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Religion

Native American religious practices sprouted from encounters with spirit, plant, animal, and human "others" who often seemed like dangerous strangers. Native American religions are not belief systems like many popular religions today: rather it is a worldview.

Unlike the idea of belief, which stressed some otherworldly, mysterious, and unseen reality, the term worldview suggests that religions have to do with the ways in which people see the world in cooperative or competitive terms.

Native American religiousness comes from a profound and astute understanding of the relatedness of all beings. Native American religions do not focus on personal salvation like many other beliefs do. They express more of a morality of caring relationships with all beings and forces within the universe. Indeed, at the heart of Native American languages exists the religious insight that the entire universe is composed of powerful beings who either help or hinder human beings.

In all Native American languages (there are more than 250 still spoken) there is no word for "religion." Religion is a part of everyday life that does not need differentiation. The religious institutions they have are complex and diverse, just as the people are. For example, shamans, people with special spiritual gifts, guided the hunting and gathering people, and in larger societies they performed ancient rituals of song and dance celebrating solidarity with the great powers of mythology: Sun, Moon, Stars, the Winds, the Animals, the Three Sisters, Corn, Bean, and Squash.

Many American Indian people care little for institutionalized religions and beliefs constructed on the written word and revelation fixed in dogma, because they understand that their religiousness "seeks the path of life."

The act of seeking peace and harmony with nature and with fellow human beings lay at the heart of Indian religiosity. The long tradition of spiritually guided meetings suggests that Native religiousness has always expressed itself in cautious but mutual and respectful conversation with others.