Introduction American tribes that were considered the hunters and


            The Native American religion isn’t
necessarily an easy religion to cover and that is because of the fact that
there are many different tribes within the Native American religion, in which
some of them have their own beliefs (even though some of them were similar in
the most important aspects). Like it was stated in the book “Religion Of The
World” 13th edition by Brett R. Hendrickson, “There are hundreds of
Native American religions. It is difficult, if not impossible, to generalize
about them. Native American cultures are equally diverse, ranging historically
from small bands of hunter-gatherers to large-scale states and empires.” (Hendrickson 9)

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this paper, I would like to take an inside look at some of the different tribes
within the Native American religion. I also would like to shine some light on
the different and similar religious beliefs these tribes had with each other.

This includes, the different or similar types of practices, ceremonies and
traditions within each tribe. Also I want to give you a little more information
about the Native American religion as a whole and how some of it (if any) still
influences any of the religions of today.


            “When speaking of the religion of
Native Americans, we must be aware that we are not speaking of a monolithic
structure.” (Hendrickson 23) Native
Americans have lived on many different parts of the Americas, which helped
influence the different tribes and their religious beliefs due to living in
different environments with completely different standards of living. There
were Native American tribes that were considered the hunters and the gatherers,
while others lived in established cultivated societies. Some where a group of
wanderers, while some tribes assembled many different places to settle within. In
today’s world, many Native Americans live among us and have adapted to our
religion, monetary system and culture. While other Native Americans live on
reserved territory recognized by contracted agreements with the U.S.

government. (Hendrickson 23)

            I would like to take some time and
talk about at least three different Native American tribes. Those tribes are
the Cherokee tribe, Apache tribe and the Powhatan tribe. In the next section, I
will be covering the history of these three tribes.


            Cherokee people have been considered
as the most informally and traditionally progressive of all Native American
tribes since coming into contact with the European settlers. The Cherokee tribe
dwelled in the southeastern section of the United States and has flourished
there for hundreds of years before then. (Our
History) The Cherokee tribe is also a decedent of the Iroquoians. They
originally came from the Great Lake Area, but later settle in the east coast.  The Cherokee people were a strong tribe that
had smaller sections within the tribe, which were all led by chiefs. The
Cherokee people were completely religious and spiritual.

            Ultimately in the 1800s, the
Cherokee tribe started to implement the philosophy that the Europeans brought
to them. This of course meant the way they dress, farming and building methods
and even becoming Christians. Unfortunately due to gold being found in their
land in 1828, the Cherokee tribe was forced out of their homes and made them
have to find another place to settle. This led to the origin of The “Trail of
Tears” where they had to travel thousand of miles to try and find a new place
to live. At the end of it all, around 4,000 Cherokees lost their lives during
the journey.

            In today’s world, the Cherokee
Native Americans still have a strong sense of pride in their culture. The
Cherokee rose is now the state flower of Georgia. Now, most of the Cherokee
Native Americans can be found in the state of Oklahoma where there are three federally
recognized Cherokee communities with thousands of residents. (Cherokee Indians)


            The Apache Indians originated from the Alaskan region, Canada, and
portions of the American Southwest. Eventually the Apache tribe moved toward
the United States further down south, and separated into two regions, with the
Rio Grande River serving as the separating line. The Apaches were typically wanderers,
meaning they moved around, never quite settling in one place. The Apaches
usually survived by eating buffalo meat. They used the skin of the buffalo
as protective clothing. It is also known that they were one of the first
tribes to learn how to ride and use horses.  By 1700, a great amount of
the Apache Native Americans moved to the Kansas plains. They were not used to
living and farming on the plains, but they managed with some crops such as
watermelon, beans, and corn. Eventually, another tribe called the Comanche
overtook their weakness. The Apaches had lost and the Comanche tribe took their
land, making them to move to areas like New Mexico and Arizona. Still others
went even more down south into Texas and even parts of Mexico.

the 1730s, the Apache Native Americans began to go to war with the Spaniards.

The war was long and bloody, and even ended in many deaths. Then in 1743 a
Spanish leader agreed to assign areas of Texas for the Apaches to live, easing
the war over land. In a ceremony in 1749, an Apache chief buried a hatchet to
show that the fighting was over, which created the term we use today, “bury the
hatchet.” As time progressed, the Apache Native Americans built up a strong
bond with the Europeans of the area. Relationships were strong, and the Apache
felt well protected. As things continued to move on, raids began to take place
that included the murder of the Apache people and the theft of their goods and
livestock. In 1940, there was a record of only 35 Apache Native Americans
living in the state of Oklahoma, and in 1970 a record of about 1,500 were
documented in New Mexico. (Apache Indians)

Powhatan Tribe

the time English colonists arrived in the spring of 1607, the Powhatan Native
Americans, an Algonquian-speaking people, inhabited coastal Virginia. The
Powhatan tribe was consisting of 30 or so tribal groups, with a total population
of about 14,000, under the control of Wahunsonacock, or sometimes referred to
as “Powhatan.” The Powhatan tribe lived in villages with houses built of
sapling frames covered by reed mats or bark. One tribe had it’s own village
within the same area. Every tribe had its own “werowance” or chief, who was a
follower of Wahunsonacock. Although the chiefs were usually men, they acquired
their positions of power through the female side of the family.

products such as corn, beans and squash made up about half of the Powhatan
diet. The men would hunt deer and fished, while the women plowed and collected
wild plant foods. The women prepared the food and made clothes from the
deerskins. The tools and equipment were made from stone, bone and wood. The
Powhatan Native Americans partook in a widespread trade network with Native
American groups within and outside the tribe. With the English people, the
Powhatan Natives traded foods and furs in exchange for metal tools, European
copper, European glass beads, and jewels.

a hierarchical civilization of rulers, great warriors, priests and commoners, ranking
was determined by achievement, usually in fighting, and by the heirloom of
luxury goods like copper, shell beads and furs. Those of higher rank had larger
homes, more wives and sumptuous dresses. The Powhatan tribe worshipped a pecking
order of gods and spirits. They offered gifts to Okee to prevent him from
sending them harm and Ahone was the creator and giver of good things.

the English settlement spread in Virginia during the 1600s, the Powhatan tribes
were forced to move internally away from the productive river valleys that had
long been their home. As their territory diminished, so did the Native American
population, falling victim to the English diseases, food shortages and war. The
Powhatan people endured by accepting the new lifestyles while keeping their traditional
pride and leaving a legacy for today, through those decedents who still are
living in Virginia.

the next section, I will be covering the different (or similar) religious
beliefs that the three tribes have.  Here
we will learn more about the different (or similar) practices, ceremonies and traditions
that each tribe had. I will also be trying to shed some more light on their
religion and how some of it (if any) is still used in today’s religion. (Egloff, Pocahontas Powhatan Indians)

Cherokee Tribe Religious Beliefs

Cherokee tribe worshipped the Deer God. They often said to the Deer God,
“We only kill what is needed to feed our families, and we are sorry.”
This was important to do for the Cherokee tribe because they did not want the
Deer God to be angry at them, or the Deer God might make all the deer
disappear. Just as the buffalo was important to the Plains Native Americans
(the Apaches), the deer was important to the Cherokee. The Cherokee Native
Americans also believed in many other animal spirits. So the skills of those
animals would be shared with them, they wore animal skins as clothing. They also
believed everything in nature had a spirit and they prayed to those spirits for
good health.

Cherokee tribe had medicine men that were very skilled. They used bark to cure
many diseases that the European doctors could not cure. They also used roots to
make medicine. Some actually studied with the European doctors because they
believed that the more they knew, the better they could cure their own people.

They held many festivals and one in particular were called the “Green Corn
Festival”, which was held yearly. During this festival, The Cherokee tribe
thanked their gods for their good fortune, and prayed to their gods for
continued good luck. (Cherokee Indians

Apache Tribe Religious Beliefs

like how the Cherokee tribe believed that all things in nature had a spirit, the
Apache tribe believed spirits lived in mountains and in streams and under
rocks. They believed spirits were everywhere and that they could even be found
inside a rock. In ancient times, the Apache tribe believed that mystical beings
lived with them. They could not see them, but they felt as though they were
there. The Apache tribe also believed in cleanliness. They often took frequent
baths because they believed they were cleaning their bodies of both bad luck
and evil spirits. The Apache tribe believed that their ancestors were rocks,
trees, the wind and other things of nature. When they prayed to the spirits,
they were praying to their ancestors.

most Indians did not use stringed instruments in the past times, the Apache
tribe did create a strange instrument that had only one string on a bow. This
instrument was called the Apache Fiddle. The string was pulled to make a noise,
which made a very eerie sound. They added this instrument to drums and rattles,
and played the Apache Fiddle at ceremonial dances. (Apache Indians Religion)

Powhatan Tribe Religious Belief

Powhatan tribe has a deep-rooted connection to their spiritual and religious
beliefs. Their belief in the spirits guide everyday actions and influence the
Powhatan tribe traditions and rituals. As it is common with other Native
American tribes, the spiritual traditions and rituals have been passed down
from generation to generation, through history to the present. There are many
spirits that are worshiped by the Powhatan tribe. One of the main spirits that
the Powhatan tribe prays to is Okee. Okee is the only spirit who is said to
have more of a human-like image. The Powhatan people work hard to vie with Okee
through their rituals and traditions. The other spirit that the Powhatan tribe
worship is Ahone. Just like how the Powhatan people treated the settlers, Ahone
is a kind and nonviolent spirit. Another spirit is known as the Great Hare, who
is the creator god that made the world around the Powhatan people.  There is an anonymous female spirit that is
present between life and the afterworld that helps to guide those who pass onto
the spirit world. The sun is also an important spirit for the Powhatan tribe.

The sun, often associated to fire, is important in upholding life, health and home.

traditions of the Powhatan are mainly based on their spirituality. The
Quiocosin is a mystically significant dwelling and house used by the kwiocosuk,
or shaman. These buildings are set in isolated locations in the forests.  A shaman or chief are the only ones who are
able to enter the quiocosin. A lot of work and detail goes into the carvings
that are inside the quiocosin, which represent the spirits or ancestors. The
shamans that live in these buildings serve as doctors and spiritual advisors. The
shamans handle relations between the Powhatan people and the spirits. In order
to keep this connection, shamans will enter into a trance, or perform rituals
and dances.

are many rituals that the Powhatan tribe uses to connect with their spirituality.

The men would cut their hair to emulate the spirit Okee. The Powhatan tribe
offered sacrifices, such as deer’s blood or food to Okee to protect the hunters
or to keep the spirit’s favor. The shamans to heal patients and end sickness
with the help of the spirits use the ritual of medicine, such as red puccoon
root. They also perform rituals for important events, such as a boy becoming a
man or the death of a chief, to help move him on to the spirit world. Dancing
is used to connect the Powhatan people with the spirit world, through the help
of the shaman. Dancing is also a ritual that was observed by John Smith during
the settlement of Jamestown. He saw that each dance lasted three days with each
day ending in a feast. Participants were dressed in regalia, such as
headdresses, snakeskins and animal furs with painted faces. Circles were made
around the fire with corn meal to represent the world and spirits around the
Powhatan people. There were other dances that were used to celebrate the
harvest or hunting season. Today, traditional regalia are used in dancing at
powwows to celebrate the beliefs and holiness of Native American people. (Heutmaker, Religious Beliefs of the

Native American Religion as a Whole

all other beliefs, the Native American civilizations of North America hoped to recruit
the aid of the supernatural in controlling the natural and social world. Each
tribe had its own set of religious adherences devoted to that aim. Individuals
tried to persuade or satisfy powerful spiritual entities with private prayers
or sacrifices of valuable items (e.g., furs, tobacco, food), but when entire groups
looked for divine assistance to guarantee a successful hunt, a good harvest, or
victory in war, they called upon shamans, priests, and, in some tribes,
priestesses, whom they believed to have acquired mystical powers through
visions. These uncommon abilities included predicting the future and influencing
the weather, which were matters of vital interest to whole tribes. But shamans
might also assist individuals by explaining dreams and curing or causing
outbreaks of witchcraft.

even this short account specifies, many key Native American religious beliefs
and practices bore wide-ranging but outstanding resemblances to those current
among early modern Europeans, both Catholic and Protestant. These cultures,
too, attributed a creation myth (as set forth in Genesis), acclaimed a Creator
God, feared a spiteful secondary divine being (Lucifer), and looked forward to
the individual soul’s immortality in an afterlife greater in every respect to
the here and now. They, too, appeased their divine being with prayers and
offerings and relied upon a particularly trained ministry to support their people
during periods of crisis. Finally, the great mainstream of early modern
Europeans feared witches and considered the meaning of their dreams.

though it is important to appreciate the similarities between the religious philosophies
of Native Americans and early modern Europeans (and Euro-Americans), there were
real differences that have to be kept in mind. The most important is that Native
Americans did not differentiate between the natural and the supernatural. On
the opposite, Native Americans perceived the “material” and “spiritual” as a
unified realm of being (or a kind of extended association network). To the
Native Americans, plants, animals and humans partook of spirituality through
their close connection with “guardian spirits,” a multitude of “supernatural” beings
who instilled their “natural” kin with life and power. By distinction,
Protestant and Catholic traditions were more motivated to highlight the gulf that
separated the pure, spiritual beings in heaven (God, the angels, and saints) from
sinful men and women caught up in a blasphemous world filled with temptation
and evil. (Heyrman, Native American


conclusion, the Native American religion beliefs are different depending on the
tribe but it can also show a lot of similarities. Although there are many
different tribes that all have many different beliefs and ways of practicing
theses beliefs, there are also a lot of similar within these tribes. From the
three tribes that I did my research on, I can see that all of them are very
connected to nature in which they belief have spirits or are spirits of an
ancestor that has passed on to the afterlife. Also, a lot of the Native
American tribes rely on people that are looked on to have great spiritual
powers such as a shaman, priest or priestess for spiritual guidance.

are also a lot of similarities within Native American religion and today’s
religion. Just like today’s religion, Native Americans believed in a high
spiritual being that was looked at as the creator of all things. They also
believed in another spiritual being that could cause them harm, just like how
today’s religion believe in a spiritual being that causes harm (i.e. Lucifer).

They also believe in worshipping, praying to and pleasing these Gods just like today’s
religion worships, pray and do things to please the God that they believe in
(such as sacrifice and give offerings).