Dream Catchers in Native Culture

When I was younger, I had this green dream catcher that I’d hang right above my bed any time my family moved. My father always told me, “Don’t let it fall, it’ll make all the bad dreams fall out!” So, I always made sure to handle it with care. It wasn’t until I was older that I understood a dream catcher isn’t necessarily just for catching our dreams, but also as a barrier for any negative thoughts.

The origin of dream catchers is hard to pinpoint, but they appear likely related to the history of two cultures: the Ojibwe and the Lakota. These are two tribes with similar history and both of their cultures have origin stories based upon the web of a spider. In Lakota culture, Iktomi gave the idea of making dream catchers to a man in a vision, while in Ojibwe culture, it may have come from Asibaikaashi (Spider Woman). In both cultures, dream catchers protect their owners by capturing negative energy in the web and allowing good energy to pass through.

Today, dream catchers are as synonymous with Native American culture as fry bread, but the reality is that their popularity only increased among Indigenous tribes as trade between tribal and western communities became more prevalent. Even though dream catchers aren’t a part of most tribes’ histories, they were quickly popularized because they represent a symbol that can be widely understood by all people.  

This brings up the topic of “misappropriation,” which comes from a lack of understanding and respect of a culture or its traditions, and poses a question – are some tribes misappropriating dream catchers if they didn’t originate in their culture? And what about for nontribal individuals who also use them?

In the case of dream catchers, there was appropriation long ago. Yet – in my view – in a good way for those who took the time to understand the significance and intended use of the dream catcher and adhered to that. 

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