Native American Proverbs and Wisdom


Native Americans in Tipi by Charles M. Russell.

Native Americans in Tipi by Charles M. Russell.


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.

Day and night cannot dwell together. – Duwamish.

It is better to have less thunder in the mouth and more lightning in the hand. – Apache.

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

Before eating, always take time to thank the food. – Arapaho.

Hopi Weaving, 1879, John K. Hillers

Hopi Weaving, 1879, John K. Hillers

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

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

Those that lie down with dogs, get up with fleas. – Blackfeet

In age, talk; in childhood, tears. – Hopi

We always return to our first loves. – Tribe Unknown

Blackfeet Siksika Tipi

Blackfeet, Siksika Tipi by Edward S Curtis, 1927

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. – Blackfeet

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

Poverty is a noose that strangles humility and breeds disrespect for God and man. – Sioux

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

Navajo War Leader Manuelito

Navajo War Leader Manuelito

There is nothing as eloquent as a rattlesnakes 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

Remember that your children are not your own, but are lent to you by the Creator.  – Mohawk

One rain does not make a crop. – Creole

Man’s law changes with his understanding of man. Only the laws of the spirit remain always the same. – Crow

What the people believe is true. – Anishinabe

Native American Symbols, Totems

Native American Symbols, Totems & Their Meanings – Digital Download

You already possess everything necessary to become great. – Crow

There is no death, only a change of worlds. – Duwamish

Life is not separate from death. It only looks that way. – Blackfeet

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

It is less of a problem to be poor than to be dishonest. – Anishinabe

One finger cannot lift a pebble. – Hopi

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

All dreams spin out from the same web. – Hopi

Absaroka Warriors

Absaroka (Crow) Warriors

Old age is not as honorable as death, but most people want it. – Crow

Even a small mouse has anger. – Tribe Unknown

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

Treat the earth well: it was not given to you by your parents, it was loaned to you by your children. We do not inherit the Earth from our Ancestors, we borrow it from our Children. – Tribe Unknown

The rainbow is a sign from Him who is in all things. – Hopi

Walk lightly in the spring; Mother Earth is pregnant. – Kiowa

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

Sioux Indians on Horseback, by Heyn, 1899

Sioux Indians on Horseback, by Heyn, 1899

Everything the power does, it does in a circle. – Lakota

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

A man or woman with many children has many homes. – Lakota Sioux

Seek wisdom, not knowledge. Knowledge is of the past, Wisdom is of the future. – Lumbee

When you arise in the morning give thanks for the food and for the joy of living. If you see no reason for giving thanks, the fault lies only in yourself. – Tecumseh, Shawnee Nation

A good chief gives, he does not take. – Mohawk

Coyote is always out there waiting, and Coyote is always hungry. – Navajo

Listening to a liar is like drinking warm water. – Tribe Unknown

Nez Perce Tipis, Montana, 1871

Nez Perce Tipis, Montana, 1871.

Every animal knows more than you do. – Nez Perce

To touch the earth is to have harmony with nature. – Oglala Sioux

When a fox walks lame, the old rabbit jumps. – Oklahoma

Many have fallen with the bottle in their hand. – Lakota

A starving man will eat with the wolf. – Oklahoma

A danger foreseen is half-avoided. – Cheyenne

The coward shoots with shut eyes. – Oklahoma

It is easy to be brave from a distance. – Omaha

The bird who has eaten cannot fly with the bird that is hungry. – Omaha

Ask questions from your heart and you will be answered from the heart. – Omaha

Paiute Ghost Dance

Paiute Ghost Dance

A hungry stomach makes a short prayer. – Paiute

Do not wrong or hate your neighbor for it is not he that you wrong but yourself. – Pima

Make my enemy brave and strong, so that if defeated, I will not be ashamed. – Plains

Cherish youth, but trust old age. – Pueblo

Sharing and giving are the ways of God. – Sauk

We are all one child spinning through Mother Sky. – Shawnee

Each person is his own judge. – Shawnee

We are made from Mother Earth and we go back to Mother Earth. – Shenandoah

It is no longer good enough to cry peace, we must act peace, live peace and live in peace. – Shenandoah

Sioux - James Lone Elk

James Lone Elk – Sioux

There are many good moccasin tracks along the trail of a straight arrow. – Sioux

A rocky vineyard does not need a prayer, but a pick ax. – Navajo

With all things and in all things, we are relatives. – Sioux

The one who tells the stories rules the world. – Hopi

The frog does not drink up the pond in which he lives. – Sioux

A people without a history is like the wind over buffalo grass. – Sioux

The moon is not shamed by the barking of dogs. – Southwest

Pueblo Indian Girl

Pueblo Indian Girl

Regard Heaven as your father, Earth as your Mother and all things as your Brothers and Sisters.  – Tribe Unknown

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

White men have too many chiefs. – Nez Perce

If a man is to do something more than human, he must have more than human powers. – Tribe Unknown

The soul would have no rainbow if the eye had no tears. – Tribe Unknown

Wisdom comes only when you stop looking for it and start living the life the Creator intended for you. – Hopi

Not every sweet root gives birth to sweet grass. – Tribe Unknown

Take only what you need and leave the land as you found it. – Arapaho

It takes a thousand voices to tell a single story. – Tribe Unknown

Don’t let yesterday use up too much of today. – Cherokee

No river can return to its source, yet all rivers must have a beginning. – Tribe Unknown

Listen, or your tongue will make you deaf. – Tribe Unknown

Man has responsibility, not power. – Tuscarora

Arapaho Indian

Arapaho Man

The rain falls on the just and the unjust. – Hopi

Each bird loves to hear himself sing. – Arapaho

The way of the troublemaker is thorny. – Umpqua

God gives us each a song. – Ute

A man must make his own arrows. – Winnebago

After dark all cats are leopards. – Zuni

When you die, you will be spoken of as those in the sky, like the stars. – Yurok

Lakota Instructions for Living

Friend do it this way – that is,
whatever you do in life,
do the very best you can
with both your heart and mind.

And if you do it that way,
the Power Of The Universe
will come to your assistance,
if your heart and mind are in Unity.

When one sits in the Hoop Of The People,
one must be responsible because
All of Creation is related.
And the hurt of one is the hurt of all.
And the honor of one is the honor of all.
And whatever we do affects everything in the universe.

If you do it that way – that is,
if you truly join your heart and mind
as One – whatever you ask for,
that’s the Way It’s Going To Be.

Passed down from White Buffalo Calf Woman

from Legends’ General Store

Native American Ten Commandments

  1. Treat the Earth and all that dwell therein with respect
  2. Remain close to the Great Spirit
  3. Show great respect for your fellow beings
  4. Work together for the benefit of all Mankind
  5. Give assistance and kindness wherever needed
  6. Do what you know to be right
  7. Look after the well-being of Mind and Body
  8. Dedicate a share of your efforts to the greater Good
  9. Be truthful and honest at all times
  10. Take full responsibility for your actions

Compiled by Kathy Alexander, updated November 2022.

Also See: 

Native American Facts & Trivia

Native American Quotes – Great Words From Great Americans

Legends, Myths & Tales of Native Americans

Native American Photographs

Totems & Their Meanings