For generations, Native Americans have loved and fought for Nihi kayak — our land. They serve five times the national average in the military, shaping the country’s future. Unfortunately, many tribal traditions and Native American culture are in danger. The National Congress of American Indians has declared that Native languages are in an emergency.
Let’s take a look at 5 of the most important Native American culture and traditions we need to respect and preserve.
Native Amerian Languages
In the modern world, where English is often seen as a lingua franca, it might be easy to dismiss the importance of renewing fading Native American languages. But a language in Native American culture is more than just a way to communicate; it’s a code that holds the subtleties and secrets of a culture. It’s also how a tribe explains its history and beliefs to the next generation.
Using Native American ancestry finder, the Native American stories told in their languages are vital to tribal identity and cultural survival. They convey customs, traditions, and history and teach lessons about life and leadership. They are the roots that help a tribe sustain itself despite centuries of physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual violence.
For Marie Wilcox, preserving her Wukchumni language has become a mission in life. She has spent years creating a dictionary, hoping her work will support revitalizing this dying language for generations. A new study examines the link between Indigenous language proficiency and participation in traditional activities and value beliefs among two Anishinabeg communities.
Native Amerian Stories
Stories are emblems of living religion, storehouses of ethnoecological knowledge, and are a means to educate, entertain, heal, and reflect. Whether about the origin of people, oceans, animals, plants, worlds, or simply a place, stories have power and meaning that connect current generations to their ancestors. Storytelling is typically done in a quiet, non-threatening environment where people sit in a circle. Ideally, it is in a way that everyone can hear the storyteller and that everyone feels included.
Native American stories address many topics: ancient social orders, daily life, the role of family members and their hierarchy, and even how men hunt and fish. Stories often depict heroes and heroes who must overcome obstacles. They also illustrate the value of courage and honor.
Stories breathe life into a culture, cultivate their verbal language, give meaning to history, and teach the younger generation where they fit in the tribe. They can be both fantasy and realism; for example, animals that talk and magic are frequently included in Native American stories. For Quirina Geary, who teaches the Mutsun (California) language, stories help keep her tribal identity alive.
Native Amerian Dances
One of the most awe-inspiring and spectacular expressions of Native American culture is dance. The movements of a tribe’s people are not just steps and hops; they communicate prayers, thanks, mythology, and more. Dances were typically held in a structure or open field with a drum beat and participants’ voices.
Regalia is a massive part of the dancing experience at powwows, as the wearer’s adornments help tell their story. These are often handmade or handed down from family members and take years to build up. Dancers display a deep spiritual attachment to their regalia and treat it with care and respect.
One of the most popular dances at powwows is the jingle dress dance. This Ojibwe tradition features women wearing skirts adorned with tinkling metal bells. This dance is healing for women and young girls, which is why many tribes continue to practice it. The jingle dress dance is also part of Indigenous futurism, a contemporary music style that integrates hip-hop with traditional Native elements.
Native Amerian Food
Native Americans were very close to their environment and were masters at preserving, growing, hunting/fishing and gathering food for themselves. Before colonization, most tribes were agriculturists, but some were migratory hunters/fishers and foragers.
When Europeans displaced Native American tribes, their food traditions were disrupted. Many tribes had to relocate, and their buffalo herds and other game were gone, and for those that remained on reservations, their tribal lands were used for agriculture.
Many tribes developed recipes and ways to prepare traditional foods unique to their region. Succotash, which combines boiled sweet corn with beans and can be quickly prepared in the wild, is a classic example. Fry bread, developed out of necessity by Navajos during their 300-mile relocation on the Long Walk, is another.
Today, the food sovereignty movement supports a return to Native American foods that are healthier and more culturally meaningful. However, many challenges remain, including the high cost of eating more beneficial and the fact that most Native communities are isolated and have few modern grocery stores nearby.
Native Amerian Art
Art is an integral part of the culture and traditions of Native American peoples. It has been used to pay homage to the culture, signify the values of the community and even act as a tool for survival. Whether it’s to please the gods, soothe angry spirits wreaking havoc in nature, observe new moods, or frighten away evil ones, art has played a significant role in Native society.
Art can range from traditional pottery and weaving to metalwork, sculptural pieces, or painting. It can also be portable arts like porcupine quillwork, birchbark biting, or monumental works like architecture and public sculptures.
Art is a vital tool for Native Americans to communicate their cultures and traditions with each other and the rest of the world. Despite stereotypes, people can learn from the art of Native American artists. They can discover much more to the story than a brave warrior in a feathered headdress or a beautiful princess in animal hide clothing. Neither of those images is incorrect, but they fail to capture the complexity and multifariousness of the different languages, beliefs, cosmologies, and ritual traditions of the Native American peoples of North America.