A dreamcatcher is a handmade object based on a willow hoop on which is woven a loose net or web. The dreamcatcher is then decorated with personal and sacred items such as feathers and beads. It originates from the Ojibwa or Chippewa group of Native Americans. It is known as asabikeshiinh, the inanimate form of the word for spider, or bawaajige nagwaagan meaning dream snare.
During the pan Indian movement of the 1960s and 1970s dreamcatchers were adopted by Native Americans of a number of different Nations. They came to be seen by some as a symbol of unity among the various Indian Nations, and as a general symbol of identification with Native American or First Nations cultures. However, some Native Americans have come to see them as tacky and over commercialized due to their acceptance in popular culture.
Traditionally, the Ojibwa construct dreamcatchers by tying sinew strands in a web around a small round or tear shaped frame of willow in a way roughly similar to the method for making snowshoe webbing. The resulting dreamcatcher, hung above the bed, is then used as a charm to protect sleeping children from nightmares. Dreamcatchers made of willow and sinew are not meant to last forever but instead are intended to dry out and collapse over time as the child enters the age of adulthood.
The Ojibwa believe that a dreamcatcher changes a person’s dreams. According to Terri J. Andrews in the article Legend of the Dream Catcher, about the Ojibwa nation, only good dreams would be allowed to filter through. Bad dreams would stay in the net, disappearing with the light of day.
It’s recommended to hang the dream catcher above someone sleeping to guard against bad dreams. Good dreams pass through and slide down the feathers to the sleeper. Another legend states that good dreams pass through the center hole to the sleeping person. The bad dreams are trapped in the web, where they perish in the light of dawn.
In the course of becoming popular outside of the Ojibwa Nation, and then outside of the pan Indian communities, dreamcatchers are now made, exhibited, and sold by some New Age groups and individuals. According to Philip Jenkins, this is considered by most traditional Native peoples and their supporters to be an undesirable form of cultural appropriation.
The official portrait of Ralph Klein, former Premier of the Canadian province of Alberta and whose wife Colleen Klein is Metis, incorporates a dreamcatcher.