The Feather: A Symbol of High Honor in Native American Culture

In Native American culture it is believed that all things possess an inherent virtue, power, and wisdom.

The feather, for example, is a powerful symbol that signifies honor and a connection between the owner, the Creator, and the bird the feathers came from. It symbolizes trust, honor, strength, wisdom, power, and freedom. It is an object that is deeply revered and a sign of high honor.

native_hope_feather

The Meaning of the Feather

Native American warriors were awarded a feather when they won a battle or were particularly brave in war. When a feather falls to the earth, it is believed to carry all of the energy of the bird it came from, and it is perceived as a gift from the sky, the sea, and the trees. Feathers may arrive unexpectedly, but not without a purpose.

Each type of feather represents something different. The eagle’s feather, however, is one of the most esteemed. In Native culture, the eagle is considered the strongest and bravest of all birds. For this reason, its feathers symbolize what is highest, bravest, strongest, and holiest.

United States law recognizes the unique significance of eagle feathers in Native American culture, religion, and tradition. The eagle is a highly protected creature under U.S. law, but special exceptions are made to allow Native Americans to possess, pass down, gift, and acquire eagle feathers within specific conditions. 

An eagle's feathers are given to another in honor, and the feathers are displayed with dignity and pride. They are handled with great regard. In fact, if an eagle feather is dropped during a dance, a special ceremony is performed before picking it up again, and the owner is careful to never drop it again.


The eagle feather is also used to adorn the sacred pipe because it is a symbol of the Great Spirit who is above all and from whom all strength and power flows. When a feather is held over a person’s head, it is a blessing, wishing bravery and happiness. To wave it over everyone present means everyone is wished peace, prosperity, and happiness.

We invite you to learn with us as we seek to preserve Native American culture and Native American history and empower the next generation of Native youth to thrive in the authenticity of their heritage.

EXPLORE the TRADITIONS

Topics: Culture and Identity

LEARN MORE ABOUT THE CIRCLE OF HOPE