What is a Dream Catcher?
The dreamcatcher comes from the Ojibwe and Chippewa people. Traditionally, it is made from bent wood, sinew and one or two feathers. The sinew is weaved to mimic a spider’s web. In many native religions, including my own, Grandmother Spider played a huge role in the placement of the sun in the sky. Dreamcatchers were traditionally hung over children’s beds to trap their nightmares.
During the 60s and 70s, the making of dreamcatchers became popular with other Native tribes, such as the Pueblo, Navajo, Lakota and Cherokee peoples. But as far as I’ve seen, the Ojibwe are the only traditional creators before the ‘pan-indian’ movement. This movement during the 70’s involved the sharing of many cultural aspects across many tribes such as dreamcatchers, fancy dancing, powwows, certain cleansing rituals, beadwork styles, Etc. This was not appropriation, but appreciation. Our tribes adopted certain things and shared certain things from one another to unite us in all of our relative struggles. We had all suffered at the hands of the invaders. The pan-Indian movement was a way of uniting us and making peace.
Dreamcatchers are a very popular gift among native peoples. They symbolize peace, the unity of all Natives and are often considered sweet gifts given out of love. It is a very important cultural icon for us.
Nowadays you’ll often find them with beads, colored leather, and multiple feathers hanging from the frame. Every Native Reservation produces and sells dreamcatchers, it seems. You can buy them at almost every powwow. There are even some online stores run by enrolled Natives that make and sell dream catchers. While traditionally hung above a bed frame, now they can be found as home decor and even on rear view mirror of cars. Some Natives view the dreamcatcher as the Christian equivalent of cheap plastic crosses sold at malls. Sadly, outside of certified Native-made stores and powwows, dreamcatchers are often made and mass produced by underpaid workers who are not Native in Asian sweatshops. These are cheap imitations and are insulting to our history and beliefs, as well as harmful to our economies as many Native artists rely on the income received from selling dream catchers to feed their families.
I do not recommend non-Natives owning a dreamcatcher, due to the religious and ceremonial ties to Native history that they carry. Much like frybread and spirit animals/totems, they have become a universal Native entity and symbol, carrying the spirit of Union and Peace amongst our people. If you are not Native, regularly cleansing a dreamcatcher can be difficult, as the process for doing this is a sacred closed tradition that varies from tribe to tribe. If you absolutely MUST have this piece of our culture, you can buy Native, or receive it from a Native as a gift. It will have no Medicine and will not work if you buy that cheap mass produced reproduction you see in gift shops. And you will be committing cultural appropriation and a deep disrespect towards Native cultures in the process. If you are interested in selling and making dream catchers yourself, that is illegal under the American Indian Arts and Crafts Law of 1990 and is also deeply disrespectful and hurtful to us. Instead, I would recommend making a Witch’s Ladder, which serves a similar purpose and is not tied to any one single culture and religion.
I am an enrolled member of the Mvskoke Creek Nation. Thank you for reading! Mvto!
Please note that I do not speak for all Indigenous people. Do not send me hate over this post, as I am neurodivergent and extremely prone to panic attacks. I will not hesitate to delete and block anything that may threaten my mental health.