Native American Wedding Customs Part 1
Just like in other important areas of life, there are numerous traditional Native American customs attached to weddings. Some of these are incorporated into wedding ceremonies to this day. From Native American jewelry in a modern wedding to wedding vases and traditional apparel, these customs differ by tribe but tend to be centered around nature and the matrilineal line.
Traditionally, Native Americans did not exchange wedding rings as, historically, metal was not widely available. Today, most American Indians will exchange rings during their ceremony, often silver or turquoise pieces.
Just a few of the traditional tribal wedding customs include:
This traditional, two-handled vase has two holes on either side and is filled with tea or water. The couple each drinks from one side of the vase, then turns it together and drinks from it at the same time. To do this simultaneously without a drop of spillage is considered a good omen. This ceremony is used by tribes including the Navajo and the Cherokee.
The Cherokee is also one of the tribes which use the Blanket Ceremony. The bride and groom are individually wrapped in blue blankets (which represent their individual past lives) and their union is blessed. The blankets are then removed and the couple is wrapped together in a single white blanket. This blanket represents the peace and happiness the couple is dedicating their new life to. They keep this blanket in their lives together.
Many native couples adopt western wedding dress, but some wed in tribal regalia. White is considered a color of mourning. Red is commonly chosen instead.
- Traditionally, Cherokee brides wore an all-white dress and moccasins.
- Cherokee brides today wear a tear dress, which is made of pieces of bright, soft calico. Grooms wear a red shirt adorned with ribbons, black pants, and moccasins.
- Algonquin brides and grooms wore the traditional clothing of their tribes.
- Hopi brides wore deerskin leggings and knee-length dresses.
- Other Pueblo Indian brides wore a cotton garment secured at the waist with a belt and tied at the right shoulder.
Common among many indigenous and pagan communities worldwide, a smudging (or smoke) ceremony is done to cleanse the couple, the officiant, and to carry their prayers to The Creator. Sage and other ritualistic plants are used for this purpose.
Sponsors take the place of a bridal party. Algonquin couples select four elders to guide them throughout the ceremony and after, while the Cherokee choose family members – often the bride’s mother and older brother, who also vow to act as the equivalent to godparents to the couple’s future children.
The natural world is intrinsic to native culture and some couples will choose a tribally significant place to marry. Some tribally significant locations in the USA include:
- San Francisco Peaks, Colorado Plateau, Arizona – Hopi
- Bear Butte, South Dakota – Pawnee
- Sweetgrass Hills, Montana – Blackfoot, Cree, Kootenai, Salish
- Bighorn Medicine Wheel, Wyoming – Cheyenne, Crow, Shoshone
- Pipestone National Monument, Minnesota – many tribes
The Hopi traditionally begin marriage rituals at sunrise and they last two weeks, concluding in the evening. Cherokee ceremonial rites occur at sundown, as do those for the Mohawk.
While many Native Americans now opt for a non-traditional wedding, some choose to honor traditional native customs or at least incorporate some of them into their ceremony.
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