Native American afterlife

Native afterlife: The Happy Hunting Grounds

Hello everyone!

I want to begin by thanking you for your warm response to my previous post, which some might angel in the skynot agree with. So considering the response to my previous post, I chose to discuss another potentially controversial topic: the concept of the afterlife. In our world today, there are many theories or beliefs as to what happens when one dies. Where do we go? What happens to our spirit? Do we come back? Possibly one of the most widespread theory is the Christian way of seeing death, i.e. one either goes to heaven or to hell, depending on one’s behavior and life on Earth. And one does not come back through reincarnation for example. We have one life and it is up to us to live it. Well…although different native cultures will vary slightly in their beliefs, the general belief within the native american population is that life does not end with death.

So what happens after death?happy hunting grounds

If you have visited this site or its Facebook page, you might have heard me talk about the “Happy hunting grounds” and you might be wondering what I mean by that. Well, first off, most native cultures believe in the concept of multiple lives, meaning that our present life is not our only life. Therefore, I have existed before and will exist after. Maybe in a different form but I will continue to exist. I will use my own experience here to explain. Some of you might relate to it. So, I was not raised in the “native way of life”. I was not exposed to this way as a child. However, when I was introduced to it years ago, it felt very familiar to me. Many times during ceremonies or even talks with Elders, I had the feeling of having done similar things in the past. I know full well I have not in this life. But part of me believes that I did live that way in a different life. A past life. The native way of life brings me comfort, inner peace, it is soothing to me. It brings a sense of “being home”, i.e. something familiar I had in my life before.

Alright, I might have lost some of you with what I just said but it is important. As the Native culture talks about the concepts of past lives, present life and the afterlife. One does not go to hell or heaven based on one’s actions on Earth. I don’t know about you but I find some reassurance in that. However, some cultures will discuss reincarnation, to be reborn as something or someone else. Some will then say that if your behavior in life transgressed rules, you could be reincarnated in something not so pleasant, like a bug most people do not like…..However, we also have to remember that everything has a spirit, including animals, birds and insects. And even inmate objects such as rocks or rivers (which in reality are full of life and flow). Everything in life has a purpose and contributes to life, even a bug….Hence why we treat everything with respect.

Happy hunting groundsmeadow

A belief that most native cultures have is in the existence of an afterlife named the Happy Hunting Grounds, name given by tribes from the Plains. Its name implies a place where hunting and game are plentiful, where everyone has what they need. Some will say it is the equivalent of heaven. But I would not say so. It is a place where our ancestors are, their spirits which our spirit will join. A world that resembles life on Earth but with plentiful resources for everyone and harmony between people. Why do I say it is not like heaven then? Because it is not seen as a reward for good behavior on Earth. It is not based on your behavior on Earth, it simply is a place where spirits go. Where people rejoin and from which they look over those who remain on Earth. As our ancestors are also always there with us to guide us and help us. They are not above us but rather around us and within us. Living the Red Road is the reward I would say. Because it allows you to live a balanced, honest and simple life. In which you learn to respect everything around you.

The Ghost dance

Related to the concept of afterlife, of the spirit world, is the Ghost Dance movement, a spiritual

ghost dance

Ghost dance-1890

movement that was active in the 1880’s. It was led by Wovoka, an Indian, who was, I guess we could say, a preacher. To summarize things, Wovoka had a dream in which he was taken to the spirit world and saw that all native people were taken to the sky while the Earth opened up and “swallowed” the white men. The Earth would then revert back to its natural, balanced and calm state. Finally, the native people were put back on the earth along with their ancestors. Wovoka believed that by dancing continuously in circles, the dream would become reality.

Maybe some of what I just stated could be seen as being related to the notion of “heaven and hell”, in this case the Whites being sucked into hell. Some might take offense in Wovoka’s view but we have to remember that this was a time in which native people had little rights and were fighting to live life in their traditional ways. It is possible that the dance gave them hope.

ghost dancer

Lakota Ghost dancer

Nevertheless, as one can imagine, the Ghost Dance was not easily accepted by non-natives. In fact it alarmed the authorities and one great chief, Chief Sitting Bull, was killed while being arrested on suspicion of being a ghost dancer. See my previous post to learn about Sitting Bull, his life, his death. The Ghost Dance movement had to be stopped. It led to one of the biggest massacre in North American in December 1890-the Wounded Knee Massacre, which you can read about here. Hundreds of ghost dancers were killed by the authorities, in part, to avenge Colonel Custer’s earlier death and to kill the spirit of the Ghost dancers. A very sad day in native history.

No matter what, I think that the Ghost dance gave hope to the native people. Hope that they could live freely on this Earth, surrounded by their ancestors. That they would be able to go back to their life before the colonization, before the arrival of the white man and his ways. That they would be able to live their life in their own way, on the path the Creator had for them, without fearing being killed in the process. And if we take that into consideration, it gives us a new perspective on the Ghost dance. I leave you with a short video that goes over the concept of spirit, the afterlife and the Ghost dance. Really worth watching. A’Ho



27 thoughts on “Native American afterlife

  1. Joshua Kemp

    Very interesting article 🙂 Since energy is neither created nor destroyed, i understand the energies of life to flow through existence in the manner of it’s ranking within dimensional experience (bacterial life, plant life, animal life, human life). I have an article similiar to this one on my website! Thanks for the article

    1. Emily Post author

      Fantastic Joshua, I will have to check it out. Exactly the spirits remain, the energy remains. We flow from one world to the other, we do not disappear

      1. Colin

        Hi Emily

        Interesting read. I myself am a Christian and what is difficult to comprehend is the belief of the unknown. The after life is often put aside, simply because we have no real proof of what to expect when we die other than the belief of what we were taught or through the glamorization of Hollywood fantasy.

        I admire the Native American culture based on their harmonious wisdom , as it reflects the impact on ones journey, if they are not prepared to respect or adapt to nature and it’s principles.

        1. Emily Post author

          the unknown can be hard to tolerate. Within the Native culture, one would refer to the Creator and trust that their path will be revealed in time. But not easy at times…

  2. Andria

    Wow, still very interesting how so many “religions” still have a similar general concept i.e The armegeddon of white men being swallowed up while a few Indians survive to heal and replenish the destroyed earth. The closer we get to tslking about the truth the more controversial it gets. Great read 😉

  3. Steve

    Fascinating post… The native people – (Maori) of my country – (New Zealand), or in their language – ‘Aotearoa’, (Land Of The Long White Cloud), also have similar respect for, and a belief in connection between worlds and an holistic unity of all life – sharing the same life force… But native white people also had this, (the Celtic people of Ancient Britain) for instance… Industrial progress has wiped this out 🙁

    1. Emily Post author

      so interesting Steve! sometimes we do have to go back to the way of life of our ancestors, which I found to be simpler. thanks for sharing your knowledge

  4. Sharon

    I am happy you are keeping the Native American history and traditional beliefs alive. The post contains a lot of great information. Keep up the good work!

  5. Vince

    Interesting article. I’m religious myself and I’m open to many interpretations and like to hear other ways of thinking. I’ve found that there are many different forces that act throughout my life, not that I can really explain them. I don’t think one way is right and another is wrong and that religion in some places is almost just like it’s part of the culture. I’m half Filipino and when I go to the Philippines it’s a completely different way of life, religion included. Thanks for sharing

    1. Emily Post author

      absolutely,I have found that many forces are out there, some I cannot explain. I am sure that the way of life in the Philippines must be very interesting!

  6. ed

    Hi Emily,
    Native afterlife, an interesting topic. Their thoughts on this are definitely different. I’m not saying they’re wrong, just different. I hope if there is a “happy hunting ground”, it’s not just for the native spirits, but for all of us. Cheers

  7. bryan

    This is a very interesting perspective on life and death. Personally I never liked the idea of eternal happiness or condemnation. So it’s nice to read other perspectives. I like the much more in sync with nature ideas

  8. Wendy

    I enjoyed reading this article very much. I was raised as a christian. But always had a fear of death. Until I was with my grandmother at the end of her life. I experienced something very amazing while sitting with her. She was in and out of consciousness and when she was out she seemed very peaceful. She even had a smile on here face. When I would talk to her it was almost as if I was disturbing her. At one point I felt an overwhelming feeling of love and she looked passed me and started talking to someone. She asked me if I could see all of her friends and I couldn’t, but I felt their presence.

    From that moment, I stopped fearing death. I know that her “friends” were there to help her to the other side.

    After this, I started reading and wanted to learn everything I could about death and dying. And I also started meditation because it helped me with my anxiety.

    Long story short, it changed my life. I also was able to do some past life regression, which I rarely talk about because people think it is weird and don’t believe me. I only was able to regress to three past lives, two of which I was male. But it is neat knowing that I am here simply to experience life.

    It brought me such incredible peace and I now live my life (this life) to the fullest. 🙂

    Great Post. Thank you!

    1. Emily Post author

      how wonderful Wendy!! Your time and experience with your grand-mother really touched me. Such relief and peace come when we know that this is not the end nor was it the beginning

  9. Chris Towers

    The subject of the afterlife is always a subject that will cause many people to voice their difference of opinion. It is hard to ever have proof and we can only believe what is in our hearts! Me personally I like to believe there is something after our lives here on earth and it is always nice to read things such as this.

    Great Website thanks..


    ‘There is no such thing as Death – Only a change in our Comic Address!

  10. Peter

    Hello, and what a really interesting article on the ‘happy hunting grounds’ that represent the afterlife in native American culture. As a lifelong agnostic I love to read about different human approaches to death and what it means, and I must admit those that emphasise the significance of nature are always the most appealing!

  11. Arlene

    Not everyone has the gifts we have. Visiting with our ancestors, them coming to us on a regular basis. I live with them everyday. First you have to learn too embrace them.
    I know I am going to another dimension when I pass on. I will have a choice to reincarnate. I also believe we are part of the aliens who came down, and mingled with the human race.
    In the 15 and 16 century our families were banished from England, Scotland and Ireland. We were thought to be witches and warlocks. We were sent to Boston and New Brunswick. We made our own herbs, poultices, food which we harvested. We still do it today. Many people were burned at the stake.
    I have inherited something very precious. I have tried to share my experiences with others, who told me I was a witch. I associate with like minded people, because we understand one another. We all have to unite together as one. I accept all races as one, which the world will have too accept in order to stop the wars that are going on.

    1. Emily Post author

      hi Arlene
      Well said, we are all one. We all have our gifts that we need to respect and live up to. Even if sometimes we do not want to. People were judged out of fear, misunderstanding. And genocides happen that way. But, as you said, it is time to unite.

  12. Ulao

    Happy hunting ground.
    I woke up this morning thinking of that expression and had an interesting insight. The Ohio valley, largely depopulated by the Iroquois during the Beaver Wars, was known as kantuckee and was used by various Native American peoples as a hunting ground. The Iroquois nominally held it but because it was so large could not police it. The etymology of Kentucky is disputed but two origins seem most common. Iroquoian: Place of meadows. Wyandot: Land where we will live tomorrow. Let us assume the latter. Did these people literally mean this is the place where I will go the very next day or did they mean this is a place I will go some day, perhaps when I die? As to Happy Hunting Ground this too relates to the place I will go when I die. Kentucky is often even today referred to as a happy hunting ground. Is there some connection here?

    1. Emily Post author

      Hi Ulao
      Thank you for visiting! It seems to me, and that’s just my opinion that “the place you will live tomorrow” was meant to be seen as the Happy Hunting Grounds. But I could be wrong. Just my thoughts.

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