Spirit Life Among traditional Native American people, individuals established their own spiritual beliefs but they are based on a framework established by their ancestors and their relationship with the Creator. In each of the geographic regions of North America , that structure is dependent on environment, individual and community experiences, and worldview. These complex systems cannot be taught; they must be experienced within the context of tradition.
From birth, Native peoples are taught their traditional forms of prayer by their families and communities. Each person develops his or her own relationship with the spirit world, modifying inner feelings with each new experience. It has always been considered important for people to share experiences and thoughts with others on the same spiritual path. Many traditional ceremonies involve active participation by people within the community. For young people, this participation provides an opportunity for inner reflection. They learn that their experiences in the world around them will eventually teach them to focus inwardly upon their individual spirit lives.
On the Plains, it has been said that a person starts to gain an understanding of this world as he or she approaches the age of forty, reinforcing the idea that spirituality is a lifelong learning process. In each region, specific prayers and ceremonies honor the spirits that are vital to the life force of the people. The spirits manifest themselves in many different ways often in the form of animals or other natural forces, depending on the environment and history of the native people of that region.
The dynamics of nature have changed over time. Because the buffalo no longer roam free on the Plains, for example, certain rituals have had to be modified to adapt to the reality of modern life. The continuity of spirit and ceremonial life, however, has changed very little. This is because the relationship between the people and their belief system remains constant.
The history of Indian and white relations has had some ugly chapters, including the decimation and confiscation of tribal lands by white settlers. When Christianity was forced upon Native Americans, spiritual crises arose. Nonetheless, many Native American people have continued to preserve their traditional spiritual beliefs. Through research and oral history, the Indian people of today reestablish knowledge of these beliefs. Although the details of some spiritual ceremonies may have been temporarily suspended, the people sincerely continue their efforts to recover them. Joseph D. Horse Capture