THE NATIVE AMERICAN FLUTE
This page is a work in progress and is updated regularly.
The Native American flute is reported to be the third oldest known musical instrument in the world. Bone flutes have been unearthed and dated back over 60,000 years. Drums were discovered first, and then various rattles were made, followed by bone whistles.
The original bone whistles had only 1 hole. Eventually, more holes were added and they were made larger adding notes to the scales; different tones and pitches. Over time, the instrument evolved as people would use different materials depending upon the area in which they lived. All types of hardwoods and softwoods were used for flutes; cedar, alder wood, birch, maple, etc.. River reeds, bamboo and various canes were used as well. Today, we see people make flutes even out of PVC piping!
Flutes had many different hole configurations - 2,3,4,5,6,7 or 8 holes. In parts of the southern United States, river reed was used to make flutes. This reed has a natural joint that serves as a sort of barrier that helps create a chamber. These flutes are relatively easy to make and may have contributed to the design of what is commonly referred to as the plains style flute, which is the type that most flute players use today.
Native flutes and whistles were used for many reasons depending upon the tribe. Some tribes used bone and cedar whistles for dances and spirit calling ceremonies. Some tribes used flutes for entertainment while traveling. (Many of these traveling songs still exist today.) Other tribes used the flutes for courting and finding love. The Hopi Tribe had flute societies that performed powerful prayer ceremonies with their flutes. Today, you will find many of the flutes, including some of the old Eagle Bone Whistles, at many Pow Wows.
Like many parts of native culture, the flute was not allowed by the government in most parts of the United States for a period of time. The Bureau of Indian Affairs banned all performances of Native American music and religious celebrations from the 1880s until well into the twentieth century. The government‘s policies during that time were designed to suppress Native American traditional cultural expression in order to better assimilate Native Americans into white culture. The American Indian Religious Freedom Act of 1978 (AIRFA) (42 U.S.C. § 1996.) finally passed and protected the rights of Native Americans to exercise their traditional religions by ensuring access to sites, use and possession of sacred objects, and the freedom to worship through ceremonial and traditional rites.
Until 1978, there were Elders on rural reservations that kept the flute and other traditions alive. The renaissance began in the early 1900s from the Southwest, and started to grow rapidly in the 1960s. Today the native flute is now widely accepted in most parts of North America. Very little change has been made to the instrument in the last 150 years or so.
If you would like more information on the Native American Flutes or would like to learn about the Native American culture, here are a few links to get you started.
Society of American Indian Government Employees (SAIGE)
Formed in 2002, SAIGE is the first national non-profit organization representing American Indian and Alaska Native Federal, Tribal, State, and local government employees. SAIGE provides a forum on the issues, challenges, and opportunities of American Indians and Alaska Natives in the government workforce and works to foster a professional network among these government employees.
SAIGE is proud to host an outstanding Annual National Training Program focused on professional development, leadership and topics that are integral to the highly complex relationship known as the Federal Indian Trust Responsibility. As part of this program, SAIGE offers special training sessions for Veterans and Youth. Additionally, local native communities in the area provide cultural presentations, increasing awareness and understanding of tribal communities.
(This is where I purchase most of my performance flutes.)
Wisdom of the Elders, Inc. records and preserves traditional cultural values, oral history, prophesy and other messages of guidance from indigenous elders in order to regenerate the greatness of culture among today’s and future generations of native peoples. As First Peoples, we are humbled by the wisdom of our elders and the deep connection they share with Great Spirit, the world of nature and family. We regard our elders as rapidly vanishing, irreplaceable keepers of oral history, tradition and environment. Values they extol represent an ancient legacy of knowledge which has become as endangered as many disappearing species in our fragile ecosystem.
This non-profit website is dedicated to preserving and promoting American Indian languages, particularly through the use of Internet technology. Our website is not beautiful. Probably, it never will be. But this site has inner beauty, for it is, or will be, a compendium of online materials about more than 800 indigenous languages of the Western Hemisphere and the native people that speak them.
Two-Time GRAMMY Winner and EMMY Nominee Mary Youngblood, is the first Native American woman to have received a Grammy Award for "Best Native American Music Album" and the first Native American person to have won two Grammy's which makes Mary one of the premiere Native American musicians in the country. Winner of numerous awards, Mary garnered the 2002 Grammy for Beneath the Raven Moon and the 2006 Grammy for Dance with the Wind.