Published on June 28, 2011 by Amy
Native American art and culture is a hugely diverse field. While non-Natives often conflate the various Native nations, due to their apparent similarities, it should be remembered that there has always been and continues to be vast differences between various Native groups. The common perception of Native history as involving tepees and feathers only applies to Plains Indians. There are many other groups, including the Inuit, West Coast Nations, Hopi, Zuni and Seminole who never engaged in these practices.
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The West Coast Nations, most notably the Haida, have a long history of wood carving. The carving is applied to objects such as masks, totem poles, and canoes. West Coast native carving is very distinctive, and is recognizable by traits such as red and black coloring, and bird motifs with large, rectangular eyes. Individuals such as Bill Reid have attained great success in the non-native art world with their carvings.
The Inuit living in the Canadian Arctic produce carvings using soapstone, focusing on animal motifs such as polar bears, seals, and walrus. Soapstone carvings have become very popular among non-natives, and can be found for sale in galleries across Canada and the world.
The Sun Dance is a traditional ceremony practiced among Plains Indians. It involves dancing for long periods of time, and sometimes involves piercing the chest with a stick. The Sun Dance was outlawed by the US government for many years in an attempt to undermine Native culture, but in recent years has experienced a resurgence at Native pow-wows around North America.
Drumming is a central factor in many Native cultures. It serves as a rhythm for the Sun Dance, and as a unifying focus of the pow-wow. Native American drumming is distinct from other cultures, primarily by the fact that a circle of men will all play the same drum, each of them using one stick.
Native American painting is a practice that is gaining popularity around North America. Often (though not always) depicting themes relating to Native history, tradition, and mythology, Native painting has become a source of both pride and income for many communities. Painting is a fairly recent development in most Native communities. Exceptions are painting of functional items such as tepees and pottery, which has been practiced for centuries, and the sand paintings of the Navajo, a traditional form that reflects the cosmology of Navajo belief systems.