Native American Home Etiquette

© 2012, 2014 Native American Composition & Performance, Limited

By Jamie K. Oxendine, Lumbee/Creek


Director, Black Swamp InterTribal Foundation



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 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.


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.”


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.

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 Warriors 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 Country

of the Choctaws; Containing An Account of the Soil and Natural Productions of Those Regions, Together with Observations on the Manners of the Indians. Philadelphia.

© 2012, 2014 Native American Composition & Performance, Limited

Jamie K. Oxendine, Lumbee/Creek

Native American Speaker

Director, Black Swamp InterTribal Foundation

A Non-Profit 501(c)(3) Native American Organization





  1. Jennifer Locklear
    10:12 am - 6-30-2018

    Jamie I love this! Thanks for sending the link to me. I try and do these with my household but must admit I can do better. Love you!

  2. Timothy Iron Horse
    11:00 am - 11-1-2019

    GREAT! If more people followed this we would have a much nicer world! Thanks for this too Mr. Jamie.

  3. PL Lynch
    8:00 am - 12-7-2019

    Hello Mr. Tribal Administrator. Dont let some get you down you are doing a fantastic job and you can break bread with us anytime as you are alwasy welcome at our house.

  4. Austin Locklear
    11:18 am - 12-20-2019

    Hey Bro, well done and thanks for writing this. I grew up like this with family but forgot over the years to keep it going. Will work on that starting this holiday.

  5. Susan Silver
    4:17 am - 1-25-2020

    Hi Jamie, dont let DL get you down. he is just mad he did not get the job and will always bash and insult you. he knows you are doing better than the previous administrator and it makes him very mad but he could not do a better job so just ignore his ignorant ass.

  6. J Richardson
    9:29 am - 3-20-2020

    Jamie this is so good and you are alwasy welcome in our home. You are doing a wonderful job as the Tribal Administrator as the best I have ever seen of the many we had in the past and I seen many in my almost 80 years. Keep up the good work and you have our support always!

  7. Tina Rey-Blackhorse
    8:19 am - 5-30-2020


  8. Jimmy Nash
    6:55 am - 6-20-2020

    This is great and sure needed in today’s society.

  9. Peter Lynch
    2:06 pm - 11-3-2020

    Wow, we need this in the tribe again very much. Most our people are mean and selfish and arrogant.

  10. M. Richardson
    12:16 pm - 7-2-2023

    Sorry the Haliwa never treated you right Jamie. We sure are a hypocritical bumch. I want to officially apologize to you for how bad the Haliwa Saponi treated you. You really were the best we ever had. Thank You.

  11. Lisa Chavers Meherrin
    12:00 am - 9-14-2023

    Some of us Meherrin do not agree with that bipolar woman Janeatta Melton.
    You are the best damn thing to ever happen to our tribe and we truly appreciate you.
    We apologize for the bad treatment you got from the Meherrin Council and that
    mean Janeatta Melton. Please know most of the Tribe do not think the same
    as she does at all and she is just plain wrong in just about everything.
    We are sorry the Meherrin did not have Native Etiquette.

  12. Jennifer L. Meherrin
    9:10 am - 9-16-2023

    Hi Jamie
    I am with Lisa and wnat to let you know that there are many other Meherrins that do not agree with our stupid councl and that mean wild woman Janeatta Melton
    You were great and just as Lisa said teh best damn thing to ever come our way to help us
    You are alwasy welcome in our my home and the home of Lisa and screw the idiots on council that think only of themselves
    Look forward to seeing you at the Lumbee Powwow becuase we are not going to the Mehrrin Powwow

  13. C. Jan Meherrin
    11:38 am - 9-18-2023

    Good things come in threeeeeeess Jamie as I am with Jen and Lisa. We are all Meherrin Sisters and are so very sad how you been treated by the council and crazy ass Janeatta. Many do tot like her at all as she is bossy and mean. Our ancestors are rolling in their resting places seeing how rude and mean she is to our people and also to someone great like you. So sorry you got treated like you did. We will see you at Lumbee! We are also planning on coming to see you at Stone Mountain as well. You are the best MC and should have been asked to do ours as we need a better MC.

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