Understanding Native American Indian Creation Stories and its Effects on Relations with European Colonists

Research Topics  Presentation Tips History Essays Native American History Creation Stories 

The place of spirituality and the stories of creation/origins played an important part in Native American daily life. Creation myths taught proper behavior and culture. They were the core of Native American spirituality in which everything embodied a spirit. These beliefs affected their relationships with European colonists and vise versa.

All Native American legends of creation had common elements. They contained a creator, a hero, an evil one, spirits that controlled the weather and spirits that interacted with humans. These stories taught the necessity for proper behavior, rituals, prayers and respect for nature. They focused on gathering food by hunting and cultivation which was the key to survival. In the Iroquois Creation Myth were two twins: one good and the other evil. The good twin worked to inhabit the earth with people and make them happy. The evil twin worked to undo what the good twin did. A better hunter than the good twin, the evil one imprisoned all the animals in the forest in a cave. The father of the twins gave the good twin corn and told him to tend to the plant for it would sustain him until he found the animals. His father was the great turtle that supports the earth. Later, the good twin found and released the animals back into the wild. American Indians did not keep livestock at the time of European discovery. They grew corn to sustain life. It was the mainstay of their diet. At the end of the Iroquois story, the good twin killed his evil brother with a flint rock. It was the only thing that would kill the evil twin besides a horn.[1] Therefore, Native Americans made arrowheads from flint rock or horns.

 

The MicMac creation story told the relationship between nature, the creator and people. The sun was the giver of life and therefore responsible for the creation of people.  It was created by the creator. Lightning from the sun created man from a mound of sand. Man’s grandmother was then created. She taught man to respect animals by always asking permission to kill them for food and give something back in return giving. Native Americans always asked permission to kill the animal for food. They had hunting rituals which appeased the spirit of the animal they killed.[2] No part of the animal was wasted. It provided food, tools, clothing, shelter and blankets. The story taught that in the natural world everything had a place and a spirit. There was a natural law that must be obeyed and respected. All things were organized in a specific order, had energy and followed cycles.

In the Hopi creation myth, there were four worlds layered on top of one another. The lower worlds became overcrowded so the people climbed out of the caves, one level at a time.[3] When Europeans first arrived in Virginia, some Native Americans thought “The English come from under the world to take their world from them.”[4] Most all Native Americans surmised that the Europeans endured the long voyage over the ocean because they sought a better richer world. They correctly concluded that Europe had become overcrowded.[5]

Spirituality affected the everyday lives of Native Americans. Everything was embodied with a spirit. Native Americans took great care to do things to appease the spirit world. Bad things happened because someone or something offended a spirit. Native Americans had no concept of hell or heaven. They did believe in ghosts. The spirit world shaped their lives. In contrast, European Colonists, whether Protestant or Catholic, passionately thought their religious belief to be the one and only true path to life. Puritans had strict rules with harsh discipline. They believed in providence, predestination and in a struggle between good and evil that usually manifested as a test of faith. All Christians believed that the only way to get into heaven was to believe in God, Christ and the Holy Spirit. Christians viewed Native Americans as heathens who worshiped idols and bound for hell. They believed Native American spirituality to be superstition inspired by the devil. It was their Christian duty to convert these heathens to Christianity to save their souls. This caused a lot of tension between the two groups. Many Native Americans resisted efforts to convert by pointing out hypocrites among the Christians.[6] Those Native Americans that did convert were often ostracized by their people. Their presence could upset the spirit world possibly ruining a hunt or the harvest.

Native American gender roles dictated the division of labor. It was the order of things designed by nature. Women gave life so it was only natural for them to tend the fields to provide corn which sustained life. Their spirits would not offend the corn spirit. In most Native American societies, wealth and power passed through the female line. Women made the decisions to move to more fertile grounds. Men took life. They hunted and went to war. In contrast, Colonial men tended the fields. Hunting was considered a sport reserved for the nobility. European Colonists thought the Native American men to be lazy [8] and therefore inferior.

In Native American Spirituality, dreams played an important role. Dreams foretold the future, gave guidance and sent messages from the spirit world. One must obey instructions or heed warnings given in a dream otherwise bad things would happen. Native Americans had wise men who interpreted dreams. An Indian girl had a dream about a floating island with trees. The next day a ship arrived that resembled the floating island. The trees in the dream were the masts on the ship. It was the first Europeans this American Indian tribe had seen.[9] Other Native Americans had similar dreams foretelling of European arrival. Christians viewed any foretelling of the future as coming from the devil.

Native Americans had a relationship to creation as described in their creation/origin stories. There was a constant dialogue going between nature and creation in these stories. Spirituality made Native Americans closer to nature. European Colonists viewed Native American spirituality as superstition coming from the devil.  European Colonists felt that Native Americans offended their Christian God through idol worship. Native Americans felt European Colonists offended the spirit world by not acknowledging its existence. Relationships between the two groups were often strained because each felt strongly that their belief was the only way.

for more information, see Native American Indian History

 

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Celebration of Creation
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Corn Ceremony
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Remembered Ancients

 
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Hopi Harvest Dance