ART AND RELIGION
Beyond the value of learning that diversity as well as change exists among Indian peoples, an authentic examination of their art is perhaps the best channel through which we can understand their values and world views.
Art and religion often go hand in hand. Although the Indian tribes did not produce a systematic theology (in Western terms) most of them were deeply committed to certain attitudes, beliefs, and practices. In fact, many of the practices were rigidly institutionalized, and undoubtedly certain individuals adhered to their beliefs with as much ardor and faith as anyone else in any other religion has done. Religion is what ultimately brings meaning and makes sense out of life. The Indian artistically and often ritualistically expressed what made sense to him.
Alas, the settlers and missionaries had little tolerance for Indian beliefs and their ways of expressing them (they assumed it was heathenism)–let alone any desire to understand them. The virtual absence of Indian religious studies from our universities and schools indicates just to what an extreme extent this lack of understanding, has gone. Even in so many Native homes, there is little detailed knowledge of the religious part of their heritage.
But if there is any Indian renaissance today, it is in the world of religion. Young people are coming to the elders for spiritual guidance and the elders are once again sharing their secrets with them. Practices, such as the Sun Dance and the use of sweat lodges, which were once institutionalized but later prohibited by white laws, are coming back. The Indian’s close communion with the earth is being recognized and re-affirmed,