Originally appeared in Planet Jackson Hole

What we can learn from Native American reverence for animals

"With all things and in all things, we are relatives.” – Sioux proverb

Native Americans gleaned a special spiritual awareness as the result of living in close partnership with nature. They knew the animals, birds, insects and plants as spiritual teachers in addition to sources of physical sustenance. The people lived with the direct experience that all life is intelligent, sacred and interconnected.

Noting that each species has its own special essence, its own unique attributes, its own perfect place in the matrix of life, Native Americans incorporated nature’s spiritual guidance in their daily lives to become better humans. They specifically noted and followed the wisdom teachings of animals, birds and insects, which appear in different seasons of the year. As we move into spring, here are some of the spiritual teachings we can emulate from the animals we see every day in the Tetons.


“Walk lightly in the spring; Mother Earth is pregnant.” – Native American proverb, Kiowa

Walking on the bike path last weekend, I was excited to see the bluebirds have returned. Bluebirds are considered a sign of spring and a symbol of happiness, love, beauty and simple pleasures. The energy of the bluebird speaks directly to the human heart and opens us to joy and uplift. They teach us to take stock of all the things which make our spirit soar with joy, and to bring those things into our lives now.


“Give thanks for unknown blessings already on their way.” – Native American proverb

When baby swans (cygnets) hatch, they do not have their full plumage or their elegant bodies with long graceful necks. It takes months for them to emerge as the exquisitely beautiful birds we know. Precisely because the hatchlings are not elegant looking, and they do not know how they will evolve, Native American traditions look to the swans to teach us the grace of accepting what is, to surrendering to the higher plan, and flowing with—rather than resisting—our own self-transformation. Consider reflecting on what is yearning to unfold in your life.


“Give me knowledge so I may have kindness for all.” – Plains Indian proverb

Every evening as I drive home, herds of deer graze on the hillsides, their light brown coats blending with the bare sagebrush and shrubs, their small white tails matching the remaining spots of snow still dotting the ground. Native American tradition teaches that the deer embody gentleness and are here to evoke the gentleness within us. Deer reminds us to use the power of gentleness, and to practice compassion toward others and ourselves, especially in the presence of those who are hurt and do not know better.


“A warrior who had more than he needed would make a feast. He went around and invited the old and needy.” – Black Elk, Lakota

To the Plains Indians, buffalo was especially sacred for all it provided. Every part of the animal was honored and used, for nourishment, for warmth, for shelter, for sacred rituals, for art. Because it offered its entire body in service to the people, buffalo medicine reminds us to give gratitude for the richness of life and to generously share all that we have with whomever could benefit from our gifts.


According to Native Americans, to walk in balance is to have heaven (spirituality) and Earth (physicality) in harmony.

Eagles can both soar high in the sky and function competently on the earth as well. The eagle wisdom teaches us how important it is to maintain the ability to soar high above the mundane, to see the big picture perspective of any situation and at the same time to remain connected to the earth and the things of daily life. Eagle is the great reminder that we are both spiritual and physical beings, capable of bringing our higher consciousness to our earthly lives.


“All of Creation is related.
And the hurt of one is the hurt of all.
And the honor of one is the honor of all.
And whatever we do affects everything in the universe.” – Lakota