The red road

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This article is about the spiritual metaphor. For other uses, see Red Road (disambiguation).
Calumet stem
Decorated stem of a calumet (ceremonial pipe)

The red road is a concept of the right path of life, as inspired by some of the beliefs found in a variety of Native American spiritual teachings.[1]

Native Americans' spiritual teachings are diverse, and while there are sometimes common elements, the ceremonies and many of the beliefs are unique to the people of these diverse bands, tribes and nations.[2]

Black Elk[edit]

The concept was first brought to non-native American audiences by John G. Neihardt, in his book Black Elk Speaks.[3] Though Black Elk (1863–1950) was Oglala Lakota, the book was authored by Neihardt, who is non-Native. While lauded by non-Native audiences, and inspirational to many New Age groups, the book is largely considered to not be representative of actual Lakota beliefs.[4][5] Neidhardt claimed that Black Elk believed he had an obligation to "help to bring my people back into the sacred hoop, that they might again walk the red road in a sacred manner pleasing to the powers of the universe that are one power."[6]

"Hear me, four quarters of the world--a relative I am! Give me the strength to walk the soft earth, a relative to all that is! Give me the eyes to see and the strength to understand, that I may be like you. With your power only can I face the winds.

Great Spirit, Great Spirit, my Grandfather, all over the earth the faces of living things are all alike. With tenderness have these come up out of the ground. Look upon these faces of children without number and with children in their arms, that they may face the wind and walk the good road to the day of quiet.
This is my prayer; hear me now!"

- "Black Elk's Prayer for All Life"[7]

Healing and recovery[edit]

In some modern, Pan-Indian or New Age healing systems the idea of the Red Road plays part of the recovery process from illness, spiritual sickness, and addictions: Through "the Sweat lodge, the Red Road, and the Recovery Medicine Wheel."[8]

The phrase "The Red Road" has been picked up by many non-Native adherents of New Age and hippie lifestyles, based on their own ideas of what they think Native American spirituality is like,[9] leading to charges of cultural appropriation and misrepresentation.[10][11]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Evan T Pritchard Native American Stories of the Sacred: Annotated & Explained Sky Light Illuminations 2005 "Black Elk, in The Sacred Pipe, speaks of the Red Road as the north-south cross of the Medicine Wheel, and the east-west cross as the black or blue road, the way we ..."
  2. ^ Native American Stories of the Sacred: Annotated & Explained 2005- Page xi "One unifying feature of Native American belief is the concept of the “Red Road,” though each tribe and nation also has its own name for it. Black Elk speaks of the Red Road in the book The Sacred Pipe."
  3. ^ Neihardt, John G. (1932, William Morrow & Company) Black Elk Speaks
  4. ^ DeMallie, Raymond (Nebraska University Press, 1985). The Sixth Grandfather: Black Elk's Teachings Given to John G. Neihardt, ISBN# 0803265646. Introduction and notes throughout the book.
  5. ^ Carl Silvio, Internet Public Library, academic arguments on authorship, translation, and interpretation for prospective audiences have been written by Carl Silvio, among others. Note: This site has been superseded since 2010 by, a consortium of universities, accessed 19 June 2011
  6. ^ Willis Goth Regier, Masterpieces of American Indian Literature. U of Nebraska Press, 2005, p. 580. ISBN 0-8032-8997-9.
  7. ^ Walker, "A Social Ethical Analysis of BLACK ELK SPEAKS", Southern Methodist University.
  8. ^ RD VICK, LM Smith, CIR Herrera - The healing circle: An alternative path to alcoholism recovery Counseling and Values, 1998 - Wiley Online Library "... Therefore, the incorporation of tribal spiritual teachings and practices into the recovery process can be crucial to its success. Three elements are central to the recovery process: the Sweat Lodge, the Red Road, and the Recovery Medicine Wheel."
  9. ^ McGaa, Ed, Rainbow Tribe: Ordinary People Journeying on the Red Road. HarperCollins, 2009.
  10. ^ Deloria, Philip J., Playing Indian. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1998. ISBN 978-0-300-08067-4. Chapter Six: "Counterculture Indians and the New Age"
  11. ^ Huhndorf, Shari Michelle, Going Native: Indians in the American Cultural Imagination. Cornell University Press, 2001. p.164

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