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Symbolic Meaning of Color in Native American Design


Note: this is a partnered post and consideration was received for its publication. CC-licensed image by Al_HikesAZ.

Since Native American textiles and pattern design are a strong influence on Prairie and American Craftsman design, we thought you might enjoy this:

If you are looking to do a design project in your home, you may be considering doing a Native American theme. For several years this type of décor has been in great demand but oddly, many homeowners aren’t aware of the fact that many of the facets of this particular style are actually mired in symbolism. Whereas other types of décor use color as an aesthetic feature, in Native American culture color means something – it is symbolic of some deeper spiritual meaning. Before finalizing your plans to remodel one or more rooms in your home, you might like to know a little bit about what color meant to these early, and very spiritual people.

Colors Vary by Nation

Sometimes a ‘nation’ is referred to as a ‘tribe’ and this varies from region to region and among tribes as well. One thing to be aware of when designing Native American décor is that colors meant different things to different nations. Therefore, if you are using a design specific to a particular tribe, it would be important to factor in the colors you are going to use. Dream catchers are an example of a craft you might want to undertake yourself, but if parts of the room are done in Cherokee fashion, for example, you would want to pay special attention to colors they found sacred.

To the Hopi tribe, the color blue signified the most sacred of all colors so that might be something you would want to use. If you are thinking of making a dream catcher, you can find an awesome guide on how to make a dream catcher by following this link. Just remember to keep colors in mind if you are looking for an authentic Native American piece of art.

The Meaning behind Some Common Colors

As mentioned, each tribe ascribes meaning to specific colors and if you are going for a particular look within one of the variants of Native American culture, you would want to ascertain that you have colors in keeping with their traditions. Even so, there are some colors that have a universal meaning. Following is a compilation of colors and the most common meanings attached to them.

  • White – death, winter
  • Black – male, night, death, disease or sickness
  • Red – blood, wounds, sunset, thunderstorms, war
  • Blue – female, moon, water, sky, sadness
  • Green – earth, summer, life, rain
  • Yellow – morning, day, sunlight

Although not all tribes (nations) attribute the exact same significance to these colors, these are the most common among the 562 tribes recognized today as genuine Native American nations.

The point in understanding colors as they pertain to specific meanings or concepts is to make sure you are creating a design that is authentic. Many tribes in today’s world believe that their way of life has been distorted because of misuse of their traditions. So that there is no misunderstanding when it comes to having respect for a culture different from our own, it is really important to pay special attention to the significance they have attached to each and every color. In so doing, you will be honoring their culture while designing a new look for your home – the best of both worlds.