Question Answer
0 View
Peringkat Artikel
1 звезда2 звезды3 звезды4 звезды5 звезд

What number is sacred to Native Americans?

Native American religions

While every effort has been made to follow citation style rules, there may be some discrepancies. Please refer to the appropriate style manual or other sources if you have any questions.

Select Citation Style
Copy Citation
Share to social media
Give Feedback
External Websites
Thank you for your feedback

Our editors will review what you’ve submitted and determine whether to revise the article.

External Websites

  • Encyclopedia of Chicago — Native American Religions
  • — Native American Religion

Britannica Websites
Articles from Britannica Encyclopedias for elementary and high school students.

  • American Indian religions — Student Encyclopedia (Ages 11 and up)

print Print
Please select which sections you would like to print:

While every effort has been made to follow citation style rules, there may be some discrepancies. Please refer to the appropriate style manual or other sources if you have any questions.

Select Citation Style
Copy Citation
Share to social media
External Websites
Thank you for your feedback

Our editors will review what you’ve submitted and determine whether to revise the article.

External Websites

  • Encyclopedia of Chicago — Native American Religions
  • — Native American Religion

Britannica Websites
Articles from Britannica Encyclopedias for elementary and high school students.

  • American Indian religions — Student Encyclopedia (Ages 11 and up)

Written by
Christopher Jocks

Christopher Jocks Assistant Professor of Native American Studies and Religion, Dartmouth College. Author of numerous studies of Native American religion and culture.

Christopher Jocks ,
Lawrence E. Sullivan

Professor of the History of Religions; Director, Center for the Study of World Religions, Harvard University. Author of Icanchu’s Drum: South American Religions, an Orientation to Meaning.

Lawrence E. Sullivan See All
Fact-checked by
The Editors of Encyclopaedia Britannica

Encyclopaedia Britannica’s editors oversee subject areas in which they have extensive knowledge, whether from years of experience gained by working on that content or via study for an advanced degree. They write new content and verify and edit content received from contributors.

The Editors of Encyclopaedia Britannica
Last Updated: Article History
Table of Contents

Indigenous communities in Canada

Indigenous communities in Canada
Related Topics: Sun Dance vision quest Ghost Dance effigy mound kiva . (Show more)

Native American religions, religious beliefs and sacramental practices of the indigenous peoples of North and South America. Until the 1950s it was commonly assumed that the religions of the surviving Native Americans were little more than curious anachronisms, dying remnants of humankind’s childhood. These traditions lacked sacred texts and fixed doctrines or moral codes and were embedded in societies without wealth, mostly without writing, and without recognizable systems of politics or justice or any of the usual indicators of civilization. Today the situation has changed dramatically. Scholars of religion, students of the ecological sciences, and individuals committed to expanding and deepening their own religious lives have found in these traditions many distinct and varied religious worlds that have struggled to survive but that retain the ability to inspire.

The histories of these worlds are also marked by loss. Five hundred years of political, economic, and religious domination have taken their toll. Scholars note when complex ceremonies become extinct, but often community members mourn even more the disappearance of small daily rituals and of religious vocabularies and grammars embedded in traditional languages—an erosion of memories that include not only formal sacred narratives but the myriad informal strands that once composed these tightly woven ways of life. Nevertheless, despite the pervasive effects of modern society, from which there is no longer any possibility of geographic, economic, or technological isolation, there are instances of remarkable continuity with the past, as well as remarkably creative adaptation to the present and anticipation of the future.

North America

Native American reservations in the United States

Native American people themselves often claim that their traditional ways of life do not include “religion.” They find the term difficult, often impossible, to translate into their own languages. This apparent incongruity arises from differences in cosmology and epistemology. Western tradition distinguishes religious thought and action as that whose ultimate authority is supernatural—which is to say, beyond, above, or outside both phenomenal nature and human reason. In most indigenous worldviews there is no such antithesis. Plants and animals, clouds and mountains carry and embody revelation. Even where native tradition conceives of a realm or world apart from the terrestrial one and not normally visible from it, as in the case of the Iroquois Sky World or the several underworlds of Pueblo cosmologies, the boundaries between these worlds are permeable. The ontological distance between land and sky or between land and underworld is short and is traversed in both directions.

What personality types are smart?

Instead of encompassing a duality of sacred and profane, indigenous religious traditions seem to conceive only of sacred and more sacred. Spirit, power, or something akin moves in all things, though not equally. For native communities religion is understood as the relationship between living humans and other persons or things, however they are conceived. These may include departed as well as yet-to-be-born human beings, beings in the so-called “natural world” of flora and fauna, and visible entities that are not animate by Western standards, such as mountains, springs, lakes, and clouds. This group of entities also includes what scholars of religion might denote as “mythic beings,” beings that are not normally visible but are understood to inhabit and affect either this world or some other world contiguous to it.

Diversity and common themes

Because religions of this kind are so highly localized, it is impossible to determine exactly how many exist in North America now or may have existed in the past. Distinct languages in North America at the time of the first European contact are often estimated in the vicinity of 300, which linguists have variously grouped into some 30 to 50 families. Consequently, there is great diversity among these traditions. For instance, Iroquois longhouse elders speak frequently about the Creator’s “Original Instructions” to human beings, using male gender references and attributing to this divinity not only the planning and organizing of creation but qualities of goodness, wisdom, and perfection that are reminiscent of the Christian deity. By contrast, the Koyukon universe is notably decentralized. Raven, whom Koyukon narratives credit with the creation of human beings, is only one among many powerful entities in the Koyukon world. He exhibits human weaknesses such as lust and pride, is neither all-knowing nor all-good, and teaches more often by counterexample than by his wisdom.

Navajo: Yei

A similarly sharp contrast is found in Navajo and Pueblo ritual. Most traditional Navajo ceremonies are enacted on behalf of individuals in response to specific needs. Most Pueblo ceremonial work is communal, both in participation and in perceived benefit, and is scheduled according to natural cycles. Still, the healing benefits of a Navajo sing naturally spread through the families of all those participating, while the communal benefits of Pueblo ceremonial work naturally redound to individuals.

Get a Britannica Premium subscription and gain access to exclusive content.

Thus, there is no such thing as a generic “Native American religion.” Attempts to understand these religious traditions en masse are bound to produce oversimplification and distortion. Instead, it may be useful to consider the broad characteristics that pertain to the religious lives of many indigenous North American communities.

In the Native American experience, place is important, and religious practices are often localized. The importance of place is revealed in the beliefs of the Menominee, who use local geography to explain the origin of their people, and the Iroquois, whose longhouses are understood as microcosms of the universe. Moreover, traditional knowledge, passed on orally across the generations, maintains the memory of visible and invisible inhabitants of a place. Access to some kinds of knowledge, however, is restricted. Actions, words, and thoughts are understood in many traditions to have power in the world. Some knowledge may be considered so powerful and dangerous that a process of instruction and initiation is required for those who will use it.

What is the truth about early risers?

Participation is more important than belief. Arguments about doctrinal truth are largely absent from most native North American religious traditions. Good-hearted participation in the ceremonial and everyday work of the community is the main requirement. However, knowledgeable people with considerable life experience may discuss such matters informally.

Cooperation with and devotion to the larger kin group is a central part of small-scale societies, and this is true of Native American communities. Teaching proper behaviour toward others, which is defined by one’s relationship to them, is an essential part of child rearing. This instruction is religious as well, because of the expectation that the entire world, one’s life, and one’s other-than-human relatives will be treated in the same way as all human relatives.

Generosity, in the Native American tradition, is a religious act as well as a social one. The value of generosity is perhaps most dramatically figured in the northern practice known in English as giveaway or in the potlatch of the Northwest Coast peoples, in which property and gifts are ceremonially distributed. Human beings are taught to give eagerly because in so doing they imitate the generosity of the many other-than-human entities that provide for human sustenance.

A community’s oral narratives contain a record of human interaction with other-than-human beings, powers, and entities in a place. In addition to the more solemn genres, such as creation stories and migration narratives, there are moralistic stories, family histories, instruction meant to teach traditional skills, and many kinds of jokes. Moreover, joking, clowning, and other forms of entertainment are integral parts of many ceremonial events and settings, either formally or informally. Sometimes such performances are a means of shaming individuals into correcting troublesome behaviour, but they are also employed simply to spread happiness and to lighten moods.

Significant achievements and life passages are meant to be shared by relatives and the community. Various forms of coming-of-age and initiation ceremonies make up a large portion of the ritual repertoire of many Native American traditions. These ceremonies provide structures for instruction in traditional knowledge, but, more important, they reintegrate an individual into kin, community, and cosmos when new status is attained.

One of the more important life passages is death, which is understood as a transition and not an ending. Beliefs about death, and ritual responses to it, however, are among the more heterogeneous aspects of Native American religious life. Many Native American traditions appear to conceive of human beings as complex entities that bind together different kinds of essences, breaths, or spirits, which are thought to undergo divergent outcomes after death. It is believed that after death some of these essences may be harmful for living people to encounter without ceremonial protection.

Traditional Tobacco and American Indian Communities in Minnesota

a bowl of traditional tobacco leaves

Many communities have a unique relationship with traditional, or sacred, tobacco. The tobacco plant is considered a sacred gift by many American Indian and Alaska Native communities. Traditional tobacco has been used for spiritual and medicinal purposes by these communities for generations. It is central to culture, spirituality and healing. Tribal methods and ingredients differ, but traditional tobacco, called “caŋsasa” (Dakota) or “asemaa” (Anishinaabek) by area tribes, is carefully hand-prepared and offered respectfully for prayer, healing, and ceremony.

Traditional tobacco is natural, not inhaled or addictive, and has no additives. 1,2 Traditional tobacco use varies by tribe, and some tribes do not use any sacred or traditional tobacco. Traditional tobacco is different from commercial tobacco. Commercial tobacco products like cigarettes, e-cigarettes, cigars, and chew are manufactured and sold by the tobacco industry. Commercial tobacco products are highly addictive and contain cancer-causing chemicals and additives.

What percentage of lefthanders are autistic?

Watch Reclaiming Sacred Tobacco to learn more about traditional tobacco and how Minnesota’s American Indian communities use traditional practices to promote a healthier lifestyle.

Federal policies stripped access to traditional tobacco and devastated American Indian communities

American Indians have faced historical trauma, forced assimilation efforts, and several forms of genocide that continue to negatively affect their health. 3 Colonization and cultural genocide of Indigenous peoples in the United States devastated traditional systems that naturally fostered physical activity, healthy diet, use of traditional tobacco, and spiritual connection with the land.

The United States government has a longstanding history of policies designed to destroy American Indian culture. 4 The first policy of cultural genocide was the Indian Civilization Fund Act of 1819, which was created to “… ‘civilize’ Indian peoples in accordance with alien cultural norms imposed on them by a conquering majority. 4 ” This was followed by several other laws designed to “kill the Indian and save the man.”

The Indian Religious Crimes Code of 1883 tried to end American Indian religion. This law “prohibited Native American ceremonial activity under pain of imprisonment.” 4 American Indians were not free to practice their religion until 1978, when the American Indian Religious Freedom Act was passed. For centuries, American Indians did not have access to traditional tobacco for cultural and religious purposes. American Indians only had access to highly addictive and harmful commercial tobacco. This resulted in addiction to commercial tobacco, such as smoking cigarettes. Because of these forced cultural shifts, commercial tobacco use is a driver of health inequities among American Indian populations.

Targeted marketing and policy failures have also contributed to American Indian health inequities

In addition to not having access to traditional tobacco, American Indian communities have been specifically targeted by the tobacco industry’s marketing tactics for decades (for example, American Spirit tobacco labeling). As sovereign nations, American Indian tribes have self-governing abilities that are equivalent to the federal level of U.S. law. As such, tribal nations are not subject to laws or policies enacted at the state or local levels. Given this unique status, American Indian governments are often excluded from local policy change initiatives. Many state and local commercial tobacco control policies, such as clean indoor air policies and retail practice regulations, have driven the sharp decline in smoking in the general population. However, due to the lack of partnerships between local governments and tribal nations, commercial tobacco use rates in many tribal nations has remained at higher levels.

Due to all of these reasons – historical trauma, forced assimilation efforts, genocide, policy failures, and targeted commercial tobacco agendas – American Indians suffer from some of the highest rates of smoking and chronic diseases and have the lowest life expectancy of any group in the United States.

In Minnesota, 59% of American Indian adults smoke commercial tobacco, 5 compared to 14.5% of Minnesota’s overall adult population. 6 In addition, 71% of American Indians in Minnesota reported they were exposed to secondhand smoke from commercial tobacco at community locations on a regular basis. 5

Healing communities harmed by federal, state, and local policies

Mainstream public health efforts have often not been culturally tailored to address poor health outcomes in the American Indian population and as a result have been largely unsuccessful. Promising practices rooted in culture are now emerging. The infographic Sacred Traditional Tobacco for Health Native Communities (PDF) by the American Indian Cancer Foundation demonstrates what policy, systems, and environmental changes focused on restoring a balance around traditional tobacco could look like for American Indians. 7

Returning to the sacred use of traditional tobacco and restoring American Indian cultural practices is a protective factor in reducing the number of American Indian youth who begin using commercial tobacco. 8

Health for American Indian people needs to be focused on the whole person and include mental, spiritual, emotional, and physical health. Community health is also important. Current efforts to reclaim the language and traditions of the American Indian people are aimed at restoring the health of the community and on sharing those healthy ways of being with other people in Minnesota.

What married men want?

Creating an inclusive commercial tobacco prevention movement: language matters

It is important to acknowledge the traditional role tobacco plays in Indigenous culture as a way to counter the high rates of commercial tobacco use and smoking-related diseases in American Indian and Alaska Native communities.

The American Indian Cancer Foundation and University of Minnesota’s School of Journalism and Mass Communication conducted a study of tobacco messaging in American Indian communities. They found that people in these communities respond more positively to culturally appropriate messages like “keep tobacco sacred,” rather than generic tobacco communication or messages about health consequences like “live tobacco-free.” Including cultural cues in commercial tobacco prevention and cessation messages can positively affect people’s thoughts about traditional and commercial tobacco.

The Minnesota Department of Health is committed to differentiating between traditional and commercial tobacco in communications, with explanations like the following.

Commercial tobacco products are tobacco products manufactured and sold by the tobacco industry, including cigarettes, e-cigarettes, cigars, and chew. Commercial tobacco is different from the traditional or sacred tobacco, also known as Cansasa, Asemaa, or Kinnikinnick, and which are used by American Indian communities for sacred purposes.

We recognize the importance of traditional tobacco in American Indian communities and that these communities cannot be “tobacco-free.” We will continue to work in partnership with American Indian communities to address the harms of commercial tobacco.

How American Indian communities are reclaiming Tribal traditions and addressing the harms of commercial tobacco

a garden full of asemaa

The Minnesota Department of Health has established dedicated funds for Tribal Nations’ and urban American Indian communities’ tobacco efforts. 9,10,11 They have used these funds to build strong, community-based programs to reclaim Tribal traditions, such as:

  • Engaging communities with knowledge of cultural practices around traditional tobacco and the harms of commercial tobacco use
  • Increasing access to traditional tobacco by growing and harvesting asemaa (Anishinaabek) and caŋsasa (Dakota) for ceremonial use
  • Telling their own history of the origins and purpose of traditional tobacco to continue the tradition among American Indians and to educate non-natives 12
  • Participating in the development of commercial tobacco treatment and cessation programming designed for American Indians (see “The American Indian Quitline” below).

American Indian communities in Minnesota will continue to determine the focus of their commercial tobacco control efforts.

The American Indian Quitline: Free help to quit commercial tobacco

American Indian Quitline logo

Developed with guidance from the community, the American Indian Quitline from Quit Partner™ offers completely free and specially designed support to help American Indians quit commercial tobacco. If you live in Minnesota, you can get the following free help to quit commercial tobacco:

  • A dedicated team of American Indian coaches who understand your culture and respect your traditions
  • One-on-one coaching calls with the coaches
  • Free lozenges, gum, or patches to help you quit the addiction
  • Other free, helpful tools like text messages and emails to encourage you along the way

Call 1-833-9AI-QUIT (1-833-924-7848) or visit to sign up or learn more.

Learn more

About traditional tobacco

  • Walking Toward the Sacred: Our Great Lakes Tobacco Story (Great Lakes Inter-Tribal Council Inc.)
  • Traditional Tobacco (National Native Network)
  • Keep Traditions Alive. Keep Tobacco Sacred.
  • Traditional Tobacco Use Connects Native Youth to Culture, Community, and Health

About promoting health equity

  • In a Good Way: Advancing Funder Collaborations to Promote Health in Indian Country (PDF)
  • Cancer in Our Communities (American Indian Cancer Foundation)
  • Advancing Health Equity in Minnesota: Report to the Legislature (PDF)

Other resources

  • Tribal SHIP and Tribal Tobacco Grants


  1. National Native Network: Traditional Tobacco.
  2. South Dakota Department of Health: Tribal Tobacco Policy Toolkit.
  3. Greenwood, M., De Leeuw, S., Lindsay, N. M., & Reading, C. (Eds.). (2015). Determinants of Indigenous Peoples’ Health. Canadian Scholars’ Press.
  4. Irwin, L. (1997). Freedom, law, and prophecy: A brief history of Native American religious resistance. American Indian Quarterly, 21(1), 35-55.
  5. American Indian Community Tobacco Projects, Tribal Tobacco Use Project Survey, Findings from Minnesota American Indian Communities, 2013.
  6. Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System, 2017
  7. AICAF, Sacred Traditional Tobacco for Healthy Native Communities: A Balanced Community for Health.
  8. Wisconsin American Indian Youth Tobacco Survey (2008-2009)
  9. MDH Tribal SHIP and Tribal Tobacco Grants.
  10. BCBS Center for Prevention: Communities Eliminating Tobacco Inequities.
  11. Clearway Minnesota: American Indian Projects.
  12. Reclaiming Sacred Tobacco in Minnesota’s Indigenous Communities, TPT original documentary,
What mattresses do premium hotels use?

Native nations face the loss of land and traditions

The impacts the War of 1812 had on tribes were simply devastating. Afterwards, the United States was firmly established as the preeminent power in North America, growing in size and power each passing year. With a military force at its disposal and an expanding need for land, tribal nations knew: accept the terms given by the United States, or face annihilation.

Unable to perform ceremonies and traditions in native tongues, a slow loss of tradition and identity became inevitable.

pencil sketches of Odawa Indian warriors

A mere 15 years after the War of 1812 concluded, President Andrew Jackson introduced the Indian Removal Act of 1830. When the law passed, it gave the United States the green light to formally and legally remove tribal communities under “western law.” Before this, no such sweeping law sanctioned by the federal government existed, with compromise and treaties the only available solutions. Losing Indian lands resulted in a loss of cultural identity, as tribes relied on their homelands as the place of ancestral burial locations and sacred sites where religious ceremonies were performed. Without their lands, nations lost their identities, and their purpose.

This loss of identity corresponded with the rise of American hegemony, felt in every facet of tribal communities following the War of 1812. Native languages slowly gave way to English. Mandatory American boarding schools forbade native languages to be spoken. Children, alienated from their families, began to lose their languages and their cultures during their stay at these institutions. Unable to perform ceremonies and traditions in native tongues, a slow loss of tradition and identity became inevitable.

In the Odawa community at Little Traverse, the famed missionary Frederic Baraga carried out his work preaching and baptizing community members, and building Catholic churches from 1831 to 1833. Immediately upon his arrival, Baraga built a large fire in the center of Little Traverse. He demanded that those who were serious about converting to the Catholic faith burn their sacred bundles. Some Odawa did, other protested against changing their faith system. But this erosion of religious freedoms was common: it wasn’t until 1978, under the American Indian Religious Freedom Act, that tribal people could freely practice their traditional beliefs.

To avoid removal, “uncivilized” tribal communities showed “progress” by becoming Christian: changing their appearance, attending western schools, and abandoning traditional hunting practices in favor of farming. Odawa men were pressured to cut their hair and discontinue the practice of tattooing, while social pressures influenced Odawa women to wear American clothes and not traditional dress.

Before the War of 1812, tribes had the freedom to dress as they chose, speak their language, practice their religion, and access sacred sites and cultural resources related to the geographic landscapes of their ancestors. After the War of 1812, the changes were swift and drastic. But the love of home prompted many tribes to change only their outward identity to conform with American pressures for assimilation, while in secret continuing traditional beliefs and practices. A testament to this tenacity to tradition, despite pressures to abandon it, is seen in the contemporary community’s retention of traditional values and beliefs. Ancestors’ willingness to risk their lives and their freedom to practice traditional beliefs allows contemporary communities to hold on to and celebrate those practices.

Ссылка на основную публикацию