American Indian languages            American Indian culture            What's new on our site today!

Setting the Record Straight About Native Languages: Namaste

Q: Is "Namaste" really a Native American word?
A: No. It's a Sanskrit word--Indian from India, in other words, not American Indian. A lot of people make that mistake. Since the New Age movement is syncretic (pulls together spiritual traditions from diverse sources), many New Age spiritualists combine traditional Native American words or phrases (like Mitakuye Oyasin) with traditional words or phrases from other cultures (like Namaste, shaman, and tarot). Then, since Americans in general tend to confuse New Age spiritualism with Native American traditional religion, they assume that all the phrases used by the New Age are Native American ones, when in fact, they have diverse multicultural origins.

If you'd like to more about Namaste and Sanskrit, try a website like or

Q: What about "shaman"?
A: No, "shaman" isn't an American Indian word either. It's a Russian word that comes from the Tungus family of indigenous Siberian languages. Which makes sense, since shamanism is an indigenous Eurasian religious tradition, not, as it is commonly misrepresented, Native American. Here's a good website on the indigenous languages of Russia. You can also read Orrin's article on Native American spirituality, if you're interested in the difference between European and Asian traditions like tarot and shamans and actual American Indian religions.

Previous question: What does "Eskimo" mean in Cree?
Next question: Is yelling "Geronimo" as you fall an Apache tradition?
Back to the Infrequently Asked Questions index
Language of the day: Ojibwe

Native American Words * Native American Art * Native American Names

Would you like to help support our organization's work with endangered American Indian languages?

Native Languages of the Americas website © 1998-2020 * Contacts and FAQ page