Native American symbolism, culture and ceremony


Last Updated: 20 years

There are many symbols, practices and customs, some of which are well-known to many people and some which are known only to a few. The following is a list with brief explanations about each.

To achieve full understanding of some of these symbols and practices, one must personally experience them or be led to enlightenment through traditional teachings of an elder. The explanations for the items are therefore brief and are intended to provide a broad overview of things that may have different meanings to people of different cultural backgrounds.

Bear Claws

Bear Claws are symbols that represent healing. The people who acquire these usually have to work hard for them. They also represent a medicine person as a helper in the healing process.


Elders are people recognized in a community as an ‘elder’. These people are recognized as having experience in life and tend to be the more matured people who are held in high regard.

Fasting or Vision Quest

Fasting or Vision Quest is a ceremony in which a person would forego certain necessities in life, such as food, in search for answers to one’s questions. The answers may appear to the person in a dream.


Feathers, usually eagle feathers, represent strength and courage and tend to be highly respected by those who understand the significance of this bird. To acquire a feather, people need to work hard for them.

Four Directions Teachings

Four Directions Teachings are Aboriginal teachings that represent traditional values, beliefs and ways of life. Often symbolized in medicine wheels.


Initiation is a ceremony in which people respond to a calling and are recognized in a form of ‘rite of passage’.

Medicine Bundles

Medicine Bundles include various articles that assist in the healing process.

Medicine Practices

Medicine Practices are various forms of healing that take place utilizing various herbal / root medicines and spiritual ceremony.

Medicine Men/Women (Shamans)

Medicine Men/Women are people who have learned to utilize various medicine practices.

Medicine Wheel

The Medicine Wheel is a way of presenting concepts about traditional teachings.

Metis Sash

A Metis Sash symbolizes togetherness, looking after each other, maintaining a nation and caring for one another.

Pow Wows

Pow Wows are primarily a form of entertainment, whereby people dance to the sound of a drum beat. For some people, pow-wows have a spiritual significance. Other ceremonies, such as Give-Aways and Honorings may also be performed during a pow wow.

Shake – Tent

Shake – Tent is a ceremony in which people with questions of all sorts can receive answers.

Sunrise Ceremony

Sunrise Ceremony is a gathering of people to greet the sun in the morning as it rises to begin a new day and to give thanks for another day of life.

Sweat Lodge

A Sweat Lodge is a place where people can participate in cleansing or healing ceremonies where water is poured on hot rocks to produce steam.


Sweetgrass is a medicine used for purification and to invite benevolent spirits in.


Sage is a medicine used for purification and to drive away bad spirits.

Talking, Sharing or Healing Circles

Talking, Sharing or Healing Circles are ceremonial gatherings where people come together for the purpose of talking, sharing or healing.

The Midewiwin (The Original Way)

The Midewiwin is a spiritual way of life in which Mide people aspire to live according to the original teachings.


Tobacco is a medicine used to communicate to the Spirit World. The smoke represents one’s visible thoughts.