People that lived in an area for centuries are called “indigenous”.
Native Americans are indigenous cultures that resided in North and South America long before Europeans landed.
While often called “Native Indians” or “Indians”, they were falsely named by Christopher Columbus when he thought he had landed in India; and the name seemed to stick.
It’s believed that Native Americans have resided in North and South America for between 12,000-15,000 years.
They migrated from Asia and Europe during the ice age when there was a “land bridge” that connected the continents.
Native Americans resemble people from Mongolia, Siberia, and China.
Cultures and Tribes
Native Americans were spread out over the entire continent as well as in Alaska.
Each area had a large number of tribes and they developed a lifestyle based on the environment that they lived in.
Although many of the tribes were individuals, some that shared customs, language and religion grouped together as part of a nation.
A majority of the tribes within each nation were peaceful and had successful trading with other Native American nations.
Confusion about the White Man
Historians have devoted many years to the study of the Native Americans, and it’s believed that there were hundreds of tribes.
Between the information that has been shared from today’s Native Americans and what has been discovered by archeologists, we know that each of the tribes valued art, their music, and believed in a respect for nature.
They didn’t recognize the idea of land ownership, as they felt that people were only temporary caretakers of mother earth.
Native Americans were completely opposite of the white man that landed, as they never took more than they needed, didn’t waste anything, and could not understand the white man’s greed.
Once the Europeans began to settle in North America, they moved into the lands that were part of the various tribes, often creating agreements with them that they eventually broke.
Homes that Adapted to Environment
Each of the Native American tribes made use of the surroundings in nature for their homes, food, and entertainment.
Tribes in the Great Lakes regions had a lot of forested areas and they constructed homes that were called “wigwams”. These were made of wood frames that were covered in matting and birch bark.
The Southern Plains tribes made houses similar to wigwams, but since they had a lot of grass, they built theirs in a dome-like shape with thatched grass coverings.
These were sometimes 3 or 4 stories tall. The Southeastern United States tribes made wattle and daub homes.
They first built a frame, usually made of wood, vines, or cane, and then coated them with mud or clay. Unlike the wigwams, that could be broken down and carried elsewhere, these houses were meant to be permanent and were for the tribes that stayed in one place where they hunted and grew crops.
Some of the far Western tribes didn’t have any natural elements for building so they lived in hillside caves that required elaborate ladders to get to.
Facts about Native Americans:
- According to the 2010 census, there are 5.4 million Native Americans living in the United States, with a total population of 50-100 million.
- The State of California has the biggest population of Native Americans in the U.S. with around 362,801 residing in the state.
- Historians believe that the Constitution of the United States may have been modeled after the Native American “Great Law of Peace”, which was the constitution of the Iroquois Confederacy. This was validated in 1988, when the U.S. Congress passed a resolution that recognized the influence of the Iroquois League in both the Bill of Rights and the Constitution.
- Native Americans were creating cloth from cotton as far back as 8,000 years ago. Archeologists have indicated that they are the oldest makers of cotton cloth so far to date.
- The Cherokee, like many of the Native American tribes, valued the heritage through the maternal lineage. Many women held roles of leadership as well as participated in fighting as warriors.
- Many of the words that we use today originated in Native American languages. These include: chipmunk, cougar, cannibal, barbecue, hammock, caribou, chocolate, mahogany, hurricane, opossum, skunk, moose, toboggan, woodchuck, potato, and squash (to name a few).