Native American Religion


In contemporary Native American culture, there is no unifying religion that the Native Americans practice as a whole; however, the general philosophies of different tribes remain somewhat constant throughout. Like it has been throughout history, Native American religious principles are centered on the importance of the land.

Author Jeffrey Gudzune writes, “The most basic concept of all native religious philosophy is the living earth—the belief that the planet itself has an indomitable spirit” (Gudzune R. Jeffrey).

The Native Americans celebrate the earth during ceremonies which vary greatly throughout different tribes, yet are usually held at a sacred place in nature. These sites may include, but are not limited to waterfalls, mountains, rivers, or any other place which may have been considered particularly important by a tribe’s ancestors. During these ceremonies, important tokens of nature are used, including tobacco, sage, peyote, and feathers, and history and traditions are passed down through generations orally and by example.

Due to the nature of these ceremonies, however, Native American religious practices have not always been concurrent with United States laws. Many conflicts have arisen in the past, and government acts have been passed in order to allow the Native Americans their religious freedom.

Before the American Indian Religious Freedom Act, Native Americans faced many difficulties in maintaining their religious traditions. For example, eagles are protected in the United States by law; however, the bones and feathers of eagles are an integral part of sacred ceremonies for some tribes. Peyote, an illegal drug in the United States, was illegal for Native American’s as well, until the amendment to the Act in 1994. One last major problem for the American Indians was that their sacred places of religious practices were no longer available, yet the problem still remains prevalent today.

Important Document Analysis:

The American Indian Religious Freedom Act

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Native American Church

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The Ten Indian Commandments

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Danny Beaton

As an influential and inspiring member of not only his native tribe, the Mohawk Turtle Clan , Danny Beaton also has been successful in producing and directing “four nationally broadcast films that feature Native American spiritual elders voicing their concerns for the need of society to return to spiritual values and the protection of Mother Earth” and has become a known presence in the North American effort to help conserve the earth’s resources. As global warming has become an increasingly pressing issue around the world, our industrialized government, along with Canada, has looked to our country’s most ancient and disregarded peoples, the Native Americans for help.
Providing a powerful voice to represent his tribe’s spiritual beliefs, Danny Beaton has preached his advice and knowledge of Native American “religious”, or spiritual culture still existent within surviving tribes today. His statements have brought respect and attention to his preaching, as he advocates that: "as traditional people we have to be connected to the earth by speaking to the earth and giving thanks, and honor to the earth and to all of creation so we are one with creation and we're not separate from creation, we're not separate from the sun and so we're not separate from the water, we're not separate from the fire, and we're not separate from the air or the water. In native culture elders teach that going to the water, air and fire is medicine to purify ourselves". As a result of his insightful and moving beliefs that are reflected in the production of his movies, in 1992, Beaton was awarded by the Govern-General of Canada, the Canada 125 Award for his movie productions, and is still today regarded as a respected member of both his native tribe and also to our American society as well.


Chuck Derby

Born in 1941, Chuck Derby is currently one of the most renown spiritual pipe-makers in the Americas. Even as a very young child, he showed a true talent for the art of pipe-making, and since has carried and improved upon the business from what his father had done. Proud of his heritage, and spiritual meaning behind his craft and skill, Chuck, to no one’s surprise, was given many awards and honors for his hard work and dedication to the Native American culture.
He has been:
Elected spokesperson for the Original Pipestone Dakota Tiospaye
Appeared in the films 'Hiawatha Pioneer Trail' and ‘Minnesota River and Fields’
Had work exhibited in the Minnesota Historical Society at the Capitol in St. Paul and also at the Iowa State Fair in Des Moines, where over 70,000 people visited his exhibit
Demonstrated his work at the Second World Conference on National Parks , where over 90 countries were present and represented.
Displayed work at the Joslyn Art Museum of Omaha
He was given the honor of carving an exact replica of the original pipe of Crazy Horse , a Lakota leader and chief.
He also, “Through the years of working with pipestone and making ceremonial pipes Chuck has associated with many Native American elders, spiritual leaders and medicine men, in 1998 he was adopted by the now late, Lakota Spiritual leader Joseph Flying Bye as his son, which was a great honor. He was taught many things by Grandpa Joe as well as the spiritual leader, the late Amos Owens” (Gloria Hazell).


Sources (Protecting Religious Freedom and Sacred Sites) (Ammendment to the American Indian Religious Freedom Act) (The American Indian Religious Freedom Act) (Native American Spirituality) (Native American Ten Commandments) ( The American Indian Religious Freedom Act)