November is National Native American Heritage Month, which makes it a great time to reflect on and pay homage to the culture and traditions of Native Americans. Please read on to learn more about the history and culture of Native Americans, as well as to discover some resources for further research.

History and Tribes

The ancestors of modern Native Americans were the first to discover America – yes, before Christopher Columbus did. Over 12,000 years ago, nomadic Native American people hiked across a land bridge from Asia to what is now Alaska. Today, there are 574 federally recognized American Indian and Alaska Native tribes and villages in the United States, each with their own culture, language, and history. According to history.com, the U.S. Census Bureau indicated that there are currently about 4.5 million Native Americans and Alaska Natives in the United States, making up about 1.5 % of the population.

Native Americans discovered many of the lands in which we reside, recreate, and work. Native Land Digital’s territory map shows the respective tribe’s lands that pre-dates colonialism. It is important to think of these lands (and all lands) and provide recognition/homage when possible. Below is a list of some of the Native American tribes that existed in the states where Aires’ offices currently reside:

  • CORP/CRO (Pennsylvania): Osage, Shawanwaki/Shawnee
  • NERO (Connecticut): Wappinger, Paugussett, Pequinnock
  • Midwest (Indiana): Kickapoo, Peoria, Kaskaskia, Potawatomi, Myaamia
  • GRCO (Texas): Couahuitlecan, Sana, Kickapoo, Jumanos, Tawakoni, Whichita
  • WCRO (California): Tongva, Juaneño, Kizh

Native American Dance Tradition

One of the important traditions of the Native American people is dance. Some dances are for amusement, and others are a solemn duty. Some dances were performed for ceremonies or religious rituals, while others were conducted to guarantee the success of hunts, harvests, and giving thanks.

  • Grass Dance: For this traditional dance, sometimes grass dancers would flatten the grass to prepare the ground for a tribal ceremony, but surprisingly, this is not where they got their name. Grass dancers got their name because of their soft swaying movements that imitate the swaying of grass in the breeze. This dance is often done to honor and respect ancestors and connect with the earth.
  • Hoop Dance: The Hoop Dance, an individual dance, is often performed for show. This dance typically involves between 1 and 30 hoops, depending on the skill and experience of the dancer. This dance is used to tell stories, with the hoop symbolizing the circle of life. The hoops are also used to create shapes representing different animals.

The Grass Dance and Hoop Dance are just two of the many traditional Native American dances. You can find more information on Native American traditional dance here.

Native American Spirituality

Native American spirituality is hard to define in a concrete way since every tribe has their own set of beliefs and practices. Much of the time, a tribe’s beliefs center around their way of life. Native Americans did not view their spirituality as “religion” the way others do, such as Christians. Instead, they had strong beliefs in harmony with nature, endurance of suffering, respect and non-interference toward others, and a strong belief that man is inherently good and should be respected for his decisions. Native Americans practiced many different ceremonies and rituals as a part of their spirituality. A few of these are listed below.

  • Sun Dance: Sun Dance, traditionally held once a year, is a very important religious ceremony for the Plains Indians of North America. This dance is a dedication to the Earth and Sun, and many of the dancers make their own personal wishes during the ceremony, such as praying for the health of their family. Sun Dance was eventually banned in the U.S. and Canada due to the piercings that took place during them, but many tribes continued to take part in it. In the middle of the 20th century, the ban was lifted, and Native Americans were able to openly practice the Sun Dance again.
  • Pow Wow: Many indigenous communities partake in pow wows. A pow wow is a sacred social gathering that can be either public or private. Modern Native Americans hold pow wows to meet and honor their cultures through dance, song, and socialization.
  • Two-Spirit: Native American two-spirit people were those who took part in the activities of both men and women. Two-spirit people were not considered man nor woman in many tribes. In tribes where two-spirit males and females were referred to with the same term, this status amounted to a third gender. In other cases, two-spirit females were referred to with a distinct term and, therefore, constituted a fourth gender.

This short list doesn’t even begin to scratch the surface of Native American spirituality, but you can find more information here.

Educational Resources

To learn more about Native American heritage, check out the resources listed below.

National Congress of American Indians

Native American Resources: sites for online research

Legends of America

History.com

Native Lands Digital

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