Like traditional cultures worldwide, the native peoples of North and South America have a rich and varied tradition of secret societies. A handful of Native American secret societies, including the warrior societies of the Great Plains and the shamanistic False Face Society of the Iroquois, have become fairly well known among non-native peoples in America, and commonly make brief appearances in books about secret societies around the world. Like every other aspect of Native American cultures, however, native secret societies vary dramatically from tribe to tribe, and often within individual tribes as well. Assumptions based on the traditions of one tribe rarely if ever apply to another. See Dog Soldiers; False Face Society.
One of the few generalizations that can be made about Native American secret societies is that they filled crucial functions in most native cultures, playing roles more often assigned to other forms of social organization in other cultures. Among the Lakota (Sioux) people of the northern Great Plains, for example, secret societies carried out police duties among tribespeople and enforced the traditional legal codes surrounding the buffalo hunt, while among the Hopi of the desert southwest and the Haida of the northwest coast, most traditional religious ceremonies are conducted by secret societies. Examples of other secret society functions in different tribes could be multiplied endlessly.
During the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, as the dominant American, Canadian, and Latin American societies tried to eliminate native cultures, most Native American secret societies faced serious restrictions and constant pressure from Christian missionaries and their converts. During the last quarter of the twentieth century, however, a widespread cultural revival among native peoples has helped revive many traditional secret societies, and ritual initiations that had not been performed for many decades are now being performed again.
The Element Encyclopedia of Secret Societies : the ultimate a-z of ancient mysteries, lost civilizations and forgotten wisdom written by John Michael Greer – © John Michael Greer 2006