Native American wedding ceremonies are full of rich tradition and ceremonies that differ greatly from traditional American weddings. Whether you want to have a fully traditional Native American wedding ceremony or seek only to add elements from those ceremonies into your celebration as a nod to your heritage, there are numerous customs from which you can choose.
General Elements of Traditional Weddings
Brides wear red instead of white to their ceremony and may be passed down through generations, according to Native Net. Ceremonial clothing can differ from tribe to tribe - for example, in a Cherokee wedding, the bride wears all white garb consisting of a white dress and moccasins. The dress is made from pieces of cloth that tribe women tear into squares or rectangles. Cherokee grooms wear black pants, moccasins, and a red shirt adorned with ribbons. Ceremonial clothing worn today for special occasions is often referred to as regalia.
The American Indian Heritage Foundation (AIHF) reports that historically, Native Americans did not create jewelry like wedding rings. However, contemporary tradition includes them in metals like sterling silver using stones of turquoise for ladies' rings or opal for men's rings.
Music and Dance
Flutes, vocals, and drums were used during special ceremonies like weddings. Some tribes have special ritual dances that may be performed at social occasions like weddings. These dances may include the crow hop, shake dance, round dance, or ribbon dance notes the Nanticoke Indian Tribe.
Exchange of Vows
Each tribe has different events and sayings that occur during the exchange of vows. One of the processes of exchanging vows is referred to as the Rite of the Seven Steps. The creation of this Rite can be attributed to numerous tribes throughout the nation, reports the Manataka American Indian Council. Although no "bridal party" as it is known today is involved in traditional Native American weddings, this exchange involves guests.
In the Rite, the couple takes seven steps clockwise around a sacred fire. The groom takes the first step, stops and recites a vow. The bride follows suit. This ritual continues until both the bride and groom complete seven steps. In some instances, the bride and groom exchange small gifts symbolizing their love and life together, such as ears of corn, feathers or stones, at each step. Corn represents fertility, feathers loyalty, and stones strength. As the bride and groom take their symbolic walk, guests join hands and form a circle around them and the fire.
Traditional Native American weddings can include one or more of several smaller ceremonies within the larger one:
The Museum of Man reports that at Navajo weddings, brides may pour water on the groom's hands to represent their new union. Native Net notes that both the bride and groom wash their hands in order to remove old memories and past wrongdoings.
In this ceremony, according to the Manataka American Indian Council, the bride and groom exchange baskets filled with gifts. The baskets symbolize the dowries traditionally required to be exchanged by the bride and groom's families. Gifts may consist of bread, corn, and meat.
The Manataka American Indian Council reports that tribes in the Southeast and Southwest fill a vase with two holes on either side with water. The bride and groom drink from the water pouring from the vase as a toast to their union. A couple that can drink simultaneously without spilling a drop is anticipated to have good understanding with them throughout their marriage. First Nation Ministry notes that the Cherokee is one specific tribe who uses the vase ceremony.
In this ceremony, the Manataka American Indian Council reports, the bride and groom are first wrapped individually in blue blankets. While wrapped in the blankets, the officiant blesses the couple's union. The blankets are then removed and the couple wrapped in a single white blanket. The blue blankets represent the elements of the couple's individual past lives and the white blanket the couple's dedication to filling their new lives with peace and happiness. The blanket ceremony is used in Cherokee wedding ceremonies, according to First Nation Ministry.
Because metal was not available in historic ceremonies, rings were not traditionally exchanged in Native American weddings. However, the Manataka American Indian Council reports that an exchange of rings has become popular in modern times. This ceremony is simple, with the bride and groom exchanging rings to symbolize eternal love that has no beginning and no end. There are no specific vows or words that must be said during the exchange of rings, and it can occur at any time during the ceremony.
The Manataka American Indian Council states that, in this ceremony, a fire circle is created using stones and seven types of wood. There is one large, unlit stack of firewood built in the center of the circle and two small fires built that sit to the north and south of the circle. These small fires represent the bride and groom's individual lives. After the two small fires are lit, prayers are offered by the bride and groom and they then push their individual fires into the center stack of wood, igniting one large fire.
Planning Your Native American Wedding
The variety of ceremonial options that can occur during a Native American wedding means that there is something suitable for every couple. When choosing what elements to include in your wedding, select those that have a meaning you appreciate.