Religious Native American Artifacts

The purpose of this exhibit is to showcase and explain some Native American religious aspects. Native Americans are widely known as some of the most religious people in the history of the world.
Curated by Marshall McArthur

Begin tour »


This gallery has 12 objects

Ghost dances became popular in Native American tribes in the late 1800s. The dances became more popular as the Native Americans continued to go through heartache due to disease and settlers breaking land treaties. They were a religious ceremony that was thought to bring peace and happiness to the devastated Indian tribes. The dresses were typically made of animal hide and then adorned with different feathers. All believers would wear their ghost dresses and shirts in order to show their respect and hope in peace and happiness. As ghost dances became more popular, so did the dresses. The Lakota tribe even went on to believe the dresses and shirts were bulletproof. The design of the dresses ranged from very elaborate to very simple. The grandeur of the dress for the ghost dance didn’t necessarily show the religious conviction of the believer.
View record »


Ghost dance shirts are the part of the male wardrobe for the ghost dance ceremonies. Male believers would wear ghost shirts in order to show their religious convictions to the cause. As mentioned in the ghost dress section, the ceremonies were thought to bring both peace and happiness. The shirts were worn for respect and hope in peace and happiness. Ghost dances became widely popular, so there are many different variations of ghost dance shirts, however, they all have the same main idea. Ghost dance shirt styles varied depending on the tribe and also varied within the same tribe.
View record »


Peyote fans are very ceremonial objects within the Native American Church. This is a religion in which many of the traditional beliefs of Native Americans are combined with beliefs from Christianity. The peyote fans are then considered a vehicle through which prayers are able to reach the Creator. This draws on the idea of birds taking flight. Some are also used as part of a Meeting. Participants would then hold the fan towards smoke from a burning cedar wood, then touch the feathers to their skin in order to gain strength and a blessing from the smoke in which they believe has healing properties. Peyote fans are highly symbolic of Native American spirituality.
View record »


Native Americans are deeply religious people. They have many different objects used in order to aide their religious ceremonies. This awl like object is one such example. Not much is known about the religious aspects of it; however, it is believed to have been used in religious ceremonies. The very ornate decorations show the deeply sacred nature and attention to detail Native Americans give to both their religious objects and their religious ceremonies.
View record »


amulet- Plains- bison horn- tanned hide- pigment- Carved bison horn amulet. Hollow buffalo horn incised with concentric rings, circles and dots, and triangl...
View record »


basket- Plateau- Woven
View record »


ceremonial club- Plains- wood- muslin- fossil- Ritual and Recreation: Ritual, Curing and Cult Objects. Medicine club sacred buffalo stone head. Wood handle...
View record »


cuffs- Plateau- red/white hearts- leather- cloth- Beads- geometric- Plateau. Chief Tommy Thompson Ceremonial wear.- Dress and Adornment - Personal Adornment ...
View record »


hand drum- Plains- rawhide- wood- pigment- stones- tanned hide- tin cones- dyed horse hair- sweetgrass braid- Small, round ceremonial hand drum with wooden ...
View record »


jar- Santa Clara Pueblo, New Mexico- paint- clay- slip- Function: Utensils and implements - Household. Object: Large jar - blackware pottery; large round ja...
View record »


pottery- jar- Southwest- Mojave- Beads- blue- painted- lines- Red- dots- head- human- Utensils and implements - Household. Pottery jar-sacred wedding jug (a...
View record »


A Cahuilla woman would usually take on the responsibility of weaving these trays, and also baskets similar to these. The Cahuilla as a tribe had a deep fascination and awe for rattlesnakes. They attributed it with having many magical and religious powers. Some of this was a respect for the danger of the rattlesnake. In some Native American legends, rattlesnakes appear as divine punishment to wreak havoc on sinful families. In other Native American tradition, the rattlesnake was the first creature to bring death into the world by means of its poison. In its own way, the rattlesnake is a religious symbol in Native American culture, but it’s in a similar way to Satan in modern Christianity.
View record »


Questions and Comments