Handout 2: The Inuits
The Inuits, or Eskimos as they are sometimes called, were an Arctic region peoples who were exceptionally resourceful in coping with the environment they lived in. It was always cold, and many times extremely cold. The sun in the winter months shone for only a few hours a day when it was not overcast with clouds. The winter could prove to be a deadly season if there was not enough preparation with food stores and housing.
The main food staple was meat from a wide variety of animals including large polar and grizzly bears, walruses, caribou, elk and a wide variety of fish. Also small creatures like mice, beavers and various birds. This carnivorous diet was supplemented with berries, nuts and roots or tubers. In the winter, they could hunt the seals that would come up for air from under the ice through precut holes.
Most Inuit lived in houses that were a combination of sod and animal hide over a structure of driftwood and whalebone. There could be a see-through opening in the roof to let in light made from the intestine of a seal. With a crawl-through door on the downhill side of the house, heat would naturally stay inside. Only the Inuits of central and eastern Canada lived in dome-shaped snow igloos and then during the coldest parts of winter. These structures would melt in the spring and could become dangerous. A typical igloo could be constructed in a few hours by two people. With the use of just a whale or seal oil lamp, these structures with walls 18 inch thick would be fairly comfortable and warm for an Inuits family.
Like all indigenous tribal people worldwide, the Inuits used all the resources and imagination at their disposal to help in the daily trials of life. For the Eskimo especially there was little room for mistake in foraging and hunting of food. An unexpected storm could devastate and kill whole villages if they did not prepare constantly for the worst. A major part of Eskimo life was taken up with appeals of all kinds to the spirit world for guidance and assistance. Each group or clan had a specially ordained person, either a man or woman, who had successful and frequent visionary experiences affording access into a spirit world. In most tribal cultures these people are called ‘Shamans’. The Shamans were regarded very highly for advice in all matters. The Shamans would try to create the best possible conditions to enhance their connections to the spirit world. One way was to create masks and then to use them in formal rituals along with song and dance.
Like everything else in their life, the Shamans would use whatever was available from the earth to create these masks, including wood, animal skins and hides, sticks, and feathers. For colors, they would grind up rocks, minerals, roots, or berries and mix these powders with various liquids to come up with a variety of dyes or paints.
Handout : The Sioux
The Sioux are a Plains Indian tribe from one of the largest flat areas on the earth, the North American Midwest. If you consult your map you will see that it stretches from north central Canada to the Caribbean, east to the Appalachian Mountains and west to the Rocky Mountains. The Midwest or Great Plains experiences harsh weather conditions from very deep snow with wind speeds over 60 miles per hour in the winter to summers with extreme heat and humidity. In addition, the summer can bring not only thunderous lightning storms but frequent tornados of spectacular intensity that could lift large animals and rip trees right out of the ground! It was this environment that made the Plains Indians humble in the face of nature;s awesome power.
This flat area gave rise to some of the biggest herds of animals ever witnessed. The buffalo numbered up to 60 million throughout the plains and at any time 100,000 in a group. It was the buffalo that provided much of what the Plains Indians required to live, including meat, clothing, all kinds of tools and utensils from bones, glue from boiled hooves, tepee coverings, as well as many other items.
The Plains Indians lived a nomadic existence to keep up with the roaming herds of buffalo. They took advantage of the lodge pole pine trees and buffalo hides to create tepees. Lodge pole pine trees are known for their very long, straight and thin trunks, perfect materials for constructing houses. With three poles tied together at one end, they could be lifted and assembled as a tripod with another 12 poles placed over the original three. Then 5-7 buffalo hides sewn together in a semi-circular shape could be hoisted up over this lodge pole framework.
Inside a family of Sioux gathered around a center fire could stay relatively warm and comfortable. In less then an hour a family could assemble or disassemble a tepee and move it when necessary. The poles would be lashed onto the backs of dogs (before the introduction of horses by Europeans) along with the covering to drag to other sites. The size of the tepees, along with the distance traveled, would be limited to the strength of the dogs. This changed after the arrival of the horse. The horse made it possible to travel farther distances and carry heavier loads.
Though Native Americans did not have letters and a written language in the way we are familiar with today, the Sioux did create Winter Counts. These were an attempt by the chiefs to save for posterity the history of the tribe. Simple and obvious symbols were drawn on the inside of a tanned buffalo hide designating highlights in a leader’s life. These symbols of great battles, hunts, or famines would be drawn in sequential order over a lifetime so that someone viewing the hide could interpret how the tribe lived. These hides were called Winter Counts because this was the simplest way a Native American could count the years; one could report that they had been around for 52 winters. These Winter Counts could be handed down to the next generation so that the history could be continued. At the time of European contact, there were some Winter Counts that had recorded over 200 years!
Handout 4 Winter Count Symbols
Along the eastern coastline of North America the terrain consists of low rolling hills in front of a long narrow range of round top mountains, the Appalachians. This land is covered with a variety of deciduous and coniferous trees. It experiences the full range of seasons with enough water to sustain a full abundance of life. There is much to gain from this environment. When referring to regions of Native American tribes, this area is called the Eastern Woodlands.
The dominant linguistic root of most of the Eastern Woodland tribes is Algonquin. The major exceptions are the Five Nations of the Iroquois League, which is based just about center of the Eastern Woodlands stradd- ling upstate New York and Canada. Their language is totally different than the Algonquin.There are some theories regarding the language difference, mainly that the Iroquois are from an earlier wave of Native Americans, perhaps thousands of years before the Algonquins. These differences shaped both groups and fed hundreds of years of rivalry. The Five Nations of the Iroquois League includes five separate Iroquois tribes named the Seneca, Cayuga, Onondaga, Oneida, and Mohawk that banded together sometime in the last 800 years after a long history of war. The Algonquin and the Iroquois have had the longest relationship of any mainland North American tribes with Europeans, not always hospitable.
In this environment of plenty of trees of all kinds, the Iroquois lived in longhouses that used a variety of these trees. By creating a double frame of thin, pliable limbs, the Iroquois were able to interweave layers of flattened bark to keep out the rain and cold. These dwellings were placed end to end so that it was possible to have several dozen families living in a longhouse hundreds of feet long.
One of the artifacts that Iroquois Indians are known for is wampum beads. These were used and interpreted in many ways, depending on which tribe one was dealing with, but as a general rule wampum was always held in high esteem. They could be used as bartering material and thread onto string to signify important events. A belt woven with wampum beads would be offered by the orators to open council meetings between rival groups. If peace had been accomplished then the belt would be used as a record of that peace. A string of wampum beads could be used symbolically in a marriage proposal, as an apology to someone, as payback for a debt, or as a gift.
In the southwestern corner of the United States the landscape takes on an amazing variety of differences. You can experience extremely hot, dry and arid desert conditions with very few trees in either big open expanses of space or tall buttes and mesas (very large, solid, and flat outcroppings of rock on the land that resemble tables with a dinner cloth spread out big enough for a giant). There are also very tall mountain ranges with snow and glaciers on them all year long. It is in this area that we find one of the continent’s oldest settled tribes with some of the most formal and organized year round rituals for crop success, the Hopi.
The Hopi are a Pueblo tribe. Pueblo Indians live in pueblo houses, also called adobe style dwellings. These are permanent structures fabricated from a cement-like material that is a combination of straw, sand, and water. This style of construction made it possible for the Hopi to build levels of living units over each other and along the sides of cliffs in some instances. The oldest continually used communities in North America were created by Pueblo Indians.
The Hopi, like the Inuits, are able to survive in some of the harshest environments on the planet. These environmental factors created a culture of very formal rituals honoring the rain and sun, traditions practiced for thousands of years. The Hopi would tell you that their rituals and customs have contributed to their success, and because of their success with farming corn, beans and squash, they along with other Pueblo tribes from the Southwest, are probably the least nomadic of all Native American tribes. By engineering complex canals and irrigation systems, the Hopi are able to harness water in an area that to the outsider seems totally inhospitable for growing conditions.
One of the major components of the customs and rituals is the use of Kachina personas. These Kachinas are assistants from the underworld (the original Hopi ancestors are said to come from the underworld, an idea that still plays out in much of Hopi life). The Kachinas come in a very wide range of personalities and are re-created in two forms, as dolls and as dancers. Their physical portrayals can come in many different interpretations. The dolls can be made for young people as a rite of passage into puberty and adulthood. The dancers are dressed as Kachinas and then perform through the village in certain ritualized parades displaying particular characteristics of a specific Kachina.