Wolves have held a special place in almost all Native American tribes. They were admired for their strength and powers of endurance, and taught the tribes many skills.They taught the tribes about sharing, cooperating, looking after the young and having pride. They showed the native people how to move in the forests -- carefully and quietly. By living courageously and faithfully, we experience the wonder of being alive, where everything is possible ..."The wolves followed a path of harmony, and they did not like anything to upset their way." "Wolf was chosen by the Great One to teach the human people how to live in harmony in their families. Wolf was to teach a truth, as each animal... would do also for the humans to survive.
The Navajo word for wolf, "mai-coh," also means witch, and a person could transform if he or she donned a wolf skin. So the Europeans were not the only ones with werewolf legends. However, the American tribes have an overwhelming tendency to look upon the wolf in a much more favorable light. The Navajo themselves have healing ceremonies which call upon Powers to restore peace and harmony to the ill, and the wolf is one such Power.
"The caribou feeds the wolf, but it is the wolf who keeps the caribou strong."
-Keewatin Eskimo saying
Native American tribes recognized the wolf for its extreme devotion to its family, and many drew parallels between wolf pack members and the members of the tribe. Also, the wolf's superior and cooperative hunting skills made it the envy of many tribes. Finally, the wolf was known to defend its home against outsiders, a task with which each tribe had to contend as well.
Perhaps the tribe with the closest of all associations with the wolf is the Pawnee, in the lands now known as Nebraska and Kansas. The Pawnee felt such a close kinship that their hand-signal for wolf is the same as the hand-signal for Pawnee. They were known as the Wolf People even by neighboring tribes. The cyclical appearance and disappearance of Sirius, the Wolf Star, indicated the wolf coming and going from the spirit world, running down the trail of the Wolf Road, otherwise known as the Milky Way. The Blackfoot tribe also called our galaxy the Wolf Trail, or the Route to Heaven. The Pawnee, like the Hidatsa and Oto tribes, used wolf bundles, pouches of skins from wolves in which to keep and protect treasured implements used for ceremonies and magic.
Wolves figure prominently in the mythology of nearly every Native American tribe. In most Native cultures, Wolf is considered a medicine being associated with courage, strength, loyalty, and success at hunting. Like bears, wolves are considered closely related to humans by many North American tribes, and the origin stories of some Northwest Coast tribes, such as the Quileute and the Kwakiutl, tell of their first ancestors being transformed from wolves into men. In Shoshone mythology, Wolf plays the role of the noble Creator god, while in Anishinabe mythology a wolf character is the brother and true best friend of the culture hero. Among the Pueblo tribes, wolves are considered one of the six directional guardians, associated with the east and the color white. The Zunis carve stone wolf fetishes for protection, ascribing to them both healing and hunting powers.
Wolves are also one of the most common clan animals in Native American cultures. Tribes with Wolf Clans include the Creek (whose Wolf Clan is named Yahalgi or Yvhvlke), the Cherokee (whose Wolf Clan name is Aniwahya or Aniwaya,) the Chippewa (whose Wolf Clan and its totem are called Ma'iingan,) Algonquian tribes like the Lenape, Shawnee and Menominee, the Huron and Iroquois tribes, Plains tribes like the Caddo and Osage, Southern tribes like the Chickasaw, the Pueblo tribes of New Mexico, and Northwest Coast tribes like the Tlingit, Tsimshian, and Kwakiutl. Wolf was an important clan crest on the Northwest Coast and can often be found carved on totem poles. The wolf is also the special tribal symbol of several tribes and bands, such as the Munsee Delaware, the Mohegans, and the Skidi Pawnee. Some eastern tribes, like the Lenape and Shawnee, have a Wolf Dance among their tribal dance traditions.
In the Lakota culture were those capable of mediating between the supernatural beings and powers and the common people called wakan ( wicaša wakan, 'man sacred'; and winyan wakan, 'woman sacred'). Among them are groups comprised of people who had experienced similar visions. The Wolf Cult (Šung'manitu, or Šunkmahetu, ihanblapi, 'they dream of wolves'). The members wore wolf skins and were particularly adept at removing arrows from wounded warriors. They also prepared war medicines (wotawe) for protection against enemies. In Lakota mythology Sung'manitu, the wolf, an animistic night spirit, is regarded as the source and patron of the hunt and of war.