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..." 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.”