29 Native American Quotes on Life, Death and Meaning

“What is life? It is the flash of a firefly in the night. It is the breath of a buffalo in the wintertime. It is the little shadow which runs across the grass and loses itself in the sunset.”

As we’ve addressed before, the wisdom of the Native Americans is vast. Theirs is a culture whose values speak to an understanding of human nature and the interconnectedness of all things with a clarity only rivalled by the Buddhist traditions of the east.

Dismissing the idea of the noble savage, it nonetheless becomes clear to anyone who has studied their culture that they somehow reached a very ‘high’ level– a level found in few societies today. This list of 29 Native American quotes from varying tribes, as compiled by Liz Olsen at infoplease.com, is but a snippet of the wisdom they attained, yet, as with many Buddhist koans, worth reading time and again. 

29 Native American Quotes on Life, Death and Meaning

Don’t be afraid to cry. It will free your mind of sorrowful thoughts. – Hopi

Day and night cannot dwell together. – Duwamish

It is better to have less thunder in the mouth and more lightning in the hand. – Apache (See our Tesla T-shirt with this saying on the back here.)

They are not dead who live in the hearts they leave behind. – Tuscarora

All plants are our brothers and sisters. They talk to us and if we listen, we can hear them. – Arapaho

Tell me and I’ll forget. Show me, and I may not remember. Involve me, and I’ll understand. – Tribe Unknown.

When we show our respect for other living things, they respond with respect for us. – Arapaho

If we wonder often, the gift of knowledge will come. – Arapaho

Most of us do not look as handsome to others as we do to ourselves. – Assiniboine

What is life? It is the flash of a firefly in the night. It is the breath of a buffalo in the wintertime. It is the little shadow which runs across the grass and loses itself in the sunset. – Blackfoot

When you were born, you cried and the world rejoiced. Live your life so that when you die, the world cries and you rejoice. – Cherokee

Those who have one foot in the canoe, and one foot in the boat, are going to fall into the river. – Tuscarora

The weakness of the enemy makes our strength. – Cherokee

When the white man discovered this country Indians were running it. No taxes, no debt, women did all the work. White man thought he could improve on a system like this. – Cherokee

A good soldier is a poor scout. – Cheyenne

We will be known forever by the tracks we leave. – Dakota

Do not judge your neighbor until you walk two moons in his moccasins. – Cheyenne

There is nothing as eloquent as a rattlesnake’s tail. – Navajo

Force, no matter how concealed, begets resistance. – Lakota

Our first teacher is our own heart. – Cheyenne

Everyone who is successful must have dreamed of something. – Maricopa

All who have died are equal. – Comanche

What the people believe is true. – Anishinabe

You can’t wake a person who is pretending to be asleep. – Navajo

Beware of the man who does not talk, and the dog that does not bark. – Cheyenne

He who would do great things should not attempt them all alone. – Seneca

If a man is as wise as a serpent, he can afford to be as harmless as a dove. – Cheyenne

A brave man dies but once, a coward many times. – Iowa

When a man moves away from nature his heart becomes hard. – Lakota

Image:  Part of The Cora Wilson Stewart Photographic Collection, ca. 1900-1940. The handwritten note on the back reads simply, “Chief Eagle Child.”