Being the originators lands around the world, you’d think mainstream culture would be more aware of these cultural practices.
Here, indigenous people share cultural practices most people probably aren’t aware of.
1. We do throw out the word “love” a lot.
Navajo here. Some small things: 1) You don’t have to say please or thank you in Navajo, like ever: “Please pass the salt” is not something that would likely happen, at least in old Navajo ways. I don’t know if full assimilation into the dominant white/polite culture has changed this for some people, but it certainly didn’t with my father. The only situations where that’d be acceptable is if you’re pleading for your life or your life was just saved. 2) Also saying “I love you” is pretty rare and, when said, extremely meaningful. In Navajo you literally mean what you say, unlike in English: “Oh I LOVE this Diet Coke” or “I LOVE the new iPhone” are, again, things you would not say in Navajo. My dad’s rule on saying that was always “If it can’t love you back, you shouldn’t love it.” And a creepy 3) Owls are a bad omen. If you hear them say your name, you’re done for. Have yet to ever hear of this happening, but you never know.
There’s lots of little stuff like that, which I also think depends on what region of the Rez people are from.
2. Yep, the dreamcatcher is not what you think.
The thing that is associated with a general “Native American” culture by mainstream society is the dream catcher. This was simply a Great Lakes area cradle decoration. It is an interesting craft and is quite pretty to look at, but it has no deep meaning, nor was it created by all tribes.
There is also a tendency to think of Native Americans as being from a Plains culture or living in teepees and engaging in migratory, hunter/gathering lifestyles. This is only one sliver of Native culture. Many tribes were sedentary farmers. Some tribes built huge longhouses and large canoes and were sea-faring people. Comparing coastal Native American culture to, say, Pueblo culture would be like comparing the Spanish and Dutch. In the latter case, they are obviously both “European” but there is not just one custom for all the various nations in Europe.
In fact, there is probably more diversity in culture and religious customs in North America than in Europe – where there are dominant religions and related languages (e.g. Indo-European). The religious or spiritual customs in the Americas were varied and they aren’t really shared with outsiders. Sweat lodges were a common element in many different cultures, but some tribes used them as a method of purification and hygiene, and they aren’t always strictly associated with a religious practice. The Sundance is also a specific cultural practice associated with certain tribes, and not a universal thing.
3. That actually seems like a great idea.
I’m part Odawa (more commonly known as Ottawan). When a couple came together in marriage, they must choose about four “sponsors”. Sponsors are older, respected people who give the couple spiritual and marital advice. During the actual wedding ceremony, the sponsors make a commitment to help the couple.
4. Intersection of two different cultures.
I grew up in a traditional NA/AI home on the reservation. My grandmother was really open to celebrating US holidays so we had Thanksgiving and Christmas dinners and it was a big deal.
I asked her why we celebrated it considering it was basically the beginning of the end (story continued on the next page…).
She told me that we (Utes-American Indians-American Indians) eat in thanks that they didn’t kill us all. We eat in thanks of making it through another year and eat with all of our family. We celebrate for family like everyone else. We are just thankful for other reasons.
I have a five-year-old daughter who is attending a Montessori (liberal) style school so I don’t have worries that she will be coming home with a feathered headdress. I wouldn’t be able to explain it to her in any other way that her school did. They didn’t celebrate it the same way a public school would have with the silly crafts and turkeys. The school held cooking classes and outdoor studies. I asked to come in and explain some round dance songs and tell one of our stories.
5. Don’t touch my hair.
My ex-girlfriend’s Odawa-Ojibwe and said that random people can’t touch her hair because her tribe believes that hair has special magic to it. Only people close to the person with the hair can touch it… which would explain why she kept asking me to scratch her hair when we were just friends.
6. “I can vouch for that. It’s real.”
This is newer/less traditional than most of these, but I think it’s interesting. My great grandmother was Dorothy Sunrise Lorentino, the first Native American to attend a public school. At the time, all native kids attended schools run by the BIA. Her father sued the local school district for not letting her attend, and after they won, her case was presented as precedent in several similar cases in the following decades and in Brown v. Board of Education, the SCOTUS decision that desegregated schools for Black students. She was also the first Native American national teacher of the year, in 1996. We’re Comanche, from Oklahoma, and our line descends directly from Quanah Parker, the tribe’s last chief.
As for the Comanche tribe itself, one thing that comes up in most synopses is how vicious our warriors were. We had huge herds of horses, which were battle trained and well cared for, and essential to waging war with bands of Spanish and neighboring plains tribes. Also, historically Comanche and Kiowa tribes have always been very close, and anecdotally I have several cousins who are Kiowa, where historically most tribes wouldn’t cross lines to marry. Comanche and Kiowa are close, but mutually dislike members of pretty much every other tribe on earth. Someone else mentioned the intertribal racism, and I can vouch for that. It’s real.
7. “We didn’t live in teepees.”
I’m an east coast Native, Lumbee, and my people traditionally didn’t live in teepees. We lived in wigwams/longhouses. A lot of people don’t know that.
We didn’t have the typical “headdresses” either. That generally was an out west thing.
8. Bunch of book worms.
Hawaiian here: like many native cultures we had no written language pre-contact. However the value of language itself was highly regarded, and the intricacies and poetic nature of our language was of utmost importance to our people.
Anyway, when English and the Roman alphabet was introduced to our people in the 18th and 19th centuries we… (story continued on the next page…).
Anyway when English and the Roman alphabet was introduced to our people in the 18th and 19th centuries we basically ate it up: to have another way to express one’s language was a huge deal. So much so that throughout the 19th century Hawaiians were literally the most literate (in English and Hawaiian) culture in the world with an adult literacy rate of over 90%.
9. What a powerful tribute to a persons passing.
Not American, but Australian. One thing we have is that after someone dies, we’re not allowed to say their name for years. For example, after my grandfather died, my mum had to ask 3 years later for permission from my grandmother (and other elders) to use his name on me. Recently, there was a death in the family with a fairly common name. I’ve had to be mindful not to say it.
10. “We are still treated like crap.”
Thanksgiving was simply just an excuse to hang out all together and eat. Since it was a holiday and no one worked on the holiday it was the perfect opportunity. Now that I’m older we joke about it and the irony. We don’t celebrate it for the history at all because screw that. We are still treated like crap. Hello standing rock right now when Americans celebrate… ironic.
11. “I love being part of the nation.”
I’m Chickasaw. Our nation’s motto is
“Unconquered and unconquerable.”
Because we have never lost a battle against the United States. Well actually, there were almost no battles fought to be honest a technicality. Christian ministers would write to the US about the Warriors battle prowess and suggest never to fight the Chickasaw in battle.
We also own the largest casino outside of Vegas, our people are so well taken care of. I love being part of the nation.
12. Culture and science.
My great grandfather was Cherokee. In his tribe, if somebody got burnt by something, he would say a chant, blow on the person’s burn, whisper, and tap it with his fingers. This would make any pain go away.
My grandmother told me about it but I didn’t believe her (story continued on the next page…).
So, like dumb kids often do, I spilled some hot water on my hands when I was making instant noodles. Grandma came in, whispers at my fingers and blew on them, tapped them a few times, and the pain was gone.
I like science. I really do. I know it’s a thing.
I really don’t understand how it works or what kind of weird wizardry was going on. I saw her do it again when my aunt got sunburn on her shoulders.
I asked her to teach me, but you can only teach it from man to woman down a generation. So my great-grandfather taught her, so she has to teach a male in the family. I’m a girl so she can’t teach me.
13. “They are actually speaking Navajo.”
Navajo here, we didn’t live in teepees. We resided in what we call a, ‘Hogan,’ which is an eight-sided log house with a door that is always facing east. Also, in that episode of South Park with the Eskimos, they are actually speaking Navajo; and my old man found that quite hilarious.
14. Many cultures have lots of similar traditions.
Among those thing that have been traditionally associated with us, although erroneously misassigned to disparate peoples, the calument (peace pipe), the tomahawk (war club), the dreamcatcher, the snowshow (basically the same concept for the feet), eagle feather headdresses and some dances like the grass dance, stomp dance, etc., are peculiar to us. Buckskins and fringe are not peculiar to natives. They were seen in several ancient peoples of theRussian Steppes, who also used woven blankets with broad stripes, recurve short bows, hide quivers, mocassins, braids and pony tail locks, and rode bare-chested with arm bands and bone breast plates, by the way. They even used feathers for their accoutrements. You wouldn’t have been able to distinguish a neolithic Russian Steppe rider from a Lakota horse warrior, in ancient times.
15. So terrifying.
Cheyenne River Sioux here! Don’t ever think skin walkers are something to joke about. We don’t like those things and even just saying the word is terrifying.
16. “We really are all made from the same cloth.”
I am an Anishinaabe (Ojibwe)
I participate heavily in the Indigenous community at my school. Being in South Western Ontario (Canada) there are many different tribes and clans that exist here.
The acceptance is absolutely amazing. Having been through our own instances of discrimination and trauma, we are very accepting and open to listening about the many stories that people have to share.
I was not too aware of my culture before university (dad was native, mom is not, grew up with mom) but something I learned that gave me a HUUUUGE perspective on religion and spirituality is… (story continued on the next page…)
Something I learned that gave me a HUUUUGE perspective on religion and spirituality is that our creation stories are consistent with those of Christianity/Islam (probably many religions, but I am ignorant to most due to relative lack of education in Theology). Our creation story (look up Turtle Island) says that says the Earth was flooded as a restoration technique, and that is consistent with the early depictions of other religions as well.
Being Native, I feel a huge connectedness to people who’d share my culture, but I also feel a newfound appreciation for people who don’t share the same views that I have, because, we really are all made from the same cloth.
17. That is not what I would call “spring”.
The Menominee are called the men of the Great Lakes. We were traders and our traditional food crop was wild rice. We still plant beds of wild rice each year. Oh and -10 is considered a brisk spring morning.
18. That is one long name!
Introducing yourself formally in Ojibwe requires a lot more information than in English or other languages as far as I know. When you’re introducing yourself in Ojibwe the basic formatting is:
Hello, how are you? They call me ___. My clan (referred to as a dodem) is _. I am from ____. My parents are called ______ and _____. My grandparents are called _____ and ______. I am __ winter moons old.
The short form of this would just be your name, dodem, and where you are from.
Also spirit names are a very real thing but you don’t get to choose them and you’ve had your spirit name since before you were brought into this part of your spirit journey. It’s believed that when you were brought into creation, the creator gave you a name so the spirits would know who you were. In the old days you would be taken to a naming ceremony with all of the children born around the same time as you and a medicine man or helper would preform a naming ceremony with sacred medicines and ask the spirits what your name is. However, now you would find someone when you are ready to preform a naming ceremony and ask them for help by presenting them with a red tobacco tie. The purpose of having a spirit name is to be closer to the spirits and creator and to help your spirit “walk in the good way”. This means that when you pray or dance or sing, or smudge the spirits will know it’s you and be able to help you better when you need it.
19. A different perspective on Thanksgiving.
Born, raised, and attended school (elementary and middle school) on a reservation. We were taught to celebrate Thanksgiving as a remembrance day. We mostly celebrate it the same way my white friends celebrate it, except we have a sort of Thanksgiving prayer (for lack of a better term) in our native tongue that takes about 30 minutes to say.
20. I want to see that!
(Cherokee) There’s something called the Booger Dance, involving “Booger Masks” (story continued on the next page…).
The masks originally represented enemy nations, but over time began to represent white people. The “Boogers” dance in a clumsy way that mocks traditional dances, and they chase around and grab women in the audience. They embody the old Cherokee belief of non-Cherokees lusting over Cherokees, and non-Cherokees being total pervs. The masks also usually have phallic symbols on them.
21. Many cultures share the same principles.
Indigenous Australian here. Like most people we are very spiritual. One piece I think is interesting is that we have ‘Biame’ or ‘Sky father’ who when carved or painted must be accompanied by his emissary or representative on earth. Kinda like the God and Jesus relationship.
22. Gender roles can also differ.
I’m Mi’kmaq. We’re a tribe on the east coast of Canada. In my culture there is no word for good bye, we only say see you later because we don’t believe in not seeing each other again. Also it’s disrespectful to make eye contact or stare into the eyes of elders. It’s extremely frowned upon to say no to an elder or not ask them if they need help.
Women of my tribe are leaders in our communities and men are historically the providers. Even now, women will begin a protest of an issue, and the men will follow.
23. People are interested!
Full-blooded Cree here.
I don’t have anything I can contribute since I’m not in touch with my culture, but it makes me happy to see that some people are curious about Native people. It’s like, wow someone’s actually interested in us!
24. This is what happens when you oppress a group of people over generations and generations.
Nothing. My tribe is pretty much in ruins. Recently found out I might be part Bear Paw instead of my little tribe, so I may actually get free college now.