Can Native Americans participate in tribal dancing or other rituals?

I am just wondering because I recently went on a trip for a college class to the Southwestern US. One of the things we did was go to a Pueblo feast day. It was in the summer and was the feast of Saint Boniface. Anyway, I wondered if a faithful Catholic pueblo (I don’t know if there are many, a tour guide at Taos said that everyone is baptized, but no one really practices) could participate in certain rituals since i assume all are pagan in origin. So can Native Americans participate in traditional rituals and dances?

On another note, how does the church look at some of these rituals where they blend certain Catholic rituals with Native ones such as at this feast day where they danced in front of a statue of Saint Boniface, or had a coffin in the sanctuary of their church that was a symbol of their lost traditions. I was kind of surprised the church would allow some of this, but it must be okay, or tolerated.

I do traditional Scottish dances at weddings and stuff, I don’t think that’s pagan…

I guess the point is that they are doing these dances in honour of the saint and not to appease a god or make it rain etc. It is important to recognise that different cultures celebrate God in a different way. African Catholics are often shocked by how staid and short our Masses are. For them, Mass is a true celebration of Christ and anything short of two hours for a Sunday Mass is considered disrespectful!

I wouldn’t object to the coffin as a symbol, as many tribes were already Catholic (or Protestant) but were still living a traditional life before their lands and way of life were taken. I don’t think it’s wrong to lament the loss of a way of life any more than it is wrong for us to want a war memorial in a church.

To my understanding, the USCCB and its forerunners have never investigated the issues associated with inculturation of Native American practices. A number of years ago the Tekawitha Conference was held in Lincoln, Nebraska. Bishop Bruskewitz did not allow a number of practices that had been permitted at previous conferences in other Dioceses, which created some hard feelings. As Bishop, he had the duty to restrict those practices that were open questions as to whether they conformed with the Catholic Faith or not. It would be an act of charity for all Catholics in the United States to urge the USCCB to begin investigating inculturation of Native American practices with the Catholic Faith.

In settings where there are large numbers of native persons, it seems expected that there will be some kind of native ceremony incorporated into the proceedings. I don’t think there is any sense that we are worshipping the old gods or anything, but simply applying or redirecting the old rituals to our worship of Jesus.

Are not many of our practices adopted from pagan systerms?:confused:

That’s a good point. I think all worship that is directed to Christ is good, with the Mass being the perfect worship of Christ, of course. :slight_smile:

Here in South Texas and also in the state of San Luis Potosi in Mexico where my wife is from they dance with drums dressed with feathers and indian costumes to the Virgen de Guadalupe. The Fathers in both countries enjoy the show. They are called Matachines.

Thanks for the answers. I just was unaware of how this works, especially since there are many Native American Catholics. My next question though is, how is this different from say Santeria or Voodoo in the Carribean, where indigenous religions are blended with catholicism.

I am not sure about santeria, but I do know drug dealers have adoped St Jude and the “santa” muerte as their patron saints and they have evolved into almost a sort of cult. Its a perversion of something good, at least their idea of St Jude is. People seem to forget that alot of pagan celebration were made Catholic ones as well. Especially from Europe. Its the same thing with the Mexican Indian heritage. One has to celebrate according to their culture. I mean Native Americans danced to the drum beat. They are supposed to now do a European style dance? Why dont Europeans do Jewish dances? I believe the Church realizes that there is beauty in all cultures and one can integrate them into their celebrations as long as they dont conflict with Her teachings.

I do know drug dealers have adoped St Jude and the “santa” muerte as their patron saints and they have evolved into almost a sort of cult. Its a perversion of something good, at least their idea of St Jude is.

It is a form of antinomianism, especially common among people whose brains are addled by substance abuse.

I recently visited the Taos pueblo too. A very interesting and educational experience. Assuming that your trip originated in Santa Fe, did you have occasion to visit the Chimayo church on the way to Taos? Another wonderful experience.

During our tour I questioned the guide about the religious practices of the native people. He indicated that everyone was Catholic, but that they also practiced their native rituals… In fact, I got the distinct impression that the native practices were much more important to them than their Catholicism. Although he never came right out and said so, the guide hinted that this might be because of the fact that Catholicism had been forced upon his ancestors by the Spanish.

So can Native Americans participate in traditional rituals and dances?

Of course. Who’s going to stop them?

European pagans have left their influence on Catholicism beginning with the Greek written New Testament with it’s concept of Logos to define Jesus in the Gospel of John.

So far as I can tell Jesus used a lot of parables familiar to the ethnic Semitic people He was around and did not use Greek style logic like St. Augustine or St. Thomas Aquinas to elucidate on His teachings. Contemporary Protestant and Catholic systematic theology does not appear to me to be much akin to stylized, narrative, theology of the Bible, either Old or New Testaments.

Protestants and atheists have long criticized the Catholic Church for (some more racist Protestants for the Church being so multiracial) for its adoption of various pagan traditions. Like the Christmas tree.

Essentially, the criticism often is a protest about the Catholic Church exhibiting the property of emergence. A concept in science which basically means something larger or more sophisticated which has origins from something smaller or less complex. The human body exhibits this as well as all life on earth from its genesis. Cities exhibit this as well. Neither New York or London are exactly the same as they were at the time of their birth.

No, Amerindian customs are not wrong so long as they have been Christianized and do not contradict basic Catholic beliefs. Dancing is prescribed in the Bible anyways… hence the Ethiopian Orthodox dances. But the dances are supposed to be coordinated as opposed to everyone doing their own thing as found in some Protestant Churches.

My brother spent sometime in Mexico for a commercial project over coffee beans he was hired to do. He stayed among the Mayan Indians and spent one night in a Mayan family’s home. He was greatly wowed by them. They are dirt poor (their homes literally have dirt floors) but happy people. According to him they are more happy than we Milwaukeans are and we live like kings compared to them. He also said they will pray for 30 minutes before they eat their dinner. He said they are supposedly the most Catholic people of Mexico and by far more Catholic than we Catholic Americans (United Statesians).

So, a year or so ago I tried finding some info on them online. I remember I came across a site explaining their Mayan clothing and colors have been integrated into their daily liturgical lives. I found that interesting.

Benjamin, you might read up on some of Jesuit history. They were ahead of their time. Read up on how they dressed in China. Read up on their missions in Latin America and even in Oregon Country (Northwest or so of the U.S. before it became part of the U.S.). Very admirable men and organization. Had not jealous orders like the Franciscans complained to Rome on them China might be Catholic now.

By the way… one particularly wicked Franciscan (he set a Pueblo Indian on fire - no trial or anything, just pure extrajudicial just, or what we term “lynching” in the U.S.) basically ruined the whole Franciscan mission among the peaceful Pueblo Indians (and not all North American Indians nations were peaceful, the Apache and Comanche for instance were savages in their violence). But the Franciscan mission as a whole among the Peublos was Eurocentric and arguably racist.

The Jesuit missionaries were all that the United States credits itself for in terms of racial, ethnic, and cultural diversity centuries before the United States.

You are in effect asking two questions: (1) is tribal dancing or ritual permitted to those who practice it as a culture, but are now Catholic, and (2) is tribal dancing or ritual permitted in the context of the Catholic Mass?

(1) is a broader question than (2), which depends on (1) for an answer. I can tell you that in our parish, and many others in my area, it is common to invite the Matachines to dance at special occasions such as the Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe, where they are featured in the church courtyard along with other Latin American customs such as folk dancing (think of sombreros and multicolor dresses) and refreshments (especially pollo en mole is my favorite!)

To answer (2), I have seen instances of tribal dancing done liturgically as well as “smudging” with incense spread by a stick of sage rather than a thurible, and I can promise you that these are of doubtful origins. More often than not, they are done at “multicultural celebrations” where many nations parade their differences in a liturgy that celebrates unity… I am of the belief that inculturation should stay among those of a particular culture. If a Native American parish is attended chiefly by Native Americans and they have a form of dance that does not invoke pagan or animist spirits, then that dance can perhaps be used liturgically according to the norms set forth by their ordinary. It is very important that they obey their bishop in these matters, because the ordinary is the final word in liturgical law, and himself has limited authority in this regard. The Holy See has made it clear that inculturation is a worthy goal, and that cultures who place a high value on dance for spiritual purposes can integrate it into Catholic liturgy.

I did go to Chimayo. To me it was the best part of our trip. Not only was it a beautiful landscape, but I loved the church as well and I was very moved by the miracles. I would love to go back.

Yes we can. This is a very interesting thread, thank you. I think the sense to justify much of how the Americas were colonized would encourage the victor to condemn the victim to some extent. This is not unique to the American experience. At one time England said they were civilizing Ireland. At another time Japan said they civilized and tried to help Korea.
I feel it is best to learn what is said, prayed or done in another culture before condemning it. There are situations where Euro-American Church People condemned the use of Doodem (Totem) symbols. They said those things were pagan, or objects of false worship. However, that is not true. Doodem is family and clan. Waweshkishe Doodem is “Deer Clan” or the Deer Family. If our Indigenous ways were allowed, respected and understood, I sort of like the idea that today people would call me “Joshua Deer” instead of the last name the Government gave us a Christian boarding school against our will.
Taking this to the dance issue: How can an outsider visit for a day and call it pagan, or set rules when and where it can be celebrated; when in fact the visitor knows nothing about the dance?
I am encouraged that several in thread indicated in some manner or other that more knowledge is needed. The original question sounded like a polite inquiry.
About names and the truth about Doodem (Totem) and a thought about what reali is inculturation: Here is a humerous story on that. A man was asked his name by the Indian Agent. He said, “Nin Widossema Gitchitqag Manitou Chi’bai.” The Indian Agent wrote something down and told the man, “S-M-I-T-H. That is how we will spell your name. You can pronounce it anyway you want to.”

Bro Joshua,

Taking this to the dance issue: How can an outsider visit for a day and call it pagan, or set rules when and where it can be celebrated; when in fact the visitor knows nothing about the dance?

This is what I was referring to when I wrote about the Bishops needing to investigate Native American customs and setting norms for their inculturation. Without a set of norms, both Native Americans and outsiders are left in a state of confusion. Somehow, the Church has done a much better job with inculturation in Africa and Latin America than in North America. Let us pray for the intercession of St. Kateri Tekakwitha that this issue of Native American inculturation be guided by the Holy Spirit with the utmost expediency.

I don’t know that we can compare Latin America and Africa with Native Americans.

North America, we never set out to complete the conversion process simply due to the amount of Christians in North America. I believe the “assumption” became the area is in good hands, and by large it has been. Yet today we see something very different and we have no-one to blame but ourselves. Perhaps we can say we opened our eyes in the nick of time. Remains to he seen.

The focus became elsewhere. This has been a point of contention for many today with the feeling being that the primary focus should be North America and not just the Native American Indians. I tend to agree, course this also doesn’t include ignoring others.

If we hadn’t ignored our own country we wouldn’t be fighting tooth and nail over Religious Freedom.

Thank you. The process has been started on inculturation for some time. I know of things dating to the 1920s within family history. The momentum has increased, within my experiences, since the 1970s. Dignitatus Humanae (sp?) on Religious Freedom in Vatican II council, the most contested document, the end ot the American Indian Termination and Relocation acts (1948-71), and passage of the (USA) American Indian Freedom of Religion Law on August 11, 1978 are special points in my life on these issues. Bishops in the USA have been addressing Native American concerns. It is frustrating, though that we do not have permanent forums in multiple forms and places that can keep these issues active. Natives are constantly at the mercy of the change over of Bishops and Pastors who do listen well and act in favorable ways. With the pastoral change overs, much is lost, taken away, ground to a stop in places.
It is a bit like the annual declaration of US Presidents declaring the Friday after Thanksgiving as Federal Holiday, Native American Day. Good grief - lets make a permanent declaration.
Incluturation is often examined for a rare Mass once in a while for a Diocesan affair. Inculturation should be permanent, and cover everything of the culture and faith condition; not just a quaint Mass once in a while.
We look for “re-concilliation” in so many of these projects. It cannot be done. First we need “concilliation.” Understanding that makes it easier rather than chasing what never was. We can achieve concilliation. Complicated in the beginning, but smooth once it becomes the norm. My Grand and Great Grandparents once needed a visa to travel off Reservation. Not so long ago as we might like to think. Today it is normal to travel anyplace. This can be done with Church and Native issues. It is happening, just sort of a jerky ride at the moment.
Less than 10 years back, I was told I cannot be Native and a Religious. Fortunately I’m too old and bull-headed to buy into that. Younger vocations, on the other hand, that might be told that may be another matter.

I paused on this statement. It brings up memories. Yes, indeed. But, religious freedom is something that will, and perhaps must be challenged over and again. At least aspects of it. Constantly pray, and constantly be alert. Continuous education is required on these things.

I live a short way from Taos, New Mexico. Have lived on and off the Navajo Reservation here as well.

I can tell you that Christianity has been oddly absorbed into some of the rituals by the Navajo people. I stayed away all night once… in a traditional hogan, no power, no running water, everything cooked by fire… listening to a 96 year old elder chant and pray and chant and pray with her daughters. The only word I understood was “Jesus”.

I had a medicine man come to my place once to pray for my son. Anyone from the outside would have seen it as a “Traditional” ceremony. By then my Navajo was better and I understood most of what he was saying. He was just praying to Jesus. Using herbs that were burned, yes. Using various Navajo materials. But what he was actually saying didn’t seem “pagan” at all.

Then you have non-Christian Traditionals.

And some of the “urban indians”, as they are sometimes called, are Catholic, and go faithfully to the Catholic mass in town, and back home to their seemingly archaic pagan homes.

Some live in town full time and go to mass full time. But I think those that are Christian more often become non-denominational than become Catholic, to be honest.

I was very immersed in that culture for years while I was seeking.

Look at me now :slight_smile:

DISCLAIMER: The views and opinions expressed in these forums do not necessarily reflect those of Catholic Answers. For official apologetics resources please visit