I am writing a paper for college on how two different native american tribes traditionally explain creation or how life came about. I have found some information but would like to know if anyone could tell me when this would be typically told to someone? As a yound child? In a Ceremony? Does it depend on the individuals family and how much they believe in the passing of legends?
~Submitted by Sarah
You didn’t say which tribes you are studying, but there isn’t really a clear cut answer to your questions in today’s world. Native american creation stories would be told and retold throughout life, much as the creation story of the Bible told in Anglo cultures is not reserved for a particular age.
No specific ceremony would neccesarily be required for the telling of the creation story, however, the creation story could be incorporated as part of some ceremonies. And some parts of some creation stories are held so sacred, that they would only be told during a sacred ceremony, or even known only to Holy Men, while other parts might be shared in more casual surroundings, like around the campfire or on long winter evenings, or to entertain a guest or child.
Some tribes hold their creation stories so sacred that they are only told during particular ceremonies, and are not shared with outsiders at all. Other tribes will freely recite their creation story to anyone, anytime, and sometimes this even varies among members of the same tribe in the same community.
There are over 1100 federally recognized indian tribes in the US and Canada today, and hundreds more that are not recognized by those governments. While there may be similarities, each tribe has their own culture, traditions, histories, and oral stories, which include creation myths. Even among members of the same tribe, it’s doubtful that every family knows every one of their tribe’s legends.
Many native americans deliberately distorted their creation stories, or left parts out, when questioned about them by anthropologists due to fears of exploitation or persecution. Until the Native American Religious Freedom Act of 1978 was passed, practicing native american religions, and their accompanying ceremonies was illegal in the US for nearly 200 years. Speaking their native languages was also forbidden in the boarding schools and many forgot their language. Because creation stories and religion are entertwined, and because there is no English translation for many thought processes in native american languages, the stories could not be told correctly for generations, except in secret meetings.
On most reservations there are two distinct groups of individuals. One group, known as the traditionalists, still hold tightly to their original culture and ancient beliefs and religious practices. While they may hold modern jobs and live in wood houses and obey the laws of the land like the rest of the people in America, their belief system and social customs are much like they have been for thousands of years. This group is most likely to know their tribal creation story.
The other group living on reservations is more assimulated to the Caucasian introduced culture, many having adopted anglo religions which have their own creation stories. Still others have religious beliefts that combine bits from both cultures. Just as some Anglos believe in creation as described in the Bible and others believe in evolution as explained by the scientific community, creation stories, and those who still believe in their accuracy vary widely among native americans.
Because almost half of all american indians are now born and live in urban areas away from their reservations and traditional storytellers, and many are multi-racial, multi-cultural and possibly 2, 3, or even 4 generations away from their ancestors who knew the old traditional stories and understood the languages they were told in, many have never heard the creation stories of their tribe (or tribes – many people of indian descent have relatives from more than one tribe). However, just because a native american wasn’t raised on a reservation among traditional people, doesn’t necessarily mean he or she doesn’t know their tribe’s creation story. Or if they do, that it’s accurate.
Creation myths are often recited during Curing Ceremonies because they represent new beginnings and a time when our world was pure and in perfect balance. The sick patient is looking for a new beginning where he/she is pure and whole again. Illnesses are often thought to be caused by an imbalance in our bodies, or between our spiritual and physical selves.
In ceremonies such as the Navajo Blessing Way and Enemy Way Ceremonies, the Navajo patient is placed in a sand painting recalling the creation events, so they might be cosmically reoriented. The medicine man will chant the creation story during these ceremonies.
Creation stories are also often included in Planting and Harvesting ceremonies, because a smaller part of the whole creation story explains how we got a particular plant or food source or learned how to cultivate and prepare it.
Many tribes have a specific Elder who is know as the Tribal Historian. It is a lifelong responsibility of this elder to keep and remember the oral stories of his tribe, including the creation story, without adding to or taking away any part of the story. This person is chosen and groomed for this position from a very early age. He will, in turn choose a protege to teach the stories and prepare that person to take over the roll of Historian at his passing, or at the onset of diminished memory.
From time to time, the Tribal Historian will meet with other respected Elders to compare the stories and remove any embellishments that may have crept in over the years of telling, to keep the oral histories pure for future generations. In this way, the oral stories have been passed down for thousands of years.
RELATED LINKS ON THIS SITE:
A Flash-based learning tool on world creation mythology for children 12-14 years of age covers 25 creation myths from around the world. In Dutch and English.
This is a well done highschool project from second year Latin student, Lindsey Murtagh. Her project, “Common Elements in Creation Myths,” covers a wide-ranging and interesting collection of topics, each supported by one or more creation myths. Topics include: Birth; Mother-Father; Geneology; Supreme Beings; Active and Passive Creators; Creation from Above or Below; Diver-Myths; Relationship of Animals and Humans; Instruction, a Sin and the Consequence; Night, Fear, Fire and Sin; and Gods Creating Suffering. Her cross-cultural myths come from the Iroquois, Australian Aborigine, African Bushmen, Hebrew/Christian, Greek, and Japanese traditions. She provides a bibliography as well as links to other sites.
Also includes chart of the principle Dakota Gods