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The Faith of Native Americans, Part I

I would like to begin this story by starting with a quote by Black Elk, a Lakota Sioux of the Oglala clan. This is his prayer. "Grandfather, Great Spirit, you have been always, and before you no one has been. There is no other one to pray to but you. You yourself, everything that you see, everything has been made by you. The star nations all over the universe you have finished. The four quarters of the Earth you have finished. The day, and in that day, everything you have finished. Grandfather, Great Spirit, lean close to the Earth that you may hear the voice I send."

Native Americans also believed in an evil being that roamed the Earth causing strife and misery and they also believed in evil spirits who caused human illnesses that only a Medicine Man was trained to deal with. The evil being that roamed the Earth was known by the Pueblo Indians as Pishuni.

"In Pueblo mythology, the serpent Pishuni is represented much as the serpent in the Christian bible...a deceiver sent to tempt the first human beings. Just as in the Christian doctrine, humanity was intended to be perfect and live in harmony with nature... and an antagonist entered the equation to separate human beings from the Creator. Pishuni is mentioned several times throughout Pueblo writings as an interloper whose purpose is to create strife."

Written by Angela Sangster, Copyright 2010

The Pueblo Indians also described the evil one as a serpent. That is very interesting. Both the Christian and Jewish Holy Scriptures also describe Satan as a serpent in the Garden of Eden. How can we explain cultures thousands of miles distant both having a belief in an evil being that created strife and turmoil and was a serpent as well? All in all, there are a lot of similarities between what the Native Americans believe and what many Christian denominations believe.

So begins the story of the faith and belief of native Americans in only one God. The name they gave to our Lord God is The Great Spirit which happens to be what our Lord God truly is. Our Lord Christ Jesus affirms this with the following quote from John 4:24 and it reads as follows, "For God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and in truth."

When the native peoples address the Lord God, they call to The Great Spirit. They also call The Great Spirit, Grandfather instead of Father as we do today. The native people by in large were peaceful people having attained their spirituality by living close to mother Earth which is what they call our planet. They found that the Earth provided all of their needs which is why they call Earth, mother Earth. They did not have to accumulate great wealth to have a better life than anyone else they simply had to walk out into the surrounding country and find all that they needed. From the resources the Earth provided, the native people crafted nice clothes from animal skins, bowls and utensils for eating, arrows from bone and stone, and bowstrings from animal sinew, and hatchets from flint rock that were crafted very skillfully. Even making extraordinary bird points and arrowheads made from flint that curved to cut through the water and follow a straight path while fishing. These arrow points took great skill and care to craft. They used buffalo hides to construct homes that could withstand the cold and keep them cool during the hot summer days. I am sure there is much more that we no longer know of concerning the native people's skill at survival and prosperity.

The native peoples often traded with other tribes to obtain some items that could be used for hunting, fishing, or materials for women to make new clothes with. They very much enjoyed meeting other tribes to trade and socialize with and usually had a big feast and dance to celebrate their meeting. There, they would meet new people or old friends they rarely saw. Often, the young men would meet with the young women of the other tribe, and often marriages were arranged which served to unite the tribes.

Should a child become orphaned, they were cared for by the tribe as a whole and not just a single family to care for them. In fact, everyone in the village was expected to pitch in and help the orphaned children. Even going so far as to nurse orphaned babies. They would never abandon anyone, even if they were very sick or weak. Eventually, they would get well and be a productive member of the village once again. However, there was one exception, and that was the care of the very elderly. Once the very elderly could no longer feed themselves, it was expected of them to go off and die somewhere of their choosing. This may sound cruel; however, it was for the good of the village overall. Also, everyone knew it would be expected of them to do the same one day. The very elderly could no longer contribute to the tribe as a whole, so they became a burden. A nomadic tribe could not last long if it had to take care of the very elderly all of the time since many plains Indian tribes were nomadic and spent a lot of time on the move to keep up with the great herds of Bison. To see after the very elderly would require too much labor on their part and it would slow them down in their pursuit of game. This applied mostly to the nomadic peoples of the Great Plains. Other tribes of Native Americans might have a more agrarian type of life and they could provide for the very elderly without much hindrance to the tribal economy and were then not a great burden. Yes, even the Native Americans had an economy although it was largely based on bartering with each other or members of other tribes. They were great traders, always willing to strike a deal with someone, and considered it great fun.

There are many examples of the spirituality of the Native American people and Black Elk was another of those who spoke eloquently of the Sioux people. Here is another of his quotes concerning life in general. It reads as follows, "It is hard to follow one great vision in this world of darkness and of many changing shadows. Among those shadows, men get lost."

This is even true today. Our world can seem quite dark at times and we can get lost in the shadows. Black Elk also spoke of the New World, and he spoke of a path his people must follow to get to the promised New World. Even our own Holy Scripture speaks of a New World or rather a New Earth in the Book of Revelation. Is this not interesting that the Native Americans also knew of a coming New World and that they must follow a certain spiritual path to get there? Perhaps that is why it was required of every young warrior of a certain age to go out alone and fast and pray that the Great Spirit would show them a vision to follow as a guiding influence in his life. I once read a book called "Lame Deer, Seeker of Visions" by John Lame Deer and Richard Erdoes and, in that book, a story was related of a certain young Indian warrior who sought a vision. It was called a vision quest and after many days of fasting the vision, he had waited for finally came. His vision made a dramatic impact on his life. The full account of the vision was given in the book and it was a very interesting and spiritual journey. Lame Deer was the young man who sought a vision. His vision led him to become a Medicine Man, which is like a spiritual doctor of sorts.

Also, I would like to quote Red Cloud, who was a great Sioux warrior and was the only Native American Chief to defeat the U.S. Calvary in battle and dictate the terms of surrender. You can read of his famous victory in "The Heart of Everything That Is", by Bob Drury and Tom Clavin. Anyway, here is Red Clouds' quote, and it reads as follows, "The four pillars of Sioux leadership--acknowledged by the tribe to this day--are bravery, fortitude, generosity, and wisdom."

Even today, these are all qualities we admire in ourselves and others.

Now, let us not forget about the women of these tribes. They were not subservient to the men, in fact, it was sometimes quite the opposite. It is true they largely answered to the men when it came to politics and war. However, for the most part, women made most of the decisions of where to set up camp, and when it was time to move on to the next campsite and they did all the child-rearing, while the men hunted, fished, fought wars, and settled disputes among tribal members. I am sure there was more the men of the tribe did and more that the women of the tribe did as well. Still, the point to be made here is that the women played a crucial role in the health of the tribe and the men played an equal part in defending the tribe. However, women were not considered as inferior to men as it was in the English culture and most cultures of the Middle East. The women also played a major role in the spiritual life of the Native American people by taking part in the rituals whereby they too joined in the worship ceremony to The Great Spirit. Often the women would dawn beautiful religious garments with intricate beadwork and beautiful drawings and wear special headdresses for the ceremony. The young virgin women wore their own special garments made of buckskin leather, all handsewn with elaborate decorations all around the garments they made for the very special ceremonies in which they paid homage to The Great Spirit and all that The Great Spirit provided them. Often the ritual ceremony would take all day and even part of the night until nearly everyone was exhausted from their efforts at worship and prayer. It was quite a sight to see. Even the horses would be specially outfitted with elaborate decorations and something similar to a headdress and body paintings around their eyes, shoulders, and even their rumps. The horses seemed to know something special was afoot and gave very little objection to all the attention they would receive with the body paintings, headdresses, and hand art all over their bodies. Then when the ceremony began, the adorned horses would see other horses all adorned as well for this great celebration of thanksgiving to The Great Spirit. Yes, even the horses loved the pomp and ceremony of this very special occasion and religious ceremony.

As another example of the spiritual nature of the Native Americans, here is a quote from "Touch the Earth: A Self-Portrait of Indian Existence" by T.C. McLuhan. The following quote is by Ohiyesa, a Santee Dakota Sioux speaking in 1911.

"In the life of the Indian there was only one inevitable duty, - the duty of prayer - the daily recognition of the Unseen and Eternal. His daily devotions were more necessary to him than daily food. He wakes at daybreak, puts on his moccasins and steps down to the water's edge. Here he throws handfuls of clear, cold water into his face, or plunges in bodily. After the bath, he stands erect before the advancing dawn, facing the sun as it dances upon the horizon, and offers his unspoken orison. His mate may precede or follow him in his devotions but never accompanies him. Each soul must meet the morning sun, the new sweet earth, and the Great Silence alone!"

Orison, by the way, means prayer.

The quote just above is another example of prayer by the native peoples of America. It is not strange that we never imagine that Native Americans prayed to their Grandfather in heaven just as we pray to our Father in heaven. The only real difference is that they looked upon our Father as a Grandfather and not a Father. Do we not look upon a grandfather as being more tender, loving, and caring of his grandchildren than we do of a father's love and care for his children? Grandfathers have the love of their children in their hearts and that makes them care even more deeply for their children’s children. Also, the native peoples believed that the Great Spirit was a man just as most Christians, Jews, and Islamists still do, although our Lord God is not a flesh and blood man.

End of Part I

We hope you will join us for part II

in only a short while, if you please.

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