Published on December 4, 2012 by Casey
Eagles figure prominently in the mythology of nearly every Native American tribe. In most Native cultures, eagles are considered medicine birds with impressive magical powers, and play a major role in the religious ceremonies of many tribes.
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Among the Pueblo tribes, eagles are considered one of the six directional guardians, associated with the upward direction, spirituality, and balance. The Zunis carve stone eagle fetishes for protection, ascribing to them both healing and hunting powers, and the Eagle Dance is one of the most important traditional dances held by the Hopi and other Pueblo tribes.
In the mythology of some tribes, Eagle plays a leadership role (either as king of the birds, or as a chief who humans interact with.) In other legends, Eagle serves as a messenger between humans and the Creator. The golden eagle, also known as the “war eagle,” is particularly associated with warriors and courage in battle, and it is golden eagle feathers that were earned by Plains Indian men as war honors and worn in their feather headdresses. (In some tribes, this practice continues to this day, and eagle feathers are still given to soldiers returning from war or people who have achieved a great accomplishment.) In some Northwest Coast tribes, the floor used to be dusted with eagle down at potlatches and other ceremonies as a symbol of peace and hospitality.
Eagles are also one of the most widespread clan animals used by Native American cultures. Tribes with Eagle Clans include the Chippewa (whose Bald Eagle Clan and its totem are called Migizi, while the Golden Eagle Clan is called Giniw), the Hopi (whose Eagle Clan is called Kwaangyam or Qua-wungwa), the Zuni (whose Eagle Clan name is K’yak’yali-kwe) and other Pueblo tribes of New Mexico, Plains tribes like the Caddo and Osage, and Northwest Coast tribes like the Haida, Kwakiutl, Tsimshian, and Tlingit. Eagle was an important clan crest on the Northwest Coast, and eagle designs can often be found carved on totem poles, ceremonial staffs, and other traditional Northwestern art.