American Indian religion refers to the religious practices, ceremonies and the spirituality of the Indians in America. Although many would like to believe that all American Indians follow one religious view and similar practices, it is not so. There are hundreds of tribe based variations in religion underlined by common themes; that the universe and all that is in it, the sky, earth, and all creation are sacred thus deserving of respect and that God communicates to human beings through the spirit of all creation with the help of the use of medicine. Therefore, American Indian religion practices differ significantly depending on tribe, band, and clan. Before the American Indian religion and philosophy course, the perception was that American Indian groups all ascribed to one universal religion with similar practices and ceremonies. Also, an assumption, the American Indian religion must have faced various challenges just like most other traditional religious groups that culturally practiced spirituality in the past. With the American Indian religion and philosophy course, one expects to learn the diversity of American Indian religion and the elements of its philosophy. Also, the course will hopefully help understand the progress that has taken place in the American Indian religion and any challenges that they may still face to date on religious grounds.
Religion was one of the major bases of cultural, political and legal conflicts in American history. Disbanding Native American cultures was recognized as a way of undermining tribal prominence by politicians. Indians were encouraged through politics to abandon their “savage ways” to promote Christianity. Policies were implemented to grant Christian missionary works federal funds to convert Native Americans of different cultures to Christianity. The state went as far as to establish boarding schools to teach children occupational skills, English and Christianity in an attempt to strip them off their Indian in them. Federal law allowed for Native Indians to be stripped off their land and property and they were banned from practicing their indigenous religions (Gueno, 1-2). The western religious especially Christianity was promoted over all other indigenous religion to the extent that military action was mandated by law to facilitate the native groups to abandon their beliefs. The military fought the Indians who resisted the US officials directives and authorized murder and extermination of the tribes that resisted the US taking their land or the federal authorities (Gueno, 6). The native Indians, therefore, had to fight and rebel to get the freedom to religion and access to objects and places within the country for worship. Some practices of the American Indian people reflect specific periods. For instance, the worship at the Blue Lake shrine was before 1906 when it was seized to the Carson National Forest under the authorization of President Theodore. Also, the worshiping at the devil towers represents a time of clashing world views regarding religion and religious practices.
Geography is significant to religious practices because of the influence it has on the culture of the people and thus their religion. Geography concerns aspects such as land, location, vegetation and natural resources such as mountains, forests, and rivers among others. These aspects of geography determine the religious practices of the people and ultimately contribute to the difference in religious practices across the world. Several examples exist to illustrate how geography is significant to religion. For one, religions that practice cremation of dead bodies are those that live in areas with adequate trees and forest cover to get wood to perform the practices. Communities in deserts where there is limited tree cover bury the corpse. Secondly, part of the main aspects of religion is dressing which is also greatly influenced by the dressing. People in hot climates people wear light clothes, and it is in such areas going to worship places with slippers, and lighter and bare clothes is usual while in colder regions people dress more conservatively when going to the places of worship. They wear shoes and heavier clothes. Another example is the use of water bodies plays a crucial role in religious rituals and ceremonies. For instance, in India, there are multiple rivers which make it possible for the Indians to perform their rituals such as immerse of the Hindu statues into the rivers and the immersion of cremated remains in holy rivers (Library of Congress, n.p)
The fundamental view of land differs among people, and the difference perpetuates in society. One good example of the difference in native view of land from other people is that between the European view of land and the Indians view of the land. The Europeans viewed land as a sign of wealth and the more land one owned, the wealthier they were. On the other hand, Indians believed that no one would own land and that the land was available to everyone for use. While the Europeans exploited land with plantation year in year out, Indians farmed in an area for some time and then left it to become wild again. Such differences in the view of land among different people cause conflict in the use of land and lead to disagreements in the way land as a resource is used. The conflict perpetuates in the existence of environmental activists who promote the preservation of the land and the related resources while others continue to exploit land resources. The conflict also perpetuates in history with the collation between the natives in the US and the US governments as they took land belonging to the natives and misplaced them. The origin stories in ilearn give information regarding the people and their environment by providing first-hand information about the views of the people regarding the environment and what they do to promote those beliefs.
A common and frequent ceremony among the Hindus is the private worship which takes place daily in their homes. Hindus carry out most of the religious ritual and ceremonies at home at dawn and dusk. The ritual commences with women drawing positive geometric designs at the doorstep on the floor using rice flour of chalk. They welcome dawn or dusk by reciting the prayers from the Rig Veda of the Gayatri Mantra for the sun which is the most famous Sanskrit prayer among the people. A bath purification ritual is then carried out after which a family worships the gods at the family shrine usually in the house. The worship part involves putting on a lamp and binging foodstuffs in front of the images as they recite the Sanskrit prayers. Women gather for more extended services of singing in the evening praising the gods. Although the worship rituals are carried out mostly in the morning and in the evening, charity acts are emphasized throughout the day consisting of setting aside foods during meals to feed the poor and those who lack. Also, water sacrifices made during the daily purification bath as respect and acknowledgment of the ancestors (Library of Congress. n.p). The purpose of the daily private worship is to praise and worship the gods and seek their guidance and protection throughout the day as well as thank them for their protection and provisions. The acts of charity propel the belief among the Hindu is giving and sharing and taking care of God’s creations.
In conclusion, the American Indian philosophy helps one understand that there are variations in the American Indian religion and its perspectives on geography and nature. The American Indian religion puts significant value on nature and the environment. Its practices include using natural grounds and objects for worship and thus they hold nature such as rivers and mountains with a high accord. The American Indian religion is very different from the Christian religion in almost all dimensions. American Indians worship many gods and hold statutes in their homes in domestic alter of worship. They also conduct several religious rituals and rites which are symbolic and involve cultural acts. On the other hand, Christina worships one God and usually carry out their prayers in churches. Christians also utilize natural grounds such as caves for devotion and prayers usually personal prayers or congregational prayers. Christian practices do not involve cultural practices as in American Indian religion neither do they accord the great regard on the environment. The American Indian religion is more of a traditional cultural religion while Christianity is more contemporary and more people subscribe to the Christian faith than to the American Indian religion which consists mostly of Indians.
Gueno, P. Michael. “Native Americans, Law, and religion in America. Oxford Research Encyclopedias.November 2017. Retrieved on 10 March 2019 DOI:10.1093/acrefore/9780199340378.013.140
Library of Congress. “Hindu rites and rituals.” ThoughtCo. Retrieved on 10 March 2019 from https://www.thoughtco.com/hindu-rites-and-rituals-1770058