Faith of our native fathers
Centuries before the city and Archdiocese of San Antonio were founded, unknown numbers of Native Americans lived on the land. Early Spanish explorers called these people “Coahuiltecan” Indians, a term that described the Natives’ northeastern Mexico and South Texas geographic location but not their tribes or cultures. From the explorers’ writings, oral tradition, and archaeological finds, it is estimated that over a hundred different Native American nomadic tribes existed here. Each was highly resourceful in hunting and gathering for survival. While their cultures and languages varied widely, we do know that they shared a love for the Creator and for Mother Earth. They were good stewards of the land and people of great faith.
Native Americans such as the Payayas who seasonally encamped along the San Antonio and Rio Grande Rivers developed religious systems long before the Franciscans arrived in the mid- to late 1500s. Each tribe had its own beliefs, rituals, offerings, and ceremonies. Most venerated an all-powerful, all knowing “Master Spirit,” also known as “Great Spirit,” “Grandfather,” “Great Mystery,” and “Creator.” They believed in the immortality of the human soul and the afterlife, which they envisioned as infinite goodness, and they buried their dead with respect and ritual. They transmitted these beliefs orally from one generation to the next, along with each tribe’s “cosmology” — story of creation. In addition, they believed in the existence of evil spirits. Tribal priests, shamans, and even priestesses served as intermediaries between the Natives and their Creator and other spirits.
Also handed down to generations of Native Americans was a strong sense of morality and code of ethics. One document arising from oral transmission titled “Sacred Instructions Given by the Creator to Native People at the Time of Creation” states: “Treat the Earth and all that dwell thereon with respect. Remain close to the Great Spirit. Show great respect for your fellow beings. Work together for the benefit of all Mankind.” These are similar concepts that Jesus taught in Matthew 22:37-39.
Common to most Native tribes was their belief in the sacredness of every living thing, from the smallest insect to the tallest mountain. Their spirituality was steeped in honor, love, and respect for all life of which they felt as one with Mother Earth and the Creator. A Navajo Medicine Man, White Feather, later summed up the spirituality of his ancestors and all Native Americans: “Native American isn’t blood; it is what is in the heart. The love of the land. The respect for it, those who inhabit it; and the respect and acknowledgment of the spirits and the elders. That is what it is to be Indian.”
The San Antonio People of Faith Historical Museum is planning a display honoring the Native Americans who lived their faith so long ago in the San Antonio area. They are especially interested in hearing from anyone of Native heritage who would be interested in volunteering to help with this project. Call Martha Gonzales at (210) 733-7152 for further information.
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