Dreamcatchers made of willow and sinew are not meant to last forever, but instead are intended to dry out and disintegrate over time as the child enters the age of adulthood.
In the Ojibwe or Chippewa culture a dreamcatcher ( Ojibwe language: asabikeshiinh )is the inanimate form of the word for "spider" or in their language bawaajige nagwaagan meaning "dream snare"; a handmade item based off a willow hoop which is woven into a loose net or web while decorated with personal and sacred items such as feathers and beads.
Although the dreamcatcher tradition originated in the Ojibwa (Chippewa) Nation, during the pan-Indian movement of the 1960s and 1970s, they were adopted by Native Americans of a number of different Nations. Dreamcatchers are recognized as a symbol of unity among the various Indian Nations, and are a general symbol of identification with Native American or First Nations cultures.
Traditionally, the Ojibwa constructed dreamcatchers by tying sinew strands in a web around a small circular or tear-shaped frame made of willow, which is similar to their method for making snowshoe webbing. When hung over the bed, the resulting "dream-catcher" is used as a charm to protect sleeping children from nightmares.
The Native Amercan Ojibwa believe that a dreamcatcher filters a person's dreams. According to legend, the good dreams were allowed to filter through, and the bad dreams would stay in the net and disappear with the light of day.
Dreamcatchers are hung above someone sleeping to guard against bad dreams. The good dreams pass through and slide down the feathers to the sleeper.
Another Native American legend believes good dreams pass through the center hole to the sleeping person. The bad dreams are then trapped in the web, where they perish in the light of dawn.
Due to the acceptance of dreamcatchers or dream catchers in popular culture today, there are some Native Americans that view them as "tacky" and over-commercialized. As they gained popularity outside of the Ojibwa Nation, and then outside of the pan-Indian communities, New age groups and other individuals began to make, exhibit, and sell "dreamcatchers". According to most traditional Native peoples and their supporters, this is an undesirable form of cultural appropriation.