Sacred is anything connected with God or dedicated to a religious purpose and so
Native American people have a great variety of places that are considered
sacred. Some are structures Indian people built (Name an example); some
are places associated with origin stories and oral traditions; some are places
used for ceremony and other spiritual activities, including manifestations of
the Great Mystery.
sometimes have difficulty understanding and "seeing" the sacredness that Indian
people attach to certain places. Often this is due to a difference in the
spiritual experiences of Indians and non-Indians.
Europeans came to the Americas as immigrants bringing with them their religions.
As newcomers their religions did not have historic ties to the land and sacred
space was the area which they enclosed in their churches.
When these churches were abandoned - no longer used for worship by their
congregations - the space they enclosed was no longer sacred and churches,
therefore, could be converted to secular uses. As a result, today there are
former churches which are now stores, houses, medical offices, bars, and so on.
Indian people often identify sacred spaces in a different manner: natural
features, such as rivers, islands, cliffs, and mountains, are used to identify
these places. Unlike the European churches, these Native American sacred places
are still sacred even when the people themselves have been moved to another
location and are unable to regularly perform ceremonies at these places.
Among Indian people, with their long association with the land, there
are locations, such as geographical features, that have a prominent place in
their oral traditions and origin stories. Some of these are places where acts of
creation occurred prior to the existence of human beings and others are places
where the activities of ancient ancestors took place; And, where God appeared in
Once a place becomes part of the sacred landscape, it is always sacred. Unlike
the European churches, which can lose their holiness when their congregations
abandon them, Native American sacred places continue to be sacred even after the
people no longer live in the area.
The oral tradition of the Shoshone tells of a time when a young hunter chased a
white buffalo into a lake. Since that time the spirit of the white buffalo has
lived in the bottom of Bull Lake. For this reason, Bull Lake is a sacred place
and Shoshone people who seek to make a spiritual connection with the spirit
world will spend the night on the banks of the lake.
This is an area which is used for many different ceremonies, including the
vision quest and the sun dance. In addition, many of the plants which are
important in tribal spirituality grow in the area. There is no single place in
the Sweetgrass Hills that is not sacred: the whole area is sacred.
Native Americans people, like the Europeans, also build structures to enclose
sacred places. Perhaps the most common of these is the sweat lodge. The sweat
lodge is not a structure which soars into the heavens nor is it a structure
which is intended to impress people with its size.
Instead, it is a simple structure, usually small, which allows the participants
to make contact with Mother Earth. The area enclosed by the sweat lodge and the
area between the sweat lodge and the fire pit is sacred space. It has been made
sacred by its use. Like the sacred area enclosed by a Christian church, this is
an area which remains sacred even when no ceremonies are being conducted.
An Indian sacred place may be enclosed very differently than that of a Christian
church. One example of this is the Bighorn Medicine Wheel in Wyoming. The
medicine wheel was originally constructed about 1500 years ago. The wheel is
constructed of limestone rocks and is about 80 feet in diameter. It has 28
spokes radiating out from a central cairn. In addition to the wheel, there are a
number of vision quest sites incorporated into it. Unlike a church, it has no
roof,but still the stones enclose a sacred place.
The Medicine Wheel is a sacred site to many tribes, including the Cheyenne, the
Crow, and the Shoshone. According to Crow oral tradition, the early 19th century
leader Red Crow did his vision quest at the Medicine Wheel.
He was visited by the little people who took him into the earth and gave him his
medicine. Later in life, as he lay dying, he told his people that his soul would
return to the Medicine Wheel after his death and that the people could talk to
For many Native American people there are places which are sacred because they
are resource areas. It is in these areas that people come to gather the medicine
plants which are important to their ceremonies and to their daily ceremonial
In some resource areas, people mine the minerals from Mother Earth which are
used in making spiritual face paint.
Native American people have always been keen observers of the heavens and have
used the progression of the sun, the moon, and the stars to mark their
ceremonial calendars. In observing the heavens, Indian astronomers built
observatories that became another form of sacred space. Therefore, the Manataka
grounds are sacred because it is dedicated to the Great Spirit.