Native American perceptions of nature were very different from those that Europeans shared. The different Native American cultures shared a deep respect for other creatures.
Many Native American people called the wolf the PathFinder or Teacher. They admired the wolf's intelligence, courage, and strength. They also saw in the wolf a loyal pack member who help with the family as a whole when necessary. The tales handed down from generation to generation are mainly stories of wolf the keen hunter, wolf the devoted family member, wolf the proud defender of his territory, wolf the intelligent teacher, and wolf the true survivor. These were characteristics deserving great respect and emulation. To carry wolf power, among many tribes, was to be greatly honored and admired. In turn, the wolf was celebrated in ceremony and legend, as well as in dance and song.
Understanding of wolves differed between Native Americans cultures that depended heavily on hunting and those that were mainly agricultural. It was for the hunter or shaman that the wolf played the greatest role, rather than the farmer.
The Navajo, however, called the wolf mai-coh, meaning witch. Their fear of wolves was based not on the nature of the wolf, but on human nature. Both the Navajo and the Hopi believed that human witches used or possibly abused the wolf's powers to hurt other people. While Europeans warned of a wolf in sheep's clothing, certain tribal beliefs cautioned against a human in wolf's clothing.
The profound similarities between human and wolf have been celebrated in many Native American cultures for centuries. In some traditions, this kinship is believed to transcend even death, for in the spirit world, wolves are uniquely powerful. When they howl, are the spirits calling to us? According to a Cree myth, it was Wolf who, after the great flood, carried a ball of moss round and round the survivors' raft, until the Earth reformed.
It is no longer possible to trace the relationship between wolves and humankind to its origins, but it probably extends back at least two million years. Even then, wolves lived much as they do today, and our far-distant ancestors may have watched them running single file through the trees, hunting hoofed animals on green prairies and bearing their pups in the comfort of sand dens. Indeed, our ancestors may have followed a similar way of life, travelling in small family groupings and feasting on what they could kill.