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Native American Spirituality

Quotations; Introduction;
Origins of Native Americans

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A traditional Native American prayer:

"O Great Spirit, whose voice I hear in the winds and whose breath gives life to all the world, hear me.
I come before you, one of your children. I am small and weak. I need your strength and wisdom.
Let me walk in beauty and make my eyes ever behold the red and purple sunset.
Make my hands respect the things you have made, my ears sharp to hear your voice.
Make me wise, so that I may know the things you have taught my people, the lessons you have hidden in every leaf and rock.
I seek strength, not to be superior to my brothers, but to be able to fight my greatest enemy: myself.
Make me ever ready to come to you with clean hands and straight eyes,
so that when life fades as a fading sunset, my spirit may come to you without shame."


A Native American prayer concerning the environment:

" Great Spirit,
give us hearts to understand;
Never to take from creation’s beauty more than we give;
Never to destroy wantonly for the furtherance of greed;
Never to deny to give our hands for the building of earth’s beauty;
Never to take from her what we cannot use.

Give us hearts to understand
That to destroy earth’s music is to create confusion;
That to wreck her appearance is to blind us to beauty;
That to callously pollute her fragrance is to make a house of stench;
That as we care for her she will care for us.

We have forgotten who we are.
We have sought only our own security.
We have exploited simply for our own ends.
We have distorted our knowledge.
We have abused our power.

Great Spirit, whose dry lands thirst,
help us to find the way to refresh your lands.

Great Spirit, whose waters are choked with debris and pollution,
help us to find the way to cleanse your waters.

Great Spirit, whose beautiful earth grows ugly with misuse,
help us to find the way to restore beauty to your handiwork.

Great Spirit, whose creatures are being destroyed,
help us to find a way to replenish them.

Great Spirit, whose gifts to us are being lost in selfishness and corruption,
help us to find the way to restore our humanity." 7

bullet "The culture, values and traditions of native people amount to more than crafts and carvings. Their respect for the wisdom of their elders, their concept of family responsibilities extending beyond the nuclear family to embrace a whole village, their respect for the environment, their willingness to share -- all of these values persist within their own culture even though they have been under unremitting pressure to abandon them." Mr. Justice Thomas Berger, Mackenzie Valley Pipeline Inquiry, (a.k.a the Berger Inquiry), Canada.

bullet "Rather than going to church, I attend a sweat lodge; rather than accepting bread and toast [sic] from the Holy Priest, I smoke a ceremonial pipe to come into Communion with the Great Spirit; and rather than kneeling with my hands placed together in prayer, I let sweet grass be feathered over my entire being for spiritual cleansing and allow the smoke to carry my prayers into the heavens. I am a Mi'kmaq, and this is how we pray." Noah Augustine, from his article "Grandfather was a knowing Christian," Toronto Star, Toronto ON Canada, 2000-AUG-09.

bullet "If you take [a copy of] the Christian Bible and put it out in the wind and the rain, soon the paper on which the words are printed will disintegrate and the words will be gone.  Our bible IS the wind." Statement by an anonymous Native American woman.

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A quote from Native American Religions by Arlene Hirschfelder and Paulette Molin (Facts on File, New York, 1992, ISBN 0-8160-2017-5) is instructive:
".....the North American public remains ignorant about Native American religions. And this, despite the fact that hundreds of books and articles have been published by anthropologists, religionists and others about native beliefs......little of this scholarly literature has found its way into popular books about Native American religion..." 1
Yet Natives culture and religion have great value. They have made many contributions to North American society:

bullet An awareness of concern for the environment.
bullet Food staples such as corn, beans, squash, potatoes and sweet potatoes.

bullet The design of the kayak, toboggan and snowshoe.

bullet The original oral contraceptive.

bullet Cultivation of cotton.

bullet Over 200 drugs, derived from native remedies.

It is ironic that the wine that is the Christians' most sacred substance, used in the Mass to represent the blood of their God, has caused such a trail of devastation within Native populations. Meanwhile, the Natives' most sacred substance, tobacco, has caused major health problems for so many Christians.

The U.S. Census Bureau estimates that the population of American Indians and Alaska Natives, including those of more than one race, was 4.5 million as of 2005-JUL-01. 2 According to the most recent Canadian census, in 1991, there were 1,002,945 Canadians with North American Indian, Métis and/or Inuit ancestry. 10,840 Canadians are recorded as following an aboriginal spiritual path; this value is believed to be greatly under-reported.

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From where did Native Americans originate?

There are at least three conflicting beliefs about the origin of Native Americans:


Scientific beliefs: There had been, until recently, a consensus among scientists that perhaps 9200 BCE -- some 11,220 years ago:

  • The Western Hemisphere was completely devoid of humans.

  • Much of the world's water was frozen in gigantic ice sheets. The ocean levels were much lower.

  • The floor of the Bering Strait between Siberia and Alaska was exposed, forming a land bridge between the two continents.

  • Hunters from Siberia were able to walk to Alaska. They might have turned east to what is now central and eastern Canada, and then spread out through the Great Plains and into what is now the American Southwest. Within a few thousand years, they had made it all the way to the tip of South America.

Recent archaeological discoveries have convinced some scientists that people may have first arrived at North and South America far earlier than about 9200 BCE "in many waves of migration and by a number of routes."

  • Excavation of the Monte Verde site in Chile has shown that human habitation existed there 12,800 years ago, more than a century before the first evidence of habitation in North America and before a Siberian land bridge would have opened up. The migrants may have navigated the open seas. Alternately, they may taken smaller craft and hugged the coastline down what is now Alaska, U.S.; British Columbia, Canada; and the western coast of the continental U.S. to what is now South America3,4

  • The Heiltsuk Indigenous people on the Central Coast region of British Columbia have tribal stories about a small section of the coast of British Columbia. William Housty, a member of Heiltsuk Nation, said that his nation's:

    "... oral history talks of a strip of land in that area .... It was a place that never froze during the ice age and it was a place where our ancestors flocked to for survival."

British Columbia archaeologists have excavated the site of an ancient settlement in this costal area, on Triquet Island, north of Vancouver Island. They have dated it to about 12000 BCE -- about 14,000 years ago. That was before the time of Roman Empire and the Egyptian pyramids. It was during the last ice age when glaciers covered much of North America. 

Archeologist Alisha Gauvreau, a student at the University of Victoria, led a team who discovered artifacts including carved wooden tools, and a hearth containing charcoal flakes. She said that the site gives a new meaning to the First Nations' concept of "time immemorial." She said:

"When First Nations talk about time immemorial, it just goes to show how far back the occupation of this land goes ... in deep time."

William Housty said:

"This find is very important because it reaffirms a lot of the history that our people have been talking about for thousands of years." 8

bulletMormon belief: During the early 19th century, two widespread religious beliefs circulated in North America:

bullet One was that Native Americans were the descendents of groups of Jews who had migrated from Palestine millennia ago via the Mediterranean Sea and the Atlantic Ocean.

bullet The other belief was there were originally two groups of Natives of Jewish ancestry in the Americas: one was righteous and was exterminated by an evil group whose descendents became modern-day Natives.

Both of these beliefs were abandoned later in the 19th century, except by Mormons. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and other Restorationist churches, teach that in the late 1820s, their church's founder, Joseph Smith, used a seer stone to translate The Book of Mormon its "Reformed Egyptian" characters on ancient golden tablets revealed by an angel. The book contained both of the above themes. Some skeptics have cited the appearance of these topics in the Book of Mormon as one indication that the book was an early 19th century forgery and not a translation from ancient tablets. More info.

bulletNative beliefs: Some native tribes contest these theories:
bullet Some have oral traditions teaching that their ancestors have always been in the Americas. 5

bullet Some believe that their ancestors emerged from beneath the earth into the present world through a hole in the earth's surface.

Many Native people find the suggestion that their ancestors migrated to North America only about 13,000 years ago to be quite offensive. 6

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References used:

The following information sources were used to prepare and update the above essay. The hyperlinks are not necessarily still active today.

  1. book cover Arlene Hirschfelder and Paulette Molin, "Native American Religions," Facts on File, (1992). Read reviews or order this book safely from
  2. "American Indians By the Numbers," InfoPlease, at:
  3. J.N. Wilford, "New answers to an old question: Who got here first?" New York Times, 1999-NOV-9

  4. book cover T.D. Dillehay, "Monte Verde: A late Pleistocene settlement in Chile: The archeological context and interpretation," Smithsonian Institution Press, (1997). Read reviews or order this book This is not an inexpensive book!
  5. Vine Deloria Jr., "Low Bridge, Everybody Cross," a chapter in the book: "Red Earth, White Lies,"

  6. book coverVine Deloria, "Red Earth, White Lies: Native Americans and the Myth of Scientific Fact," Fulcrum Pub (1997). You can read reviews and/or order this book savely from New copies are expensive. Amazon also links to sources of used books.
  7. Unknown author. Copied from the First People web site at:
  8. Roshhini Nair, "Archeological find affirms Heiltsuk Nation's oral history," CBC/Radio Canada, 2017-MAR-30, at:

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Copyright © 1995 to 2018 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Latest update: 2018-JUL-21
Author: B.A. Robinson

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