Native American Heritage, Culture, and Fashion

Written by Leanna Serras

When someone says "Indian" or "Native American," what pictures come to mind? Most people might have images in their heads that include things like moccasins or a feather headdress. But it is important to understand that Native Americans are not just one large group of people. Instead, they are made up of hundreds of tribes, many of which are still intact today. Each one has its own culture, heritage, and traditions that have been practiced for hundreds of years.

The Navajo Nation was located in what is now the southwestern portion of the United States. The people believed that they emerged through three different levels of the world in order to establish themselves in this fourth level, often called "The Glittering World." One of the most important figures within the community is the medicine man because of the link he provides to the heritage and culture of the people. A well-known group of Navajo known as code-talkers used their unique language as a form of communication for secret messages during World War II.

The Cherokee Nation was thriving before coming into contact with European settlers. Over time, the tribe has included and in some cases embraced the European culture. Their name means "people of a different speech" or "speakers of another language." Centered in the southeastern part of the U.S., the tribe was part of the Trail of Tears. The United States government forced the tribe to move during the winter to a new location, resulting in a long journey on which many lives were lost. One of the most significant fashion pieces in their culture comes from this moment in history: The tear dress was made by ripping pieces of fabric and sewing them together.

The Sioux people tended to move around a lot instead of settling in just one place. They followed the buffalo to ensure that they had enough food as well as clothing at all times. There are several different groups that all fall under the Sioux tribe label. However, each one has its own traditions and culture. Also called the Dakota Sioux or the Lakota Sioux, the group was centered in what is now Minnesota, North and South Dakota, and parts of Wisconsin. Crazy Horse, known for standing up to the United States government over Lakota land, was an important part of the victory at the Battle of Little Bighorn.

The Choctaw tribe was associated with the "Five Civilized Tribes" going back to the 19th century because of their willingness to take on some of the practices of the United States. But like the Cherokee, the Choctaw tribe was also a part of the Trail of Tears and was forcibly removed from their land. Many people don't know that while the Navajo tend to be credited with the concept of code-talkers during World War II, it was men from the Choctaw and Cherokee tribes who were the first to try out this method of sending secret messages, which they did during World War I.

The Iroquois can trace their history back to what is now the northeastern part of the United States. There are several things that make this group unique, including its treatment of women: The Iroquois have always seen women as equal to men, and both can own land and horses. One of the most important possessions for the Iroquois is wampum. These beads were used to carry messages and show that someone had authority.

The Shawnee people originally lived in portions of Ohio, Kentucky, Indiana, Virginia, and western Pennsylvania. During the 1600s, the Iroquois pushed the group away from the area. Now, many modern members of the tribe live in Oklahoma. The Shawnee traded fur and made salt. Men from the tribe were considered to be great warriors and often found themselves in conflict with other Indian tribes, the United States, the French, and even the British.



Sioux Tribe


Iroquois Tribe


The cultural heritage of Native Americans is certainly rich and diverse, from the use of natural medicines to the ceremonial practices and the use of fragrances and natural elements to connect with Mother Nature, we can learn so much from these diverse communities.