Native American Traditions

by Valerie Walawender, M.A.

The “Haudenosaunee,” “the people of the longhouse,” have inhabited the northern woodlands of North America for thousands of years. Called the “Iroquios,” by the French, the most famous of the Haudenosaunee were the five nations that inhabited upper New York State: the Seneca, Cayuga, Onondaga, Oneida, and Mohawk. The sixth tribe, the Tuscarora, joined later. The Five Nations (also known as the Six Nations and the Iroquois Confederacy) represent the most influential confederation of Native North Americans in documented history.

The Haudenosaunee tell the story of how the world began on the back of an enormous Turtle. At the beginning of time, the Master of Life decreed that all people live in harmony and love. According to most tribal lore, an early period in their history was marked by intertribal discord and unrest. The Master’s message was forgotten, so he called upon a holy man known as Deganawida, the Peacemaker. The Peacemaker crossed Lake Ontario in a stone canoe. There he met Hiawatha. Hiawatha grieved the daughters he lost to tribal fighting. The Peacemaker comforted Hiawatha’s heartache with wise and kind words. Similar soothing expressions would later be spoken at Iroquois council meetings to encourage friendship and open minds. The Peacemaker’s wisdom combined with Hiawatha’s flair for speechmaking. They crossed the length and breath of Iroquois territory, built partnerships and told of the Great Law and the Tree of Peace. The Five Nations that came into the League maintained control of their own affairs. Issues of common concern were discussed by a Grand Council. Each tribe’s elder women chose the fifty chiefs to attend the first Grand Council, which took place under a giant evergreen on a hill at Onondaga. An eagle perched on the tree top. Later only 49 clan representatives would play a part in the Grand Council, as it was believed that no one was worthy of filling Hiawatha’s original seat. Unanimous decisions were always reached by consensus after lengthy discussion. Each tribe had one vote. A similar practice existed within the tribes down to the village level. Families and their kin lived together in durable wooden longhouses. Some longhouses were up to 400 feet long. More than a dozen families might share a single long house. Families lived in areas on either side of a central aisle, sharing a central hearth with the family opposite them. The Haudenosaunee envisioned their league as a vast longhouse. In it the five tribes surrounded the five fires. The Mohawks watched the eastern side; to their west were the Oneida; then the Onondaga, who cared for the central hearth; next were the Cayuga, and then the mighty Seneca, keepers of the western door. Over time, the league extended to shelter other peoples, including the Tuscarora refugees from theCarolinasin 1722. Within each of the six nations of the Haudenosaunee, the people are separated into matrilineal clans. The number of clans varies by nation, each named for the animal considered to be the clan member’s original ancestor.  The eight Seneca clans are: Wolf, Bear, Turtle, Snipe, Deer, Beaver, Heron, and Hawk.

Seneca Storytelling
In the past, each Seneca Indian settlement, like other Iroquois tribes, had its sanctioned story tellers. The tellers learned the tales and traditions of their people from their ancestors. It was considered ill mannered and a bad omen if a listener fell asleep during a story. If someone wished to sleep or leave, he was required to ask the narrator to “tie the story.” If the listener did not make this request and later wished to hear the rest of the story, the narrator would refuse. The tale had to be told from the beginning unless it was “tied.”

Traditional Haudenosaunee (Iroquois) stories that have been told for hundreds of years, to life captivate audiences young and old, with drama and vivid descriptions. Perry Ground, (Onondaga, Turtle Clan) a member Haudenosaunee (Iroquois) Confederacy, has been telling stories for over 15 years as a means of educating people about the culture, beliefs and history of the Haudenosaunee. He learned most of the stories he shares from the elders of various Native American communities. Ground commented, “Practicing and perpetuating the oral traditions of Native people is an important responsibility.”

Sky Woman, vampire skeletons, Great Bear, witches, transformed animals, magical powers, and good and evil spirits have been part of Native American lore for hundreds, perhaps thousands of years. Based on sacred beliefs, the form and substance of each tale has been carefully preserved. Despite how the individual orator may tell the story, the integrity of the tale remains intact. Different versions of native stories exist . . . longer, shorter, Mohawk, Seneca, but the essential elements remain.  Each legend is respected as a personal or group possession. The stories were called Kă’kāā, or Gă’kāā and passed down through generations for the lessons, wisdom, and traditional principles each carried.

A story teller was known as “Hage’ota.” It was customary for each listener to give the story teller a small gift, such as a bead, ornament, tobacco, or other trinket.

Today, only a handful of elders remember hearing the stories from their parents and grandparents.

Bill Crouse, the lead singer for the Allegany River Indian Dancers, remarked, “When we present our dances, the audience will have a “hands-on” experience with the Seneca language and storytelling. We tell the historical story of each dance and the origin of all the dances . . . the “Hoop Dance,” “Smoke Dance” and more. The “Woman’s Dance” goes back to the Creation story. When Sky Woman falls from the sky, she lands on the back of the turtle. She dances in a counter-clockwise circle on the turtle’s back. The turtle is the earth and it grows more with each circling of Sky Woman’s dance. Our ladies (today) believe they are re-blessing the earth when they do this dance in remembrance of Sky Woman.” Penny Minner, a corn husk doll maker, says that there are several versions of “Why Corn Husk Dolls have no Face.” Corn husk dolls were made with no faces to remind people to be kind and not think they are better than anyone else.

According to Arthur C. Parker in his book Seneca Myths & Folk Tales, the Seneca people believe that when you speak, all things and beings around you listen. According to the Seneca, the world is filled with all manners of creatures and spirits. Folk lore, myths and legends are built upon such well recognized assumptions. All traditional tales incorporate intricate Seneca thought patterns and long accepted themes. Central to traditional lore is the idea that everything in nature is conscious, and is in communication with everything else in nature.

Native Americans also believe that all living things have souls, and these souls are similar to man’s souls. All souls come from the master of souls in the heaven world, and will return to him. The master of souls re-adjusts souls, so they may function in the heaven world. Evil is considered a maladjustment of the soul. The souls of good animals help man, if he has been courteous. On the other hand, souls of bad animals hurt man, and need to be “bought off.”

Nature is also filled with numerous unseen spirits who affect man, in both good and evil ways. These spirits have desires which can only be filled by man. An example of such spirits would be ghosts. To the Seneca, ghosts are body spirits of deceased men and animals. Evil attributes of the deceased person or animal are often intensified in the ghost. Tales are told of good spirits who wage war on evil spirits.

Certain characteristic types of action are found in all Seneca folk-tales. Themes around transformation, magically acquired power, monsters, precocious twins, contests with sorcerers, turtle’s war party, dream animals rescuing hero, and animal foster parents are common. Stories concerning human relations and behaviors such as ones involving son-in-law tests, a hero boasting of power, impostor failure, discarded child, hidden lodge child, sister double, uncle and nephew, evil step-father, witch mother-in-law, lover and rival, jealous sister in law and bewitched parents are frequently found as well. Accounts of ghosts, nature gods, sorcerers, dreams and sky journeys are recurring favorites.

The Seneca also speak of orenda, which is magical power residing in an individual or charm. Orenda grants a user power over the natural order. Good orenda, possessed by the virtuous always overcomes evil orenda, possessed by evil witches or sorcerers.

Transformation is a form of orenda, and can be used by any being in nature. A person possessing such orenda is capable of changing themselves into other animals or objects. Animals can also possess such trans-formative orenda, and can take the shape of human beings. In Seneca folk tales, any animal, person or object in nature may be such a transformed being.

More Native American food is consumed in America than food from any other continent. Native food differs according to the geographic region, availability, climate and customs of the local people. For instance, in the Northeast of what is now the United States, early Native Americans used salmon and other fish, seafood, mushrooms, berries and meats such as venison, duck and rabbit. Besides deer, early Native Americans across the Americas frequently ate such varied meats as rabbit, prairie dog, beaver, lamb, buffalo, guinea pig (South America) and pork. In the last century, the use of wild game was largely replaced by domesticated animals for food.

Commonplace in the Native American diet were wild grains and vegetables. Depending on the area where people lived, squash, sage, wild onions, cabbage, pumpkins and cactus were consumed. Native American cooking tended to be simple. Most Native Americans preferred to eat their food very fresh, without many spices. However, In Mexico and Central America, Native peoples tended to use less fresh meat and more spices in their dishes, including hot peppers, cumin, and chocolate seasonings. The Taino of the Greater Antilles were the first New World people to encounter Columbus. Prior to European contact, the Taino foraged, hunted, fished, and cultivated cassava, sweet potato, maize, beans, squash, pineapple, peanut, and peppers. Only a handful of the descendents from native groups like the Taino still remain, but their culinary legacy lives on. Other Native American peoples continue a living tradition, carrying on a legacy that reaches back to time immemorial.

Native American food and food practices has contributed to cuisines all over the globe. Native foods such as corn, tomato, potato, squash, beans, nuts, roots and berries translate into many varieties and contemporary meals.

For instance, without Native American foods Irish potatoes; Italian tomato sauce; the peanuts and chili peppers found in Thai cooking; and chocolate in French cooking, would not exist. In addition to this, many of the earliest forms of medicine were derived from food sources. Native Americans are masters at making poultices, teas and herbal remedies. Herbs and plants such as peppermint, rose hips, clover and sage were used to make teas and other foods.  Modern-day native peoples retain a rich body of traditional foods. Fry-bread is a contemporary and delicious treat popular at pow-wows. For some Native people the use of fry-bread is controversial, not only because it is blamed for contributing to diabetes and obesity on reservations, but also because it has associations with a painful history. In the mid-1800’s the United States forced certain Indians to make the 300-mile journey known as the “Long Walk” and relocate onto land that couldn’t easily support their traditional staples of vegetables and beans. To prevent the indigenous populations from starving, the government gave those canned goods as well as white flour, processed sugar and lard—the makings of fry-bread. Despite this, many pow-wows host fry-bread competitions, and long lines at fry-bread stands are typical. As proud expressions of Indian identity, today’s powwows are partly a reaction against that past suppression, and fry-bread is considered by many to be iconic of those celebrations.

Food is widely used as a gift between native peoples and is the center of many celebrations. For example, the ceremonies of the Kaniekahageh (Mohawk people of the east) includes the Maple Syrup ceremony (late spring), Strawberry Ceremony (early summer) Planting Ceremony (early summer), Bean Dance (midsummer) Green Corn Dance (midsummer) and Harvest Dance (end of summer). Tradition bearers, certain people by virtue of their good memories, long lives, skills or community role, may be especially adept or identified by others as being able to transmit the “lore” sought by others. Lore is knowledge from teaching or experience that is usually hand down by word of mouth.

In Native American society, the lore of food sharing is intertwined with traditional storytelling and rituals of giving thanks through prayer, song and dance. These and other ways pay homage to nature and the Great Spirit. Social, physiological and psychological benefits of these traditions and practices abound. A way of life expresses itself in rhythmic patterns that span across thousands of years. Native celebrations center on the gifts of nature. People gathering together helps heal and fortify individuals, families and the larger community through hard times and trauma. The get-togethers are opportunities for community engagement, intergenerational sharing and nurturing for all generations.

A case in point is a ceremony known as “gathering corn bread,” traditionally held at the end of the planting season, when the corn is ready to be stored. Thanks must be given for the food, just as it is at the beginning of the planting season. Nearly every family prepares by baking a batch of old fashioned corn bread to be brought to the Longhouse. At this gathering, a speaker congratulates the people on the success of their crop. Thanks are given to the Great Spirit that the people have been well supplied. Two men perform the Great Feather Dance. Everyone then takes part in the Trotting Dance. A third dance is by females only (to thank the Great Mother and the Three Sisters). After these dances, everyone, including children, participate in a fourth dance by joining their hands. The women and men have the privilege of joining hands together. This is said to be like the mixing of joining of the seeds in the hills of corn. When corn is planted in the traditional way, kernels of corn are planted in little mounds along with bean seeds and squash seeds. Sometimes sunflower seeds are added to the mix. Corn, beans and squash are referred to as the Three Sisters. When planted this way, the Three Sisters are thought to be working together to feed the people. It is an ingenious agricultural system. Corn provides a stalk for the bean vines to grow up around. Beans provide nitrogen to nourish the soil, helping the corn and squash to grow. Leaves of the squash provide a ground cover preventing weeds from crowding out the crop. When all the dances are done, the speaker thanks the people and the Creator that the people have gotten done with their duty. The speaker then reminds the people of the Midwinter Festival, which comes on the fifth day of the new season.

Another type of traditional gathering is the husking bee. These may be held in individual homes where corn soup is generously served. The occasion is enlivened with dancing and storytelling. Games may be played such as one in which short pieces of corn stalk are piled up into a house-like structure. Individuals try to flip away single pieces one at a time without knocking down the others.

Workers at a husking bee were always on the look-out for abnormal ears of corn. These have different meanings. A fascinating corn with branches resembling fingers is called “hand corn.” A multiple ear is a large ear with several smaller ones springing from it. It indicates that a girl will have many children. The rest of the huskers say “lots of young ones.” A red ear entitled the finder to one ear from each of the other huskers. The Onön:dowa’ga (Senecas, or “people of the hills) have enjoyed corn (onëö) for food and other uses. Ononya’ (corn husk) has been twisted, coiled, braided or wrapped to make masks, bottles, padding, mats, baskets and moccasins for generations. Ononya’ gaya’da (husk dolls) are made as play things, and also as a way valuable lessons could be shared with youngsters. Traditional ononya’ gaya’da do not have faces. One lesson involves a lesson about an Indian maiden who was troubled with vanity. She could no longer see her reflection in a lake, until years later when she was old and wise and had learned the lesson of kindness.

The delicious corn soup and other treats offered at the husking bee and other gatherings are an integral part of the festivities. Being fed by another person and being able to accept food from another is one of the most basic nurturing and trusting experiences, according to Anne Jernberg, founder of the Theraplay Institute. Because of this and other customs, many of the celebrations and Native traditions reflect what may be considered by some, as best practices for children in their communities and families. Jernberg and others emphasize that parents and children build better relationships through attachment-based play. It may well attest to the survival of many Native customs through the centuries, that healthy human development for all humans depends on being nurtured and developing trust. Native people integrate eons of trust-building activities including intergenerational sharing, nurture through food sharing, playfulness, fun, storytelling, prayer, games, dance and song, in their daily life and annual traditions.

In addition, through many Native rituals and patterns of life, community and family experience interdependence with each other and the Great Spirit. Because of this, the giver trusts that food and other forms of nurture and care are sufficient, abundant, and available from external sources (nurturing adults, clan members, Great Spirit) and internal sources (self comforting, self nourishing, etc.)

The husking bee and other such gatherings meet the needs of young and old alike. There exists a “built-in” structure which supports the whole community in their sensitivity and ability to be responsive to each other. Respect is an essential part of the teaching. Respect is paid to each other, the Great Spirit, and nature through soothing, hands-on, rhythmic activities. Individuals are provided ample opportunity to interact and engage with one another. Various challenges add to the fun. No one really loses, as everybody wins in the end with laughter enhanced closeness, an atmosphere of respect, and delicious food to share.

The Three Sisters   as recorded by Lois Thomas of Cornwall Island, Canada

Once upon a time very long ago, there were three sisters who lived together in a field. These sisters were quite different from one another in their size and also in their way of dressing. One of the three was a little sister, so young that she could only crawl at first, and she was dressed in green. The second of the three wore a frock of bright yellow, and she had a way of running off by herself when the sun shone and the soft wind blew in her face. The third was the eldest sister, standing always very straight and tall above the other sisters and trying to guard them. She wore a pale green shawl, and she had long, yellow hair that tossed about her head in the breezes. There was only one way in which the three sisters were alike. They loved one another very dearly, and they were never separated. They were sure that they would not be able to live apart. After awhile a stranger came to the field of the three sisters, a little Indian boy. He was as straight as an arrow and as fearless as the eagle that circled the sky above his head. He knew the way of talking to the birds and the small brothers of the earth, the shrew, the chipmunk, and the young foxes. And the three sisters, the one who was just able to crawl, the one in the yellow frock, and the one with the flowing hair, were very much interested in the little Indian boy. They watched him fit his arrow in his bow, saw him carve a bowl with his stone knife, and wondered where he went at night. Late in the summer of the first coming of the Indian boy to their field, one of the three sisters disappeared. This was the youngest sister in green, the sister who could only creep. She was scarcely able to stand alone in the field unless she had a stick to which she clung. Her sisters mourned for her until the fall, but she did not return. Once more the Indian boy came to the field of the three sisters. He came to gather reeds at the edge of a stream nearby to make arrow shafts. The two sisters who were left watched him and gazed with wonder at the prints of his moccasins in the earth that marked his trail. That night the second of the sisters left, the one who was dressed in yellow and who always wanted to run away. She left no mark of her going, but it may have been that she set her feet in the moccasin tracks of the little Indian boy. Now there was but one of the sisters left. Tall and straight she stood in the field not once bowing her head with sorrow, but it seemed to her that she could not live there alone. The days grew shorter and the nights were colder. Her green shawl faded and grew thin and old. Her hair, once long and golden, was tangled by the wind. Day and night she sighed for her sisters to return to her, but they did not hear her. Her voice when she tried to call to them was low and plaintive like the wind. But one day when it was the season of the harvest, the little Indian boy heard the crying of the third sister who had been left to mourn there in the field. He felt sorry for her, and he took her in his arms and carried her to the lodge of his father and mother. Oh what a surprise awaited here there! Her two lost sisters were there in the lodge of the little Indian boy, safe and very glad to see her. They had been curious about the Indian boy, and they had gone home with him to see how and where he lived. They had liked his warm cave so well that they had decided now that winter was coming on to stay with him. And they were doing all they could to be useful. The little sister in green, now quite grown up, was helping to keep the dinner pot full. The sister in yellow sat on the shelf drying herself, for she planned to fill the dinner pot later. The third sister joined them, ready to grind meal for the Indian boy. And the three were never separated again.


Like their present-day descendants, Native Americans of the past loved fun. Their games not only reflected the spiritual beliefs and lore of different tribes, but also social customs and ancient ways. Sometimes special games were played to thank the Creator or animal spirits for their gifts. Nature and “occupation-related” activities resonated in many games. For instance, many Plains and Woodland tribes played games focused on hunting. Corn, weather, and grain could be found in games of the Southwest. Northwest Coast Indian games often featured fishing, salmon, and seals.

Indian youngsters of the distant past had to play with the objects provided by Nature. Logs, branches, twigs, sticks, bark, leaves, seeds, grasses, corncobs, gourds, fruit pits, rocks, shells, animal hides, bones, feathers, and many other basic materials were transformed into playthings. Games were frequently invented on the spur-of-the-moment. Place-changing games, in which players moved in fast and intricate formations, were favorites among the Indian youth.

Boys delighted in many sorts of athletic games. Jumping, wrestling, and hopping competitions flourished, as well as games based on hunting and warfare. Many rough and tough “games” proved how strong and brave the children were. One popular but dangerous sport was foot races in which racers ran directly toward each other.

In the snowy north, Native American children had snowball fights, built snow forts, and made toboggans from rawhide, strips of wood, and bark. The wordtoboggan is of Algonquin origin. Making their own trails or following the tracks of different animals, youngsters delighted in tracking games in the snow. Many games were devised to develop the skill and qualities necessary to make a first-rate stalker, hunter, and warrior. Children also enjoyed imitating the motions and sounds of animals, birds, reptiles, and fish, competing with their friends to determine the best animal mimic. Fathers and older boys played more difficult games. Snow Snake, a game still played by the Seneca and Iroquois, requires skill and practice to master.

Boys would copy their elders, playing games their fathers played, while girls took pleasure in games liked by their mothers. Games of chance were usually played by women, and, in some tribes, only by women. One game involved the women tossing peach or plum pits, beaver or muskrat teeth, or bone and pottery disks, from bowls or baskets. Numbers or designs incised on the tossed objects indicated their value. The objects were jerked upward, usually six at a throw, shot high into the air above the bowl. The player who had tossed them tried to catch as many as possible when they fell down. The total of the numbers on the objects caught in the bowl “face up” determined the score.

Certain games could only be played at certain times or seasons of the year in particular ways, with ritual or ceremony. In many Native American tales a hero, often a supernatural being in disguise, defeats all human contestants in challenge games and contests requiring skill, strength, speed, cunning or magic. These myths and legends were often woven into particular games.

Practically every Indian nation and tribe in the Americas believed in various omens. Thought to predict success or failure in tribal games, such omens were taken seriously. For instance, if the members of some tribes heard the hoot of an owl on the night preceding the games, it was thought to be an ill omen and the games were postponed. A shooting star, or lightning, seen on the night before a contest was considered a good omen. Tribes seeing either of these signs felt that their players and teams would be favored in the games played the next day. Indian tribes neither believed in nor knew anything of luck or chance, but believed signs of good or ill omen were actually encouragement or warnings sent directly by a supernatural beings. Believing that the beings needed to be pleased or appeased with gift offerings, players’ paid great heed to their own personal dreams or “signs” they encountered.

Pageantry and ceremony had an extremely important place in the games of all Indian tribes of the Americas. Ranging from magnificent full regalia to the addition of only a sash or scarf to be worn by referees and players, ceremonial dress was only a part of their gala events. Many elaborate ceremonies connected with the sun, moon, stars, seasons and gods were performed by medicine men and chiefs before various games could be started. The timing of the games was determined by the planting and harvesting of corn, the drying of salmon, phases of the moon, and many other things governed by nature, natural phenomena, signs and omens.

Any game could be opened and conducted with ceremony when the Council of Chiefs so decided. Ceremony was part of the actual staging of the games, but it played an important part as well in the sending of invitations to the games and the challenges sent to rival tribes and teams.


Tewaarathon, the American Indian ball game played with a curved, netted stick, was played across America over thousands of years. Early Native Americans played the game, which came to be known as lacrosse, for a variety of ceremonial and purposes such as “giving thanks” to the Creator; the healing and prevention of illness; and resolution of disputes within a tribe or with another tribe, Lacrosse mimicked and sometimes replaced mass warfare and individual, man –to-man combat.

The people who invented and first played lacrosse had no written language, so everything about its early history, rules of play, and modes of manufacturing game equipment, was transmitted by memory through oral tradition. The origin of lacrosse will probably never be known. The first written accounts about the game came from early explorers and missionaries in the so-called New World. Descriptions from the early seventeenth century Jesuit missionaries in Huronia (present-day southeastern Ontario) indicate that lacrosse was widely played. Already present throughout the eastern half of North America when Europeans arrived, lacrosse probably existed in several forms long before the European invasion of North America. Some tribes maintain that they originated lacrosse or were the first to receive it as a gift from the spirit world.

Different methods of stick and ball fabrication, and the particulars of how, when, and why a particular game would be played, varied from tribe to tribe. An early game would typically consist of two teams, each team consisting of over a hundred men. The teams faced each other on a field that had no boundaries, only a single tall post or tree, to be reached at nearly any cost. Each man clutched in his hand a carved and bent stick. A cup woven of animal hide, located at end of the stick, was used to carry, catch, pass and throw a special ball. The “hard-as-stone” ball, often constructed of woven strips rawhide, was made under ritual conditions and concealed emblems of nature that contained powerful “medicine” hidden inside.

The word “medicine” in Indian culture has a special meaning. Indian medicine includes not only those physical substances and a wide range of herbal medicines used in healing or curing illnesses, but also incorporates deeper, more spiritual meanings. A person was thought to have “strong medicine” was believed to have special powers, usually hidden. Such a person with “medicine power” was feared at times, because it was believed that he could bring harm or injury to his intended victim.

In lacrosse, the medicine man, performed rituals to prepare his team to avoid injuries and beat their opponents. The “medicine men” or conjurer was a revered elder. He was responsible for certain traditional lore of tribe culture and maintaining tribal history. Secret meanings could only be interpreted by the medicine man and initiates to the medicine lodge. Before a game, Indian Lacrosse players often asked the spirit of an animal for guidance that he may have the eyes of a hawk, that he may be as swift and cunning as a fox; that he may be as strong as a bear and as durable as a turtle.

Even today, an Indian lacrosse player might get himself up mentally by saying, “I have asked the spirit of the black bear to give me his strength.” When it came time to play, he would indeed be as strong as a bear. After the game, a player would give thanks to the animal spirits whom he asked for guidance and strength.

In ancient times, everyone in the community came to watch a lacrosse game. A referee dropped the specially-made ball at the center of the playing field to begin the game. According to Bill Crouse, (Seneca, Hawk Clan), “’Lacrosse,’ a ruff and tumble game, was used as entertainment and sometimes as an alternative to war. The object of the modern game is to throw the ball thru two upright goal posts. The old version of the game had no rules. Each player uses a netted stick to throw, catch and shoot the ball. It has been modernized and is played these days on an official field or box.” According to Crouse, “Lacrosse players of today wear pads and there are rules to the game. Its still remains a rough game and is considered the Iroquois National Sport.”

Early Native Americans believed that whoever won or whoever lost, was not important. What was important was thanking the Creator for the great gift, and accepting what the Creator decides will be the fate of the person, tribe, or reason for which the game was played. All came together, in cooperation and reverence, for this special spiritual purpose, which would be remembered for thousands of years. Many versions (box lacrosse, men’s and women’s field lacrosse, etc.) are played today. Oddly, as the game grew in popularity among non-native people in the 1860’s, rules and regulations about lacrosse being an amateur sport began to be enforced preventing Native people from playing in national competitions. Some of these regulations remained in effect for over a hundred years.

“‘Jacksticks’, a game that is very similar to lacrosse, uses a stick similar to a field hockey stick instead of netted stick like the one used in lacrosse. Instead of throwing a ball thru the goal two small sticks or balls tied together by a leather thong are used.” Women most often are the players of “Jacksticks.”

Resources: – Macfarlan, Allan and Paulette. Handbook of American Indian Games New York: Dover Publications, Inc., 1958. – Mitchell, Michael. Tewaarathon (Lacrosse) Akwesasne’s Story of Our National Game North American Indian Travelling College, 1978.

- Morton, Edward D. To Touch the Wind: An Introduction to Native American Philosophy & Beliefs Dubuque, Iowa: Kendall/Hunt Publishing Company, 1988. – Vennum, Thomas, Jr. American Indian Lacrosse: Little Brother of War Washington and London: Smithsonian Institution Press, 1994. Lacrosse Legends of the First Americans Baltimore: The John Hopkins University Press, 2007.

Booth, Phyllis B. and Ann M. Jernberg, Theraplay: Helping Parents and Children Build Better Relationships through Attachment-Based Play. Third Ed.San Francisco,CA: Jossey-Bass, 2010.

Caduto, Michael J and Joseph Bruchac. Native American Gardening. Golden Colorado: Fulcrum Publishing, 1996.

Cassidy, James J. (ed.) Through Indian Eyes Pleasantville, NY, Montreal: The Reader’s Digest Association, 1995.

Densmore, Frances. Indian Use of Wild Plants for Crafts, Food, Medicine and Charms. Washington: Smithsonian Institution Press, 1928.

Erichsen-Brown, Charlotte. Medicinal and other Uses of North American Plants Mineola, NY: Dover Publications, Inc., 1979.

Hanks, Christina Hohannsen. Tammy Tarbel-Boehning: Iroquois Art. Howes Cave, NY Iroquois Indian Museum, 1996.

Hays, Wilma and R. Vernon. Foods the Indians Gave Us 1976.

Kavasch, E. Barrie and Karen Baar. American Indian Healing Arts New York, NY: Bantum Books, 1999.

Kennedy, Kari. “History of the Seneca Nation of Indians” Salamanca, NY: Seneca-Iroquois National Museum, 2007.

Lee, Andrew. Keeping the Living Tradition of the Iroquois Alive: The Pottery of Peter B. Jones. Clinton, NY: Emerson Gallery,Hamilton, College, Spring 1994.

Lorenz, Carol Ann. Creation: Haudenosaunee Contemporary Art and Traditional Stories. Cazenovia, NY: Stone Quarry Hill Art Park, 2004.

Lyford, Carrie A. Iroquois Crafts. Stevens Point,WI: R. Schneider Publishers, 1982 (reprint of 1946 edition published by the Bureau of Indian Affairs, Department of the Interior, Washington, D.C.)

Miczak, Marie. Nature’s Weeds, Native Medicine: Native American Herbal Secrets Twin Lakes, WI: Lotus Press, 1999.

Oring, Elliott. “On the Concepts of Folklore.”  Folk Groups and Folklore

“Out of the Ashes: the Death and Rebirth of Iroquois Pottery.” (exhibition brochure) Salamanca, NY: Seneca-Iroquois National Museum, 1999.

Parker, Arthur C. Seneca Myths & Folk Tales Lincoln and London: University of Nebraska Press, 1989.

Wonderley, Anthony. “Oneida Ceramic Effigies: A Question of Meaning.” Northeast Anthropology No. 63, Spring 2002: 23-48.

Kathy Mitchell, basket weaver

Native American  Traditional Artists

Perry Ground, Storyteller captivates audiences young and old, with drama, vivid descriptions and a spellbinding rhythmic voice. Professionally, Ground has worked in several museums including The Children’s Museum of Houston, Sainte Marie among the Iroquois and Ganondagan State Historic Site. Ground has shared his traditional stories at the National Museum of the American Indian, Smithsonian Institute in New York, NY and Washington, D.C. as well as in countless museums, libraries, classrooms, and festivals throughout the northeast. He has also has guest lectured at numerous colleges. Currently, Ground works as the Project Director of the Native American Resource Center in Rochester, NY. His presentations include discussion about the Haudenosaunee culture and the art of storytelling. His colorful presentation is highly entertaining and very educational.

 Peter Jones, (Onondaga, Beaver Clan) (traditional potter) attended the IAIA (Institute ofAmerican Indian Art) in Santa Fe,New Mexico. Returning to Cattaraugus in 1977, he studied and replicated ancient Native pottery practices. Represented in national and international collections including the Museum of Anthropology (Frankfurt,Germany), and the National Museum of the American Indian in Washington,D.C., Jones continues making both traditional and contemporary pottery and sculpture.

Taught by Otellie Lolloma, a Hopi Indian, Jones states, “Otellie taught me to respect the living nature of the clay.” He returned to Cattaraugus in 1977 and began to study his own pottery heritage and to experiment with clay to replicate prehistoric pots. Using contemporary ceramic making tools, as well as older practices such as coiling and pit-firing, Jones relates, “I wanted to get back to the way we originally did pottery.” Jones calls his pottery sculptures, “my little people.” He says, “They are watching me.” Jones can trace the family on his mother’s side to the 1600’s.”

Kari Kennedy (Huron Clan, Seneca) an award winning Native American beadworker, is the current Museum Cultural Specialist at the Seneca-Iroquois National Museum. A maker of traditional outfits, Kennedy learned bead working as a child. A common style of Seneca women’s attire consists of a tunic dress with matching or contrasting underskirt and leggings. In addition to ribbon trim, elaborately beaded collar and cuffs are often added to the ensemble. Before Europeans introduced glass beads in the 1500’s, Seneca Indians used shells for beads. Kennedy has won numerous awards for her elaborate traditional beaded designs and is the current Museum Cultural Specialist at theSeneca-Iroquois National Museum. Kennedy is passing down her family and cultural traditions to her children, Hunter and Connor, including traditional dance, stories, and beadwork.

Penny Minner (Iroquois Indian, Turtle Clan) is a graphic artist and fourth generation traditional corn husk doll and basket maker. Minner commented,“My baskets are all done by hand in a traditional method. Though I receive the splints from an outside source, the handwork is time consuming. My sister, Deb Hoag, assists in splitting the raw splints to a workable medium. The splints are soaked, split, and scraped by hand, then gauged to a size splint I need. The end product is well worth the effort.”

She received her associates degree from Racy College of Design in Schaumburg, IL and is currently working on her bachelors degree in graphic design at the Art Institute of Pittsburgh. “My cousin, Midge Dean Stock, introduced me to basketmaking. I learned from her and am very grateful for our time together. From her knowledge, I am continuing to keep this art alive in our communities. I feel that I am still learning and will continue to learn.”

Debra M. Hoag, Corn husk doll artisan, commented, “I have been making cornhusk dolls for about 11 years. My paternal grandmother, Dorothy Jimerson taught me how to sew on a Singer tread-wheel sewing machine when I was in my teens. This was my first encounter with any sort of handcrafting. As I grew older my mother, Hazel Jimerson was the one that taught me how to make cornhusk dolls, as I became more experienced I received advice from elder members of the community on how to make the dolls better.  It wasn’t until 1998, when my mother passed away when I starting making the traditional dress cornhusk dolls to sell.

My parents were both self-taught artists; both were very creative and could hand-craft many Seneca traditional crafts. My father, Lester Jimerson carved the traditional Seneca masks, and made turtle rattles, and horn rattles. My mother made many products from the cornhusk such as dolls and mask, mats, and salt bottles.  She also made beadwork, the traditional head gear called the “gastowa”, and quilts. It was a means to an end for them as their traditional crafts helped them feed their children. My parents were enrolled members of the Seneca Nation, my father is of the Heron Clan, and my mother is of the Turtle Clan.”

Hoag currently work for the Seneca Nation as the Higher Education Coordinator for the Allegany Territory. She graduated with an Associates Degree from Jamestown Community College, and a Bachelor’s Degree from Houghton College– PACE Program.

Blaine Tallchief, (Turtle Clan, Seneca) a Gastowë’(headdress) maker stated, “I learned to do the Gastowë’ to distinguish myself between me and other nations.” Tallchief states “My dad made my first Gastowë’” The Gastowë’s different styles and meanings relate to the number of spike feathers. For instance, one feather standing up means Seneca people. One feather slanting back means Cayuga nation. Eagle feathers are used for the spikes. Gastowë’ are worn for sacred ceremonies, dance in the longhouse, Pow Wows, and for the Smoke dance competition. Tallchief works at Faith keepers School where he is learning the Seneca language, Tallchief comments, “The name of our language is Onondawa’ga’, which means ‘People of the Great Hill.’ Tallchief exclaims, “The best gift to get is an eagle feather! They say, “If you get an eagle feather, make yourself a Gastowë’. You can put that as your spike feather. It’s actually an honor to get honored with a feather. . .  I’m going to pass it (Gastowë’) onto my own boy.”

4 Responses to Native American Traditions

  1. says:

    Thank you so much for using some time in order to compose “Native American Traditions
    | Valerie Walawender”. Thank you yet again ,Alysa

  2. Beanie Jamieson says:

    I thought your Native American Traditions section was very factual. Thanks for taking the time to learn so much about the Houdenosaunee way of life. Your use of words to describe our customs and traditions are spot on. We always look forward to working with you at the Dunkirt Native Show. Keep of the good work Val.
    Your friend, Beanie

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