Masks have been part of dance regalia and traditional ceremonies in many Indian tribes since ancient times. The most renowned native mask-makers
were the Northwest Coast Indians, who carved elaborate cedar dance masks. The most impressive of these could be opened at a pivotal point in the
story to reveal a second face carved within the first one. The Hopi
and other Pueblo Indians carve and paint wooden kachina masks for their
traditional dances; the Iroquois create sacred "false face" masks from
wood and cornhusks, the Navajo and Apache
make leather masks for dancing, and the Cherokee would craft gourd masks for storytelling.
Cherokee mask art has fallen into decline since the forced removal of
the Cherokees to Oklahoma, where their traditional mask materials were not available, but some artists are working to revive the tradition;
Southwestern and Northwest Coast mask carving remain a vibrant part of contemporary native culture.
most American Indian masks are used for dances, cultural drama, decoration, and as crafts for sale. The exception is
Haudenosaunee (Iroquois) false faces,
which are used only for internal religious ritual. The Iroquois consider it sacrilegious to sell, publicly display, or mimic a sacred false face mask, and
they have been petitioning museums to return false faces from their exhibits. There is some debate among
Haudenosaunee traditionals about whether it is
unacceptable to sell or display any false face, or just those that have been used in religious ceremony ("live" spirit masks). Some Iroquois carvers
carve "non-live" masks made especially for sale, and others disapprove of this. As in any belief system, not all individuals share the same
religious interpretations. However, everyone agrees that it is profaning the Iroquois religion to buy or view living masks (including antiques)
or non-native forgeries of Iroquois false face masks. Please be respectful of this and other native traditions.
If you are looking to buy a mask that was actually made by Native Americans--either because it's important to you to have the real thing or because you
want to support native people with your purchase--then here is our list of American Indian mask artists whose carvings are available online. If you have a
website of Indian masks to add to this list, let us know.
We gladly advertise any individual native artist or native-owned art store here free of charge, provided that all masks were made by tribally
recognized American Indian, Inuit, or First Nations artists.
Thank you for your interest in Native American art!
˜ Indian Mask Carvers
On our main site we do our best to avoid slowing down our page loading with graphics, but this page is about art,
so we'd really be remiss in not showing a few representative mask pictures. All photos are the property
of their respective artists; please visit their sites to see their work in more depth.
Sa-Cinn Indian Masks
A collection of contemporary Northwest Indian masks, from a native-owned British Columbia crafts store.
About us: This website belongs to Native Languages of the Americas, an non-profit
organization dedicated to preserving and promoting endangered Native American languages. We are not artists ourselves, so
if you are interested in buying some of the masks featured on this page, please contact the artists directly.
Though we have featured only Native American masks identified with the name and tribal affiliation of each artist, we haven't
called the tribal offices to check up on any of them, and we only know a few of them personally. We also don't guarantee any of their products.
This is not an exhaustive list of Native American masks--if you would like us to add your mask site to this page, please
contact us with your URL and tribal affiliation. We advertise any individual native artist or
native-owned art business here free of charge. We do not link to masks which are not made by tribally recognized
American Indian, Inuit, or First Nations artists, so please do not ask us to. We also do not link to Iroquois false face masks due to controversy
over their appropriateness as art objects. And finally, websites do occasionally expire and change hands, so
use your common sense and this general rule of thumb: if the creator of each individual artwork is not identified by name and
specific tribe, you are probably not looking at a genuine Native American mask.