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50 Native American Proverbs, Sayings & Wisdom Quotes

native american proverbs wisdom quotes
Photo credit: Boston Public Library

The most memorable Native American proverbs can be practical reminders to embrace unity and an earth-based spirituality in daily life.

Of course, the best indigenous proverbs and sayings aren’t collected in books or blog posts curated by a bunch of white folks like me — they’re embedded in the oral stories, traditions and histories of Native American cultures to this day.

What you see here are simply the memorable (and likely oft-misquoted) proverbs collected by an interested outside audience over the years. Like the best sayings, these simply point to certain truths; at best, they are guideposts directing readers to deeper meanings that must be contemplated — and lived — to be useful.

Native American Proverbs & Sayings

That said, here are 50 Native American proverbs, quotes and sayings that embody common indigenous values and principles.

For more daily proverbs and inspiration, check out Guy Zona’s Soul Would Have No Rainbow if the Eyes Had No Tears and Other Native American Proverbs, Terri Jean’s 365 Days Of Walking The Red Road: The Native American Path to Leading a Spiritual Life Every Day, or Kent Nerburn’s The Wisdom of the Native Americans.

1. “What is man without the beasts? If all the beasts were gone, men would die from great loneliness of spirit, for whatever happens to the beasts also happens to man.”

Chief Si’ahl (Seattle), Suqwamish and Duwamish

2. “You must speak straight so that your words may go as sunlight into our hearts.”

Cochise, Chiricahua

3. “Where I am, I build my house; and where I build my house, all things come to it.”

Osage proverb

4. “So live your life that the fear of death can never enter your heart.”

Tecumseh, Shawnee

5. “The Earth and myself are of one mind.”

Chief Joseph (Hin-mah-too-yah-lat-kekt), Nez Perce

6. “Each one must learn for himself the highest wisdom. It cannot be taught in words.”

Smowhala, Wanapum

7. “Each man is good in His sight. It is not necessary for eagles to be crows.”

Hunkesni (Sitting Bull), Hunkpapa Sioux

8. “Hold fast to the words of your ancestors.”

Hopi proverb

9. “We will be known forever by the tracks we leave.”

Dakota quote

10. “Those who have one foot in the canoe and one foot in the boat are going to fall in the river.”

Tuscarora proverb

11. “I am living in poverty, but in peace.”

Hopi saying

native american proverbs

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12. “Be an early riser: the game does not snuggle their heads on feather pillows.”

Assiniboine proverb

13. “Don’t walk behind me; I may not lead. Don’t walk in front of me; I may not follow. Walk beside me that we may be as one.”

Ute saying

14. “The rain falls on the just and the unjust.”

Hopi saying

15. “All things are connected. Whatever befalls the earth befalls the children of the earth.”

Chief Seattle

16. “Do not grieve. Misfortunes will happen to the wisest and best of men. Death will come, always out of season. It is the command of the Great Spirit, and all nations and people must obey.”

Big Elk, Omaha

17. “Men must be born and reborn to belong. Their bodies must be formed of the dust of their forefathers’ bones.”

Chief Luther Standing Bear, Oglala Sioux

18. “When you see a new trail, or a footprint you do not know, follow it to the point of knowing.”

Uncheedah, grandmother of Ohiyesa, Dakota

19. “There is no death. Only a change of worlds.”

Chief Seattle 

20. “Do not judge your neighbor until you walk two moons in his moccasins.”

Northern Cheyenne proverb

21. “Ask questions from your heart and you will be answered from the heart.”

Omaha saying

22. “Be happy in order to live long. Worry makes you sick.”

Hopi saying

23. “Seek to make your life long and of service to your people. Prepare a noble death song for the day when you go over the great divide.”

Tecumseh

24. “How smooth must be the language of the whites, when they can make right look like wrong, and wrong like right.”

Black Hawk, Sauk

25. “Why don’t you talk and go straight and all will be well?”

Chief Black Kettle, Southern Cheyenne

26. “The man who sat on the ground in his tipi meditating on life and its meaning, accepting the kinship of all creatures and acknowledging unity with the universe of things, was infusing into his being the true essence of civilization.”

Chief Luther Standing Bear, Oglala Sioux

27. “Strength is not the only thing we must have in the world, and, in a man or a nation, it is of little use without wisdom.”

Chicopee and the Wooden Man, Yankton Sioux

28. “All plants are our brothers and sisters. They talk to us and if we listen, we can hear them.”

Arapaho saying

29. “No person among us desires any other reward for performing a brave and worthy action, but the consciousness of having served his nation!”

Thayendanegea (Joseph Brant), Mohawk

30. “To give up when all is against you is a sign of being weak and cowardly.”

Chief Eagle, Teton Sioux

31. “If an innocent man doesn’t get angry, he’ll live a long while. A guilty man will get sick because of bad thoughts, a bad conscience.”

Hopi proverb

32. “How we fought for our country is written in blood.”

Duwamish quote

33. “The more you know the more you will trust and the less you will fear.”

Ojibwe saying

34. “One does not sell the land people walk on.”

Crazy Horse, Oglala Sioux

35. “You already possess everything necessary to become great.”

Crow proverb

36. “It is easy to be brave from a distance.”

Omaha

37. “We are part fire, and part dream. We are the physical mirroring of Miaheyyun, the Total Universe, upon this earth, our Mother. We are here to experience.”

Fire Dog, Cheyenne 

38. “Friendship between two persons depends upon the patience of one.”

Native American proverb

39. “Just what Power is I cannot explain, for it is beyond my comprehension. Those who seek it go alone that they may be tested for worthiness. It is a gift to be bestowed not only for virtue but for prayer and courage.”

Victorio, Mimbres Apache

40. “When you arise in the morning, give thanks for the morning light, for your life and strength. Give thanks for your food and the joy of living. If you see no reason for giving thanks, the fault lies in yourself.”

Tecumseh

41. “Never has the earth been so lovely nor the sun so bright, as today…”

Nikinapi, Illiniwek

42. “Your feet shall be as swift as forked lightning; your arm shall be as the thunderbolt, and your soul fearless.”

Methoataske

43. “The more you ask how far you have to go, the longer your journey seems.”

Seneca proverb

44. “Everything the power does, it does in a circle.” 

Lakota saying

45. “Man’s law changes with his understanding of man. Only the laws of the spirit remain always the same.”

Crow saying

46. “If you dig a pit for me, you dig one for yourself.”

Creole proverb

47. “It is less of a problem to be poor than to be dishonest.”

Anishinabe saying

48. “Would you wish that there should be no dried trees in the woods and no dead branches on a tree that is growing old?”

Huron saying

49. “If all would talk and then do as you have done, the sun of peace would shine forever.”

Chief Satank, Kiowa

50. “Look and listen for the welfare of the whole people and have always in view not only the present but also the coming generations, even those whose faces are yet beneath the surface of the earth – the unborn of the future Nation.”

from the Constitution of the Five Nations

Want to learn more about Native American places, people and history?

Dustin Christensen was born and raised in Phoenix, Arizona, and now lives with his wife and kids in Massachusetts. His favorite American West topics include Arizona history, the Apache and Yavapai Wars, and the Transcontinental Railroad. When not reading or writing about the American West, he enjoys traveling and exploring the outdoors at Territory Supply.

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