spirits that aided him during the ordeals between boyhood and manhood. Other images may have been painted by females as they went through the vision quests of their own puberty rituals.

These pictographs may have been initiation art.

The site is located in the Anza-Borrego Desert State Park and is open year-round. It is a moderate 3 mile out and back hike.

Related read : 7 California Ghost Towns that Capture the Golden State’s Rich Mining History

8. Canyon de Chelly National Monument, Arizona

Canyon de Chelly National Monument

Where many rock art sites go for the anthropomorphic or the abstract, Canyon de Chelly’s petroglyphs provide insight onto the terrible clash between Europeans and native cultures.

The Canyon de Chelly National Monument is located in desert regions in northeastern Arizona and contains numerous examples of 19th century Navajo rock art. Some of the most stunning are silhouetted images of Spanish riders complete with cloaks, hats, and rifles.

This makes this rock art much more dateable. According to Stewart M. Green’s “ Rock Art ,” these images depict how a contingent of 500 Spanish soldiers led by Antonio Narbona forced their way into the canyon in 1805. At that time, the canyon was a base for either Diné or Navajo people.

In the massacre that followed over 100 elderly, women, and children were killed while they were huddled in a shallow cave for safety. The place, now called Massacre Cave , held their bones for a century and a half until archaeologists found them.

In 1931, President Hoover approved the designation of the site as a national monument in order to preserve its rich trove of archaeological knowledge.

Related read : 15 Native American Ruins in Arizona that Offer a Historic Glimpse into the Past

9. Indian Painted Rocks, Spokane, Washington

Little Spokane River

Along the Little Spokane River in Washington State, members of the Spokane tribe painted red figures onto the rocks.

The stone itself was porous which allowed it to easily absorb the pigment and also provided for its preservation for the next 250 years. The site, Indian Painted Rocks, is reported by Atlas Obscura has some puzzling pictographs of an abstract nature, but some are easily deduced.

For example, some pictographs depict horses and another a cross. Was this a sign of European settlement?

Another image is a “water devil” design, which may indicate the presence of an evil spirit. Or maybe these images were just the art of an individual who painted the rocks and did not even realize his or her work would last so long.

While interpretation, as with almost all Native American rock art, is up for debate the actual painting has been analyzed. According “ Ghosts and Legends of Spokane ,” the Spokane people used red minerals which were crushed then mixed with fish oil.

This art is easily accessible at the Little Spokane Natural Area , a relatively short hike from the trailhead’s parking lot.

Related read : 17 Epic Facts about the Transcontinental Railroad

10. Canyonlands National Park, Utah

Canyonlands National Park

The penultimate western landscape of deep gorges created by milenia of erosion, it is little wonder the Canyonlands National Park in Utah was a place that would move Native Americans to art.

Horseshoe Canyon is a part of the park and is one of the most stunning locales to see both petroglyphs and pictographs. Here, hikers can see life size figures etched and painted into the rock face. This 200 foot display is called the Great Gallery and it is believed to have been created by hunter gatherers thousands of years in the past. 

The trouble is that getting to see the site is difficult. From Moab, Utah you need to drive over three hours to reach the trailhead. Then to reach the Great Gallery you need to hike seven miles (14 round trip).

There are no services, so you need to be supplied. It is also recommended not to do it during the summer, when temperatures can easily exceed 100 degrees Fahrenheit.

Related read : Hell on Wheels History: Rowdy Railroad Towns Across the Plains

Related Reads

  • 50 Native American Proverbs, Sayings & Wisdom Quotes
  • 5 Spectacular Native American Ruins in Colorado You Can Visit Today
  • 10 Native American Mythical Creatures, from Thunderbirds to Skinwalkers
  • 10 Facts You May Not Know About Quanah Parker, the “Last Chief of the Comanche”
  • 7 Remarkable Native American Women from Old West History
  • The Origins of Scalping: A True and Surprising History
  • The Fighting Men & Women of the Fetterman Massacre
  • 10 Important Battles & Fights of the Great Sioux War
  • Skeleton Cave: Exploring the Salt River Cave Massacre Site
  • 7 Intriguing Stories of Lost Treasure in Utah

Further Reading

  • Early Rock Art of the American West: The Geometric Enigma , Ekkehart Malotki
  • A Field Guide to Rock Art Symbols of the Greater Southwest , Alex Patterson
  • North American Indian Designs for Artists and Craftspeople , Eva Wilson
  • Indian Rock Art of the Southwest , Polly Schaafsma
  • Spirits of the Earth: A Guide to Native American Nature Symbols, Stories, and Ceremonies , Bobby Lake-Thom

by Joseph A. Williams

Joseph A. Williams is an author, historian, and librarian based in Connecticut. He has authored three books: The Sunken Gold , Seventeen Fathoms Deep , and Four Years Before the Mast .

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Discovery of 'calendar' rock carvings from Ancestral Pueblo in US Southwest surpasses 'wildest expectations'

Spiral petroglyphs carved into a canyon wall on the Colorado-Utah border may have been used as a calendar by the Ancestral Pueblo.

A woman crouches next to petroglyphs.

While investigating a site in the US Southwest, archaeologists discovered a series of ancient rock carvings that early Native Americans may have used as a calendar.

The site, known as the Castle Rock Pueblo, is on the Mesa Verde plateau straddling the Colorado-Utah border and is best known for the Ancestral Pueblo settlements that are carved into the surrounding canyon walls, according to a statement .

The Ancestral Pueblo were a group of Indigenous peoples who inhabited the Castle Rock Pueblo from about the 1250s to 1274, according to a 2020 study in the journal Antiquity . 

"The agricultural Pueblo communities developed one of the most advanced Pre-Columbian cultures in North America," Radosław Palonka , an archaeology professor at Jagiellonian University in Poland who led the investigation, said in the statement. "They perfected the craft of building multi-story stone houses, resembling medieval town houses or even later blocks of flats. The Pueblo people were also famous for their rock art, intricately ornamented jewelry and ceramics bearing different motifs painted with a black pigment on white background." Related: Earliest evidence of Maya divination calendar discovered in ancient temple

During their investigation, the archaeologists discovered a series of petroglyphs (rock carvings) chiseled into the canyon walls high above the cliff settlements. The carvings, which include spirals stretching more than 3 feet (1 meter) in diameter, continue across more than 2.5 miles (4 kilometers), according to the statement.

"I used to think that we studied this area thoroughly, conducting full-scale excavations, geophysical surveying and digitalization," Palonka said in the statement. "Yet, I had some hints from older members of the local community that something more can be found in the higher, less accessible parts of the canyons. We wanted to verify this information, and what we found surpassed our wildest expectations."

— Analysis of ancient teeth questions theory that Native Americans originated from Japan

— Great-grandson of iconic Native American leader Sitting Bull confirmed by DNA analysis

— 'Ghost footprints' left by ancient hunter-gatherers discovered in Utah desert

Researchers think the Ancestral Pueblo used the panels as a calendar for "astronomical observations" and to commemorate "special days," including the summer and winter solstices and the spring and autumn equinoxes , according to the statement.

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Jennifer Nalewicki

Jennifer Nalewicki is a Salt Lake City-based journalist whose work has been featured in The New York Times, Smithsonian Magazine, Scientific American, Popular Mechanics and more. She covers several science topics from planet Earth to paleontology and archaeology to health and culture. Prior to freelancing, Jennifer held an Editor role at Time Inc. Jennifer has a bachelor's degree in Journalism from The University of Texas at Austin.

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  • jen I tutor a 5th grader and they just recently learned about the Ancient Pueblos. I do a little extra research on what they study to add in interesting stuff or get ideas to help him remember things. So he was learning about the Anasazi. So, I explained the name and what I consider the better name, Ancient Pueblo. There were actually a few other things I noticed that were pretty Irritating, as well. I'm a fanatic for knowledge and accuracy. The school doesn't have a lot of money, but I have asked them to update their social study books. So, at the very least, they're aware. :) Reply
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Indigenous Americans: Spirituality and Ecos

native american spirit rocks

Jack D. Forbes is professor emeritus and former chair of Native American studies at the University of California at Davis. © 2001 by Jack D. Forbes. All rights reserved.

The cosmic visions of indigenous peoples are significantly diverse. Each nation and community has its own unique traditions. Still, several characteristics stand out. First, it is common to envision the creative process of the universe as a form of thought or mental process. Second, it is common to have a source of creation that is plural, either because several entities participate in creation or because the process as it unfolds includes many sacred actors stemming from a First Principle (Father/Mother or Grandfather/Grandmother). Third, the agents of creation are seldom pictured as human, but are depicted instead as “wakan” (holy), or animal-like (coyote, raven, great white hare, etc.), or as forces of nature (such as wind/breath). The Lakota medicine man Lame Deer says that the Great Spirit “is not like a human being. . . . He is a power. That power could be in a cup of coffee. The Great Spirit is no old man with a beard.” 1 The concept perhaps resembles the elohim of the Jewish Genesis, the plural form of eloi , usually mistranslated as “God,” as though it were singular.

Perhaps the most important aspect of indigenous cosmic visions is the conception of creation as a living process, resulting in a living universe in which a kinship exists between all things. Thus the Creators are our family, our Grandparents or Parents, and all of their creations are children who, of necessity, are also our relations.

An ancient Ashiwi (Zuñi) prayer-song states:

That our earth mother may wrap herself In a four-fold robe of white meal [snow]; . . . When our earth mother is replete with living waters, When spring comes, The source of our flesh, All the different kinds of corn We shall lay to rest in the ground with the earth mother’s living waters, They will be made into new beings, Coming out standing into the daylight of their Sun father, to all sides They will stretch out their hands. . . . 2

Thus the Mother Earth is a living being, as are the waters and the Sun.

Juan Matus told Carlos Castaneda that Genaro, a Mazateco, “was just now embracing this enormous earth . . . but the earth knows that Genaro loves it and it bestows on him its care. . . . This earth, this world. For a warrior there can be no greater love. . . . This lovely being, which is alive to its last recesses and understands every feeling. . . .” 3

Or, as Lame Deer puts it:

We must try to use the pipe for mankind, which is on the road to self-destruction. . . . This can be done only if all of us, Indians and non-Indians alike, can again see ourselves as part of the earth, not as an enemy from the outside who tries to impose its will on it. Because we . . . also know that, being a living part of the earth, we cannot harm any part of her without hurting ourselves. 4

European writers long ago referred to indigenous Americans’ ways as “animism,” a term that means “life-ism.” And it is true that most or perhaps all Native Americans see the entire universe as being alive—that is, as having movement and an ability to act. But more than that, indigenous Americans tend to see this living world as a fantastic and beautiful creation engendering extremely powerful feelings of gratitude and indebtedness, obliging us to behave as if we are related to one another. An overriding characteristic of Native North American religion is that of gratitude, a feeling of overwhelming love and thankfulness for the gifts of the Creator and the earth/universe. As a Cahuilla elder, Ruby Modesto, has stated: “Thank you mother earth, for holding me on your breast. You always love me no matter how old I get.” 5 Or as Joshua Wetsit, an Assiniboine elder born in 1886, put it: “But our Indian religion is all one religion, the Great Spirit. We’re thankful that we’re on this Mother Earth. That’s the first thing when we wake up in the morning, is to be thankful to the Great Sprit for the Mother Earth: how we live, what it produces, what keeps everything alive.” 6

Many years ago, the Great Spirit gave the Shawnee, Sauk, Fox, and other peoples maize or corn. This gift arrived when a beautiful woman appeared from the sky. She was fed by two hunters, and in return she gave them, after one year, maize, beans, and tobacco. “We thank the Great Spirit for all the benefits he has conferred upon us. For myself, I never take a drink of water from a spring, without being mindful of his goodness.” 7

Although it is certainly true that Native Americans ask for help from spiritual beings, it is my personal observation that giving thanks, or, in some cases, giving payment for gifts received, is a salient characteristic of most public ceremonies. Perhaps this is related to the overwhelmingly positive attitude Native Americans have had toward the Creator and the world of “nature,” or what I call the “Wemi Tali,” the “All Where” in the Delaware-Lenápe language. Slow Buffalo, a teacher, is remembered to have said about a thousand years ago:

Remember . . . the ones you are going to depend upon. Up in the heavens, the Mysterious One, that is your grandfather. In between the earth and the heavens, that is your father. This earth is your grandmother. The dirt is your grandmother. Whatever grows in the earth is your mother. It is just like a sucking baby on a mother. . . .

Always remember, your grandmother is underneath your feet always. You are always on her, and your father is above. 8

Winona LaDuke, a contemporary leader from White Earth Anishinabe land, tells us that:

Native American teachings describe the relations all around—animals, fish, trees, and rocks—as our brothers, sisters, uncles, and grandpas. . . .

These relations are honored in ceremony, song, story, and life that keep relations close—to buffalo, sturgeon, salmon, turtles, bears, wolves, and panthers. These are our older relatives—the ones who came before and taught us how to live. 9

In 1931 Standing Bear, a Lakota, said when reciting an ancient prayer:

To mother earth, it is said . . . you are the only mother that has shown mercy to your children. . . . Behold me, the four quarters of the earth, relative I am. . . . All over the earth faces of all living things are alike. Mother earth has turned these faces out of the earth with tenderness. Oh Great Spirit behold them, all these faces with children in their hands. 10

Again in 1931, Black Elk, the well-known Lakota medicine man, told us that “The four-leggeds and the wings of the air and the mother earth were supposed to be relative-like. . . . The first thing an Indian learns is to love each other and that they should be relative-like to the four-leggeds.” 11 And thus we see this very strong kinship relation to the Wemi Tali, the “All Where”: “The Great Spirit made the flowers, the streams, the pines, the cedars—takes care of them. . . . He takes care of me, waters me, feeds me, makes me live with plants and animals as one of them. . . . All of nature is in us, all of us is in nature.” 12

At the center of all of the creation is the Great Mystery. As Black Elk said:

When we use the water in the sweat lodge we should think of Wakan-Tanka, who is always flowing, giving His power and life to everything. . . . The round fire place at the center of the sweat lodge is the center of the universe, in which dwells Wakan-Tanka, with His power which is the fire. All these things are Wakan [holy and mystery] and must be understood deeply if we really wish to purify ourselves, for the power of a thing or an act is in the meaning and the understanding. 13

Luther Standing Bear, writing in the 1930s, noted:

The old people came literally to love the soil and they sat or reclined on the ground with a feeling of being close to a mothering power. It was good for the skin to touch the earth and the old people liked to remove their moccasins and walk with bare feet on the sacred earth. . . . The soil was soothing, strengthening, cleansing, and healing. . . . Wherever the Lakota went, he was with Mother Earth. No matter where he roamed by day or slept by night he was safe with her. 14

Native people, according to Standing Bear, were often baffled by the European tendency to refer to nature as crude, primitive, wild, rude, untamed, and savage. “For the Lakota, mountains, lakes, rivers, springs, valleys, and woods were all finished beauty. . . .” 15

Of course, the indigenous tendency to view the earth and other nonorganic entities as being part of bios (life, living) is seen by many post-1500 Europeans as simply romantic or nonsensical. When Native students enroll in many biology or chemistry classes today they are often confronted by professors who are absolutely certain that rocks are not alive. But in reality these professors are themselves products of an idea system of materialism and mechanism that is both relatively modern and indefensible. I have challenged this materialist perspective in a poem, “Kinship is the Basic Principle of Philosophy,” which I will partially reproduce here as indicative of some common indigenous perspectives:

. . .For hundreds of years           certainly for thousands Our Native elders           have taught us “All My Relations”           means all living things           and the entire Universe “All Our Relations”           they have said           time and time again. . . . Do you doubt still?           a rock alive? You say           it is hard!           it doesn’t move of its own accord!           it has no eyes!           it doesn’t think!           but rocks do move           put one in a fire           it will get hot won’t it?           That means           won’t you agree?           that its insides are moving           ever more rapidly?. . . So don’t kid me my friend,           rocks change           rocks move           rocks flow           rocks combine           rocks are powerful friends           I have many           big and small           their processes, at our temperatures,           are very slow           but very deep! I understand because, you see,           I am part rock!           I eat rocks           rocks are part of me           I couldn’t exist without           the rock in me           We are all related! No, it’s alive I tell you,           just like the old ones say           they’ve been there           you know           they’ve crossed the boundaries           not with computers           but with their           very own beings! 16

About a thousand years ago, White Buffalo Calf Woman came to the ancestors of the Lakota, giving them a sacred pipe and a round rock. The rock, Black Elk said,

. . . is the Earth, your Grandmother and Mother, and it is where you will live and increase. . . . All of this is sacred and so do not forget! Every dawn as it comes is a holy event, and every day is holy, for the light comes from your father Wakan-Tanka; and also you must always remember that the two-leggeds and all the other peoples who stand upon this earth are sacred and should be treated as such. 17

Here we see not only the expression of relatedness on a living earth, but also the sacredness or holiness of events that some persons take for granted: the dawn, the day, and, in effect, time and the flow of life in its totality. In relation to all of these gifts, human beings are expected to be humble, not arrogant, and to respect other creatures. An ancient Nahua (Mexican) poem tells us that

Those of the white head of hair, those of the wrinkled face, our ancestors. . . They did not come to be arrogant, They did not come to go about looking greedily, They did not come to be voracious. They were such that they were esteemed on the earth: They reached the stature of eagles and jaguars. 18

Lame Deer says: “You can tell a good medicine man by his actions and his way of life. Is he lean? Does he live in a poor cabin? Does money leave him cold?” 19 Thus, humility and a lack of arrogance are accompanied by a tendency toward simple living, which reinforces the ideal of nonexploitation of other living creatures. A consciousness of death also adds to the awareness of the importance of concentrating on the ethical quality of one’s life as opposed to considerations of quantity of possessions or size of religious edifices. “A man’s life is short. Make yours a worthy one,” says Lame Deer.

Juan Matus, in Carlos Castaneda’s Journey to Ixtlan, captures very well the attitude of many Native people: “. . .You don’t eat five quail; you eat one. You don’t damage the plants just to make a barbecue. . . . You don’t use and squeeze people until they have shriveled to nothing, especially the people you love. . . .” 20 This kind of attitude is found over and over again in the traditions of Native people, from the basketry and food-gathering techniques of Native Californians to the characters in the stories of Anna Lee Walters (as in her novel Ghostsinger, the stories in The Sun is Not Merciful, or in Talking Indian ).

Respect and humility are the building blocks of indigenous life-ways, since they not only lead to minimal exploitation of other living creatures but also preclude the arrogance of aggressive missionary activity and secular imperialism, as well as the arrogance of patriarchy.

But Anglo-American “ecologists” often have a very narrow conception of what constitutes “ecology” and the “environment.” Does this contrast with the Native American attitude? Let us examine some definitions first. The root of the concept of environment has to do with “rounding” or “that which arounds [surrounds] us.” It is similar to Latin vicinitat (Spanish vecinidad or English vicinity ), referring to that which neighbors something, and also to Greek oikos (ecos), a house and, by extension, a habitation (Latin dwelling) or area of inhabiting (as in oikoumene , the inhabited or dwelled-in world). Ecology is the logie or study of ecos, the study of inhabiting/dwelling, or, as defined in one dictionary, the study of “organisms and their environment.”

Ecos ( oikos ) is “the house we live in, our place of habitation.” But where do we live and who are we? Certainly we can define ecos in a narrow sense, as our immediate vicinity, or we can broaden it to include the Sun (which is, of course, the driving power or energy source in everything that we do), the Moon, and the entire known universe (including the Great Creative Power, or Ketanitowit in Lenápe). Our ecos, from the indigenous point of view, extends out to the very boundaries of the great totality of existence, the Wemi Tali.

Similarly, our environment must include the sacred source of creation as well as such things as the light of the Sun, on which all life processes depend. Thus our surroundings include the space of the universe and the solar/stellar bodies that have inspired so much of our human yearnings and dreams.

Ecology, then, in my interpretation, must be the holistic (and interdisciplinary) study of the entire universe, the dynamic relationship of its various parts. And since, from the indigenous perspective, the universe is alive, it follows that we could speak of geo-ecology as well as human ecology, the ecology of oxygen as well as the ecology of water.

Many indigenous thinkers have considered humans part of the Wemi Tali, not separate from it. As I have written:

For us, truly, there are no “surroundings.”

I can lose my hands and still live. I can lose my legs and still live. I can lose my eyes and still live. . . . But if I lose the air I die. If I lose the sun I die. If I lose the earth I die. If I lose the water I die. If I lose the plants and animals I die. All of these things are more a part of me, more essential to my every breath, than is my so-called body. What is my real body?

We are not autonomous, self-sufficient beings as European mythology teaches. . . . We are rooted just like the trees. But our roots come out of our nose and mouth, like an umbilical cord, forever connected with the rest of the world. . . .

Nothing that we do, do we do by ourselves. We do not see by ourselves. We do not hear by ourselves. . . . We do not think, dream, invent, or procreate by ourselves. We do not die by ourselves. . . .

I am a point of awareness, a circle of consciousness, in the midst of a series of circles. One circle is that which we call “the body.” It is a universe itself, full of millions of little living creatures living their own “separate” but dependent lives. . . . But all of these “circles” are not really separate—they are all mutually dependent upon each other. . . . 21

We, in fact, have no single edge or boundary, but are rather part of a continuum that extends outward from our center of consciousness, both in a perceptual (epistemological-existential) and in a biophysical sense—our brain centers must have oxygen, water, blood with all of its elements, minerals, etc., in order to exist, but also, of course, must connect to the cosmos as a whole. Thus our own personal bodies form part of the universe directly, while these same bodies are miniature universes in which, as noted, millions of living creatures subsist, operate, fight, reproduce, and die.

Anna Lee Walters, the Otoe-Pawnee teacher and writer, in speaking of prayers, notes:

“Waconda,” it says in the Otoe language, Great Mystery, meaning that vital thing or phenomenon in life that cannot ever be entirely comprehensible to us. What is understood though, through the spoken word, is that silence is also Waconda, as is the universe and everything that exists, tangible and intangible, because none of these things are separate from that life force. It is all Waconda. . . . 22

Thus ecos for us must include that which our consciousness inhabits, the house of our soul, our ntchítchank or lenapeyókan, and must not be limited to a dualistic or mechanistic-materialistic view of bios. Ecology must be shorn of its Eurocentric (or, better, reductionist and materialist) perspective and broadened to include the realistic study of how living centers of awareness interact with all of their surroundings.

At a practical level this is very important, because one cannot bring about significant changes in the way in which the Wemi Tali is being abused without considering the values, economic systems, ethics, aspirations, and spiritual beliefs of human groups. For example, the sense of entitlement felt by certain social groups or classes, the idea of being entitled to exploit resources found in the lands of other groups or entitled to exploit “space” without any process of review or permission or approval from all concerned—this sense of superiority and restless acquisitiveness must be confronted by ecology.

The beauty of our night sky, for example, now threatened by hundreds or thousands of potential future satellites and space platforms, by proposed nuclear-powered expeditions to Mars and space-based nuclear weapons, cannot be protected merely by studying the physical relations of organisms with the sky. The cultures of all concerned have to be part of the equation, and within these cultures questions of beauty, ethics, and sacredness must play a role. Sadly, the U.S. government is the greatest offender in the threat to space.

When a mountain is to be pulled down to produce cement, or coal, or cinderstone, or to provide housing for expanding suburbanites, the questions that must be asked are not only those relating to stream-flow, future mudslides, fire danger, loss of animal habitat, air pollution, or damage to stream water quality. Of paramount importance are also questions of beauty, ownership, and the unequal allocation of wealth and power that allows rich investors to make decisions affecting large numbers of creatures based only upon narrow self-interest. Still more difficult are questions relating to the sacredness of Mother Earth and of the rights of mountains to exist without being mutilated. When do humans have the right to mutilate a mountain? Are there procedures that might mitigate such an aggression? Are there processes that might require that the mountain’s right to exist in beauty be weighed against the money-making desires of a human or human group?

We hear a great deal about “impacts” and how “impacts” must be weighed and/or mitigated. But all too often, these considerations do not include aesthetics (unless the destruction is proposed for an area where rich and powerful people live), and very seldom do we hear about sacredness or the rights of the earth. Indeed, we have made progress in the United States with the concept of protecting endangered species, but it is interesting that, for many people, the point of such protection is essentially pragmatic: we are willing to preserve genetic diversity (especially as regards plant life) in order to meet potential human needs. The intrinsic right of different forms of life each to have space and freedom is seldom evoked. (Even homeless humans have no recognized right to “space” in the United States). 23

All over the Americas, from Chile to the arctic, Native Americans are engaged in battles with aggressive corporations and governments that claim the right to set aside small areas (reserves) for Native people and then to seize the rest of the Native territory and throw it open to Occidental Petroleum, Texaco, or other profit-seeking organizations. Often, as in the case of the U’wa people, the concept of the sacredness of the living earth directly conflicts with the interests of big corporations and the revenue-hungry neocolonial governments that support them.

It has to be said that some indigenous governments and groups have also allowed devastating projects to be developed on their territories. Sometimes there has been grassroots resistance to the extraction of coal, uranium, and other minerals, but very often the non-Native government has encouraged (or strong-armed) the indigenous peoples into agreeing to a contract providing for little or no protection to the environment.

In her recent book, All Our Relations, Winona LaDuke focuses on a number of specific struggles involving Native people in the United States and Canada. She points out that “Grassroots and land-based struggles characterize most of Native environmentalism. We are nations of people with distinct land areas, and our leadership and direction emerge from the land up.” 24 LaDuke shows in each of her chapters how different groups of First Nations people are facing up to serious problems and are seeking to address them at the local, community level. They are also forming national and international organizations that seek to help individual nations, in great part through the sharing of information and technical assistance. In the final analysis, however, each nation, reserve, or community has to confront its own issues and develop its own responsible leadership. This must be stressed again and again: each sovereign Native nation will deal with its own environmental issues in its own way. There is no single Native American government that can develop a common indigenous response to the crisis we all face.

Mention should be made here of the work of Debra Harry, a Northern Paiute activist from the Pyramid Lake Reservation who is spearheading an information campaign relative to biopiracy and the dangers of the Human Genome Diversity Project. The collection of Native American tissue samples and DNA/mtDNA information represents a very serious environmental threat, since the discovery of unique genetic material could be used not only for patenting and sale but also for future campaigns of germ or biological warfare. The latter may seem extreme, but Native peoples have reason to be cautious about sharing potentially dangerous information with agencies, governments, and organizations not under their own control. The entire field of biopiracy, the theft of indigenous knowledge about plants and drugs, represents another area of great concern, since Native peoples could find themselves having to pay for the use of their own cultural heritage or for treatment using genetic material of indigenous origin. 25

Many activists are concerned primarily with the environmental responses of Native Americans belonging to specific land-based communities recognized as sovereign by the U.S. or Canadian governments. But in addition, there are millions of Native people who do not have “tribal” governments that are recognized as legitimate by a state. In California and Mexico, numerous Mixtec communities must deal with the hazards of agricultural pesticide, crop-dusting on top of workers, poor housing, inadequate sanitation, poor or polluted water sources, and a host of other issues. The Mixtec have responded by organizing around farm-labor issues, as well as developing their own ways of coping. For example, in Baja California they are often forced to build their own houses on steep hillsides where they must use old cast-off truck and auto tires as retaining walls to provide a level area for living.

Many Native groups, including Kickapoos, Navajos, Papagos, Zapotecs, and Chinantecs, produce a number of migrant agricultural laborers. These workers often remain rooted in home villages to which they may return seasonally. Such persons have a primary responsibility to their families; they cannot be expected to devote much energy to environmentalism, apart from attempting to obtain clean water, healthy food, and sanitary living conditions.

On a positive note, the environmental awareness of many indigenous American groups translates into a high respect for women in their communities. It would be hypocritical to seek to control women or restrict their opportunities for full self-realization while pretending to respect living creatures. This is a significant issue, because a great deal of evidence has shown that when women have high status, education, and choices, they tend to enrich a community greatly and to stabilize population growth. Many traditional American societies have been able to remain in balance with their environments because of the high status of women, a long nursing period for children, and/or the control of reproductive decisions by women. 26 Many of the leaders in the Native struggle today are women.

Many Native homelands are much reduced in size from former years and are often located on land of poor quality. These conditions can create overuse of resources. Human population growth is, of course, one of the fundamental issues of environmental science. Along with the unequal distribution of resources and the taking away of resources (such as the removal of oil from indigenous lands, leaving polluted streams and poisoned soil) from militarily weaker peoples, human population growth is one of the major causes of species loss and damage to ecos. These are major issues in ecology but also must be overriding concerns for economists, political scientists, and political economists. In fact, the tendency in North America to ignore the impact of money-seeking activities upon nonmarket relations is a major source of environmental degradation. The recent effort to “charge” the industrial nations for the damage they have caused to world environments (as a new form of “debt” from the capitalist world to the rest of the world) is an example of how we must proceed. 27

To many of the more materialistic peoples of the world, indigenous people have often seemed “backward” or “simple.” They have seemed ripe for conquest or conversion, or both. The fact is, however, that the kind of ethical living characteristic of so many indigenous groups, with its respect for other life forms and its desire for wholeness of intellect, may be the best answer to the problems faced by all peoples today.

Yet there are some who challenge the environmental record of Native Americans, seeking to prove that in spite of the ideals expressed in indigenous spirituality, Native peoples were actually large-scale predators responsible some ten thousand years ago for widespread slaughter and even species annihilation. This viewpoint, shared primarily by a few anthropologists, overlooks the fact that during the Pleistocene era and later extinctions occurred in Eurasia and elsewhere, and that Native Americans cannot be blamed for a global phenomenon. In any case, indigenous Americans have always belonged to numerous independent political and familial units, each with its own set of values and behavioral strategies. One can hardly assign blame to modern Native people as a whole group when the “culprits” (if there were any) cannot even be identified.

In dealing with the sacred traditions of original Americans and their relationship to the environment, we must keep in mind a common-sense fact: not only do different Native groups have different traditions, stories, ceremonies, living conditions, challenges, and values, but each family or group has its own unique approach to “together-living” or “culture.” We must also factor in time, since different days, years, and epochs have presented different circumstances. In short, humans do not live by abstract rule alone. They live as well through a unique set of decisions informed by inspiration, personality, situation, and opportunity.

Native Americans, like any other group, are capable of acts that might well conflict with the major thrust of their sacred traditions. We must, therefore, differentiate between the concrete behavior of a people and their ideals. But in the case of indigenous Americans, such a distinction is perhaps less important than in other traditions. Why? Because Native Americans often lack a single, authoritative book or set of dogmas that tells them what their “ideals” should be. On the contrary, Native American sacred traditions are more the result of choices made over and over again within the parameters of a basic philosophy of life. Thus, we must look at the ideals expressed in sacred texts (including those conveyed orally), but also at the choices that people actually make.

Nonetheless, I believe that we can make the kinds of generalizations that I have, at least as regards those Native North Americans still following traditional values.

          . . .The Old Ones say outward is inward to the heart           and inward is outward to the center           because for us           there are no absolute boundaries           no borders           no environments           no outside           no inside           no dualisms           no single body           no non-body           We don’t stop at our eyes We don’t begin at our skin We don’t end at our smell We don’t start at our sounds. . . . Some scientists think they can study a world of matter separate from themselves but there is no Universe Un-observed (knowable to us at least) nothing can be known without being channeled through some creature’s senses, the unobserved Universe cannot be discussed for we, the observers, being its very description are its eyes and ears its very making is our seeing of it           our sensing of it. . . .           Perhaps we are Ideas in the mind of our Grandfather-Grandmother           for, as many nations declare,           the Universe           by mental action           was created           by thought           was moved           So be it well proclaimed! our boundary is the edge of the Universe           and beyond,           to wherever the Creator’s thoughts           go surging. . . . 28

Native people are not only trying to clean up uranium tailings, purify polluted water, and mount opposition to genetically engineered organisms; they are also continuing their spiritual ways of seeking to purify and support all life by means of ceremonies and prayers. As LaDuke tells us: “In our communities, Native environmentalists sing centuries-old songs to renew life, to give thanks for the strawberries, to call home fish, and to thank Mother Earth for her blessings.” 29

1 John Fire, Lame Deer, and Richard Erdoes, Lame Deer, Seeker of Visions (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1972), 39–40.

2 Ruth Bunzel, “Introduction to Zuni Ceremonialism,” Forty-Seventh Annual Report, Bureau of American Ethnology (Washington: Government Printing Office, 1932), 483–486.

3 Some writers have attacked Carlos Castaneda; however, I find that many of the insights in his first four books are quite valuable. Since he was most assuredly a man of Indigenous American ancestry, I am willing to quote him without arguing over whether his works are fiction or nonfiction. Carlos Castaneda, Tales of Power (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1974), 284–285.

4 Fire, Lame Deer, and Erdoes, Lame Deer, Seeker of Visions, 265–266; emphasis added.

5 Ruby Modesto and Guy Mount, Not For Innocent Ears: Spiritual Traditions of a Desert Cahuilla Medicine Woman (Angelus Oaks, Calif.: Sweetlight Books, 1980), 72.

6 Sylvester M. Morey, ed., Can The Red Man Help The White Man? (New York: G. Church, 1970), 47.

7 Black Hawk, Black Hawk; An Autobiography (Urbana, Ill.: University of Illinois Press, 1955), 106.

8 John Gneisenau Neihardt, The Sixth Grandfather: Black Elk’s Teachings Given to John G. Neihardt, ed. Raymond J. DeMallie (Lincoln, Nebr.: University of Nebraska Press, 1984), 312.

9 Winona LaDuke, All Our Relations: Native Struggles for Land and Life (Cambridge, Mass.: South End Press, 1999), 2.

10 Neihardt, The Sixth Grandfather, 288.

11 Ibid., 288–289.

12 Pete Catches, Lakota elder, quoted in Fire, Lame Deer, and Erdoes, Lame Deer, Seeker of Visions, 137–139.

13 Black Elk, The Sacred Pipe: Black Elk’s Account of the Seven Rites of the Oglala Sioux, rec. and ed. Joseph Epes Brown (Baltimore: Penguin Books, 1971), 31–32.

14 Luther Standing Bear, Land of the Spotted Eagle (Lincoln, Nebr.: University of Nebraska Press, 1978), 192–193.

15 Ibid., 196.

16 Jack D. Forbes, “Kinship is the Basic Principle of Philosophy,” Gatherings: The En’owkin Journal of First North American Peoples VI (Penticton, B.C.: Theytus Books, 1995), 144–150.

17 Black Elk, The Sacred Pipe , 7.

18 Miguel Leon-Portilla, La Filosofia Nahuatl: Estudiada en sus Fuentes (Mexico: Universidad Nacional Autonoma de Mexico, Instituto de Investigaciones Historicas, 1966), 237–238. My translation.

19 Fire, Lame Deer, and Erdoes, Lame Deer , 155–158.

20 Carlos Castaneda, Journey to Ixtlan: The Lessons of Don Juan (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1972), 69–70; Fire, Lame Deer, and Erdoes, Lame Deer , 16.

21 Jack D. Forbes, A World Ruled by Cannibals: The Wetiko Disease of Aggression, Violence, and Imperialism (Davis, Calif.: D-Q University Press, 1979), 85–86. See also Jack D. Forbes, Columbus and Other Cannibals (Brooklyn: Autonomedia, 1992), 145–147.

22 Anna Lee Walters, Talking Indian: Reflections on Survival and Writing (Ithaca, N.Y.: Firebrand Books, 1992), 19–20.

23 See Jack D. Forbes, “A Right to Life and Shelter,” San Francisco Chronicle , 28 May 2000, zone 7, 9.

24 LaDuke, All Our Relations , 4.

25 Debra Harry is executive director of Indigenous Peoples Council on Biocolo-nialism, 850 Numana Dam Road, P.O. Box 818, Wadsworth, NV 89442, USA.

26 Forbes, Columbus and Other Cannibals , 109–110.

27 This is a proposal made by Third World nations that seeks to “capitalize” the costs of environmental damage.

28 Jack D. Forbes, “The Universe Is Our Holy Book,” unpublished poem, 1992.

29 LaDuke, All Our Relations , 3.

The Sacred Elemental Spirits in Native American Spirituality: An Overview

The Sacred Elemental Spirits in Native American Spirituality: An Overview

Native American spirituality is deeply rooted in the belief that all living things possess a unique spirit or energy. Native American cultures have linked specific elements of nature to certain spiritual qualities, and these qualities hold immense power. The Sacred Elemental Spirits are said to be the keepers of these spiritual qualities that can bring balance and healing to our lives. Today, we’ll explore the power of these spirits and how they can help us during difficult times.

For many individuals, the stresses and complexities of modern life can feel overwhelming. They may struggle to find meaning and purpose, which leads to feelings of emptiness and disconnection. This is where the power of the Sacred Elemental Spirits comes into play. By working with these spirits, we can tap into the foundational elements of life – air, water, earth, and fire – and experience profound transformation. From relieving anxiety and depression to increasing creativity and enhancing personal connection, the Sacred Elemental Spirits offer a powerful tool for achieving balance and fulfillment.

The process of connecting with the Sacred Elemental Spirits can be an individual one. Each person has their unique path and relationship with the spirits. However, there are some common practices that can help people get started. Meditation, spending time alone in nature, and incorporating specific elements of the spiritual realm- such as crystals, herbs, and other ritual items- can all be helpful in developing a deeper connection to the spirits. By remaining open and receptive to the energy of the elements, individuals can unlock transformative experiences that can bring healing and renewal on an emotional, mental, and spiritual level.

In conclusion, the Sacred Elemental Spirits offer a powerful tool for those seeking to deepen their connection with the natural world and to find greater peace and balance in their lives. By understanding and approaching the elements with reverence and respect, individuals can gain access to the transformative powers that these spirits embody. Whether through prayer, meditation, or other ritual practices, a connection with the Sacred Elemental Spirits is something that can bring immense joy, meaning, and purpose to our lives.


Native American spirituality is a rich blend of beliefs and practices that continue to inspire and connect people from all walks of life. Among the various elements that make up this spiritual tradition are the sacred elemental spirits, which are believed to embody the powers of nature and the seasons. From the gentle flow of water to the fiery energy of the sun, these spirits are revered for their ability to sustain and enrich life. In this post, we will explore how the power of the sacred elemental spirits influences Native American spirituality and what we can learn from this ancient wisdom.

The Four Elemental Spirits

One of the primary tenets of Native American spirituality is the recognition that everything in the universe is connected. This includes the four elements of nature: earth, air, fire, and water. In Native American traditions, each of these elements is believed to be inhabited by a spirit that carries unique qualities and symbolisms. Let us take a closer look at these spiritual guardians:

Earth Spirit and Its Significance

The earth spirit represents solidity, stability, and strength. It is the guardian of the physical realm and the foundation on which all things are built. The earth spirit teaches us to be rooted, grounded, and centered in our lives. Moreover, it reminds us to respect and honor Mother Earth, who provides us with the sustenance and sustains life.

Air Spirit and Its Significance

The air spirit represents freedom, breath, and communication. It is the guardian of the mental realm and helps us to connect with the world beyond ourselves. The air spirit teaches us to stay open-minded, curious, and communicative in our interactions. Moreover, it reminds us to appreciate the gift of breath and the air that surrounds us, sustaining our existence.

Fire Spirit and Its Significance

The fire spirit represents transformation, purification, and passion. It is the guardian of the spiritual realm and ignites the spark of inspiration within us. The fire spirit teaches us to embrace change, purify ourselves, and follow our passions with commitment and gusto. Moreover, it reminds us of the cyclical nature of life and how even destructive forces can be transformative.

Water Spirit and Its Significance

The water spirit represents fluidity, intuition, and emotions. It is the guardian of the emotional realm and helps us to connect with others on a deeper level. The water spirit teaches us to go with the flow, trust our intuition, and honor our emotions. Moreover, it reminds us of the importance of paying attention to our inner lives and the healing nature of water.

The Power of Elemental Spirits in Native American Spirituality

As we can see, the sacred elemental spirits play a crucial role in Native American spirituality. They are not just abstract concepts but living entities that embody the power and essence of nature. By working with these elemental spirits, Native Americans seek to harmonize their lives with the rhythm of the natural world and gain access to higher levels of consciousness.

Elemental Spirits in Ceremonies and Rituals

Elemental spirits are invoked in many forms of ceremonies and rituals in Native American communities. For instance, in a sweat lodge ceremony, the fire spirit is honored and evoked to symbolize the transformative power of heat and the purification of the sweat lodge participants. Similarly, in a water ceremony, water spirits are acknowledged to calm and nourish the emotional realm.

Elemental Spirits in Art and Mythology

The power and significance of the elemental spirits are also apparent in Native American art and mythology. From petroglyphs to pottery, these spirits are depicted in various forms, each carrying a unique message and insight. Moreover, these myths enshrine life lessons and offer a roadmap for spiritual growth and healing.

Native American spirituality is an intricate and multi-layered system of beliefs and practices that continue to inspire many. The recognition of the sacred elemental spirits is one of its fundamental principles. Through these spirits, Native Americans honor the natural world and seek to align themselves with its rhythms and cycles. By embracing this ancient wisdom, we can learn to become more attuned to the mysteries of life and discover our unique place in the grand scheme of things.

Native American Spirituality And The Power Of The Sacred Elemental Spirits

The target of native american spirituality and the power of the sacred elemental spirits.

Native American Spirituality targets the engagement of spirits that help them maintain harmony and equilibrium with nature. These Spiritual practices are honored through ceremonies which involve rituals and various offerings related to each element. Of all these elements, the four primary elements hold supreme importance, not only among nature itself but also in the spiritual rituals of Native Americans. Each element represents a different aspect of nature, and connecting with them helps people achieve balance and peace in their lives.To share a personal experience, I have witnessed a few rituals by Native Americans for invoking the spirit of fire. The ceremony was conducted in a remote area where the Firekeepers prepared a sacred place using stones around the pit that symbolized the heart of the Fire. They began chanting and dancing to create rhythm while throwing herbs and tobacco into the fire as offerings from White Eagle, who was the leader that day. After the ceremony concluded, White Eagle spoke privately with a few individuals and talked about Fire’s spiritual purpose in Native American beliefs. The Fire symbolizes warmth, purification, and rebirth of the universe.In conclusion, the facets of Native American spirituality revolve around the powers of the Sacred Elemental Spirits. These Spirits impact the different aspects of nature and every individual’s spiritual journey. They have a strong ethical framework based on the teachings of their ancestors, and their practices are admired by people worldwide for their continuity and relevance. These spirits form a bond between humanity and nature creating an environment full of spirituality, enhanced understanding, and reverence towards all life forms.

Native American Spirituality And The Power Of The Sacred Elemental Spirits are topics that have intrigued and fascinated people for centuries. In this blog post, we will explore some of the key concepts related to Native American Spirituality And The Power Of The Sacred Elemental Spirits.

Question and Answer

Q: What is Native American Spirituality?

A: Native American Spirituality is a term used to describe the religious beliefs and practices of various indigenous tribes in North America. It is a complex and diverse system of beliefs that emphasizes the interconnectedness of all things and the importance of living in harmony with nature.

Q: What are Sacred Elemental Spirits?

A: Sacred Elemental Spirits are spiritual beings or forces that are believed to be present in the natural world. They are often associated with the four elements – earth, air, fire, and water – and are believed to play a vital role in maintaining the balance and harmony of the universe.

Q: How do Native Americans connect with the Sacred Elemental Spirits?

A: Native Americans connect with the Sacred Elemental Spirits through various rituals, ceremonies, and traditions. These may include offerings of tobacco, sweetgrass, or other sacred herbs, as well as prayer and meditation. Many tribes also use sacred objects such as feathers, drums, and rattles to help them connect with the spiritual realm.

Q: What is the significance of the Sacred Elemental Spirits in Native American Spirituality?

A: The Sacred Elemental Spirits are central to Native American Spirituality as they are believed to represent the fundamental elements of life. They are seen as powerful spiritual allies who can provide guidance, healing, and protection to those who seek their help.

Conclusion of Native American Spirituality And The Power Of The Sacred Elemental Spirits

Native American Spirituality And The Power Of The Sacred Elemental Spirits are complex and fascinating topics that have been studied and explored for centuries. While there is no single definition or explanation for these concepts, it is clear that they play an important role in the lives of indigenous people and continue to inspire and intrigue people around the world.

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Cosmic Cuts

17 Native American Gemstones to Bring You Closer to the Earth

May 02, 2021 By Faith Davis

INSIDE:   Crystals are perhaps the most popular token of New Age lifestyles and practices, but they're nothing new in ancient healing systems. Native American gemstones display the deep histories of crystals and spiritual healing in indigenous communities. Read on to learn about some of their most powerful stones…

Considering the fascination we now have with crystals and their healing potential, it’s amazing (and disappointing) to think about how often societies who have deep relationships with stones have come under attack by colonizers and explorers for their “barbaric” and “uneducated” practices.

In the late-nineteenth century, though more brutal fronts had been made for centuries before,   the “ Code of Indian Offenses ” threatened the traditional role of medicine men and women   in indigenous societies. Banned from using healing devices, like crystals, these healers could face prison time or worse.

These codes stayed in full effect for nearly 50 years, and only in 1978 did the United States Federal Government under President Jimmy Carter admit to and reverse the abuse on religious and spiritual practice for indigenous peoples. He enshrined the protection of their sacred practices in the American Indian Religious Freedom Act.

In recent years, the treatment methods and practices so central to indigenous life for centuries   have been   acknowledged   as complementary and alternative medicines necessary for a holistic approach to health and wellbeing.

The rich history of Native American gemstones in traditional, ceremonial use contains a multitude of perspectives from over 2,000 distinct tribes of indigenous people in North America alone.

While we cannot cover all of the meanings and applications of crystals in Native American healing practices, we want to bring awareness to this crucial diversity and give a glimpse into the broad scope of sacred crystal connections.

Harmony With the Earth

The Importance of Healing Stones in Native American Culture

Native American gemstones have critical use as tools and totems for healing individuals and harmonizing indigenous communities. Health in indigenous cultures reflects spiritual vitality and continual work to strengthen it and keep the physical body in sync with nature.

Healing Stones for Personal Treatment

Thinking about health as a balance with the natural world, many indigenous people believe that illness and harm comes when a person loses touch and harmony with Earth.

Disharmony comes through a person’s thoughts and actions. A person with negative habits or bad thoughts and emotions invites the consequences that come from an imbalance with nature’s perfect, positive gifts.

In these natural healing traditions, a person can seek treatment from a medicine man or woman. Medicine men and women administered treatment in indigenous communities through alternative healing methods that used objects like crystals and sacred symbols .

As we’ve mentioned before, crystal connections are very subtle and unique for each person. Indigenous healing traditions demonstrate this connection in individual healing treatments. 

Healing through sacred objects like crystals and other spiritual rituals is held very personal and private between the healer and the patient. The patient’s preferences reign supreme as to how to approach and incorporate different practices into treatment.

The medicine person respects and listens to the vibrations of the individual before moving forward in healing with certain crystals or other talismans.

Healing Stones for Communal Peace

The illness of an individual has significant impact on the tight-knit community of a tribe. So, medicine men and women also address the healing of the community.

They help the community to understand how the disharmony of one puts the entire community out of balance with nature. The negative energy that afflicts an individual can reverberate out to the group. The community itself may also suffer collectively because of communal choices and actions, not necessarily because of a single sick individual.

With the aid of Native American gemstones, potent symbols, and herbs like sage or palo santo , traditional indigenous healers officiate over rituals and ceremonies that cleanse the lingering energy of illness and weakness to revitalize the community and restore it in harmony with nature. 

Sage and Palo Santo

How Native Americans Used Crystals & Stones

The incredible skills that indigenous communities developed to work with healing stones and crystals testifies to the advanced methods present in Native American tribes for centuries.

The ability to grind smooth crystals, carve stone details, and stitch intricate patterns came from enduring lineages of practice. In turn, these skills brought many uses for Native American healing stones in their culture.

Connection With Spirit Guides 

Native American gemstones make tangible the connection of humans with spirit guides. Certain stones are understood to evoke spirits and invite them into human presence.

By keeping crystals, Native Americans develop a natural, balanced protection with the Earth. They can also access different divine realms through crystals and other sacred objects and substances, like peyote. 

Keeping Record of History

The design of crystal ornaments and jewelry to wear as amulets serve to tell long-held oral traditions and stories of indigenous history.

Symbols delicately etched into crystals and gemstones help create a record to remember certain aspects of Native American culture.

Trade & Economy

While the spiritual significance of crystals and stones for indigenous people have carried through ages, their craft using these materials in jewelry and for other purposes implemented new designs and technologies for production that they learned through trade.

These influences came through economic networks and human migration. Not all migration that encroached on these societies had positive results, such as the spread of famine and disease. But indigenous people did find major markets for their thoughtfully created crystal work. 

17 Native American Gemstones 

With an expansive idea of how important Native American crystals have been to indigenous peoples, let’s take a dive into some of the gemstones with profound spiritual meaning and healing properties. 

Lapis Lazuli 

The deep blue color of Lapis Lazuli , a crystal found in California and Colorado, has been a Wisdom Keeper for many cultures.

In Native American tribes, this stone guides awareness and knowledge to a person. It cleanses the mind to make way for wisdom in decisions.

For indigenous healers, Lapis Lazuli helps channel psychic ability and give strength to treat patients with spiritual medicine. It restores harmony in relationships that fortify the community.

Black Onyx

Incredibly popular among Native American gemstones, the dark sheen of  Black Onyx  helps soothe the mind and body in healing practice.

The black color magnetizes and collects negative energy so that spirit guides can focus on treating the soul with positive auras.

Tiger’s Eye

Tiger’s Eye lends itself to jewelry and pendants because of its chatoyancy – the fibrous quality that creates bands of color. With light aimed in different directions on the stone, the bands seem to change position within the stone.

Tiger’s Eye healing properties were used in indigenous communities for the dual purpose of instilling courage to continue in the traditional beliefs of their spirits and deity and protecting against negative influences and spiritual attack. 


Amber is a unique Native American crystal because it isn’t exactly a crystal. It's actually ancient tree resin that is between 30 to 90 million years old that trapped fossils and organisms in sticky sap and preserved them through millennia. 

Its ability to suspend life in its form demonstrates the earth connection and reminds people to respect nature to carry on the spiritual story.

Agate’s translucent to semi-transparent bands of color give it an airy quality as light peeks through its edges. 

In Native American culture, its lightness soothes thoughts and emotions in order to fortify harmony within the community. Agate can take negative vibrations and transform them.

This stone has had common use in healing elixirs administered by medicine men and women. Agate draws focus and perception to foster mental creativity.



Chrysocolla has had important use in indigenous cultures as decorative pieces and as ceremonial talismans.

This crystal is relatively soft, and other minerals are often found connected to it, which give it a vibrant color and appearance. It resembles an atmospheric look at the earth, a strong reminder of nature’s power.

In the midst of the soothing properties of many Native American gemstones, Carnelian finds its place as a mighty force to restore passion and vitality.

It works to dispel negative emotions of fear , anger, and jealousy and to heal feelings of apathy and sadness . Carnelian brings stability to help those suffering through myriad forms of abuse.


Howlite serves many purposes in indigenous craft. With its white color foundation with trace-veins of black and brown, It can pass as White Turquoise or be dyed to take on other colors in jewelry and ornaments. 

Howlite has the potential to open spiritual consciousness. It invites awareness and recognition of the higher truth that brings individual and collective balance. 

Leopardskin Jasper 

Leopardskin Jasper allows shamanic healers to tap into their animalistic connections. Drawing on this strength, they can drive away evil spirits that afflict individuals and tribes.

These Native American gemstones are believed to protect wearers against snake and spider bites and to give courage to actively be in this world.

Unakite Jasper

Unakite Jasper

Unakite Jasper promotes self-awareness in indigenous healing practices so that individuals can find grounding as they begin to understand what influences have brought harm or illness on them. 

For indigenous women, Unakite Jasper is an important stone for  reproductive health and childbirth , and it protects the heart and circulation.


The dark shades of Labradorite give this crystal a color-shifting ability – in bright light, it displays shades of blue, gold, and green, while in dim light, a dark green to grey hue.

The variety of colors in these Native American gemstones demonstrate the good fortune and joy available when negative energy dissolves away. As a healing crystal, it is believed to help fight infection.


Reflective of ocean tide pools, Larimar solidifies the intimate relationship of human and Earth.

In indigenous healing practices, this crystal aids in finding the roots of illness and pain to highlight spiritual afflictions on the body.

A harbinger of peace and harmony, Native American gemstones called Lepidolite bring clarity and understanding to communities. It helps spread calming energy to allow for considerable self-awareness in relationship to the collective needs. 


Another grounding stone, Pyrite ignites the deep relationship with Earth. It ushers in stability that relying on nature can bring while also spreading vitality and growth from the earth.

Serpentine sharpens intuition and inner peace. These Native American healing stones encourage self control in order to pursue destiny and success with tender love and calm. 

In indigenous culture, this crystal demonstrates a sign of respect to the elders. With its snakeskin-like appearance, it wards off snake bites too. 

Snowflake Obsidian

Snowflake Obsidian

Snowflake Obsidian shows small white or grey impurities in Black Obsidian, like snowflakes dotting the crystal surface. Obsidian itself forms when lava rapidly cools above the ground, creating volcanic glass. Its sharp edges are useful in crafting tools.

Snowflake Obsidian works on energetic vibrations, removing negativity from an environment while attracting positive change to take its place. It has grounding , protective qualities that reduce stress. 

Abalone Shell

Similar to Amber in that it isn’t actually a crystal, Abalone Shell has so many uses for Native American traditions. The iridescent inner lining of a mollusk shell, the organism responsible for making Mother of Pearl, Abalone Shell is used to make beads and lend prismatic reflective color. 

Abalone Shell generates solace and comfort, bringing stasis and peace. Sourced from the ocean, it infuses beauty, delight, power, and protection throughout life’s journeys.

Final Thoughts

Indigenous cultures hold so many important lessons for spreading holistic health in body, mind, and spirit. It is critical to respect and learn from these ancient traditions.

Understanding the importance of Native American gemstones within these societies is a great way to learn about and connect with other cultures and communities in developing a just and balanced relationship with Earth.

How to Use Crystals for Health

* Crystals and stones should not be used as a substitute for medical advice or treatment.   Please read our full disclosure notice here.

Native American Gemstones

Faith Davis

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Legends of America

Legends of America

Traveling through american history, destinations & legends since 2003., native american rituals and ceremonies.

Sun Dance ceremony by George Catlin

Sun Dance ceremony by George Catlin

Ceremony and rituals have long played a vital and essential role in Native American culture. Spirituality is an integral part of their very being.

Often referred to as “ religion ,” most Native Americans did not consider their spirituality, ceremonies, and rituals as “religion” like Christians do. Rather, their beliefs and practices form an integral and seamless part of their very being. Like other aboriginal peoples around the world, their beliefs were heavily influenced by their methods of acquiring food – from hunting to agriculture. They also embraced ceremonies and rituals that provided power to conquer life’s difficulties, as well as events and milestones such as puberty, marriage, and death. Over the years, practices and ceremonies changed with tribes ‘ needs.

Rituals & Ceremonies:

Death Ceremonies

Green Corn Festivals

Healing Rituals

Lacrosse – Routed in Tribal Tradition

Native American Medicine

Peyote Worship

Potlach Ceremony

Vision Quests

Ghost Dance – A Promise of Fulfillment

More Dances

Kachinas of the Puebloans

Mythology and Legends

Native American Religion

Astronomy and Mythology In Native American Culture

Taos Indian with peace pipe

Taos Indian with a peace pipe

The arrival of European settlers marked a major change in Native American culture. Some of the first Europeans the Indians would meet were often missionaries who viewed Native American Spirituality practices as worthless superstitions inspired by the Christian devil. These early missionaries then determined to convert the Native Americans to Christianity.

As more and more Europeans flooded North America, the United States and Canadian governments instituted policies to force Natives onto reservations and encourage them to assimilate into the majority culture.

This also changed their spiritual traditions when, in 1882, the U.S. Federal Government began to work towards banning Native American Religious Rights, which impacted their ceremonies. At that time, U.S. Interior Secretary Henry M. Teller ordered an end to all “heathenish dances and ceremonies” on reservations due to their “great hindrance to civilization.” This was further supported the following year by Hiram Price, Commissioner of Indian Affairs when his 1883 report stated:

“…there is no good reason why an Indian should be permitted to indulge in practices which are alike repugnant to common decency and morality, and the preservation of good order on the reservations demands that some active measures should be taken to discourage and, if possible, put a stop to the demoralizing influence of heathenish rites.”

These attempts to suppress the traditions of Native Americans eventually led to the Massacre at Wounded Knee on December 29, 1890, when the government attempted to stop the practice of the “ Ghost Dance ,” a far-reaching movement that prophesied a peaceful end to white American expansion and preached goals of clean living, an honest life, and cross-cultural cooperation by Native Americans.

When the Seventh U.S. Cavalry was sent into the Lakota Sioux’s Pine Ridge and Rosebud Reservations to stop the dance and arrest the participants, approximately 150 Native American men, women, and children were killed.

Though some traditions were lost, others survived despite the ban, and various tribes continue to follow many spiritual traditions. Some Native Americans have been devout Christians for generations, and their practices today combine their traditional customs with Christian elements. Other tribes, particularly in the Southwest , have mostly retained their aboriginal traditions.

Rituals & Ceremonies :

Tribute to the Dead

Tribute to the Dead

Death Ceremonies – Native Americans celebrated death, knowing it was an end to life on Earth but believing it to be the start of life in the Spirit World. Most tribes also believed that the journey might be long, so afterlife rituals were performed to ensure that the spirits would not continue to roam the earth. Various tribes honored the dead by giving them food, herbs, and gifts to ensure a safe journey to the afterlife.

The Hopi Indians believe that the soul moves along a Sky path westwards and that those who have lived a righteous life will travel with ease. However, those who haven’t will encounter suffering on their journey.

To ensure a safe journey, they wash their dead with natural yucca suds and dress them in traditional clothes.

Prayer feathers are often tied around the forehead of the deceased, and they are buried with favorite possessions and feathered prayer sticks. Traditional foods and special herbs are served and placed at the graveside.

The Navajo perceived that living to old age was a sign of a life well-lived, thus ensuring that the soul would be born again. Alternatively, they felt that if a tribe member died of sudden illness, suicide, or violence, a “Chindi, or destructive ghost, could cause trouble for the deceased’s family. Afterlife rituals could last for several days, with careful thought given to foods and herbs chosen for the celebration, reflecting how the deceased lived their life. Common herbs used by the Navajo included Broom Snake Weed, Soap Weed, and Utah Juniper.

Many tribes who had been converted to Catholicism also celebrated All Souls’ Day, each November 1st, which celebrates the dead. Many believe that the spirits return to visit family and friends on that day. In preparation, various tribes would prepare food and decorate their homes with ears of corn as blessings for the dead.

Green Corn Dance

Green Corn Dance

Green Corn Festivals – Also called the Green Corn Ceremonies, this is both a celebration and religious ceremony primarily practiced by the peoples of the Eastern Woodlands and the Southeastern tribes, including the Creek, Cherokee , Seminole , Yuchi, Iroquois , and others. The ceremony typically coincides with the late summer and is tied to the ripening of the corn crops. Marked with dancing, feasting, fasting, and religious observations, the ceremony usually lasts for three days. Activities varied from tribe to tribe, but the common thread is that the corn would not be eaten until the Great Spirit was given his proper thanks. During the event, tribal members give thanks for the corn, rain, sun, and a good harvest. Some tribes even believe that they were made from corn by the Great Spirits. The Green Corn Festival is also a religious renewal, with various religious ceremonies. During this time, some tribes hold council meetings where many of the previous year’s minor problems or crimes are forgiven. Others also signify the event as the time of year when youth come of age, and babies are given their names. Several tribes incorporate ball games and tournaments in the event. Cleansing and purifying activities often occur, including cleaning out homes, burning waste, and drinking emetics to purify the body. At the end of each festival day, feasts are held to celebrate the good harvest. Green Corn festivals are still practiced today by many different native peoples of the Southeastern Woodland Culture.

Incense over a medicine bundle, by Edward S. Curtis, 1908

Incense over a medicine bundle, by Edward S. Curtis, 1908

Healing Rituals – Symbolic healing rituals and ceremonies were often held to bring participants into harmony with themselves, their tribe, and their environment. Ceremonies were used to help groups of people return to harmony, but large ceremonies were generally not used for individual healing. Varying widely from tribe to tribe, some tribes, such as the Sioux and Navajo, used a medicine wheel and a sacred hoop and would sing and dance in ceremonies that might last for days.

Historic Indian traditions also used many plants and herbs as remedies or in spiritual celebrations, creating a connection with spirits and the afterlife. Some of these plants and herbs used in spiritual rituals included Sage, Bear Berry, Red Cedar, Sweet Grass, Tobacco, and many others.

The healing process in Native American Medicine is much different than how most of us see it today. Native American healing includes beliefs and practices combining religion, spirituality, herbal medicine, and rituals for medical and emotional conditions. From the Native American perspective, medicine is more about healing the person than curing a disease. Traditional healers worked to make the individual “whole,” believing that most illnesses stem from spiritual problems.

In addition to herbal remedies, purifying and cleansing the body is also important, and many tribes used sweat lodges for this purpose. In these darkened and heated enclosures, a sick individual might be given an herbal remedy, smoke or rub themselves with sacred plants, and a healer might use healing practices to drive away angry spirits and invoke the healing powers of others.

Sometimes healing rituals might involve whole communities, where participants would sing, dance , paint their bodies, and sometimes use mind-altering substances to persuade the spirits to heal the sick person.

Peyote Worship – Some southwest tribes have historically practiced Peyote ceremonies which were connected with eating or drinking of tea made of peyote buttons, the dried fruit of a small cactus, officially called Anhalonium or Laphophora. Native to the lower Rio Grande and Mexico, the name “mescal” was wrongly applied to this fruit by many white observers. The ceremonies were held for specific reasons including healing, baptism, funerals, and other special occasions. Though many have the impression that peyote was smoked, this was not the case, as the peyote button will not burn. Instead, fresh or dried buttons were eaten or ground into a powder and drank in tea.

Cheyenne Peyote Leader by Edward S. Curtis

Cheyenne Peyote Leader by Edward S. Curtis

Rites for these ceremonies would generally begin in the evening and continue until the following dawn and were restricted by some tribes only to men. Like other Indian ceremonies, fire and incense were used to cleanse the mind and body. The ceremony also utilized bird feathers, which represented bird power, preferably those from predator birds, which were strong and thought to protect the worshipper.

The ceremonies were guided by healers, also known as roadmen, as they were thought to guide a person’s journey through life. Most often, small drums and rattles were also utilized. The experience is almost identical to taking lysergic acid diethylamide, better known as LSD.

Called the “sacred medicine,” peyote ceremonies are still practiced today by various tribes who believe that it counters the craving for alcohol, heals and teaches righteousness, and is useful in combating spiritual, physical, and other social ills. Concerned about the drug’s psychoactive effects, between the 1880s and 1930s, U.S. authorities attempted to ban Native American religious rituals involving peyote, including the Ghost Dance. Today, the Native American Church is among several religious organizations that use peyote as part of its religious practice.

Pow-Wows – A relatively modern word, the term derives from the Narragansett word “powwaw,” which means “spiritual leader.” Before the term “pow-wow” became popular, other words were used to describe these gatherings, such as celebration, doing, fair, feast, festival, and more. The closest English translation is “meeting.” Today, it exemplifies all of these events, and a modern pow-wow can be any event where both Native American and non-Native American people meet to dance, sing, socialize, and honor American Indian culture. These events might be specific to a certain tribe or inter-tribal.

Native American PowWow

Native American PowWow

Planning for a pow-wow generally begins months before the event by a group of people, usually called a pow-wow committee, and may be sponsored by a tribal organization, tribe, or any other organization that wishes to promote Native American culture. These events almost always feature dance events, some of which are competitive and can last from hours to several days.

The Gathering of Nations is one of the largest Pow-wows in the United States. It is held annually on the fourth weekend in April in Albuquerque, New Mexico . Over 500 tribes from around the United States and Canada participate. This event is competitive with 32 dance categories, other competitions for singers and drumming and a pageant for Miss Indian World. The event also features a Traders’ Market where Native Americans display their arts and crafts.

Mandan offering the buffalo skull

Mandan offering the buffalo skull

Vision Quests – Numerous Native Americans practiced the rite of Vision Quests, often taken by older children before puberty to “find themselves” and their life’s direction. How the rite was taken, its length and intensity, and at what age varied greatly from tribe to tribe. In most cases, the vision quest was a “supernatural” experience in which the individual seeks to interact with a guardian spirit, usually an animal, to obtain advice or protection.

Much preparation was often taken before the vision quest was undertaken to determine the sincerity and commitment of the person. Sometimes the quest required the individual to go alone into the wilderness for several days to become attuned to the spirit world.

Other tribes required the individual to take a long walk or were confined to a small room. Often the individual was required to fast before the quest and was not allowed to sleep. During this period of sensory deprivation, the individual was to search for a guardian spirit’s presence or a sign that would be given to them. Once the presence or sign was “seen,” and the individual had realized his/her direction in life, they would return to the tribe to pursue their life’s journey.

© Kathy Alexander / Legends of America , updated March 2023.

See our Rituals, Ceremonies & Dances Photo Gallery HERE

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Creation Stories

Deities and spirits, vision quests and spiritual journeys, the medicine man and shamanism, reverence for the ancestors, the dangers of cultural appropriation.

  • B.A., History, Ohio University

Occasionally, modern Pagans, particularly in the United States, include aspects of Native American spirituality in their practice and belief. This is for a variety of reasons–some people are descended from the many tribes that are indigenous to North America, and so are paying homage to the beliefs of their ancestors. Others, with no discernible genetic link whatsoever, find themselves drawn to Native American beliefs simply because those practices and stories happen to resonate with them on a spiritual level.

It’s impossible to write a summary of Native American spirituality that encompasses all the aspects of the belief systems–after all, there are hundreds of tribes, from all over North America, and their beliefs and practices are as varied as they were. A tribe in a southeastern mountainous area has very different elements to their beliefs than, say, a tribe from the plains of South Dakota. Environment, climate, and the natural world around them all has an impact on how these beliefs have evolved.

However, that being said, there are still some common threads found in many (although certainly not every) forms of Native American practice and belief. Many tribal religions include but are not limited to the following elements:

Most Native American belief systems include creation stories —that is, not only stories of how humankind came to exist, but also of how the tribe came to be, and how man relates to the cosmos and the universe as a whole.

An Iroquois tale tells of Tepeu and Gucumatz, who sat around together and thought up a bunch of different things, like earth, the stars, and the ocean. Eventually, with some help from Coyote, Crow, and a few other creatures, they came up with four two-legged beings, who became the ancestors of the Iroquois people.

The Sioux tell a story of a creator who was displeased with the people who originally existed, so he decided to create a new world. He sang a number of songs, and created new species, including Turtle, who brought mud up from under the sea to create the land. The creator reached into his pipe bag and brought out the animals of the land, and then used the mud to create the shapes of men and women.

Native American religions often honor a vast array of deities. Some of these are creator gods, others are tricksters, deities of the hunt, and gods and goddesses of healing . The term “Great Spirit” is applied often in Native American spirituality, to refer to the concept of an all-encompassing power. Some Native tribes refer to this instead as the Great Mystery. In many tribes, this entity or power has a specific name.

There are a number of spirits that also take their place among the Native American belief systems. Animals, in particular, are known to have spirits that interact with mankind, often to guide people or offer their wisdom and other gifts.

For many Native American tribes, both in the past and today, a vision quest is a crucial part of one’s spiritual journey. It is a rite of passage that marks a significant change in one’s life, and often involves communing alone with nature, connecting with the inner self, and typically includes a vision that is both personal and to be shared with the community at large. This may include sun dances or sweat lodges as part of the process. It's important to note that these types of practices can be disastrous if led by someone who has no training, as evidenced by the case of James Arthur Ray , a non-Native self-help guru who was charged with manslaughter following the October 2009 deaths of three people during one of his Spiritual Warriors retreats.

The term “shamanism” is an umbrella term used by anthropologists to describe a vast collection of practices and beliefs, many of which have to do with divination, spirit communication, and magic. However, in the Native American community, the word is rarely used, because it is typically associated on academic level with Indo-European tribal peoples . Instead, most Native tribes use the phrase “medicine people” to refer to the elders who practice these sacred rites.

Many modern medicine people will not discuss their practices or beliefs with non-Native American individuals, simply because the rites and rituals are sacred and not to be shared commercially.

It is not uncommon to see a strong sense of reverence for the ancestors in Native American practice and belief. As in many other cultures, ancestor veneration is a way of showing honor and respect not only to the members of one’s own family, but to the tribe and community as a whole.

Cultural appropriation is a term that refers to, quite simply, the appropriation of one culture’s practice and belief system by another, but without the true cultural context. For example, NeoWiccans who integrate totem animals , vision quests, and sweat lodge sessions as an homage to Native Americans–but who are not Native Americans themselves, and do not understand the usage of those practices on a cultural level because of it – could arguably be accused of cultural appropriation. For more on this, and the way that different people view this issue, be sure to read Cultural Appropriation.

A great article warning about what to look for if you’re a non-Native who is interested in learning about Native American religions can be found here: Native American Religion .

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THINGS TO KNOW: Deadline looms for new map in embattled North Dakota redistricting lawsuit

FILE - North Dakota state Rep. Robin Weisz, at left, and state Sen. Jerry Klein, both Republicans, inspect alternative maps proposed by the Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa Indians and the Spirit Lake Tribe, on Tuesday, Dec. 5, 2023, during a meeting of a top legislative panel at the state Capitol in Bismarck, N.D. The 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals on Wednesday, Dec. 20, 2023 denied the Legislature’s request to extend a federal judge’s Dec. 22 deadline to Feb. 9, 2024, for adopting a new map of legislative districts. (AP Photo/Jack Dura, File)

Flags of the Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa Indians and the state of North Dakota stand in Memorial Hall of the state Capitol in Bismarck, N.D., on Friday, Dec. 15, 2023. The Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa Indians and the Spirit Lake Tribe successfully challenged the state’s 2021 redistricting map as a violation of the Voting Rights Act, alleging it diluted tribal members’ voting strength. A Friday, Dec. 22, 2023 deadline looms for North Dakota’s secretary of state and Republican-controlled Legislature to adopt a new redistricting map compliant with the Voting Rights Act, after a judge’s ruling last month. (AP Photo/Jack Dura)

FILE -North Dakota Republican Secretary of State Michael Howe stands in Memorial Hall of the state Capitol in Bismarck, N.D., on Friday, Sept. 29, 2023. The clock is running out on a Friday deadline for North Dakota’s Republican-controlled Legislature to draw new legislative boundaries compliant with the Voting Rights Act for two Native American tribes who successfully sued for new lines. Secretary of State Michael Howe is appealing the decision.(AP Photo/Jack Dura, File)

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BISMARCK, N.D. (AP) — The clock is running out on a Friday deadline for North Dakota’s Republican-controlled Legislature to draw new legislative boundaries compliant with the Voting Rights Act for two Native American tribes who successfully sued for new lines.

It’s unclear what will happen next, with the 2024 election calendar looming and a flurry of legal filings in recent days.

A federal judge last month ruled that the state’s 2021 redistricting map violates the landmark 1965 civil rights law in diluting the strength of Native American voters. He gave the secretary of state and lawmakers five weeks, ending Friday, “to adopt a plan to remedy the violation.”

Secretary of State Michael Howe is appealing the decision. The Legislature’s Redistricting Committee began meeting this month to address the ruling and review options of maps. Requests to delay the ruling or extend the deadline have so far been unsuccessful.

Body camera video captured North Dakota Republican lawmaker Nico Rios using profanity and homophobic slurs toward Williston police officers and threatening to call the state’s attorney general during a DUI stop on Dec. 5, 2023, in Williston, N.D. Rios said he was leaving a Christmas party before the traffic stop. (Williston Police Dept. via AP)


The Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa Indians, the Spirit Lake Tribe and several tribal members sued North Dakota’s top election official last year. They alleged the 2021 redistricting map “simultaneously packs Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa Indians members into one house district, and cracks Spirit Lake Tribe members out of any majority Native house district.”

The tribes had unsuccessfully sought a joint district in 2021. Their reservations are about 60 miles (96.56 kilometers) apart. Their lawsuit went to trial in June.

In November, U.S. District Court Chief Judge Peter Welte ruled that the map “prevents Native American voters from having an equal opportunity to elect candidates of their choice,” a violation of the Voting Rights Act.


Howe announced plans to appeal days after the ruling. He cited a new 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruling that private individuals and groups such as the NAACP can’t sue under a critical section of the Voting Rights Act.

Welte and the 8th Circuit denied his requests to delay the ruling pending appeal. On Wednesday, the 8th Circuit denied the Legislature’s request to extend the Dec. 22 deadline to Feb. 9, 2024.

On Thursday, the Legislature asked Welte for the same extension, saying it “has made substantial headway toward the development of a remedial redistricting plan.”

In an 8th Circuit filing, Howe said an extension “into February and March risks introducing significant confusion, hardship, and unfairness into the State’s 2024 elections.”

“Certainty is absolutely everything our office is looking for. It doesn’t matter to us what the map looks like, and that’s not our role. That’s the Legislature’s prerogative and their constitutional duty to set laws and create maps, not the secretary of state’s office,” Howe said.

Republican House Majority Leader Mike Lefor said the Legislature is “going to continue to fight on all fronts, legally, to make sure that our voice is heard.” He maintains the 2021 redistricting process was correct.

The Legislature’s redistricting panel has met twice and reviewed maps, including two presented by the tribes in court and others that individual lawmakers presented Wednesday.

Republican state Sen. Ron Sorvaag, who chairs the committee, said his goal is to have the panel prepared “so when it’s called upon, if there’s a session, we’re ready to present.”

Turtle Mountain and Spirit Lake tribal chairs on Wednesday urged lawmakers “to finally follow the law and adopt one of the Tribes’ proposed maps, drop its appeal, and end this costly litigation.”


It’s unclear what the judge will do when the Friday deadline passes with no new map in place. The Legislature has no plans to convene.

Plaintiffs’ attorney Tim Purdon said the tribes plan to file before the deadline “to suggest a path forward for the court.”

In his order rejecting Howe’s requested delay of his decision, Welte wrote that “the public interest lies in correcting Section 2 violations, particularly when those violations are proven by evidence and data at trial. Concerns as to the logistics of preparing for an election cycle cannot trump violations of federal law and individual voting rights.”


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  1. Native American Indian Rock Legends from the Myths of Many Tribes

    Wiklatmuj Native American Legends About Rocks Nukumi and Fire: Mi'kmaq legend about how an ancient rock became the first grandmother. Spirit Rock The Legend of Spirit Rock: Menominee legends about a man who wished for too much and was turned into a rock. The Men Who Visited the Sun: Potawatomi legend about the origin of the first stone.

  2. PDF Manitou or spirit stones and their meanings for Native Indians of North

    number of Manitou stones, cairns, profile rocks and other occurrences found spread across the North American cultural landscape. Together with their meanings according to Native American traditions and cosmologies, emphasis will be given to those discovered in the past few years since a previous report was written (Bender 2011a). Also included is

  3. 10 Rocks and Minerals of the American Indians

    1. Red Jasper Red Jasper was a common stone used by the American Indians for various ceremonial purposes. It was once used as an offering during rain-making rituals and was thought to offer the wearer guidance when dowsing for water. Some Native American tribes thought Red Jasper increased one's sensitivity to the Earth. 2. Quartz

  4. The Mystical Power of Native American Spirit Stones

    Jasper Jasper is a stone deeply rooted in Native American culture. Its earthy tones symbolize strength, courage, and stability. This stone is believed to promote grounding and ease emotional stress. Jasper spirit stones are often used to enhance the connections between individuals and their cultural heritage.

  5. Native American Sacred Stones & Holy Places As Told to Col. A. B. Welch

    Chapter I, Wakantonka, The Great Mystery - Chapter II, Sacred Stones - Chapter III, The Standing Rock - Chapter IV, Mandan Legends - Chapter V, Medicine of the Plains Indians - Chapter VI, The Sacred Object of the Mandans - Chapter VII, The Blue Cloud Stone and Dream Stories - Chapter VIII, Ancient Religious Beliefs of The Sioux -

  6. Lakota mythology

    Lakota mythology is the body of sacred stories that belong to the Lakota people, also known as the Teton Sioux. [1] Overview The Lakota believe that everything has a spirit; including trees, rocks, rivers, and almost every natural being. This therefore leads to the belief in the existence of an afterlife. Creation

  7. Native American Symbols, Pictographs & Petroglyphs

    This type of communication is not unique to Native Americans, as long before writing was developed, people recorded events, ideas, plans, maps, and feelings worldwide by drawing pictures and symbols on rocks, hides, and other surfaces. Historic pictorial symbols for a word or a phrase have been found dating before 3000 BC.

  8. Medicine Wheel & the Four Directions

    The number four is sacred to many Native American tribes as it represents the four seasons, the four human needs - physical, mental, emotional and spiritual, the four kingdoms - animal, mineral, plant, and human; the four sacred medicines — sweetgrass, tobacco, cedar, and sage. The chart below represents the various areas that might be ...

  9. Amulets, Effigies, Fetishes, and Charms

    Rounds out Edward J. Lenik's comprehensive and expert study of the rock art of northeastern Native Americans Decorated stone artifacts are a significant part of archaeological studies of Native Americans in the Northeast. The artifacts illuminated in Amulets, Effigies, Fetishes, and Charms: Native American Artifacts and Spirit Stones from the Northeast include pecked, sculpted, or incised ...

  10. Talking Rocks

    Geology and 10,000 Years of Native American Tradition in the Lake Superior Region. 2003. •. Authors: Ron Morton and Carl Gawboy. Illustrations by Carl Gawboy. An earth scientist and a Native American elder explore the natural history of the Lake Superior region, examining both the science and the spirit of the land. An earth scientist and a ...

  11. The Tradition of the Piasa and the Mysterious Rock Art of the

    Cosme reports seeing the images in 1699. The Piasa is mentioned in a book by A.D. Jones with the title, " Illinois and the West" written in 1838. One of the most satisfactory pictures of the Piasa comes from a German book called " The Valley of the Mississippi Illustrated" published in 1839.

  12. Myths, Traditions And History Explained

    Once, every Cherokee kept one. Wrapped in deerskin and hidden. It was their most sacred possession. They held it before bed and thought about their day, specifically something of importance or interest. When the Cherokee left this realm of existence, they spend a period of time as a spirit. The son, daughter, or next in line gains possession of ...

  13. Stone Structures of Northeastern U.S.

    At Native American's ceremonial complexes communication was between people and spirits. Spirits are beings. ... Spirit portals take on many forms some of which have specific shapes. Shape was an important part of spirit portals at America's Stonehenge. ... 2002 Picture Rocks: American Indian Rock Art in the Northeast Woodlands. Hanover, NH ...

  14. Native American Mythology & Legends

    Blackfoot Legend of the Peacepipe. The Queen Of Death Valley. Riders of the Desert. Sacrifice of the Toltec. The Salt Witch of the Nebraska Plains. Storied Waters of Oregon. Ta-Vwots Conquers the Sun. Teihiihan - The Little Cannibals of the Plains. The Thunderbird of Native Americans.

  15. Native American Indian Nature Spirits

    Native American Nature Spirits From Various Tribes Animal Spirits Plant Spirits Poison Spirits Sun Spirits Star Spirits Sky Spirits Earth Spirits Cloud Spirits Moon Spirits Eclipse Spirits Aurora Spirits Rainbow Spirits Weather Spirits Rain Spirits Snow Spirits Ice Spirits Storm Spirits Lightning Spirits Thunder Spirits Tornado Spirits

  16. Landscape of the Spirits

    High above the noise and traffic of metropolitan Phoenix, Native American rock art offers mute testimony that another civilization once thrived in the Arizona desert. In the city's South Mountains, prehispanic peoples pecked thousands of images into the mountains' boulders and outcroppings—images that today's hikers can encounter with every bend in the trail.

  17. Native American Pictographs and Petroglyphs

    Photo credit: Shutterstock Among the numerous petroglyphs in the West, there are few as dramatic as the Legend Rock Petroglyph Site in Wyoming. A Wyoming State Park, the location features vertical cliffs that stretch for over 1,300 feet.

  18. Discovery of 'calendar' rock carvings from Ancestral Pueblo in US

    The Ancestral Pueblo were a group of Indigenous peoples who inhabited the Castle Rock Pueblo from about the 1250s to 1274, according to a 2020 study in the journal Antiquity.

  19. Native American Religion

    We're thankful that we're on this Mother Earth. That's the first thing when we wake up in the morning, is to be thankful to the Great Sprit for the Mother Earth: how we live, what it produces, what keeps everything alive." 6. Many years ago, the Great Spirit gave the Shawnee, Sauk, Fox, and other peoples maize or corn.

  20. List of Native American deities

    Deity or spirit Notes Inca: Apu: God or spirit of mountains. All of the important mountains have their own Apu, and some of them receive sacrifices to bring out certain aspects of their being. Some rocks and caves also are credited as having their own apu. Ataguchu: God who assisted in creation myth. Catequil: God of thunder and lightning ...

  21. The Sacred Elemental Spirits in Native American Spirituality: An

    This includes the four elements of nature: earth, air, fire, and water. In Native American traditions, each of these elements is believed to be inhabited by a spirit that carries unique qualities and symbolisms. Let us take a closer look at these spiritual guardians: Earth Spirit and Its Significance

  22. 17 Native American Gemstones to Bring You Closer to the Earth

    May 02, 2021By Faith Davis INSIDE: Crystals are perhaps the most popular token of New Age lifestyles and practices, but they're nothing new in ancient healing systems. Native American gemstones display the deep histories of crystals and spiritual healing in indigenous communities. Read on to learn about some of their most powerful stones…

  23. Native American Rituals and Ceremonies

    Ceremony and rituals have long played a vital and essential role in Native American culture. Spirituality is an integral part of their very being. Often referred to as "religion," most Native Americans did not consider their spirituality, ceremonies, and rituals as "religion" like Christians do.Rather, their beliefs and practices form an integral and seamless part of their very being.

  24. Native American Spirituality

    The term "Great Spirit" is applied often in Native American spirituality, to refer to the concept of an all-encompassing power. Some Native tribes refer to this instead as the Great Mystery. In many tribes, this entity or power has a specific name. There are a number of spirits that also take their place among the Native American belief ...

  25. THINGS TO KNOW: Deadline looms for new map in embattled North Dakota

    1 of 3 | . FILE - North Dakota state Rep. Robin Weisz, at left, and state Sen. Jerry Klein, both Republicans, inspect alternative maps proposed by the Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa Indians and the Spirit Lake Tribe, on Tuesday, Dec. 5, 2023, during a meeting of a top legislative panel at the state Capitol in Bismarck, N.D.