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What is the main symbol of Native American?

What is the main symbol of Native American?

Native Americans have used symbols and images to convey meaning and communicate ideas for thousands of years. Symbols played an important role in everyday life and religious ceremonies for Native American tribes across North America. Some common Native American symbols include animals like the eagle, bear and buffalo, natural elements like the sun and moon, and spirit beings. While there are many important Native American symbols, the most widely recognized and iconic symbol is likely the dreamcatcher.

The History and Meaning of the Dreamcatcher

The dreamcatcher is a handmade willow hoop featuring a woven net or web decorated with sacred items like feathers and beads. Dreamcatchers originated with the Ojibwe, or Chippewa, tribe in the Great Lakes region of the United States and Canada. According to Ojibwe legend, the first dreamcatchers were made by a spiritual leader named Asibikaashi. Asibikaashi wove a willow hoop and net to protect people from bad dreams and evil spirits. The good dreams would slip through the hole in the center while the bad dreams would get caught in the net.

Dreamcatchers not only served a spiritual purpose for the Ojibwe people but also had cultural and historical significance. The fragile willow hoop represented the fragility of life. The woven net symbolized unity and community, with each strand interconnected. The sacred items – feathers, beads, leather – all had their own special meaning. Over generations, dreamcatchers became an important symbol of Ojibwe craftsmanship, spirituality and storytelling.

The Meaning of Different Dreamcatcher Elements

Dreamcatchers commonly feature several symbolic elements, with each part having its own unique meaning:

– Willow Hoop – The willow branch represents the circle of life. Willow was chosen for its flexibility that allows it to bend without breaking.

– Web or Net – The woven net catches bad dreams and negative thoughts, filtering them out so only good dreams pass through to the sleeper.

– Feathers – Feathers symbolize breath, air and the spirit. Eagle feathers are the most powerful for blocking bad influences.

– Beads – Decorative beads represent the spider, which is thought to have brought the technique of dreamcatcher making to the Ojibwe people.

– Sacred Items – Other meaningful items like crystals, horsehair, buckskin and leather can be incorporated into the dreamcatcher’s design.

– Hole in Center – The open hole allows good dreams, hope and positive energy to slip through and reach the sleeping person.

– Tying Points – The places where the dreamcatcher is tied together signify unity, interconnectedness and community.

The Spread of the Dreamcatcher as a Pan-Indian Symbol

While dreamcatchers originated with the Ojibwe people, they later spread to become a symbol embraced by Native Americans nationwide. As other tribes adopted the practice of making dreamcatchers, they incorporated their own spiritual customs and belief systems. Dreamcatchers took on larger meaning as a non-tribal-specific symbol celebrating pan-Indian identity.

In the 1950s, an Ojibwe spiritual leader named John Wilson helped popularize dreamcatchers beyond their original tribal context. Wilson was commissioned to create a large dreamcatcher for the Mackinac Bridge in Michigan, spreading awareness of the object’s meaning and craftsmanship. The inclusion of Wilson’s dreamcatcher in the 1959 bridge opening ceremony reinforced the dreamcatcher as a point of unity among Native peoples across tribal boundaries.

The Dreamcatcher in Popular Culture

Since the mid-20th century, dreamcatchers have become a widely recognized symbol of Native American culture in the United States and worldwide. While originally an object crafted by the Ojibwe, dreamcatchers are now commonly associated with all Native Americans in popular culture. The expansion of the dreamcatcher as a pan-Indian symbol is complex, representing both cultural appropriation and the celebration of ideals like strength and resilience.

Key milestones in the dreamcatcher’s popularity include:

– 1970s – Dreamcatcher images and replicas gain traction during the pan-Indian Movement. Objects feature in protests promoting Native American rights.

– 1980s/90s – New Age Movement embraces dreamcatchers, sparking mass-production of inauthentic goods. Items adorn cars, shops and homes nationwide.

– 1992 – Dreamcatcher appears on the HMMWV vehicle logo, drawing criticism and debate over use of cultural symbols.

– early 2000s – Jewelry, tattoos, clothing and more integrate dreamcatcher designs into mainstream fashion.

While some dreamcatcher uses are deemed offensive, many Native Americans accept the symbol’s widespread presence as an opportunity to educate people about indigenous cultures. The dreamcatcher remains an evolving object, its meaning transformed by history.

Modern Tribal Use of Dreamcatchers

Today, the dreamcatcher is both an art form and spiritual symbol deeply ingrained in Native American tribal traditions. Many tribes incorporate dreamcatchers into their cultures in some way, whether through crafting, rituals or storytelling. Authentic dreamcatchers are still handmade by tribal artisans practicing ancestral techniques.

The Ojibwe people uphold the dreamcatcher as an important emblem of tribal heritage. Ojibwe artists create one-of-a-kind pieces featuring natural materials and meaningful designs. Workshops teach young Ojibwe students about traditional dreamcatcher making methods.

Other tribes like the Navajo, Lakota and Cherokee have developed their own distinct dreamcatcher styles and designs. The shared practice strengthens intertribal connections and celebrates Native American cultural resilience. Despite the spread of mass-produced inauthentic dreamcatchers, traditional artisans strive to uphold the deeper spiritual meaning instilled in their work.

Key Characteristics of Authentic Dreamcatchers

While dreamcatchers have become a widely commercialized symbol, tribal members continue crafting authentic dreamcatchers that maintain spiritual purpose and cultural meaning. Here are key traits of genuine, traditionally crafted dreamcatchers:

– Handmade – Each dreamcatcher is individually crafted by hand. No two are exactly alike.

– Natural Materials – Materials include wood, leather, seeds, beads, feathers, etc. Plastics are avoided.

– Meaningful Design – Patterns and items used have symbolic, sacred significance.

– Tribal Origins – Dreamcatcher is made by a Native artisan maintaining tribal customs.

– Cultural Consistency – Materials and practices align with the tribe’s spiritual protocols.

– Education – Makers teach others about dreamcatcher meaning and cultural importance.

While an authentic dreamcatcher takes considerable time and skill, the end result is a meaningful, one-of-a-kind tribal creation. Efforts to create real dreamcatchers support Native artisans and help preserve indigenous cultural practices.

Creating a More Authentic Dreamcatcher Experience

The best way to gain an authentic understanding of the dreamcatcher is by purchasing directly from Native American artists who handcraft each object. There are many ways to get closer to the genuine dreamcatcher tradition:

– Buy In-Person: Attend powwows, fairs and markets to buy directly from tribal artisans. Listen to their teachings.

– Buy Online: Purchase from tribe-run shops and Native-owned small businesses through sites like Etsy. Research the seller.

– Support Native-Led Companies: Seek out brands owned and operated by Native artisans that focus on authenticity.

– Choose Quality over Quantity: Invest in one exquisite handmade dreamcatcher rather than many cheap imitations.

– Learn the History: Read books, watch documentaries, visit museums and talk to Natives to gain perspective.

– Avoid Mass-Produced Items: Refrain from buying dreamcatchers from chain stores, exploitative vendors, etc.

– Give Proper Credit: Ensure any public display of a dreamcatcher acknowledges its indigenous Ojibwe roots.

– Use Respectfully: Regard the dreamcatcher as a sacred cultural artifact, not just a decorative object.

Developing a thoughtful understanding of the dreamcatcher’s indigenous significance and supporting Native craftspeople are key to honoring it authentically.


The dreamcatcher is an enduring symbol of Native American cultural expression, spirituality and artistic excellence. Originating with the Ojibwe people, dreamcatchers evolved into a universally recognized icon representing the shared heritage of many tribes. While dreamcatchers have been appropriated in some contexts, authentic tribal dreamcatchers remain important artistic and spiritual objects. Native artisans continue handcrafting dreamcatchers that embody their ancestors’ beliefs, passing on these traditions to younger generations. For Native peoples across North America, the symbolic and sacred dreamcatcher endures as a resonating emblem of indigenous resilience, hope and community.