Without a doubt, animals are a huge part of Native culture. They are considered our brothers and sisters, among our winged, four-legged and swimming family members.

They are part of our creation stories, they are messengers to the ancestors and the Creator, and they are our teachers on this world.

In an attempt to give a bit of respect to our sacred animals have compiled a bit of cultural information about our animal brothers and sisters. Here are six sacred animals and what they mean in Native culture.

The Eagle

Because the eagle is the animal that flies the highest in the animal kingdom, many tribes have believed they are the most sacred, the deliverers of prayers to the Creator. Additionally, the eagle feather as a gift is considered the highest honor to be given.

The eagle is an animal of leadership, and in most cultures it is considered a dishonor to kill one. As a certain Cherokee legend demonstrates, you simply don’t mess with an eagle. One night, according to The Eagle’s Revenge as recounted on the website, a hunter kills an eagle that he finds eating a deer hung on the drying pole. The following day seven warriors are felled mid-dance by seven whoops from a warrior who enters in the middle of the ceremony. The tribe later learns that it was the eagle’s brother, come to avenge the death.
The Raven 

Another trickster, the raven is a big part of many tribes including the Tlingit of Alaska, who tell many stories about how the raven created the stars and the moon. The raven is the creator god of Gwich' in mythology—mischievous and loud, and in many ways a sarcastic troublemaker, he is also known as a thief.

In one Tlingit story the raven changes himself into a small piece of dirt, and a young girl, the daughter of a rich man, swallows the transformed raven in a drink. The girl has a child, who cries until bundles are opened to create the stars and the moon. Finally the child takes the bundle, which is in fact daylight, and the raven is revealed.

In the trickster vein, this one hilarious, the Raven places dog feces near the rear end of his brother-in-law in order to trick him. While he is distracted, the Raven takes all of the water in his brother-in-law’s nearby spring.

The Wolf

One of the strongest animal spirits of Native culture, the wolf carries a strong association as a powerful and independent hunter that exhibits strength, loyalty and familial ties. To the Pueblo, wolves are one of the six directional guardians, and to many tribes they represent a strong familial clan.

In one well-known tale, a grandfather tells his grandchild about the two wolves that reside in each person. There is a good wolf that wishes no harm and a bad wolf that lives off anger. When the grandchild asks his grandfather which wolf will win the battle, the grandfather answers, “The one I feed.”

The Turtle

Known as the carrier of Turtle Island by the Great Spirit, the turtle plays a fundamental role in the creation stories of many East Coast tribes. The name Turtle Island is literal: Having placed a large amount of dirt on a great turtle’s back in order to create North America, the Creator designated the turtle as its eponymous caretaker.

While Plains tribes associate the turtle with long life and fertility, other tribes associate the turtle with healing, wisdom, spirituality and patience. The Hopi know the turtle spirit as Kahaila, while it is Mikcheech to the Micmac and Tolba to the Abenaki.

The Buffalo

As one of the most important life sources for the Plains tribes, the American buffalo, or bison, is a sacred and strong giver of life. Their horns and hides were used as sacred regalia during ceremony. They are also tied to creation, medicine and bringers of sacred messages by the ancestors such as White Buffalo Calf Woman, the bearer of the peace pipe to the Lakota people.

In an Apache story, a powerful being by the name of Humpback had always kept the buffalo from the tribes of Earth, thanks to Coyote, who tricked Humpback and his son into believing that he was a dog, waited for them to fall asleep and then barked to scare the buffalo. The buffalo in turn trampled Humpback’s house flat, which allowed the bison to roam the Earth and feed the people.

The Coyote

Most commonly viewed as the trickster by many tribes, the coyote figure is also called Isily by the Cahuilla, Yelis by the Alsea and Old Man Coyote by the Crow Tribe, which views the animal as both creator and trickster. Regarded by some tribes as a hero who creates, teaches and helps humans, the coyote also demonstrates the dangers of negative behaviors such as greed, recklessness and arrogance in other tribes.

Overall, the coyote is often referred to as a creature of both folly and intelligence that seeks to fulfill its own needs at the expense of others. The coyote is also known as a master of disguise.

Responses to "Our Brothers and Sisters: 6 Sacred Animals and What They Mean in Native Cultures"

  1. Unknown says:

    They honor the wisdom and knowledge that each different animal imparts. In Native American cultures, spirit animals are also commonly called animal totems. Whit Wolf blessings.

  2. Anonymous says:


  3. Anonymous says:


  4. Anonymous says:

    Do whales have a particular meaning (place) in native American culture?

  5. Anonymous says:

    This was awesome information. Thank you.

  6. Anonymous says:

    wolves are not evil they are beautiful,

  7. Anonymous says:

    They may be "sacred", and some are tasty too!

  8. Anonymous says:

    I was given real bear claws is there any special meaning to the bear claws?

  9. Anonymous says:

    I feel connected to wolves by spirit and hold no dreams ever to remember. Can anyone tell me this meaning? I often feel alone when I have so many:\

  10. jim goss says:

    You forgot Rabbit, the trickster of Southeast Nations: Cherokee, Mvskoke, Hichiti, Natchez and more!

  11. Anonymous says:

    Somebody felt that you had done a brave thing, possibly !

  12. Unknown says:

    How do Bats (The little flying mammals) fit into this? I've always found them a special thing, in my life so, I was wondering how Native Americans viewed them.

  13. RJ says:

    The Raven created mankind for his amusement . . .

  14. RJ says:

    Every living thing is sacred. If there were suddenly no insects, life on earth would disappear . . .

  15. Unknown says:

    The Animal's are hear to bring us messages and give us wisdom, they are to be honored and given the respect they deserve. When the animal show's there self to you take heed and find there meaning it's just one of the way's the creator talks to us. Thank you for this post and the wisdom it brings many blessings to you.

  16. Unknown says:

    Merci.... Je ne connaissais pas la signification du Corbeau , étonnée qu'il soit présent dans les 6, je pensais plutôt à l'ours !?! :-)

  17. Unknown says:

    Merci.... Je ne connaissais pas la signification du Corbeau , étonnée qu'il soit présent dans les 6, je pensais plutôt à l'ours !?! :-)

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