May 12th, 2011

Encyclopedia of North American Indians - - Religion

 .....Thus the social structures and cultural traditions of American Indian peoples are infused with a spirituality that cannot be separated from, say, picking corn or tanning hides, hunting game or making war. Nearly every human act was accompanied by attention to religious details, sometimes out of practiced habit and sometimes with more specific ceremony. In the Northwest, harvesting cedar bark would be accompanied by prayer and ceremony, just as killing a buffalo required ceremonial actions and words dictated by the particularities of tribal nation, language, and culture.....

In conclusion, the religious traditions of Indian peoples are communitarian and have no meaning outside the particular community of reference. Unlike Euro-Americans, Indian people do not choose which tribal religious traditions they will practice. Rather, each of them is born into a community and its particular ceremonial life. Indian traditions are fundamentally spatial in nature and in configuration, which makes them peculiarly difficult for temporally oriented peoples to understand. Because of cross-cultural misunderstandings, distortions are now threatening Native American religious traditions on several fronts. Many Native American religious traditions are undergoing a transformation under intense pressure from New Age would-be adherents. The modern Euro-American appropriation of native traditions is introducing a mutation that is now shaping those traditions in the image of European individualism. Moreover, the systemic pressures of the colonial experience, which have worked variously to eradicate, suppress, or at least erode Native American religious traditions, continue today in the legal and economic activities of corporate and government interests; for example, American Indians have little legal recourse for protecting places of traditional spiritual value to them. Yet the religious traditions and indeed the cultural whole of many Indian peoples continues today to give those peoples hope and life.

George E. Tinker
Iliff School of Theology

Encyclopedia of North American Indians - - Religion

An interesting and valuable article.