Plains Indians Religion

Many Plains Indian tribes share the basic
beliefs of the Lakota tribe
◦ The Lakota led the confederacy of tribes that
defeated Custer and his troops at the Battle of
the Little Bighorn (1876)
◦ More than 200 Lakota massacred at Wounded
Knee in South Dakota as the wars ended between
the Natives and whites (1890)
Religion = a way of life
The energy of the Creator is present
everywhere and within all things
◦ The “ordinary” = sacred – no distinction
Video: Lakota Wisdom Keepers –
Lakota Worldview
What elements of truth or of the sacred did
you find in the Lakota Wisdom Keepers’
religious views of the world we share?
What do you think of Nathan Chasing
Horse’s argument that being a warrior
means learning how to cry as a means of
showing understanding and compassion?
◦ How does this compare to a Western view
of masculinity or manhood?
Wakan Tanka = the supreme reality or “most
◦ Refers to 16 separate deities
◦ 16 is derived from the number 4, the most sacred
number in Plains religion due to the 4 compass
Purpose: Means for an individual to gain
access to spiritual power that will ensure
greater success or spiritual insight in her or
his life
Path for individuals to reach a state of
Spiritual and
purification in the
sweat lodge
Interpretation of the
vision and message
by a medicine
woman or man
Isolation in nature,
endurance of
elements, and
performance of rituals
Arrival of a
vision, message,
and/or guardian
The spiritual powers and insights
gained from the quest affect the rest
of the individual’s life
Undertaken for the benefit of the whole
Commitment made by the dancers to dance
and fast for days for themselves, the
community, and the supreme being
◦ Offerings made to Wakan Tanka
The sun is venerated for its life-giving
A tree is ritually set upright in a chosen spot
◦ The tree = the Axis Mundi (the axis or center of the
◦ Functions as the link between the earth and
heavens; represents the supreme being
The lodge is constructed of 28 poles, placed
in a circle around the tree
◦ Represent the 28 months of the lunar calendar
The finished lodge represents the universe
with its four compass directions
Some dancers skewer the flesh of their chests
and attach themselves to the tree with leather
They pull back from the tree as they dance
until their flesh tears
Believe their bodies are the only things they
truly own and therefore see this as the only
suitable sacrifice to the supreme being
Sun Dance outlawed by the U.S.
government/Christian-Catholic missionaries
between the late 1880s and the 1930s
◦ Many Native rituals and customs were restricted by
law through the reservation system
◦ The Sun Dance was said to be dangerous because it
required dancers to fast for extended periods of
time and to cut their own flesh
◦ Also thought to be politically and religiously
dangerous (potential for rebellion + “devil worship”)
Pan-Indian Movement
◦ Modeled on Plains Indian religion
◦ Unites Native Americans across the Americas
regardless of tribal or local affiliations
◦ Participate in traditional Native ceremonies such as
the Sun Dance to promote Native PRIDE
◦ Both a POLITICAL and RELIGIOUS movement
◦ Protects the interests of Native peoples
Video: Modern-day Conditions on the
Pine Ridge Reservation
Why are tools of resistance important for
Native peoples today?
What ways can religion be a tool of resistance
for Native peoples?
Cosmology – An understanding or theory of
the nature, origin, development, and eventual
fate of the universe
Transcendence – A state of being that has
overcome the normal limitations imposed by
the human condition of physical existence
Axis Mundi – The axis or center of the
Religious and Political Pan-Indian Movement
Modeled on:
Plains Indian Religion
Modeled on:
Lakota Religious beliefs and practices
(Tribe who led the defeat of Custer and his troops at the Battle of
the Little Bighorn and who were massacred at Wounded Knee)

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