In many cultures of Native American people, males at various times of their lives, went on what were known as “Vision Quests.” These quests would guide a male through his journey in becoming a man to find his spiritual name, spiritual guides, or both. At the culmination of the quest, the male returned with a gift for the holy man or medicine man of the tribe. The Holy Man would then interpret what the young man gained through his quest and then transferred this symbolically to the person’s shield.
Native American shields were a very important article to the Native American man; not only because of the physical protection it afforded him, but also because of the spiritual protection it provided. Because of the spiritual significance especially, shields are a lasting symbol of the cultural identity of the Native American man. Surprisingly, many of the Native American shields were not used for actual physical protection, but were carried with them attached in some way upon their animals or were put in a place of Honor, to the East of the warrior’s lodge to maintain its’ spiritual protection.
Today, Collectors travel all over the country to reservations looking to purchase authentic Native American shields. Vision questing is no longer a required rite of passage in many of the remaining tribes and therefore the Native American shields are a part of the economy sold to tourists and collectors. Replicas can be found in many museum gift shops, craft and Native American pottery stores and in online auction sites. Authentic Native American shields are symmetrical, colorful, and bright. The colors represent different feelings and ideas about spirituality. There will many times be drawings or symbols telling a story about the owner and his journey throughout life. Sometimes feathers, beads, and leather are attached and can symbolize many different ideas and add to a very interesting and fulfilling biography.