Native American Weddings

& Traditions

 

In the Pacific Northwest, many Native American groups traditionally cemented marriage ties through a series of formal gift exchanges among corresponding kin of the bride and groom. Such exchanges continued periodically throughout the life of the marriage. The bride’s family would give "women’s things" - beadwork, baskets, cloth, cooking utensils - and the groom’s family would give "men’s things" - knives, hides, guns, horses, blankets.

 

 Hudson’s Bay Company and Pendleton Woolen Mills blankets are long-valued exchange or "giveaway" items. Beadwork and basketry are also treasured gifts.

 

"When people got married there would be special things that people would give them. Baskets were very precious. Those went out with the Pendleton blankets and King George [Hudson Bay Company] blankets. My mother’s people brought women things and my father’s people brought men things and they traded, exchanged gifts." —Agnes Goudy Lopez

 

 

During traditional Wasco wedding ceremonies, the wedding couple stands on a tule mat. They are wrapped with a Pendleton Woolen Mills blanket. Two eagle feathers are put in the bride’s hair. At the end of the ceremony, the couple give the tule mat away to an elder.

 

"When you are born you are given a blanket to keep bundled in as a baby. When you die, you are wrapped in blankets again. Throughout your whole lifetime, at different ceremonies you are receiving and giving blankets. During a wedding, a blanket is laid out on the floor and a couple stood on it. On some occasions, the blanket was wrapped around both of them showing they are now one. The blanket is really important and plays a lot of symbolism at giveaways and at ceremonies." —Maynard Lavadour

 

 Sophie George made this Wasco bridal veil in 1996. She collected dentalia for over ten years to make the veil. Before Europeans arrived, the indigenous people of the Pacific Northwest used dentalia as currency.

 

"To own a wedding veil was very, very rare. There had to be an agreement made between the two families before the veil was used. The veil symbolizes a permanent bond between the two families. It will always be. It also speaks for the bride-to-be and her knowledge. The coins symbolize trading and wealth, also that she’s a good talker. The shells say that she’s ready to bear children. The thimbles that she’s a good sewer, a good provider. The bells that she’s alert: she’s up when the sun comes up. Our people value knowledge. That was the wealth."—Sophie George, talking about the bridal veil in Columbia River Indian culture.

"Usually new clothing was made for marriage. For the women it was a new buckskin dress or new buckskin shirts and leggings. Nowadays, because of the scarcity of hides, they went to cotton material for wing dresses, ribbon shirts, or wool dresses, so it’s not the fully beaded buckskin outfits like you would have had in the past ." —Maynard Lavadour

 

 Arrival of a Kwakiutl wedding party by canoe in 1914.

 

"Giveaways took place on the man’s side and on the woman’s side ... the man would give away man things and the woman would give away woman things. Women would make baskets and bags and weaving and hides and tule mats and food like the roots and berries . . . . On the man’s side would be the deer and the elk and anything that was hunted or fished for. Blankets would be a man’s side and that would include really large hides . . . . Horses, that was another big thing." —Maynard WhiteOwl Lavadour

 

The Old Cherokee Wedding

The Cherokee wedding ceremony is a very beautiful event, whether it is the old fashioned, or 'ancient' ceremony or a modern one. The original ceremony differed from clan to clan and community to community, but basically used the same ritual elements.

 Because clanship is matrilineal in the Cherokee society, it is forbidden to marry within one’s own clan. Because the woman holds the family clan, she is represented at the ceremony by both her mother (or clan mother) and oldest brother. The brother stands with her as his vow to take the responsibility of teaching the children in spiritual and religious matters, as that is the traditional role of the ‘uncle’ (e-du-tsi). In ancient times, they would meet at the center of the townhouse, and the groom gave the bride a ham of venison while she gave an ear of corn to him, then the wedding party danced and feasted for hours on end. Venison symbolized his intention to keep meat in the household and her corn symbolized her willing to be a good Cherokee housewife. The groom is accompanied by his mother.

 

After the sacred spot for the ceremony has been blessed for seven consecutive days, it is time for the ceremony. The bride and groom approach the sacred fire, and are blessed by the priest and/or priestess. All participants of the wedding, including guests are also blessed. Songs are sung in Cherokee, and those conducting the ceremony bless the couple. Both the Bride and Groom are covered in a blue blanket. At the right point of the ceremony, the priest or priestess removes each blue blanket, and covers the couple together with one white blanket, indicating the beginning of their new life together.

 

Instead of exchanging rings, in the old times the couple exchanged food. The groom brought ham of venison, or some other meat, to indicate his intention to provide for the household. The bride provided corn, or beanbread to symbolize her willingness to care for and provide nourishment for her household. This is interesting when noting that when a baby is born, the traditional question is, “Is it a bow, or a sifter?” Even at birth, the male is associated with hunting and providing, and the female with nourishing and giving life. The gifts of meat and corn also honor the fact that traditionally, Cherokee men hunted for the household, while women tended the farms. It also reflects the roles of Kanati (first man) and Selu (first woman).

 

Cherokee Wedding Vase

 

The couple drank together from a Cherokee Wedding Vase. The vessel held one drink, but had two openings for the couple to drink from at the same time. Following the ceremony, the town, community or clans provided a wedding feast, and the dancing and celebrating often times continued all night.

 

Today some Cherokee traditionalists still observe portions of these wedding rituals. The vows of today's ceremony reflect the Cherokee culture and belief system, but are in other ways similar to wedding ceremonies of other cultures and denominations. Today's dress can be in a tear dress and ribbon shirt, a wedding gown, or normal attire worn at a Ceremonial Ground.

 

Cherokee Nation has a marriage law, and Cherokee couples are allowed to marry under this law instead of the State marriage laws. This is because Cherokee Nation is a sovereign government. The couple is not required to obtain a license; however, the person(s) conducting the ceremony must be licensed by the Cherokee Nation in order to do so. After the religious leader contacts the Cherokee Nation District Court, the court clerk will prepare a certificate. This paper shows that the couple were indeed married in a ceremony by a religious or spiritual leader licensed to do so. The certificate is returned to the Cherokee Nation District Court after all parties have signed it, and filed in the official records.

Info provided by the Cherokee Nation Cultural Resource Center.

 

Cherokee Prayer

"God in heaven above please protect the ones we love.

We honor all you created as we pledge our hearts and lives together.

We honor Mother Earth and ask for our marriage to be abundant 

and grow stronger through the seasons. 

We honor fire - and ask that our union be warm and glowing with love in our hearts.

 We honor wind - and ask we sail through life safe and calm as in our father's arms.

We honor water - to clean and soothe our marriage– that it may never thirst for love. 

All the forces of the universe you created, we pray for harmony and true happiness, 

as we forever grow young together. Amen."

 

Matrimonial Customs

Members of the same clan were considered to be near relatives who were not allowed to intermarry. This law was strictly enforced with death or public whipping of the offending families. In ancient times, Indians seldom married a second time. The only second marriages considered honorable were those involving a brother’s widow.

Permission to marry was essential from the family of the woman. Many times the priest must give his permission as well. The bride’s brother would exchange gifts of clothing and ornaments with the groom as a symbolic act of joining the two families. Among many tribes, the suitor would supply the woman’s family with food or provided services from the time of the marriage proposal to the time of the wedding. Often times, a maiden could not refuse if the parents approved the match and the suitor gave gifts or services. 

A young woman experiencing her first menstrual period was separated from the family and all others and placed a vacant lodge a short distance away. During this time no person was allowed to touch her, and she was not allowed to prepare her own food. At the end of seven days she washed herself, her clothing and everything she touched and returned to her family. She was now eligible to be married.

Indian marriages were considered a contract for life. Although divorces were not common, they did occur. The only formality required was the dividing of the marriage blanket. If person was disloyal, the offending person was usually publicly whipped the women. In the case of an offending wife, all her possessions were removed and she was turned out of the lodge. When separations were mutually agreed and the marriage blanket was split, the couple’s property was equally divided and the children were provided for by the mother.

A priest or shaman could not marry a widow, a divorced woman or a woman of bad character. Among many tribes, the marriage of a priest was approved by seven counselors. The wife of the priest must be a virgin of unblemished character. The position of wife of a priest held great honor and often times she was expected to take his place in case of his death until another priest could be appointed.

It was a common practice among many indigenous people that the groom went to live in the lodge of the brides’ family after the wedding ceremony. Some clans built a new lodge for the couple in the village of the bride near her mother’s lodge.

The groom was subservient to the bride’s mother and obeyed her every wish. It was his responsibility to provide food, shelter and protection for the wife’s family.

Honeymoon trips were not common. However, families of the couple often provided food and plenty of space and time for the newlyweds to be alone for a period of time after the wedding.

Newlyweds were expected to perform certain acts of charity and service for the village to reinforce the habit of giving between themselves and the larger family. Gifts of food for and clothing for widows and children were common. Gifts of tools, adornments and weapons were expected by some societies.

 

 

Planning Native Weddings

 

  STEP 1: Determine those customs and traditions that have meaning to you and make them a part of your special day.

 

STEP 2:   Select a site to hold the ceremony. Possibilities include chapels, or other spiritual places, historical landmarks, Native monuments or reservations. Don’t forget, nature provides some of the most spectacular and beautiful wedding chapels on Mother Earth - the greatest of all cathedrals ever built.  Consider being married at beautiful Manataka, located at Hot Springs National Park and the resort city of Hot Springs. 

STEP 3:   Choose a prayer that you would like to have read at the ceremony.

STEP 4:   If desired, couples may write their own wedding vows. Do not wait until time of the wedding to do so. Begin now to think about the perfect words that will bind you together for eternity. The words should be well thought out, heartfelt and agreed to by both parties.

STEP 5:   Arrange a date and time with the officiating elder or civil official far in advance.  Get it in writing.  Send a letter confirming arrangements and check back occasionally.  Manataka offers both civil and traditional in one single ceremony. 

STEP 6:   Arrange to have someone play an Indian Love Flute. Legend says that this flute, which is carved out of cedar wood, holds the power of attraction and was used to enhance courtship.  If possible, arrange to have someone play traditional Indian drum. In lieu of live music, Native America Indian music CD’s are readily available today. Keep the music soft and earthy. Powwow drum music is great, but not entirely appropriate at a wedding until the reception party begins. 

STEP 7:   If you plant to invite guests, compose a mailing/telephone/email list.  You may include guests from the immediate and extended families, friends, co-workers and neighbors and other community members of both bride and groom to celebrate the marriage. 

 STEP 8:   Prepare decorative baskets to hold gifts.

STEP 9:   Determine and prepare wedding attire.

STEP 10: Arrange to have three blankets available (two blue and one large white).

STEP 11: Arrange for gifts for the officiating Elder(s), mothers and other special guests.

STEP 12: Important: Do not forget about the marriage license!  Marriage laws vary from state to state, so check with your county or parish clerk's office now.  In most states, both parties must appear in-person at the clerk's office.  Remember to bring your birth certificate and other forms of identification when applying.  You must apply for a marriage license in the state you will be married.   

STEP 13: Consider pre-marriage counseling.  In the old ways, the elders were responsible for helping insure a marriage would be strong, appropriate and a life long.  Today, modern society often ignores the wisdom of the elders, and as a result, divorce is all too common.  Pre-marriage counseling by one of our elders is required if you plan to be married at Manataka.  Throughout the years, not a single divorce has occurred in a marriage made at Manataka.  

STEP 14:  Take a deep breath, close your eyes and dream of a beautiful tomorrow!     

Remember, Native weddings were simple, yet elaborate ceremonies. Simple because not a lot of preparation was necessary for the location. Nature provides its own flowers and beauty. Elaborate because the importance placed on sacred vows, tradition, and prayer.

 

The Rite of Seven Steps

 The Rite of Seven Steps is a beautiful and meaningful wedding ceremony. The origins of this ceremony are traced to tribes in different parts of the continent and cannot be attributed to any one nation or language group.

 

Both bride and groom take seven steps sunwise (clockwise) around the sacred fire. For each step taken, a vow is said by each. The groom makes one step forward and says a vow, and then the bride takes a step to join him and says her vow until one round around the fire is completed. Family and friends join hands in a circle around the fire.

 

A variation of the Rite of Seven Steps ceremony has the couple exchanging gifts after each step to signify each vow given. Example: kernels of corn represent fertility and growth, a feather stands for truth and loyalty, a stone stands for strength, solidarity and wisdom.  The vows shown below are only an example of words that may be recited, however, you should consider writing your own vows.  

 

GROOM STEP 1: O’ my beloved, our love has become firm by your walking one with me. Together we will share the responsibilities of the lodge, food and children. May the Creator bless noble children to share. May they live long.

BRIDE STEP 1: This is my commitment to you, my husband. Together we will share the responsibility of the home, food and children. I promise that I shall discharge all my share of the responsibilities for the welfare of the family and the children.

GROOM STEP 2: O’ my beloved, now you have walked with me the second step. May the Creator bless you. I will love you and you alone as my wife. I will fill your heart with strength and courage: this is my commitment and my pledge to you. May God protect the lodge and children.

BRIDE STEP 2: My husband, at all times I shall fill your heart with courage and strength. In your happiness I shall rejoice. May God bless you and our honorable lodge.

GROOM STEP 3: O my beloved, now since you have walked three steps with me, our wealth and prosperity will grow. May God bless us. May we educate our children and may they live long.

BRIDE STEP 3: My husband, I love you with single-minded devotion as my husband. I will treat all other men as my brothers. My devotion to you is pure and you are my joy. This is my commitment and pledge to you.

GROOM STEP 4: O’ my beloved, it is a great blessing that you have now walked four steps with me. May the Creator bless you. You have brought favor and sacredness in my life.

BRIDE STEP 4: O my husband, in all acts of righteousness, in material prosperity, in every form of enjoyment, and in those divine acts such as fire sacrifice, worship and charity, I promise you that I shall participate and I will always be with you.

GROOM STEP 5: O’ my beloved, now you have walked five steps with me. May the Creator make us prosperous. May the Creator bless us.

BRIDE STEP 5: O my husband, I will share both in your joys and sorrows. Your love will make me very happy.

GROOM STEP 6: O’ my beloved, by walking six steps with me, you have filled my heart with happiness. May I fill your heart with great joy and peace, time and time again. May the Creator bless you.

BRIDE STEP 6: My husband, the Creator blesses you. May I fill your heart with great joy and peace. I promise that I will always be with you.

GROOM STEP 7: O’ my beloved goddess, as you have walked the seven steps with me, our love and friendship have become inseparable and firm. We have experienced spiritual union in God. Now you have become completely mine. I offer my total self to you. May our marriage last forever.

BRIDE STEP 7: My husband, by the law of the Creator, and the spirits of our honorable ancestors, I have become your wife. Whatever promises I gave you I have spoken them with a pure heart. All the spirits are witnesses to this fact. I shall never deceive you, nor will I let you down. I shall love you forever.

       

Rose Ceremony

It is with special privilege to present to you your first gift as a married couple: a red rose… a magnificent creation of God, and the symbol of love, and my gift to you is a gift of LOVE.

"Will you please exchange your roses? In this exchange you have given to each other your first gift as husband and wife, which, of course, is the Gift of Love…

It is my hope that wherever you make your home, that you will find a mutually agreed and special place to put a vase for red roses.

The symbol of the rose is three-fold:

First: It symbolizes life and beauty that can only be created by God!

Second: It symbolizes Love, flowering in all its glory, while giving itself to all, but demanding from none!

Third: It symbolizes forgiveness, for the rose will leave it's fragrance - even on the foot that treads upon it.

The purpose of the vase in its special place is two-fold:

First: It symbolizes the depth of the commitment to your love - you are the vase that hold the deep love that will carry you through the years….

Second: There are times in life when things happen which may wound or hurt, time when words of love cannot be easily expressed, thought he heart longs to speak them! In those times, place a rose in the vase, and let it speak for you. Let the rose say what you are unable to express at that time, such as, "I forgive you", or "forgive me", and it will always say, "I love you, and I want Joy, Harmony, and Happiness in our relationship."

Infinite Loving God, each one of us that is gathered here send our blessings and love to Bobbie & Kim, knowing that their pathway of happiness is guided and directed by God, through the light of Love - causing their lives to unfold in Peace, Harmony, Prosperity, health, laughter, joy, happiness, and Love! And So It Is!

 

Wedding Rings Blessing

Circles have no beginning and has no end, and so in the long and sacred tradition of marriage rings have come to symbolize eternal love and endless union of body, of mind, and of the spirit. They have been given by lovers to each other as tokens of faith, trust, and hope as well as a tangible sign of a promise given and kept through the days of their lives together. We are here to witness the making of this promise, and giving of all the intangibles of their heart and spirit: love, trust, faith, and hope, not just in each other, but also in their relationship. They are making a declaration before all of you that from this day forth, they are united before the world in a promise that spans the years of their lives. Pretty powerful stuff! And as we witness their covenant to each other, we are all reminded of the promises we’ve made in other times and other places to the people we’ve chosen to love and cherish. It is also a beautiful opportunity to refresh our love for our beloveds, renew our commitment to our mates, and remind ourselves of the continuity of life. And now, I invite each of you to share in the blessing of these rings for ___________ and ___________.

 

Heavenly Father and Holy Mother, we call for your blessing for these rings, both as symbols of love and union between ____________and __________, and as tokens of their hopes and dreams fulfilled in their commitment to each other this day and every day of the rest of their lives together. We ask that these rings hold and carry these dreams, remind them of the endless circle of their union to each other, and be a beautiful reflection of their sacred vows to each other, now and always. We seek this blessing of love not only for ____________ and ___________, but also for all those who are now married, or have in the past made vows of love to someone they loved. All this we ask, as is our divine right as children of God, Through the Christ in all of us, Amen.

 

Native American Legend

 The Story of the Cat and Mouse Wedding

Long ago there lived a family of great mountain cats near the village of the Brule Sioux.  Igmu, chief of the Mountain Cat clan sent his eldest daughter, Wisoma to Itunkala, chief of the Mouse clan with a message.  “Bring all your people to the river where the two legged humans live.” Wisoma told Itunkala, “we shall feast together on the food of the humans while they are gone to hunt buffalo.  Only old women are there to protect their stores.” 

Itunkala was leery of the invitation and asked the beautiful Wisoma, “Why does chief of the Cat clan want to share human food with us?”  

Wisoma was not prepared to answer such a direct question by the wise Itunkala but offered,  “My father has not told me why he wishes to share food with you.  Maybe he thinks our two clans can secure the food easier if we work together.”  

Itunkala thought about this and said, “You are a smart cat Wisoma.  Tell your father our clan will accept his invitation provided you marry one of our warriors so our two clans may always work together.”   

Surprised, yet flattered by the suggestion, Wisoma asked, “How is it that we may have children?  I am so big and your warriors are so small.”   “Aha,” replied Itunkala, “You indeed are a smart cat, but be pleased to know that one of my warriors has special medicine that makes him big like you when the need arises.”

With this Wisoma returned to her father’s camp and told him of Itunkala’s offer and the special Mouse medicine.   “Yes!” replied Igmu; “They took the bait. We will immediately arrange the marriage.”

So it was with much excitement a great feast and marriage ceremony were arranged.  The big Cat clan and the Mouse clan met at the river and warriors were selected from each clan to go on the dangerous raid on the village of the humans.

The chiefs decided a plan of attack. The Mouse clan warriors would sneak into the human village and chew holes in the backs of the teepees holding the baskets of food. Then the big Cat warriors would come and carry the baskets back to the camp.  Then the wedding and big feast would take place.

Just as the warriors were about to leave, the trickster Coyote wandered into their midst.  “What do we have here, are you planning a feast?” asked Coyote. Igmu, chief of the Mountain Cat clan was first to answer.  “We don’t need a lazy coyote here.  We have many things to do and you are not invited.”   Coyote not easily dissuaded, looked around and said with a smile, “It looks to me you are planning to raid the humans, but I cannot understand why this gathering also looks like a wedding celebration.  How can this be?”

Itunkala, chief of the Mouse clan said, “Coyote, we are planning both and you are invited.  There will be plenty of food for everyone after the raid and one of my warriors will marry Wisoma daughter of Chief Igmu.   With that Coyote looked surprised and said, “How can a little mouse marry such a big cat, don’t you know cats are not supposed to marry mice?”

Chief Itunkala then took coyote aside and whispered to him about the special Mouse medicine.  With a smile on his face, Coyote trotted off in the direction of the Mouse warriors and village of the humans.  An hour later the Cat warriors followed.

Late that night, amid much excitement and happiness the Mountain Cat warriors came dragging and pushing large heavy baskets back to the riverside camp.  However, something was wrong. The Mouse warriors and Coyote did not return. “Where are my warriors!” cried Itunkala.  “Where is my husband to be!” exclaimed Wisoma.   Wisoma ran away crying.

The Mountain Cat warriors explained they could not account for any of the Mouse warriors because it was so dark and the mice are so small.  One big warrior Cat said, “They must have been there because they made holes in the teepees.”

A great sadness came over Itunkala and his clan members.  “Sorry we can not stay and enjoy all the food with you Chief Igmu.  Our sons must have perished and we are very sad.  We will go now.  However, a promise is a promise and your daughter Wisoma must come and become one our clan” With a tear in her eye, Wisoma said goodbye and left with the Mouse clan.

After the Mouse clan had departed, Chief Igmu let out a great cry!  “Ah ho!  We fooled the Mouse clan into making it easy for us to get the human food and our warriors must have eaten all the mouse warriors.  I also have one less mouth to feed.  What a great day!”

One Cat warrior pawed the ground and timidly spoke, “I am sorry Great Chief, we did not eat any of the Mouse warriors like we planned because we did not see them anywhere.”   The chief was not unhappy.  “No matter, look at all the food we have for ourselves.  Let’s take it back to our village and have a big feast.”

Back in the village of the Mouse clan, the Chief, Coyote and all the Mouse warriors were laughing, feasting and preparing for a wedding.   “The big dumb Cats must have carried those baskets of stones all the way back to their village before discovering our joke,” snickered Coyote.  “Yes that is right and for your help in bringing the food back you are given the newest member of our clan for a wife.  Coyote, you and Wisoma are to be married. You, are our special medicine.” declared the Chief laughing. 

 So it was on that night Wisoma and Coyote were married and the name of the new Clan was Puma – part mountain cat and part Coyote. 

 

Are you marrying a Cat, a Mouse, or a Trickster?

 

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Wado Oginali!