The Plains Indians






The Plain Indians believed in many gods. They believed that gods showed themselves as the sun, the moon, the stars. They also believed that all animals were controlled by underwater spirits, and an upper world ruled by the thunderbirds

The two animals they saw as spiritual animals were the eagle and the buffalos. 

To most tribes, eagle is referred as thunderbird in stories. It was believed that when eagles open and close their eyes, they cause lightning. They also saw the eagle as God's messenger. 

In religious ceremonies, Eagle feathers were rewarded to those who acted of bravery - the Eagle feather warbonnet (see "Clothes" section). 

As for the buffalos, they saw them as a gift form the gods as it provided them with food, shelter, clothing and all other basic needs. (So too were bears, owls and coyotes!!!)

The Sun Dance

The Plain Indians have their own religious ceremony - the Sun dance. It is aimed at asking the sun (the god!) for strength and to help their tribe thrive! Each tribe has its own Sun Dance but they usually take place in summer and lasts for 4 days. The performer would have their face painted and others would blow through the eagle bone and play the drums to call on the Thunderbird (the god). For all 4 days (except the last day), they stay there without food nor water... 

They involved...


  • Those who pledged to sacrifice themselves
  • Medicine men (they were the ones who looked at the sun - for god's vision. In turn, they were given the ability to heal people 
  • People who dance and pray


Numbered according to day into Sun Dance:


  1. Tree day - Tree is selected - a cottonwood tree which they saw as sacred. The area around the tree is the sundance circle
  2. Dance and pray in the sundance circle. 
  3. Dance and pray in the sundance circle. It is also piercing day. Those who pledged to sacrifice themselves for the sake of the tribe lie down. The medicine men go to each person and cut their chest to put a peg. The peg is then attached to a rope connecting to the sacred tree (Human - Rope - Tree) . The men who made their pledges then dance, moving back until they yank the peg out - their sacrifice. Another variation was to hang themselves by the nipple (OUCH!!!). Whatever the variation, the Plain Indians believed that the more  pain the people can stand, the more likely that the spirits would look upon the tribe with favour.
  4. Feast!!!

  • Piercing Day

Luckily, today, this ceremony is illegal  as it was thought to be too cruel!


Another type of dance was the Ghost Dance. This dance is performed at night. They believed that they could speak to their ancestors and the gods, and that doing the Ghost Dance would help get their land back.

Copy and paste the above link to see it in action 


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