Common Native American beading patterns incorporate symbols and include representations of cactus flowers, thunderbirds, water or waves to represent life, mountains for the earth's abundance, and coyote tracks for food. Other popular patterns are arrowheads as friendship, turtles to represent protection, snakes for wisdom, and butterflies as eternal life.
Combining symbols with traditional designs creates patterns that can tell stories and be understood by others who may not speak the same language. Some tribes incorporate color with symbols to tell their story. The Apache make extensive use of sacred colors in their work, including green, black, white, and yellow. Not all works needed to tell a story, with many being made for aesthetics. Also, not all symbols and patterns meant the same thing to all Native Americans.