Native American Creation Stories
Paula Petrik, Professor of History and Art History, George Mason University
Read the following creation stories:
- New Netherlands Creation Story (ca. 1620's)
- Origins of Ottawa Society: A Creation Story (ca. 1720's)
This is a creation story of the Native Americans of the Ottawa Society. Think about how it compares to other creation stories, both Native American and European. You might want to look at two other creation myths, that of the Indians of the New Netherlands and of the Sioux. Pay close attention to the role of women in the story.
- Sioux Creation Story (ca. 1910)
Originally, the Sioux tribes (of which the Lakota were one band) lived around Lake Superior. Like other woodland native peoples, they gathered wild rice and beans and engaged in fishing and hunting. Prolonged warfare with the Ojibwa forced them westward, one group into Minnesota and other onto the Great Plains in present-day North and South Dakota. Once on the plains, the Sioux embraced a nomadic life centered on the buffalo.
Then answer the following questions related to the stories:
- According to the New Netherlands story, what existed before the earth was created? What were the first three creatures created? How are the personalities of these three creatures reflected by people in society? Explain the significance of the main figure in this American Indian creation story and what it tells us about their culture.
- According to the Ottawa, how was humankind created? Give an example of how the Ottawa learned to survive by adapting to their environment. Explain how the Ottawa viewed the role of women in their society.
- Compare and contrast the Ottawa creation story with that of the biblical creation beliefs of the Europeans they encountered.
- Briefly summarize the Sioux creation story. Why does the Sioux creation story include the crow, loon, otter, beaver, and turtle? Compare the Sioux story with the other creation stories.
- What evidence do you find in the oral tradition that European culture influenced Native American beliefs about creation?
- From your analysis of the documents, what would say are the strengths and weaknesses of the oral tradition as historical source material? What can be learned about pre-Columbain life and thought among indigenous peoples from a close reading of the materials?
Updated | April 2004