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Native American

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What Are the Characteristics of Native American Culture?

By Erik J.J. Goserud
Updated: May 17, 2024

Defining Native American culture is a difficult task not necessarily because the beliefs and customs that characterize this historic population are hard to comprehend but more due to the fact that Native Americans are an incredibly diverse population. Just as defining America would require examinations of culture from all over the country, Native American culture must examine different regions and tribes. Generally speaking, most cultures of Native Americans are very spiritual and group oriented in nature.

Due to the vast diversity among Native Americans, describing their cultures must rely on the explanation of commonalities rather than focusing on specific traditions that may not exist in every tribe. It is probably safe to say that spirituality is uniform throughout these peoples. Spirituality is not always religion, and just as religions differ among people throughout the world, religious beliefs within Native Americans also vary greatly.

This spiritual nature is most often expressed through ceremonies that pay homage to a deity or aspect of nature. Some tribes believe in one specific god, while others, in a more Greek fashion, describe different spirits as beings within their belief systems. Most religious ceremonies are focused around appreciation for the deeds that this god or being is believed to have done for the tribe or people. Some ceremonies are similar to those of Western religions, while others may seem eccentric to outsiders.

There is also a motif of nature within Native American culture. Many average citizens of America do not think too much about the world in which they live, often taking for granted the many resources that are exploited so that people can enjoy their lifestyles. This is very much in contrast with the themes of Native American culture as most Native Americans firmly believe in the cultivation and preservation of natural resources.

One way in which Native American culture embraces nature is through the use of all resources. Typically, animals that are used for food are also used for many other things. Rarely is any part of an animal wasted, largely due to the belief that, for a life to be taken, it should at least be used and not killed in vain.

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Discussion Comments
By croydon — On Sep 26, 2013

While I can see why Western culture often idolizes Native culture it can actually end up being really disrespectful. Native American art, for example, is often exploited and can even be misleading.

If you want to celebrate native culture, you should always try to buy from the source and to purchase original works, rather than mass produced ones.

By Mor — On Sep 25, 2013

@KoiwiGal - Well, the modern cultures probably do have a fair bit in common now, because they were all at a relatively similar level of technology when America was colonized and most of them suffered from similar treatment. I would say they probably have a lot in common with other marginalized groups as well, like the Aborigines in Australia.

It is very important now for them to focus on and celebrate their differences though, particularly with the people who surround them. Language in particular is such a crucial part of culture and it often disappears when surrounded by a larger, dominant group.

Native American history has been so filled with oppression, I hope that different groups can start to thrive again.

By KoiwiGal — On Sep 24, 2013

I'm glad that this article doesn't try to make too many sweeping statements about Native American culture. When you look at Native American culture today it might seem to have a lot of things in common from tribe to tribe, but that's because many people are looking at it through a Western lens. They don't see the different religions there, just that they (mostly) aren't monotheistic and that's enough to lump them all together.

White people in England and white people in the USA have much more in common than some of the different tribes in the United States.

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