Rather than focusing on life after death, Native Americans focus on their connection with and participation in the cycles of the natural world. When they cease to live in this world, they believe they will simply move into the world of spirit. Everyone goes to the world of spirit; death is a simple change of worlds.

Of course they grieve when they lose loved ones, as everyone grieves. Some tribes placed personal possessions in with the body of the loved one in the hope that it would help sustain their spirit in the next world. In their grieving process, they view all human beings as an integral part of nature. When the body dies it is buried and becomes the dust that nourishes the plants and animals; just as the plants and animals nourished the humans.

In order to remember loved ones, some tribes would make up medicine bundles containing a bit of hair of the deceased, intimate articles they used, and possibly parts of animals that were related to the family’s spiritual traditions. These bundles were kept in the family dwelling for up to a year after the loved one departed. In this way, the family felt the loved one was still with them. This extended the grieving period and allowed family members to feel that their member was emotionally or spiritually present.

While white people want to see the death of a loved one as part of God’s plan, Native Americans saw every death as fulfilling their destiny. Their bodies contributed to the ongoing life cycle of creation. Their fondest hope was that they would be reborn into future generations so they could continue to live productive lives as members of their tribe.

These thoughts were all taken from chapter ten of God Is Red, by Vine Deloria Jr.

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