Native American religions do not focus on sin, denial of personal pleasure, or fear of hell to guide them. The Protestant ethic of working and accumulating wealth instead of seeking personal pleasure is missing. Rather, the Native American religions focus on spirituality and spiritual practices. Native Americans generally prefer that strangers not attend spiritual services unless invited, yet many come, take pictures, record, or videotape services without permission. A visitor does not take the Muslim prayer rug home after using it in a mosque, yet many people will take sand paintings, dream-catchers, pipes, or other sacred items from Native American services. Unfortunately, such callous disrespect for Native American culture is a merely a modern manifestation of similar actions in the past.
Christian practices have greatly influenced Native American practices. Flathead and other Plains groups, for example, have incorporated many Christian practices into their own. The sign of the cross, "In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit," is translated as, "L'squest's Le-eu u Sku-se u Sant Spahpah-paht. Ko-mee e-tse-hyl." Flathead funerals include wakes, and feast days are celebrated.
Like many tribes, the Flathead have combined Christian and quite often Catholic traditions with their own traditions. A few "Blackrobes" (priests) allowed the Flathead to include some of their own traditions, including peyote and songs, and showed some respect for the Native ways and religion. Catholic hymns, prayers, and rituals were translated into Kalispel dialect, the Salish or Flathead dialect, and others. (The Flathead are also known as the Salish, Bitterroot Salish, and as the Pend d'Oreille or Kalispel.)
Native Americans send their dead to the next life with rituals and practices that reflect their religious beliefs about death and spiritual afterlife; they view desecration of the dead as a serious and offensive act. They believe that disease and even death can befall those who violate the dead and their resting places.
Archaeologists have for generations been digging up human remains to study what was buried with them to learn about cultures. The tombs of ancient civilizations have yielded great knowledge of their cultures. Reportedly, Thomas Jefferson dug up a burial mound in Virginia in pursuit of similar knowledge. Physical anthropologists have long studied Native American skulls and human bones to learn more about our various indigenous peoples. Following the Civil War, the U.S. Surgeon General ordered Army personnel to obtain Indian skulls for study at the Army Medical Museum in Washington, D.C. The U.S. Army acquired heads from Arapahoe, Cheyenne, and Kiowa killed at the Sand Creek Massacre in Colorado. Many other museums soon made comparable acquisitions.
Only in 1990, with passage of the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act (NAGPRA), were their burial sites protected and a process created for returning their cultural artifacts and human remains. Museums are now slowly returning their inventories of such items, putting an end to what Native Americans considered institutional sacrilege.
1) LaDuke, Winona. 1999. All Our Relations: Native Struggles for Land and Life. Cambridge, MA: South End.
2) Powers, William K. 1982. Yuwipi, Vision and Experience in Oglala Ritual. Lincoln, NE: University of Nebraska Press.
3) Richter, Daniel K. 2003. Facing East from Indian Country: A Native History of Early America. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.
4) Ross, Allen C. 1989. Mitakuye Oyasin: We Are All Related. Denver, CO: Wiconi Waste.
5) Stolzman, William. 1988. How to Take Part in Lakota Ceremonies. Chamberlain, SD: Tipi Press.
6) Wall, Steve and Harvey Arden. 2006. Wisdomkeepers: Meetings with Native American Spiritual Elders. Hillsboro, OR: Atria Books/Beyond Words.
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