American Indian Night Sky Traditions


For many American Indians tribes and nations, the stars are considered sacred. One such group, the Pawnee people, consider the stars especially important. This group, originating from Nebraska and now largely present in Oklahoma, interpret the stars to be divine. In times of question, they seek the wisdom of the stars as council, and hold special ceremonies around them. Early on, the Pawnee gathered much information regarding the movements and placement of stars, with special focus on the Star Who Does Not Walk Around (also known as the North Star). In addition to the stars serving as sacred components of rituals and traditions, they also served as a timekeeper and calendar for the Pawnee people. Below is pictured a Skidi Pawnee star map, located at the Field Museum of Natural History, in Chicago. 

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The stars were certainly important for other American Indian groups, with many tribes and nations creating personal terminology for the celestial phenomena they studied. Below is a look into this terminology, with examples from some, but not all groups. 

The Milky Way

Cree: Ghost Road

Apache: The Scattered Stars

Cherokee: Dog Trail

Tipai: Night's Backbone

Coeur d'Alene: Trail of the Dead

The North Star

Crow: Old Woman's Grandchild

Kootenai: Grizzly Bear

Pomo: Eye of the Creator

Lakota: Star That Stands Still

Cahuilla: Pretty Woman

The Big Dipper

Wasco: Wolf Brothers

Walapai: Cactus Hook

Iroquois: The Bear and the Hunters

Shoshone: Rabbit Net

Cherokee: Lost Hunters

Aurora Borealis

Kwakiutl: Dancing spirits of deer, seals, salmon, beluga whales, and humans

Inuit: Spirits of the dead playing ball with a walrus skull

Menominee: Torches used by friendly giants in the north, to attract the fish they spear at night 

Fox: Ghosts of slain enemies who are restless for revenge 


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How the Milky Way Came to Be

A Cherokee Story

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Fox and Moon

A Snoqualmie Story

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Coyote and Moon

A Kalispel Story

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Algon and the Sky Girl

An Alogonquin Legend

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Falling Star

A Cheyenne Story