Assignment on Kwakiutl

Assignment on Kwakiutl

Kwakiutl: The Kwakiutl Indians not only inhabit the Pacific Northwest, Alaska and up into Vancouver Island in British Columbia, they also live as far south as northern California.  However, they are not the only tribes that inhabit these areas. Their Kwakiutl ceremonies are done in February.Their beliefs go back before their people even existed. They believe that the world was ruled by animals such as bears,wolves, seals, ravens, bees (I know it’s an insect really!), owls and the killer whale. All of these animals are believed to have super powers, who generously gave someof these powers to humans, who are the ancestors of the Kwakiutl today.The winter ceremony season is when they acknowledge and reaffirm their connection with the supernatural world. This is done by performing dances or tseka (see Hamatsa Dance below).  This dance is done by performers who are dressed in strips of cedar bark and wear ornately carved masks that are designed in such a way to evoke the spirits. The actual dance movements are to illustrate characters and incidents from Kwakiutl mythology.The midwinter ceremonies also include feasts.  The favorite dishes served during this ceremony are salmon, salal berries, cranberries, huckleberries, blackberries, soapberries and crabapples.  (Note: The soapberries are whipped up into some kind of froth and not served as whole berries.)  Some of the  traditional serving dishes of the past (that were used for these foods) were so elaborately carved that they have become valuable and  can now be seen in museum collections.Just as important as the buffalo was to the Plains Indians, the salmon was just as important to the tribes of the Northwest.  Each year, salmon was caught in great numbers and were the staple of the Native American diet.Kwakiutl legend says that the salmon were supernatural beings who lived in their own villages under the sea. They had their own ceremonies and rites which were passed on to the Kwakiutl ancestors. We all know that the salmon swim against the current on the inland waterways to spawn.  These annual “runs” upstream are the reason the salmon have become a symbol of extraordinary power and perseverance. The Kwakiutl people have a First Salmon Ceremony. When the first salmon is caught it is cleaned ceremoniously, then placed on a mat or bed of fern leaves. It is welcomed with a prayer of thanks and promised good treatment. Then the bones and entrails are wrapped in the mat and thrown back into the river where it was caught.  This is done so that its soul can return to its village and tell the other supernaturals that the Kwakiutl remember them and have been very respectful to them and treated them well. The salmon is then carried home by a selected group from the tribe, which is usually children, women only or the family of the fisherman who caught the first salmon. It is then roasted and eaten.Edgard Allen Poe wasn’t the only one who felt the raven had some supernatural power.  The Kwakiutl believe that it was the raven with the supernatural powers who placed the sun, moon and stars in the sky. The raven also put the salmon in the rivers and all the fish in the sea. The raven also gave the Pacific Coastal Native Americans fire and water and the foods they eat.  The raven also had the power to turn himself into anything he wanted to be. Because of this skill, they felt the raven also loved to trick people by changing shape and form.Folklorists have collected numerous long stories called “The Raven Cycle” about this supernatural being.  During the midwinter ceremonies, tribal leaders and shamans (those who serve as intermediaries between the natural and supernatural worlds) often wear raven masks.The raven is also important to other Indian tribes. Its image can be found on the crest of the Tlingit and Haida of southeastern Alaska.

Of all the dances performed, the Hamatsa Dance is the most important. This dance is performed by members of the Cannibal Society, considered the most prestigious of the secret societies for which initiation rites are held during this period also.  Members must undergo special training and long periods of withdrawal from normal society. By doing this, they are bestowed the power of the Cannibal Spirit.The Hamatsa Dance has magical effects, ghostly calls and wild behavior. The dancers wear stylized masks.  The most outstanding mask is that of the black and red Fool Dance. This mask has a huge nose and threatens audience members.  Occasionally the dancer wearing this mask will throw stones at the audience to make sure they behave.

 (This is a brief explanation. We recommend you visit other sites  for more cultural information
and historical details.)

 Gift giving is a central feature of the social life of Pacific Northwest Indians and  is called the potlatch. Tribal members  hosting a potlatch give away most, if not all, of their wealth and material goods to show goodwill to the rest of the tribe. It also maintains their  good social status. Tribes that traditionally practice the potlatch include the Haidas, Kwakiutls, Makahs, Nootkas, Tlingits, and Tsimshians. Gifts often included blankets, pelts, furs, weapons. During the 19th century slaves were a gift. And, in the twentieth century today it is money, jewelry and appliances!!  The reason for potlatches are not just for the Kwakiutl Midwinter ceremonies. They are also held to celebrate marriages,  name children, mourn the dead, and transfer rights or privileges from one generation to the next.Franz Boas was the first anthropologist to arrive in the Kwakiutl area in 1886.  Many books and papers were written about them, much having to do with their potlatch.  The word comes from Chinook, meaning “to give.” But each cultural group had its own word for the ceremony.  In Kwakwala it’s called pasa, meaning “to flatten.” In other words, to flatten your guests under the weight of gifts!This gift-giving helped maintain the hierarchy of the tribe. (I don’t want to go off politically, but some even felt it had socialistic tendencies.)  The ritual is believed to have originated from gift exchanges due to marriages, inheritance rites or death rituals.  But it later grew into a form of wealth redistribution and maintained social harmony in the group and between tribes.In 1884, Canadian law banned the potlatch.  The United States outlawed it in the early twentieth century. For several decades this law wasn’t enforced because it was written so badly it made it confusing.  In 1913, William Halliday became an Indian Agent.  Under the authority of the Superintendant General of Indian Affairs, Duncan Campbell Scott, Halliday eagerly enforced the banning of potlatch.  In 1921, Halliday had 45 of the highest-ranking chiefs and their wives  arrested for violating the law. They not only sang, danced and gave gifts, they also gave speeches.  About half, 22 people, were sentenced to prison for 2-3 years.  The rest got suspended sentences on the condition that their villages turn over their treasures.During the prohibition years, the potlatch ceremony went underground. The hosts of the potlatch would choose villages that the police would have a problem getting to in bad weather.  At this time, some Kwakiutl changed to Christianity and sent their children t missionary schools. This resulted in a lot of loss of their culture, including the potlatch ceremony. But, in 1934 the Indian Reorganization Act and the Canadian Indian Act of 1951 made the potlatch legal again. The increase in potlatches today shows the revitalization of this Pacific Northwest culture. Most of the potlatches are held in AlertBay, in a big house. It was built in 1963 and holds about 700 people. Needless to say, it remains an important central feature of the Pacific Northwest Indian life today.

Green corn dance: The Green Corn Dance is performed by many Native Americans  throughout the United States as part of their ceremonies throughout the year. Because it has no specific month, but is mostly observed by the Seminole Indians of Florida in the month of May, that is the month we choose to put it in. For the Seminole, this time of year marks the end of the old year and beginning of the new year, much like our New Years Day does in January.

Most North American Indian tribes have a commonality with corn. They all have three celebrations dealing with corn: the planting ceremony, the harvesting ceremony and the green corn ceremony.

The Green Corn Ceremony is held several weeks before the main harvest when the corn is nearly ripe. This ceremony was considered their annual rite of renewal and purification and was dedicated to the god who controlled the growth of corn or maize.

It was considered a crime against the gods to eat or even touch the newly ripened corn until the Green Corn Dance took place.  During the 18th century, the Indians in the southern area considered this a time for getting new clothes, new pots and other new household items.  They would collect their worn-out clothing and also left-over grain and other provisions, and make a huge pile and then set it on fire.

The Green Corn Dance has died out in many areas. It was observed long ago by Indian tribes of the Prairies, the Southwest and Eastern areas.  But, today it is mostly associated with the Seminole Indians of Florida, who hold the Green Corn Dance in May.

The Seminole dance is derived from the Creek ceremony called the busk, which comes from the Creek word boskita which means “to fast.”  As I said above, this marked the end of the old year and the beginning of the new year for the Seminole.  So, this is also the time when they would hold their annual council meetings.

Spiritually, it’s also the time of year when the sins of the old year are forgiven and the tribe members repent for anything they’ve done wrong.

The Green Corn dance can vary in length from tribe to tribe. Some of the events that take place during the festival include stomp dances, special rites for young males who have come of age during the year, and ball games. The Iroquois celebrate the Green Corn Dance for 4 days in September (not May like the Seminole.)  They perform a  variety of thanksgiving rites (i.e. The Feather Dance and Corn Dance.)  Almost every pueblo in New Mexico holds a corn dance on its saint’s day, the most elaborate being the Santo Domingo Pueblo Green Corn Dance (New Mexico) held on St. Dominic’s Day in August. In the pueblo Green Corn Dance, koshares or holy clowns (represent the spirits of their ancestors) weave among the dancers carrying evergreens what symbolize growth.

The Green Corn Dance has died out as a vegetation rite among the Cherokee and Creek Indians. But it still remains a curative ceremony.

Note: The follow two customs might be disturbing to some.

The basis of the corn dance involved drinking an emetic or purgative. In other words, it would make you vomit.  This was standard procedure of the rites of the Green Corn Dance Ceremony.  This drink was usually casine, from which a special tea was made. Or it could be ilex vomitoria, which is made from a holy shrub that was found along the coast of Carolina, Georgia and northern Florida.

The Indians believed that by drinking the “Black Drink” on the evening of the festival’s first day, they were purifying themselves physically and spiritually emerging in a state of perfect innocence. Then, the next day they would eat the green corn, which they believed contained the divine spirit that must be permitted to touch any common, unpurified food when it entered their stomachs. After fasting for yet another day, it was followed then by a great feast.

It was a common belief among the Native Americans that anyone who did not take the Black Drink could not safely eat the new corn and would get sick during the year. The Indians also felt that the drink made them brave in war and cemented the bonds with one another.A common practice during the Green Corn Dance among the Cherokee, Creek, Seminole, Yuchi and Catawba tribes was ceremonial scratching. This took place on the 2nd day of the ceremony just before the Feather Dance. Those who participated would inflict deep scratches on their bodies, especially their backs.  Among the Cherokees, a bamboo brier with stout thorns was used. The Seminoles used snake fangs inserted into a wooden holder.  Ceremonial scratching was a symbolic act believed to cleanse the body from impurities. At other times of the year, it was also used to punish children and to relieve fatigue.

Return to our  May Holidays for more celebrations.


Information from Book Source (listed below) as well as an email I received.

 The following  information was sent to me in e-mail.

The Sun Dance associated colors are red, yellow, white and black. The colors represent the following:
Red = the sunset
Yellow = forked lightning
White = light
Black = night

This dance is observed in late June or early July, wherever the first full moon closest to the summer solstice lands. The  Sioux aren’t the only tribe that performed this dance. It’s also performed by the:  Arapaho, Arikara, Asbinboine,  Blackfoot, Bungi,  Comanche, Cheyenne, Crow, Gros, Ventre, Hidutsa, Sioux, Plains Cree, Plains Ojibway, Sarasi, Omaha, Ponca, Ute, Shoshone,  Mandan, and Kiowa, tribes.  As with all cultures, the Native Americans also feel that seasonal and celestial cycles are important to them, mostly because they migrated so much in their past.

The ceremony lasts 16 days.  The first 8 days are spent in preparation. The performance is 4 days. Then 4 days of abstinence. This is a time for renewal and healing. They feel it was crucial this ceremony be held at midsummer when the sage plant was succulent and when the sun was at it’s highest point in the sky.

The participants of the dance fasted (not eating or drinking) during the actual dance. They’d take a sweat bath in the morning on the first day. Then they’d paint their bodies in the symbolic colors mentioned above.  They’d dress in a deerskin apron and wristlets. They wore anklets made of rabbit’s fur. And, they had a feather in their hair.  Members from tribes many miles away would come and set up their tipis to form a circular dance area around the sun pole.  This sun pole had been cut and painted in advance. (See below)  The music accompaniment of the Sun Dance is a large drum, along with ceremonial songs.  The dancers will circle in procession as a way of communing with the creator, the sun and the earth.

The buffalo head symbolizes plenty because Native Americans would kill the buffalo, eat it’s meat and use it’s skin for clothing.  The buffalo also symbolized strength and comfort. The buffalo was often featured in the Sun Dance because the buffalo feeds on sage and willow. This meant to the Native Americans that the buffalo depended on the sun.

The Arapaho Indians on the Wind River Reservation near Fort Washakie, Wyoming focus mainly on the buffalo in their Sun Dance.  A huge center pole with a buffalo head on top and 12 outer poles surrounding it create a circular enclosure where the dance is performed. The buffalo head faces west, toward the Rocky Mountains.  Freshly picked sage is placed on the buffalo head nose.  The dancers approach the pole and then step back, never ever letting their eyes stray from the buffalo head.

Sage is known for its strong scent and was a common symbol for healing and breathing. This is why it was often placed on the buffalo head nose.  By doing this, it made it seem as though the buffalo was still alive and able to breathe.

The Sun Pole was usually made of cottonwood, very tall and was in the center of the circular enclosed dance area.  This pole was a phallic symbol as well as symbol of the sun.  Among the Sioux Indians, the Sun Pole represented a supernatural being called Wakan-Tunka, the all-pervading power of the universe.  When it came time for the ceremonial cutting of the Sun Pole, it was done by 4 young virgins (2 male and 2 female).  Some tribes substitute a sword or a stick.

The Ute and Cheyenne Indians would fasten a willow branch in the fork at the top of the cottonwood sun pole. This is why the northern Cheyenne call the ceremony the Willow Dance. To them the willow symbolizes water and growing things. So the Cheyenne somewhat ignore the sun worship part of this ceremony all together.

Note: This part of the Sun Dance is controversial and disturbing to some!

Pain and self-sacrifice was a part of life to many Native Americans.  Today, they feel the Sun Dance gives them an opportunity to renew themselves and give thanks to the sun by sacrificing their own flesh.  Participation in the Sun Dance is done of one’s own free will as a way of offering oneself to the creator.  The  participants are called the “pledgers” who  have wooded skewers (or sometimes eagle claws) inserted under the skin of their chests.  These skewers were attached to a strong rope and tied to the Sun Pole. The dancers formed a circle around the pole and after going toward it 4 times to place their hands on it and pray, they would pull back as hard as they could until the skewers were torn free.

An alternative to this was to have the skewers inserted under the skin of the shoulder blades. Then heavy buffalo skulls would be hung from the skewers by thongs and dragged around until the weight of the skulls eventually tore the skewers loose.

 Another variation is to have the dancers suspend themselves from the pole with ropes attached to the skewers; or, tie the ropes to a horse. The dancers would continue until they became unconscious from the pain or tore themselves loose. Afterwards they felt they would receive a divine vision.

To outsiders, the Sun Dance seems painful and perhaps barbaric? But, the Sun Dance continues to be supported by dedicated tribes who still observe this tradition.

It was the belief of many Indian tribes that the sun “died” after the solar eclipse of August 7, 1869.  The Sioux performed their last Sun Dance in 1881.  The painful elements of the Sun Dance were widely misunderstood, resulting it being condemned by the US Government . in 1904.  But, many of the traditions of the Native Americans are being reclaimed, including the Sun Dance. It  survives today in many northern and western tribes (particularly the Southern Utes and Arapaho).

 The Sundance colors are as follows:

Red = Unity because all people’s blood is red.

Yellow = Wisdom/bravery
White = The Spirit World;
The Milky Wave-respect
Black = Strength/Thunderbeings

We don’t commune with the sun, but with God. We only believe in one God.

The Sun Dance is a ceremony for healing. Not everyone does the Sun Dance. You have to have a reason and to pray with your heart. Pain and self-sacrifice are not a part of our lives! We only give flesh if we have a problem like a sick relative or ones who are dying.  I have never seen anyone become unconscious.  No one at the Sun Dance receives a divine vision. That happens at the Vision Quest, which is a different ceremony.

The Sun Dance is set up in a circular structure with shade for the people that support the Sun Dancers.The dances start on June 21 and go all summer long. The Sun Dance ceremony lasts 4 days.  The Vision Quest lasts 4 days. This is why some say the Sun Dance is perhaps 8 days? But, these are two different ceremonies and they do not follow each other.When the Sun Dance starts, you go into a sweat lodge to purify yourself, every day for 4 days.  During this time you do not drink water or eat anything. You dance all 4 days. The drum is the heartbeat of the nation and the singer sings sacred songs that have been passed down for thousands of years.The fasting is done for our families. No body painting is done in the Lakota, Dakota, Nakota (Sioux), Cheyenne, Mandan, Shoshone, Ponca, Ojbways and Omahas tribes.Men wear kilts made of deer hide. Women wear long dress that cover their bodies with shawls. Wristlets and anklets made of sage are also worn. There is no rabbit fur.

 The buffalo represent our brother. We honor him because he gives life so that we may live. We know that as long as the buffalo exist, we will.  The buffalo symbolize life and is center of our lives and is a part of our spirituality. We walk together.Sage is a common medicine we use here on the plain for colds, flu and other sickness. It is also a disinfectant that kills germs. We use sage in our everyday life. It grows on the plains. In fact, if a buffalo is sick, he will eat sage. We use sage as one of our sacred herbs because of its purifying qualities.It is only made of cottonwood by the Lakota, Dakota, Nakota, Objway and Mandan.  The rest of the tribes use other trees. The ceremony for cutting the tree is done by young girls around the ages of 6 to 7 years  old. They use an ax.The pole is not a phallic symbol; but, a symbol of God. Wakan Tanka is what we call the great mystery; and, it is a Lakota, Dakota and Nakota word. The other tribes have their own word for God.Willow is what we make tobacco out of. As I said before, the Sun Dance has nothing to do with worshipping the sun. That is just a white version of misunderstanding. Water is sacred and we don’t talk about it at a Sun Dance or at a Willow Dance.Pain and self-sacrifice is not a part of our lives!  It is laughter and humor. We only give flesh if we had a problem like a sick relative or one who is dying.

The government outlawed the Sun Dance and many of our ways including language, spirituality, homes, clothing, our way of live in the 1880’s.  We were taken from our homes as children and put in boarding school, were many of us were abused by those d___ Christians! The Lakota did not do their last Sun Dance in 1881.  It continued underground and it came out in the open with every war you created: WWI, WWII, Korean War, Vietnam, Desert Storm. Now we pray for you all to stop these wars.

The Sun Dance has been performed by the Lakota since time began. The Southern Ute and Arapahos are not the ones to keep it alive.

The Hopi Flute Ceremony takes place every August for 9 days on the mesas of northeastern Arizona.  The Flute Ceremony doesn’t attract as many visitors as some of the other Hopi celebrations, but it is still central to the Hopi beliefs.  The purpose of the Flute Ceremony is to encourage rainfall and promote the growth of corn, which is the primary food of the Hopi nation.The other Hopi ceremonies take place in the kiva (underground ceremonial room). But the Flute Ceremony doesn’t. It takes place in the ancestral rooms of the Flute clan.  It starts with a procession into the pueblo led by the clan chief.  Then the Flute boy follows, with a Flute girl on either side.  Other procession members are men wrapped in white blankets, men carrying cornstalks, a warrior carrying a bullroarer (makes a whizzing sound when swung in circles), a man wearing a sun emblem on his back, a man carrying a rectangular “moisture tablet”, and a number of small naked boys.  The Flute girls wear a feather in their hair and two white blankets, one serving as a skirt. The Flute boys wear white ceremonial kilts.Once the entire procession arrives at the pueblo, additional rites such as ceremonial prayers for rain and corn, singing and smoking also take place in this ancestral Flute Clan room. A lot of the rites are more pantomime in nature and represent what the Hopi want their gods to do.

 An example: A priest will scatter meal on the ground for around the flute altar to imitate rain. Pouring water into the medicine bowl that is in front of the altar (from the six cardinal directions of the world = north, south, east, west, up and down) is to inform the gods that he wants them to send rain in all directions.  Blowing clouds of smoke on the altar shows that he wants rain clouds to appear.  And the bullroarer is suppose to imitate the sound of thunder that often accompanies rain.

 Kokopelli is the Hopi God of Music & Fertility who goes from one Hopi clan to the next playing his flute for them. It is believed that when he plays in cold weather, it diminishes the winter and creates warm breezes.  If Kokopelli comes to the Snake Dance, then the tribe will awaken the next morning to an abundant harvest. He is also said to make grass greener, birds chirp and sing and rain during drought.  Children  honor the presence of Kokopelli. The female counterpart to Kokopelli is called Kokopelli Mana.

This special altar is constructed in the ancestral room used for the Flute Ceremony. It has a flat wooden arch. The upright sides are carved or painted to represent rain clouds and falling rain.  Ears of corn may be stacked up behind the altar.  There are also rectangular tiles that are decorated with rain clouds, plus figurines  in front of the altar representing the Flute Youth, the Flute Maid and the legendary ancestors of the Flute clan.

The legendary ancestors are armless effigies painted with rain clouds and ears of corn. In front of them are short, thick, upright sticks that are rounded at the top and pierced with holes from which small wooden rods stick out like pins in a pincushion.  These sticks symbolize the ancestral mounds of the underworld. Sometimes they are replaced by mounds of sand covered with cornmeal.  The wooden objects stuck in them represent flowers.  There are also zig zag sticks (symbolizing lightning), cornstalks and other symbolic objects arranged around the altar.

There is also a zone of sand on the floor in front of the altar, where corn meal has been sprinkled.  In the sand are placed carved bird effigies and a medicine bowl from which one of the birds appears to be drinking.  Other ceremonial items include rattles, a basket tray of sacred meal, gourds of water and a honey pot.  Every element of the Flute Ceremony altar symbolizes some aspect of the agricultural process, particularly the good weather needed to grow corn.The sun is impersonated by a man wearing a large feathered disk as he walks into the procession into the pueblo.  The central part is about 12 inches in diameter and made of buckskin stretched over a hoop, with a border of braided corn husks.  Eagle feathers and red-stained horsehair are inserted into the border of this disk to represent the sun’s rays.  The sun shield is attached to the back of the man by a cord tied across his shoulders. He carries a flute, which he plays to entice the Corn maids or Flute maids into the pueblo just like the Sun, ( or father of the gods) is said to have drawn the maids toward him in the Hopi legend.On the sixth day, the unwrapping of the tiponi takes place.  This is an important part of the Flute Ceremony.  The tiponi is a wooden cup-shaped item that has an ear of corn inside. The cup itself is divided into 4 sections, each of which is decorated with symbols of corn and rain clouds.  The corn that is safeguarded in the tiponi (either as a single ear of corn or loose grains) symbolizes the seed that the early nomadic tribes carried with them during their migration when the danger of losing this grain might have meant starvation.

The tiponi, plus the corn it holds, is called the “mother.”  It is unwrapped very slowly and carefully by the Flute priest in a one-hour ceremony.  Then, after a new ear of corn is placed in the cup, the entire thing is re-wrapped in cotton string and feathers. Then it is put away until next year’s ceremony.  The old grains of corn are then later planted.

The eagle is considered a sacred and symbolic bird because of its ability to fly so high. Therefore, it is believed that it has the power to move between heaven and earth. The Native Americans have always regarded the eagle as having supernatural powers, especially to control rain and thunder. Because of this belief, many tribes such as the Iroquois, Comanche, Iowa and Midwestern Calumet have traditionally performed the Eagle Dance when divine intervention was needed for rain believing the eagle would carry up their requests to the gods.

The Eagle Dance portrays the life cycle of the eagle from birth to death. The dance shows how the eagle learns to walk, hunt and feed itself and it’s family. A chorus of male dancers (wearing feathered war bonnets) provide the drumming and singing accompaniment for the dance. Two central dancers (dressed to look like the male and female eagle) have yellow paint on their lower legs, white on their upper arms and dark blue bodies.  Short white feathers are attached to their chests. These feathers are painted yellow. They also wear a wig-like cap made of white feathers with a yellow beak-like protrusion. Bands of eagle feathers also run the length of their arms. These two central dancers will make movements that imitate the eagle by turning, flapping and swaying.

It is believed that the Eagle Dance was once part of a larger ceremony that was performed by the ancients to bring rain at a time of year when crops were planted and so rain was essential.

 The eagle is honored by North American Indians because it can fly closer to the Great Spirit than any human can.

This makes it a symbol for wisdom, power, and strength.

In some tribes the eagle also represents the sun (because it’s flight symbolizes the sun’s daily passage across the sky.)


The eagle feathers are sacred and regarded as the means by which the prayers of the Native Americans are carried to heaven. The feathers from the Golden Eagle and Bald Eagle are highly prized.  To wear an eagle feather is considered a great honor.

Boys are often given eagle feathers when they reach maturity.

The proper handling of the eagle feather is crucial! This is especially true during the Eagle Dance.

Eagle feathers are NEVER allowed to touch the ground!  So, if a dancer drops one, he is instructed NOT to pick it up.  Instead a tribal elder (chosen in advance) is to do it. After the eagle feather has been picked up by the tribal elder, the dancer is suppose to thank him and show his appreciation with a gift.  Eagle feathers are also used to make ceremonial objects and ornaments.  They also play an important role in many Native American healing rituals.

How do you get an eagle feather? Eagles don’t just donate their feathers. So getting one isn’t easy. It never has been.

In the past, the Hopi Indians carried out special expeditions for the sole purpose of finding young eagles and removin them from their nests. These eagles were fed and cared for until their feathers were needed. When they were, they were killed and placed in a special burial ground for eagles.

When the Cheyenne Indians killed eagles for their feathers, they carried out a lengthy, complicated “apology” ritual beforehand. This was suppose to soothe the eagle’s spirit and trick him into coming close enough so that he could be grabbed (by bare hands.)

Today, when the Native Americans need eagle feathers for special ceremonies, they apply to the government for a special permit. And, when dead eagles are found, government agencies (i.e. National Fish and Wildlife) see to it that their feathers are given to Native Americans who need them.

We’ve organized all our Native American monthly rituals or observances now as a listing on one page for those that don’t want to go from month to month to find them. They are presented by the month, rather than alphabetically, with a brief description of what they are about. Some of our features have teddy bear cartoons.
January: 1. The Powamu Festival is the mid-winter ceremony and also called the Bean Planting Festival.  It is observed in late January or early February.  (We are placing it in our January observances.)

2. The Iroquois Midwinter Ceremony is held in either January or February.  When the dipper constellation (not our teddy bear one in the cartoon!) appears in the sky directly overhead, you then wait for the new moon to be seen.  This is when the spiritual year begins.  You then wait 5 days after the new moon to begin the ceremony.

February: 3. The winter ceremony season is when they acknowledge and reaffirm their connection with the supernatural world.

March: 4. The Stick Dance is named after the spruce pole, which is the central symbol in this ceremony. The purpose of this ceremony is to help mourn the male members of the tribe who have died; and, give comfort and support to the grieving family members.

April: 5. This observance marks the seasonal transition. It happens at the end of the thunderstorms but before the spring winds come.  The Navajo believe that if this ceremony was held at any other time, it would result in death from lightning or snake bite.

May : 6. It is celebrated in the State of Arizona in the United States and in the country of Mexico.  The ceremony ends on Easter Sunday. The name of this festival comes from the Yaqui Indians, now living in the Tucson and Phoenix, Arizona area that are descendants of the original tribe that lived near the YaquiRiver

7. The purpose of this dance is for mating and courtship. The second purpose is to celebrate the arrival of spring, as well as an opportunity to get together and celebrate.

The Green Corn Ceremony is held several weeks before the main harvest when the corn is nearly ripe. This ceremony was considered their annual rite of renewal and purification and was dedicated to the god who controlled the growth of corn or maize.
  1. June: The Sun Dance is a ceremony for healing. Not everyone does the Sun Dance. You have to have a reason and to pray with your heart. This is  also a controversial topic for many.
10. July: The origin of this ceremony goes back to the Katchinas, who are their ancestral spirits. The Hopis believe that these spirits leave their home in the mountains and for six months visit the tribe, bringing health to the Hopi and rain to their crops.

11.The Apache Girls’ Sunrise Ceremony is celebrated for 4 days in July  in Arizona and New Mexico to celebrate the coming-of-age of young Apache women.

12. Alaskans have always had a tradition of occasionally getting together to play games. These games were meant to test certain qualities needed to survive in the harsh climate they lived in, where hunting food was necessary no matter how extreme the weather.
Although the title is “Winter Olympics” they are held in July.

13. August : The Crow Fair dates back to 1904 and takes place every year on the third weekend in August in an area south of Billings, Montana.
Tribes come from all over. It is called the “Tepee Capital of the World” during the fair.

14. Native Americans have traditionally performed the Eagle Dance when divine intervention was needed for rain believing the eagle would carry up their requests to the gods.

15. The purpose of the Flute Ceremony is to encourage rainfall and promote the growth of corn, which is the primary food of the Hopi nation.

16. It is held every two years. Many believe the Snake Dance worships snakes. That’s not true. This entire ceremony is to worship Hopi ancestors and to help bring rain.

17The Miwok would celebrate the acorn harvest each year at a tribal gathering called the Big Time.  Families from widely scattered Miwok villages came together for this harvest activity  and share the fruits, chat and exchange information, supplies, and news. They would also perform ceremonial dances.

18. This is the most sacred of all Navajo ceremonies. It is also the most technically difficult and demanding to learn.  This is because it involves memorizing literally hundreds of songs, dozens of prayers and several very complicated and intricate sand paintings.  In spite of this, the demand for Night Chants remains great. And, as many as 50 ceremonies might be held during one season, which lasts 18-20 weeks.

19. The Shalako, who are believed to have first at Zuni around 1840, retrace the wanderings of the Zunis from the center earth to the modern pueblo, with the water spider as their representative.  The Shalako are the God’s messengers and run back and forth all year long carrying messages, as well as bringing moisture and rain when needed.  When they leave, they also carry the Zunis’ prayers for rain with them.

20. The purpose of the Wuwuchim is to mark the beginning of the new ceremonial year in the Hopi calendar. In other words, this is like the Hopi New Year celebration.

21. It is a ceremony related to the sun as it relates to the winter solstice.  It is one of the Hopi’s most sacred ceremonies and is also called the “Prayer-Offering Ceremony”  because it is a time for saying prayers for the New Year and for wishing each other prosperity and health.