In most cases, it is somewhere between difficult and impossible to know for certain which tribe or band of American Indians started any particular practice. Many American Indian practices have been claimed to have been originated by many tribes, but research has demonstrated that reliable oral history seldom goes back further than three generations. Many claims put forward by different bands of American Indians are either highly suspect or outright impossible, and are probably presented due to a combination of inaccurate oral histories and attempts to legitimize, justify or explain current beliefs and practices. Even many of the major practices carried out by large numbers of tribes have not been traced to their origin with any certainty. Many bands of American Indians have historically moved about on a regular basis, and as a result, many of the major practices of Indians today were originated by the few tribes that remained relatively settled in one place for long periods of time.
For example, the Pawnee, who were settled in the Great Plains for hundreds of years, are usually considered to have originated both the Sun Dance and the Pow Wow. It is certain that the Pawnee were the source for much of the culture and practices of the various tribes of Plains Indians. It remains possible though, that the Pawnee picked up some practices from the Central American Indians they mingled with early in their history, or the Canadian First Nation tribes they encountered when they migrated north to the southern boundary of Canada.
It is in Canada that some of the earliest remnants positively identified as American Indian have been found. For example, the largest cache of early copper implements yet found was unearthed on Allumette Island in the Ottawa River, dated to about 6000 years ago. If the ancestors of the American Indian did come from Asia across the Bering Strait as many researchers believe, we would expect to find the earliest American implements in Canada. Unfortunately, some evidence does not support this theory, such as the fact that the oldest spearheads of the Clovis people are found in America instead of China, and campsites in South America have been carbon-dated to 20,000 years ago, older than any found further north. Nevertheless, some American Indian practices have been traced in their origins to the First Nations tribes of Canada.
One practice that has been nailed down is that of the medicine wheel. The First Nations tribes have been identified as the originators of the earth medicine wheel as a ceremonial center and astronomical observatory, since all of the oldest medicine wheels have been found in Canada. Another practice that is generally acknowledged to have been originated by a particular tribe is the dream catcher of the Ojibway. A number of other tribes have taken to manufacturing dream catchers to sell at Pow Wows, but most of them are not made correctly according to the Ojibway. The standard explanation of the origin of the dream catcher is a tale for children with little basis in fact. This explanation states that the dream catcher was originally called a sun catcher, and caught the light of the morning sun just like the dew-encrusted lines of a spiderís web. When the Ojibway people migrated west through Canada, mothers had to help the spirit of the spider, who couldnít make enough webs for all the children, by making their own versions of the spiderís web. This explanation is lacking in two ways. First, the dream catcher only superficially resembles a spiderís web, unless it is incorrectly made by another tribe, and second, the dream catcher was originally a medicine tool, not a toy to teach children the story of the spider spirit.
A more reasonable explanation is that an Ojibway wise man had a dream or vision in which he was told that everything on the earth is alive, and that everything that is alive, dreams. The great importance of dreams to human beings was stressed, and the wise man was shown how to construct a dream catcher. This was described as a tool to help human beings avoid bad dreams, which was said to aid focusing on and using the guidance of the spirits that comes to human beings in their good dreams.