Native Americans have incredibly profound and fascinating beliefs, many of them involving wolves. To several tribes (past and present), the wolf itself is known as a protective spirit or totem. They view the wolf as a wise fellow hunter to be respected and admired.
In spite of what some Twilight fans think, Stephenie Meyer wasn’t the one that came up with Native American werewolves, no, I’m afraid that is a very old belief that many tribes have. Since Twilight is causing a stir of interest in Native American lore and beliefs -especially with the second movie, New Moon coming out soon which has much more of Jacob Black and the rest of the wolves involved- we’ll shed some light on the subject.
Quite a few Native American tribes are familiar with the idea of a man transforming from man to beast. The belief is known in many tribes including the Mohawk (whose territories once covered upstate New York to southern Quebec) where those that could shift were known as limmikin (sometimes yenaloosi) but it is the Novajo tribe that is best known for its shifter beliefs. These shifters are called skinwalkers, the Navajo word for such people is yeenadlooshi, which means “he goes on all fours.”
According to Navajo tradition skinwalkers will even look physically different from normal people – the main difference being their eyes, which are large and glowing, even in daylight. It is thought that if someone looks a skinwalker in the eyes they can absorb a person and “steal their skin.” So it goes without saying that someone should avoid looking anyone suspected of being a skinwalker in the eyes. They were also believed to have no genitals and their skin was supposedly rock hard, making it impervious to axes and arrows.
In some versions of the tradition the skinwalker’s tongue would be black, proof that their soul was poison. It was also believed that becoming a skinwalker was caused by dark forces, a person that becomes one was believed to have done something immoral to attract that darkness. Also, a skinwalker didn’t take just one form, they took many, such as owls, crows, coyotes, but one of the most common forms was wolf. While in animal form they lost all trace of humanity, the beast and animal instincts took over, making them vicious and unpredictable. This was only one version though, another is that while in animal form they were actually much more intelligent. They were also able to read minds and could lure people out of their homes and into the woods by imitating the voices and cries of loved ones.
Then there are the Hopi Indian traditions where shapeshifting is brought on by a special ceremony known as Ya-Ya. The details on this ceremony are extremely secret and well-protected but it is thought to involve wearing the skin of the animal one wishes to become.
And there you have it, one small look into the very expansive collection of Native American traditions and beliefs.