A Collection of Wisdom

Native American Proverbs, Quotes, and Chants

Arapaho
Arikara
Blackfoot
Cherokee
Cheyenne
Crow
Hopi
Huron
Lakota
Mohawk
Navajo
Nez Perce
Omaha
Onondaga
Pawnee
Pueblo
Sauk
Seneca
Shawnee
Shoshone
Sioux
Suquamish
Yamparika
Yokuts
Unknown

More Proverbs

The clear sky and the green fruitful Earth are good; but peace among men is better. Omaha Proverb

You can’t purchase friendship—you have to do your part to make it. Sauk Proverb

Grown men can learn from very little children—for the hearts of little children are pure. Therefore, the Great Spirit may show them many things that older people miss. Black Elk

Don’t judge a person until you’ve walked two moons in his moccasins. Cheyenne Proverb

People seeking a myth will usually find one. Pueblo Proverb

Don’t be afraid to weep—it will free your mind from sad thoughts. Hopi Proverb

If you wonder often, the gift of understanding will come. Arapaho Proverb

Do not allow yesterday to spend up too much of today. Cherokee Proverb

Ask questions from your heart, and you will receive answers from your heart. Omaha Proverb

You must live your life from start to finish; no one can do it for you. Hopi Proverb

It is easy to show braveness from a safe distance. Omaha Proverb

Some people are smart but not wise. Shoshone Proverb




The Native Americans (also known as the Indians or the American Indians) are the original inhabitants of the Americas (North, South and Central America including the Caribbean / West Indies Islands; all of which is also called the New World or the Western Hemisphere).

Origins

Some scientists and archeologists believe that the Native Americans were people who originally came to the Americas from Asia around 13,000 BC, but possibly as early as 33,000 BC. This was a time when there was much more dry land on the earth than there is today, including a land route from Asia to North America. As centuries passed, much of the earth’s land submerged under water due to severe climate changes.

Other groups contend that Native Americans do not derive from Asian immigrants.

Early Native American Life

Very early groups of Native Americans were probably hunter-gatherers who formed small groups of about 30 people, and frequently moved. They developed several hunting weapons and strategies. As the environment changed, many Native American lifestyles changed, and farming also developed in several regions

Spreading Throughout the Americas

Various groups of Native Americans spread from North America to other parts of the Americas. By 10,000 BC, they had reached most parts of the Americas, and by 6000 BC, various groups extended from the northernmost to the southernmost regions of the Americas. (Note that other groups of Asian people known as the Inuit Eskimos and the Aleuts came to the Western Hemisphere in another period of migration—however, these groups are usually not grouped under the category “Native Americans”)

As Native Americans spread across the Americas, various groups formed many different languages and ways of life, ranging from the huge cities of the Aztecs and Mayans in Central America, to the various villages of Native American people that hunted and farmed in eastern North America, to the frequently traveling peoples in southern South America.

Keep in mind, however, that there were hundreds of different tribes of Native Americans with many different lifestyles and languages.

General Life

For most groups of Native Americans, life was centered on getting food (through hunting, fishing, farming and/or gathering) and other necessities, as well as adapting to seasonal variances of the environment.

Some other common life themes among Native Americans included interacting and cooperating with one’s family and community, splitting up tasks among various people, getting married, the trading of goods and services, and the variety of religions and rituals practiced throughout the Native American world.

Children and Adolescents

A strong emphasis in Native American communities was placed on children, who were considered sacred, and were taught through experiences, lessons, and games. A common practice among various communities was to put boys (and sometimes girls) who were in their early teens through a special initiation ceremony, where they had to overcome harsh conditions under their own reliance to become officially considered adults.

Families and Groups

Family played a major role in most Native American communities, many of which lived and cooperated within large family groups. Other communities formed special groups that were not based on relation, but were organized by age groups.

Tribes and Larger Groups

Native Americans who lived in one region and had similarities were considered a tribe. Some tribes also had subdivisions. Additionally, in some instances, tribes joined together to form federations, most notably the Iroquois League a.k.a. the Five Nations (originally formed in the 1100s and comprised of the Mohawk, Onondaga, Oneida, Seneca, and Cayuga tribes. The Tuscarora joined them in the early 1700s and made them the Six Nations).

Also, primarily in South of what is currently the United States, several large empires formed, including the Aztec empire (in Mexico), the Inca empire (in South America along the Andes Mountains), and the Maya Empire (near Central America). The Natchez Indians also had an empire type state in the southeastern region of what is now the United States

Sports and Games

Sports were often an important part of Native American life for both children and adults, and various groups participated in events such as running races, aiming contests, and many kinds of sports played with balls, hoops, sticks and/or spears. The Aztec and Mayan groups often took these game a little too seriously, and sometimes sacrificed the captain of the losing team to the gods.

Many Native Americans also played various guessing games.

Wars Between Native Americans

Wars sometimes erupted between various tribes due to disputes that got out of hand, although some tribes and smaller groups usually tried to avoid wars. Native American Empires in South and Central America often had formal armies.

European Contact

European contact with the Americas began after Columbus landed on one of the Islands of the Bahamas (probably San Salvador) in 1492. (The Bahamas are located near Florida and Cuba). Estimates of the Native American population at that time run from about 30 to 120 million, most of whom lived in what is now South American, Central America, and Mexico.

Europeans such as the Spanish, Portuguese, English and French later began arriving, exploring, and settling in many parts of the Americas, and soon had a very horrible impact on Native American life.

European Impact

The Europeans often tried to destroy Native American culture, and disputes also developed over land. Many wars developed between Native Americans and Europeans, which were for the most part won by the Europeans, who had tremendous advantages in numbers, technology, and large-scale organization. The European countries also fought with each other over control of the New World.

The further influx of settlers in the Americas caused tremendous damage to Native American societies. They often lost their land and were forced to move. Additionally, their food supply often decreased because of the settlers influence, and many Native Americans starved. Illnesses also killed a large number of Native Americans. And the introduction of liquor by the Europeans also resulted in many Native Americans becoming alcoholics.

As the United States developed into an individual nation in the late 1700s, treaties were often signed that gave Indians territories called reservations, although Americans frequently reneged on such treaties.

Throughout the Americas, Native American mistreatment continued for many decades, but by the mid to late 1900s, Native Americans began receiving equal rights.

Native Americans Today

About 40 to 50 million Native Americans live in Latin America, while millions of other people in Latin America have partial Native American ancestry. In the United States, there are about two to three million Native Americans citizens, who form over 500 different tribes. Some live on Native American reservations and other designated areas, while many others live in urban areas and have assimilated with the general American lifestyle. Canada also has a significant Native American population.

Native American culture is still strong today, but many Native American groups fear that it is slowly dissolving, especially since many of the hundreds of its languages are disappearing.

Native American Religions

The Native American culture has a wide and diverse variety of religions among their various tribes. A large percentage of Native Americans today practice their traditional religion. Several New Age religious practices (of both Native Americans and other people) also encompass various aspects of Native American religions.

In many ways, the religions of Native Americans overlap with Native American culture, proverbs, teachings, sayings, etc.

Although it is difficult to refer to the various Native Americans under a single generalization, many of them have some prevalent themes in common, including:

  • the existence of spirit power in everything, which referred to by some Native Americans as wakan
  • the unity between the human world, nature, and the spirit world
  • the view of nature as the place where humans and spirits interact
  • an emphasis on living in balance and harmony with nature and with the spirit world
  • an interdependence of life forms
  • an emphasis on society, communal harmony, kinship, and cooperation
  • the sacredness and spiritual significance of nature and the earth; particularly objects in nature such as mountains, rivers, rocks, stars, and plants; as well as many animals, such as eagles, hawks, crow, owls, and deer.
  • the view of everything in its physical sense, its subtle sense, and its spiritual sense
  • symbols such as the circle and the number four (see the Lakota Native Americans chapter for more info on those symbols.)
  • the existence of a Great Power or Great Mystery, and various other gods
  • an emphasis on health
  • an emphasis on self-discipline, and performing various tests of physical ordeals
  • purification practices, fasting, and vision-seeking
  • an emphasis on warrior culture
  • rituals, stories, dancing, art, chants, and music (mainly singing & drumming),
  • shamans

Native American Religion Quotes

Red Jacket a.k.a. Segoyewatha

(Lived in 1700s and 1800s) Seneca leader and orator

We also have a religion that was given to our forefathers, and has been handed down to us, their children. It teaches us to be thankful, to be united, and to love one another. We never quarrel about religion.

Black Elk

(1863-1950) Lakota (Teton Sioux) holly man and writer

…[Peace] comes within the souls of men when they realize their relationship, their oneness with the universe and all its powers, and when they realize that at the center of the Universe dwells the Great Spirit, and that this center is really everywhere. It is within each of us. (From his book The Sacred Pipe)

A Lakota seer

We are earth people on a spiritual journey to the stars. Our quest, our earth walk, is to look within, to know who we are, to see that we are connected to all things, and that there is no separation, only in the mind.

Shooter

Lakota (Teton Sioux) man

All birds, even those of the same species, are not alike, and it is the same with animals and humans. The reason Wakan Tanka [the Great Mystery, the supreme spiritual power in Sioux belief] does not make two birds, or animals, or human beings exactly the same is because each is placed here by Wakan Tanka to be an independent individual and to rely upon itself.

Zitkala Sa a.k.a. Red Bird a.k.a. Gertrude Simmons Bonnin

(1876-1938) Sioux Leader, writer, and musician

…The voice of the Great Spirit is heard in the twittering of birds, the rippling of mighty waters, and the sweet breathing of flowers. If this is Paganism, then at present, at least, I am a Pagan.

From the Creation Account of the Omaha

In the beginning, everything was in the mind of Wakonda [God].

Ohiyesa a.k.a. Charles Alexander Eastman

(1858-1939) Physician and writer

(Excerpts from his book The Soul of the Indian)

The original attitude of the American Indian toward the Eternal, the “Great Mystery” that surrounds and embraces us, was as simple as it was exalted. To him it was the supreme conception, bringing with it the fullest measure of joy and satisfaction possible in this life.

That solitary communion with the Unseen which was the highest expression of our religious life is partly described in the word bambeday, literally “mysterious feeling”…

The Indian loved to come into sympathy and spiritual communion with his brothers of the animal kingdom, whose inarticulate souls had for him something of the sinless purity that we attribute to the innocent and irresponsible child. He had faith in their instincts, as in a mysterious wisdom given from above; and while he humbly accepted the supposedly voluntary sacrifice of their bodies to preserve his own, he paid homage to their spirits in prescribed prayers and offerings.

…[The Indian] saw miracles on every hand—the miracle of life in seed and egg, the miracle of death in lightning flash and in the swelling deep! Nothing of the marvelous could astonish him; as that a beast should speak, or the sun stand still. The virgin birth would appear scarcely more miraculous than is the birth of every child that comes into the world, or the miracle of the loaves and fishes excite more wonder than the harvest that springs from a single ear of corn.

Let us not forget that, after all, science has not explained everything. We have still to face the ultimate miracle;—the origin and principle of life! Here is the supreme mystery that is the essence of worship, without which there can be no religion, and in the presence of this mystery our attitude cannot be very unlike that of the natural philosopher, who beholds with awe the Divine in all creation.

Every act of his [the Indian’s] life is, in a very real sense, a religious act. He recognizes the spirit in all creation, and believes that he draws from it spiritual power. His respect for the immortal part of the animal, his brother, often leads him so far as to lay out the body of his game in state and decorate the head with symbolic paint or feathers.