Native Americans from the Atlantic to the Pacific and the Arctic to the Tropics were quite cordial and rather kind to guests in the home. Europeans and later Americans noticed certain mannerisms concerning a guest at home that was far beyond their own concept of providing hospitality.

Even after the massive persecution from both Europeans and later Americans the indigenous people of North America were still quite benevolent to each other and even the White Man when it came to having guests in the house.

Here are some very general policies that were common among many Tribes across Native America. One must remember that these are not set in stone and are not laws as there were vast differences among all Native American Nations.


Among the Eastern Woodland Peoples it was common to always have a large container of food on or near the lodge fire.


In the North East this container was usually a very large calabash (gourd) or wood bowl kept simmering via hot stones and full of some kind of food stew. This was typically a stew of meat or fish with vegetables. When one was obliged they would partake of the stew and eat. The stew was retained by always replacing what had been taken. For example if a piece of meat or fish was removed a piece of meat or fish was added. If stock was removed then water and other fillers or thickeners was added and so forth.

Among the South East Nations a large earthen clay container of hominy (grits) was always available on the fire in a lodge and some dried or smoked meat or fish was also kept nearby.

For many Native American Nations there was no set meal time. Whenever one was hungry they dipped in the containers and had something to eat. This was often referred to as The Eternal Cooking Meal as described by Europeans and later Americans. After White Contact the original containers were replaced with metal trade goods of iron, tin, brass and copper.

Guests were always fed. In fact the normal greeting for guests was not “Hello” or “How are you doing” or even “Good to see you” it was always “Have you eaten?”

Even in the leanest of times it was the duty of the clans/families to do their best to keep The Eternal Cooking Meal. One can easily assume that this was very hard to do in a bitter winter or a very dry summer yet it amazed the White Man that the accumulating, conserving, storage and distribution of food stuffs by Native Americans during very sparse times was nothing more than remarkable.

Drying Rack


From the Longhouses and Wigwams of the Northeast to the Adobes of the Southwest and from the temporary Igloos of the Artic to the Open Lodges of the Southeast as well as from the Tipis of the Great Plains to the Cedar Plank Houses of the Northwest, there was a certain accommodating protocol of life in the home of all Native Americans.

This decorum did vary greatly from Nation to Nation and Tribe to Tribe and even Clan to Clan but there was a general set of what one might call “Mutual Consideration” or “Common Courtesy” or just better yet plain old “Civility” and “Good Manners.”


A Frame 

Assume guests are tired, cold, hungry and thirsty.

At no time worry guests with troubles of the host.

By no means sit while Elders stand.

Compliment guests.

Do not trouble or pester guests.

Give thanks to The Creator for company.

Lend help to Elders with entering or leaving the lodge.

Never sit while any guests stand.

Offer guests the places of honor in the lodge and the best food available.

Protect guests as members of the family or clan.

Repay calls of courtesy and do not delay in communication.


If the lodge door is open one may enter directly but if the door is closed one should announce their presence and wait for the  invitation to enter.

Follow the customs of the lodge and not one’s own. Remember to “follow the rules of the house” not necessarily the territory.

Accept any food offered.

Be grateful for any and all offers from the host.

Bestow great respect to the Woman of the lodge as she is the keeper of the flame.

Compliment the host.

Give thanks to The Creator for hospitality.

Never worry host with guest troubles.

Present the host with a gift.

Repay calls of courtesy and do not delay in communication.



Be humble and show respect to all but grovel to none.

Do not interrupt others speaking.

Do the best not to walk between persons talking.

Keep the fire open and do not block one from the fire.

Let silence be your motto, listen and then speak.

Never stare at others and as you speak keep your eyes low.

Show kindness and humanity and great humility.

Speak softly and with a clear voice.

Talk with others but do not force conversations.


Europeans and later some Americans knew of some of the mannerisms above as all cultures have very specific rules of etiquette for being civil. But for various reasons such decent behavior had become lost among the European explorers and later colonists when meeting new and different cultures. Such respect also vanished among the later American colonists and settlers pushing ever more across North America.

Unfortunately assimilation, removal, relocation, and more assimilation of Native Americans created a massive injury to the well-practiced lodge etiquette for all peoples of Native America.

Sad but many of the courtesies of the Native American Culture that was developed over centuries are not always found among Native Americans today. It is not surprising to find The Native American People not treating each other with veneration. In fact the opposite is quite true and one does not need to do a study or research of the phenomenon. All one needs to do is step back and witness the poor treatment and disdain that some Native Peoples have towards each other.

It is for this reason that we must all seek wisdom from Elders and those of proper knowledge and use the most basic of common understanding to be kind to each other regardless of culture and history.

Remember, esteem and reverence starts in the home and is passed on from there to others.


Carver, Jonathan. 1778. Travels Through the Interior Parts of North America, In the Years 1766, 1767, 1768. London.

Hudson, Charles. 1976. The Southeastern Indians. University of Tennessee Press.

Lawson, John. 1967. A New Voyage to Carolina. University of North Carolina Press.

Lewis, Meriwether. 1814. (Reprint 1904). History of the Expedition of Captains Lewis and Clark, 1804-5-6. Chicago: A.C. McClurg.

McKenney, Thomas & Hall, James. 1933. The Indian Tribes of North America. Edinburgh: John Grant.

Mails, Thomas. 1972.  Mystic Warrios of the Plains.  New York: Doubleday & Company.

Mails, Thomas. 1973. Dog Soldiers, Bear Men and Buffalo Women. NJ: Prentice Hall.

Richter, Daniel, K. 1992. The Ordeal of the Longhouse: The Peoples of the Iroquois League in the Era of European Colonization. University of North Carolina Press.

Tanner, John & Edwin, James. 1830. (Reprint 2007). A Narrative Of The Captivity And Adventures Of John Tanner, U. S. Interpreter At The Saut De Ste. Marie During Thirty Years Residence Among The Indians In The Interior Of North America. Whitefish, MT: Kessinger Publishing.

Timberlake, Henry, Lt. 1765. (Reprint 2007). The Memoirs of Lt. Henry Timberlake: The Story of a Soldier, Adventurer, and Emissary to the Cherokees, 1756-1765. Cherokee, NC: Museum of the Cherokee Press

William, Bertram. 1791. Travels Through North & South Carolina, Georgia, East & West Florida, the Cherokee Country, the Extensive Territories of the Muscogulges, or Creek Confederacy, and the Countryof the Choctaws; Containing An Account of the Soil and Natural Productions of Those Regions, Together with Observations on the Manners of the Indians. Philadelphia.

Last Updated on November 25, 2019 by Paul G

About Jamie K Oxendine

Jamie K. Oxendine, of the Lumbee Tribe of North Carolina, is the Native American Liaison and Education Consultant for Ohio University in Athens. Ohio. He is also an adjunct professor at the University of Toledo teaching “Indians of North America” and at Lourdes University teaching “Native American Culture” for the Lifelong Learning Center. A frequent speaker on Native American topics, he serves as the director of the Black Swamp InterTribal Foundation in Ohio. As a recording artist, he was three times been nominated for a NAMMY (Native American Music Award).

48 Comments on “NATIVE AMERICAN HOME ETIQUETTE – Native American Pow Wows”

  • Wonderful article! As I was reading, I began to wonder if it would ever be possible, assuming hosts and guests abide by these guidelines, to introduce negativity into these people’s lives at all? The only way that would be possible, theoretically, would be from outside. Thanks White Man!

  • I had no idea that there are so many differences across the nations so not all laws are true everywhere or for every tribe. My cousin is really interested in learning about native culture and the different customs and wisdom that people had. He would love to learn more about them by talking to a native that grew up in the culture.

  • Brianna


    I have hope faith and security. I feel joy and hope and even pray on whom don’t feel the same way.

  • R.O.S.E.


    Thank you for this post! Respect is the root and must be taught early and often. I feel so deeply about it that I started a clothing line based on respect where I donate 15% of proceeds to nonprofits. The fabric of respect has been fraying for generations, it’s time we weave it back together.

  • Leah


    This article was so helpful. It is so amazing. I learned so much in just half an hour.

  • Luke Smith


    I didn’t realize that among the Eastern Woodland Peoples it was common to always have a large container of food cooking! It was really interesting to read this and see the focus that was placed on food by these early American civilizations. I would love to find a place where I could try some of the cuisine that was eaten in that period as well.

  • tikva


    Those who are hearing impaired need to look at the face of the person speaking to lipread.

  • Bill


    My great grandmother was Shoshoni, displaced in the Virginias after the tribe was conquered. My grandmother… her daughter ALWAYS brought in hobos, homeless, etc when they appeared during the depression. Mom has always spoken of it, the family was 9 people total yet grandma always made the food work out for the needy. As I have become more aware of my heritage, however far back the native part is, it is the part I respect and identify with the most.

  • Matthew Jones


    The idea of an ‘eternal meal’ and replenishing the meal each time you take from it, sounds sort of like a tale that you read as children to emphasize the idea of reciprocity as a nursery rhyme, but not something that anyone would have ever thought was actually done in practice. It’s pretty powerful. Also, the part about greeting someone not with ‘how are you’ but ‘have you eaten’ just strikes me as something worth far more than a simple, ‘hey, how have you been’. It’s something our grandmothers would ask – aka, a for sure sign of caring.

  • Molly LaBadie


    I wonder how different American Society would be today if everyone followed these unspoken rules of etiquette?

  • Cliff Stewart


    I loved this read…………absolutely loved it !!!

  • Anine bennett


    Enjoyed this article. So sad how the kids behave today with little, and more times, no respect for their elders, neighbors, or any authority.

  • rhon64


    how do you deal with people who stare? drives me nuts!

  • Rhonda Kelly


    In every culture these days, there is a lack of respect and good manners. We often do not treat our fellow man with dignity and respect. We have an obligation to our children and grandchildren, to teach all of these things to them. They will be better human beings for it. I am a member of the Pee Dee Indian Nation of Beaver Creek, Wolf Clan, and I am proud of my heritage handed down to me from my mother.

  • Ben and Jo Strickland


    Loved your article, very interesting, Ben is a Lumbee

  • Ivanoe Cubillos


    Very well written and informative article. I have some knowledge about native of North America from good books, but not very much about etiquette, courtesy, guest behaviour, etc. We always must know or guest that every ethnic, first nation, or nation in our planet have their own set of rules to treat the outsider or between themselves. We always must respect a way of living when we come to be a guest or for a short visit anywhere, to any culture. Logic and good reasoning will tell us how to behave and follow the rules. Thanks for sharing.

  • John


    The bark lodge pictured, is very similar to the traditional peasant dwellings of some of the Polish, Lithuaianians, who also used bark in a similar lodge manner. Much like Scandinavian Lapp tents and Plains lodge pole construction using skins. Thanks

  • Crystal


    It is good manners to speak, while keeping the eyes low……which I do. So why is it that most folks feel that if you do not look them in the eye, you are not telling the truth? Even if I am asked to look at them, I look at their ear or neck.. I mean, I do know their face, it is not like I never look at their face….I just do not stare

  • Storm


    Great read! i related a lot to this in the fact that treating guests in our home with respect is such an important thing.

  • Alvelia Farmer


    I think everyone should adopt these rules for their home. It’s sad that these values & traditions were lost but hopefully one day we’ll restore them.

  • Mark Chase


    It truly is amazing how insightful the Native American tribes were in regard to treating others, even outsiders, with courtesy, respect, and civility. I try to strive for these ideals whenever a guest is visiting. I am concerned that some of these core values have been all but lost in my generation (Millennial). However, I do have hope that we will once again witness great respect and dignity for others if we can just try to understand the differences between cultures and meet a common middle ground.

  • Noah York


    Now I understand why my Great Grandmother had something boiling on the stove all day long, every single day. It was usually beans or some form of stew, and literally the first thing she said to anyone arriving was to grab a bowl and eat. My Grandmother and Great Grandmother on the European side of my family always had something in the fridge to eat, and always offered to feed me, but my Native American Grandmother and Great Grandmother were/are exactly like this writing described. Thank you for the information!

  • Douglas Spirit Bear Neely


    Awesome article, how to act in any home should be treated better today, like it was years ago. We have no one to blame but ourselves for letting young people to grow up without the proper respect inside the home.

    • Michelle Law


      So very true Mr. Douglas Spirit Bear Neely. In our efforts to give them more than we ever had, we’ve neglected to teach them the proper respect and appreciation for others and almost every thing in general. We see our failures now it’s time to address and correct it.

  • Vicki Thomas


    It’s a shame that what they are doing to the Redskins is making us hate the true owners of the land!

  • Jim Lambert


    Very informative, hope to see you again. My grandson still speaks of your visit here.

  • Michelle Law


    Love this article and I agree with most of the others that these values need to be reestablished in every culture. Human nature if not put in some kind of check will eventually turn the way it’s allowed to run unless it’s guided in the right direction. This is the best idea for it I’ve heard so far in my 53 years and I was raised a Christian.

  • Vicki Gray


    Great article. It is so important to show courtesy and respect. These principles seem to have become lost in present day society. We need reminding of how we should be with each other, for without showing respect, how can we gain respect. Just one point, respectfully,it is “Arctic”, not “Artic”.

  • Jesse Sherer


    Thank you for providing references, it’s so simple, yet becoming so uncommon these days.

  • laura susong


    Fantastic, Jamie! Thank you for writing this. These rules of etiquette are our hallmark, and certainly do need some brushing up among many of us. Thanks for reminding us all.

  • Joe Romp


    Enjoy reading your articles they are very informative and educating.

  • Duane Brayboy


    Thank you for this great feature, Jamie! So many of our people, especially the young ones, have forgotten or have never been taught basic etiquette. I come from a family that is very strict about dining protocol and I would like to see more Natives keep these traditions.

  • Kris Martin


    This is a well thought out paper and great references! I for one would like to read more. I wonder does the author of this paper have more to say on the subject at hand? Again very concise and thought out. Thank you, Ahé’héé!

  • Gina


    While reading this wonderful article, it brought back many memories of being with my Grand Mother & Great Grand Mother learning how to be a decent respectful person. Sadly today children have very few elders who still teach them the ways of their past.

  • Beth Reitmire


    Very insightful, and very sad. This poor behavior is seen everywhere. Let each of us set a positive example for others, as it starts with one. Thank you for writing this! We all should and can learn from it.

  • Beth Hoover


    Jamie, thank you for sharing this article. I really enjoyed reading and learning. I appreciate your time and research to share this topic with us!

  • Missy


    This is such a wonderful and interesting article. I. always enjoy reading your work Jaime. You have so much historical knowledge and you combine it with a unique writing style. I hope to see many more articles you have written. Keep up the great work!

  • Bryan


    A timely and well-researched article
    The scholarly footnotes are a wnderfully refreshing addition to such a salient topic. Great work – keep it up.

  • marilyn mccabe


    I believe that this world needs to return to the old ways…that of being kind and helpful to one another and please to let go of the hate that is so pervasive in todays society..Thank you for sharing the Native American ways. By the way…my first mother-in-law was full Cherokee and that,s how she lived, may she rest in peace!

  • Robert Hatton Gene Rhodd


    Very good basic read. Appreciate the learning material and will pass it on.

  • Tom Iron Eagle


    Beautiful. What a wonderful reminder of how we all should be as hosts and as guests. Thank you Mr. Jamie.

  • Jase Valentine


    Respect is given the writer. Thank you first for a quietly great story told of your Nations’ past. And, thank you for reminding me that this is my past from my European ancestry, as well. My house operated in the same fashion, and the modern world tries to force me to act in more surly, churlish fashion. Your story has reminded me to make certain I always act in the way you have described. My house will fully behave toward others as a Homely House with doors open and roof protecting visitors. Thank you for reminding me of my own heritege, Jamie, and you will be welcomed at my hearth.

  • Frank Elliott


    Well written and BTW, I have not forgotten to write the letters that you need.

  • Tammy Woods


    Another well written article Jamie. Respect is one value that I think many people have lost sight of. People need to respect each other including their differences. The world would be a better place then.

  • David Dittmer


    Very good read and good decent basics for both Anglos and Natives. I believe assimilation and the breakdown of many culturally values of Native peoples is at the core of their sometimes disrespectful attitudes toward each other, plus old tribal rivalries that can still exist. The writer is to be commended for his clear and concise explanation of a problem that needs sorely to be addressed both historically and presently. These same values were in place for most Europeans as well but some but not all Europeans were convinced of their own (and falsely)superiority over Native cultures. Civility can easily be lost without vigilance, like a small child wandering away from home can become hopelessly lost…..

  • Lyn


    Beautifully written and very educational.

  • Maka Makwa


    Good article Jamie.

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