Native American Wisdom


Native American Wisdom

The term ‘The Great Spirit’, is a beautiful example of a belief in a force that is entwined within the fabric of the Universe itself and is personally engaged with the network of living things on a universal scale wherever life, as we know it, exists and avoids the doctrines of current socially enforced orthodoxy. Known in many Native American and First Nation cultures as The Creator, the supreme being, the origin of the universal spiritual force.

Native American cultures were characterised by this intimate relationship with nature and The Great Spirit being perceived as the divine power that created the world. The religious beliefs and practices of the Native Indian tribes were led by a Shaman, centred around a belief system that intelligent spirits inhabited all-natural objects and every object is controlled by its own independent spirit. Spirits inhabit the sky, stars, sun, moon, rivers, lakes, mountains, forests, animals, insects, fish, stones, flowers and birds. Some spirits are believed to be good and help those who please them whereas other spirits are considered bad and liable to wreak havoc on people and their tribes. Animals are singled out as powerful manifestations of the mystical, including those seen in dreams or Vision Quests. Lesser spirits inhabited stones and plants and are viewed as 'spirit helpers'.

The Native Indian concepts of the Great Spirit varies from tribe to tribe, who refer to the Supreme Being by a variety of different names. The Lakota Sioux believe that the Great Spirit is an amalgamation of a dominant Father sky god and Mother Earth. The Great Spirit is seen as both a male and female beings, separate, but part of one divine entity.

Other tribes refer to The Great Spirit as Father, Old Man or Grandfather, and in these cultures The Great Spirit is perceived to be a man, or an animal, with human thought and speech.

The differences in the beliefs connected to the Great Spirit are demonstrated by the variety of different names given by tribes in reference to the Supreme Being:

The most generic name attributed to the Great Spirit is the Great Mystery or the Supreme Being

The Sioux name for the Great Spirit is Wakan Tanka, which translates as the Great Mystery and referred to as ‘The Great Incomprehensibility’. The Sioux believed that every object was spirit, or ‘wakan’.
  • The Shoshone name for the Great Spirit is Tam Apo meaning ‘Our Father’
  • The Chickasaw name for the Great Spirit is Ababinili
  • Many Algonquian speaking tribes of the Great Plains, such as the Ojibwe, refer to the Great Spirit as Gitche Manitou
  • The Blackfoot name for the Supreme Being is Apistotoke
  • The Arapaho name for the Supreme Being is Chebbeniathan
  • The Abenaki name for the Supreme Being is Gici Niwaskw
  • The Huron name for the Supreme Being is Ha-Wen-Neyu
  • The Cheyenne name for the Supreme Being is Maheo
Amongst all of these beliefs is an underlying wisdom that is soaked in truth, meaning and perception that goes beyond what many wrongly perceive as a primitive and uncivilised people, if anything Native American tribes were honourable and more civilised than many western cultures. Below are a few examples of Native American wisdom quotes that we can all learn from.

What is past and cannot be prevented should not be grieved for.

(Pawnee tribe)

The Pawnee Nation of Oklahoma has a long and proud history spanning more than 700 years. More than 10,000 members of the Pawnee Tribe inhabited the area along the North Platt River in Nebraska. The Tribe then was composed of four distinct bands: the Chaui “Grand,” the Kitkehahki “Republican,” the Pitahawirata “Tappage” and the Skidi “Wolf.”

Seek wisdom, not knowledge. Knowledge is of the past, Wisdom is of the future.

(Lumbee tribe)

The Croatan (or Croatoan) Indians first made history when the Roanoke colony left their name carved on a tree. Though they are lesser-known to history texts, there were also many Iroquoian and Siouan tribes inhabiting the Carolinas; however, as happened in most of the east coast, the tribes merged together after heavy population losses, and none of their languages have survived. Their descendants, however, still thrive.

All plants are our brothers and sisters. They talk to us and if we listen, we can hear them.

Before eating, always take time to thank the food.

If we wonder often, the gift of knowledge will come.

When we show our respect for other living things, they respond with respect for us.

Take only what you need and leave the land as you found it.

(Arapaho tribe)

The Arapaho, who call themselves 'Inuna-ina', are close allies with the Cheyenne. This name is roughly translated into 'our people'. The Arapahoe are considered to be buffalo hunters of the plains. Unlike their allies the Cheyenne, the Arapaho are of accommodating temper. The Arapahoe are devoted to the ghost dance and are considered the most expert sign-talkers on the plains.

When you were born, you cried and the world rejoiced. Live your life so that when you die, the world cries and you rejoice.

Don’t let yesterday use up too much of today.

(Cherokee tribe)

The Cherokee Indians were one of the largest of five Native American tribes who settled in the American Southeast portion of the country. The tribe came from Iroquoian descent. They had originally been from the Great Lakes region of the country, but eventually settled closer to the east coast. The Cherokee actually lived in cabins made of logs instead of the stereotypical tee pee. The tribe was highly religious and spiritual.

A good chief gives, he does not take.

Remember that your children are not your own but are lent to you by the Creator.

(Mohawk tribe)

The Mohawk tribe of Indians were one of many tribes that were part of the Iroquois Confederation and inhabited the area around the Great Lakes and parts of what is now Canada and the state of New York. They were considered the keepers of the Eastern Door, or borders, protecting the Iroquois nation from invasions from that direction.

Man's law changes with his understanding of man. Only the laws of the spirit remain always the same.

You already possess everything necessary to become great.

Old age is not as honourable as death, but most people want it.

(Crow tribe)

The name of the tribe, Apsáalooke [əˈpsaːloːke], meaning "children of the large-beaked bird", was a name given by the Hidatsa, a neighbouring Siouan tribe. The Apsáalooke are also referred to as the Crow, which the white people introduced because of their lack of perfect communication. The bird that the Crow tribe is actually paired with is the raven, which is not widely known.

He who would do great things should not attempt them all alone.

(Seneca tribe)

We are known as the "Keeper of the Western Door," for the Seneca are the westernmost of the Six Nations. In the Seneca language we are also known as O-non-dowa-gah, (pronounced: Oh-n'own-dough-wahgah) or "Great Hill People."

What is life? It is the flash of a firefly in the night. It is the breath of a buffalo in the wintertime. It is the little shadow which runs across the grass and loses itself in the sunset.

Those that lie down with dogs, get up with fleas.

Life is not separate from death. It only looks that way.

(Blackfoot tribe)

The Blackfoot Confederacy is the name given to four Native American tribes in the North-western Plains, which include the North Piegan the South Piegan, the Blood, and the Siksika tribes. In the beginning they occupied a large territory stretching from the North Saskatchewan River in Canada to the Missouri River in Montana. The four groups, sharing a common language and culture, had treaties of mutual defence, gathered for ceremonial rituals, and freely intermarried.

Poverty is a noose that strangles humility and breeds disrespect for God and man.

With all things and in all things, we are relatives.

The frog does not drink up the pond in which he lives.

(Sioux Tribe)

The Sioux are a confederacy of several tribes that speak three different dialects, the Lakota, Dakota and Nakota. The Lakota, also called the Teton Sioux, are comprised of seven tribal bands and are the largest and most western of the three groups, occupying lands in both North and South Dakota. The Dakota, or Santee Sioux, live mostly in Minnesota and Nebraska, while the smallest of the three, the Nakota, primarily reside in South Dakota, North Dakota and Montana.

We will be known forever by the tracks we leave.

(Dakota Tribe)

The Dakota Sioux, also called the Santee Sioux, originally migrated northeast into Ohio and Minnesota. The name “Santee” comes from camping for long periods in a place where they collected stone for making knives. Woodland people, they thrived on hunting, fishing and some farming. It was from the Dakota, that the Lakota stemmed, moving further west into the great plains. There are four bands in the Dakota tribe, who primarily live in South Dakota, Minnesota, Nebraska and North Dakota, including: Mdewakantonwon, Wahpeton, Wahpekute and Sisseton.

Force, no matter how concealed, begets resistance.

When a man moves away from nature his heart becomes hard.

Everything the power does, it does in a circle.

(Lakota Tribe)

Sometimes also spelled “Lakhota,” this group consists of seven tribes who were known as warriors and buffalo-hunters. Sometimes called the Tetons (referring to their dialect and location west of the Dakota on the plains). This band migrated west from Minnesota after the tribe began to use horses. There were about 20,000 Lakota in the mid-18th century, a number which has increased to about 70,000 today, of which approximately 1/3 still speak their ancestral language.

Our first teacher is our own heart.

Beware of the man who does not talk, and the dog that does not bark.

If a man is as wise as a serpent, he can afford to be as harmless as a dove.

A danger foreseen is half-avoided.

(Cheyenne Tribe)

The Cheyenne are a tribe of Algonkian linguistic stock who were closely allied with the Arapaho and loosely allied with the Lakota Sioux. One of the most prominent of the Plains tribes, they primarily lived and hunted on hills and prairies alongside the Missouri and Red Rivers. They call themselves “Tsitsistas,” which translates several different ways to “people alike,” “our people,” “red talker,” or “people of a different speech.”

All who have died are equal.

(Comanche Tribe)

Dating back to the early 1500’s, the Comanche were originally part of the Eastern Shoshone who lived near the upper reaches of the Platte River in eastern Wyoming. However, when the Europeans entered the scene and the tribe obtained horses, they broke off from the Shoshone with an estimated 10,000 members. Moving south, they first migrated to the central plains before continuing to move southward to an area that extended from the Arkansas River to central Texas.

You can’t wake a person who is pretending to be asleep.

Always assume your guest is tired, cold and hungry, and act accordingly.

If you want to see what your body will look like tomorrow, look at your thoughts today.

Before me peaceful, behind me peaceful, under me peaceful, over me peaceful, all around me peaceful.

(Navajo Tribe)

The Navajo call themselves Dineh, which means “The People” in the Navajo language. Closely related to the Apache, the Navajo are an Athapascan-speaking people who migrated southwest from the west central Canada around the 15th century. By the time Spanish explorers came across the Navajo in the 16th century, trade had long been established between the Pueblo peoples and the Navajo, exchanging maize and woven cotton goods for buffalo meat, hides and material for stone tools.

Wisdom comes only when you stop looking for it and start living the life the Creator intended for you.

The rain falls on the just and the unjust.

Don’t be afraid to cry. It will free your mind of sorrowful thoughts.

(Hopi Tribe)

Primarily living on a 1.5-million-acre reservation in north-eastern Arizona, the Hopi (peaceful ones) people have the longest authenticated history of occupation of a single area by any Native American tribe in the United States. Thought to have migrated north out of Mexico around 500 B.C., the Hopi have always lived in the Four Corners area of the United States. In the beginning they were a hunting and gathering group divided into numerous small bands that lived in pit houses. However, around the year 700 A.D. the Hopi became an agricultural people growing blue ears of corn using runoff from the mesas.

Treat the earth well: it was not given to you by your parents, it was loaned to you by your children. We do not inherit the Earth from our Ancestors, we borrow it from our Children.

A brave man dies but once, a coward many times.

Listening to a liar is like drinking warm water.

Regard Heaven as your father, Earth as your Mother and all things as your Brothers and Sisters.

If a man is to do something more than human, he must have more than human powers.

The soul would have no rainbow if the eye had no tears.

Listen, or your tongue will make you deaf.

(Tribe Unknown)

Sadly, we have found no tribes that can be associated with these proverbs, but that does not detract from its meaning.

There are many more Native American proverbs and quotes – go on a quest to find them and when you do, come back here and share them; we all need some wisdom and inspiration to help us along the paths that our journey takes us.