According to Jeri Cipriano 2003,"the first Native Americans lived in many different regions.The way they lived depended on the land around them. " (1)
The ancestors of the Native Americans whom we called Indians arrived in North America from Asia perhaps as early as fifty thousand years ago. Most likely, these people crossed through a land bridge made of ice. Groups of hunters, following the animals could have walked across it. We know also that all the groups of people who came were not alike. They did not know that they were really discovering another continent. Like the men on the moon, they walked where man had never been before.
We do not know the names of the earliest Americans.However, each group had a name of its own, and they spoke different languages. "The societies that developed over so many centuries were as different from one another as the habitat of the forest-dwelling Eastern Woodland tribes were from those of the hunter-gatherers of the South Western desert and plains." (2)
Recently, scholars have discovered evidence that challenges the widespread belief that Native Americans traveled to North America over the Bering Land Bridge. There is evidence found by archeologists in Brazil dated 32,000 years ago. They found rock shelters and human tools. These findings contradict the theory of the bridge they crossed around Alaska. Perhaps, the people of North America arrived here from the south, rather than the north. Anthony Saenz wrote." Many of the native cultures have more in common with Mediterranean people than people from Siberia. There is evidence of Phoenicians, Druids, and Africans who visited here, nearly 2,000 years ago."(3)
When Christopher Columbus came to the "New World" there were around three thousand tribal groups. They did not have a writing system, only picture symbols. Stories were told from fall until spring at celebrations and family gatherings. The Indians of the Northwest carved totem poles, and each had an oral story to go along with it. Children learnt really important lessons for there was no emphasis upon written language. The poles were property of the tribe, and were taken along when the family moved. This was also the case with their shelters. Families moved with the seasons in search of food, and shelters had a very practical flavor. "They respond to the climate around them and make the most of natural material at hand." (4)
The Big mistake
We already know that the first settlers of this continent have been named traditionally as American Indians because Christopher Columbus's mistaken idea that he found a water route to Asia. He thought it was one of the islands known as the Indies. So he mistakenly called the Native Americans "Indians." He and all the Europeans who followed him continued to name them Indians or "Red Men" demonstrating their ignorance in regards to the inhabitants they found in the "New World."
Recently people have come to think that the term "Indians" is inaccurate, and has been changed to "Native Americans" or "First Americans."
Because America is so vast, the Native Americans evolved in very diverse directions. "By the time Christopher Columbus arrived at this continent, there were more than 3,000 of so tribal groups. It is estimated that more than 2,000 languages were spoken, but only about 200 have been identified." (5) But there were many separate people that spoke their own languages, had their own customs, clothing, dwellings, and way of survival by hunting, farming or fishing. Native Americans of the Southwest were different from those of the Northwest. When we examine the tribes of the Northwest where Woodland people settled, all the area reflect a mixture of cultural influences responding to the environment and climate around them. Their setting reflects the differences.
The Pacific Northwest or Coastal Indians
The coastal people lived or on the mountains or close to the sea.
"Some tribes include the Tlingit, Chinook, and Kwakiutl. Athabaskan hunters of the far North, Hupa Indians of northern California, Chilkat from the Alaskan coast, lived in the Pacific Northwest. This is now Alaska, Washington, Oregon, and Northern California." (6)
The cultures were shaped by the seacoast, fishing and hunting were important to the survival. The dense forests of the north gave them opportunity to hunt and the use of tall trees to build wooden lodges as shelters. These lodges were big and did not have windows. They only had a hole in the roof and were very different from the shelter of the coastal tribes of California. But a succession of architectural ideas evolved long before the European arrival.
Outside of some lodges, they carved totem poles made from a tall tree. The carved figures consisted of animals, such as bear and raven figures painted with red and black colors. This art was a form of telling the important events in a family's history, so that they could pass them down to their next generation. To construct a house required techniques transmitted from the old to the young. Materials such as trees, bark, reed and cedar were used. The homes of the northwestern tribes were big enough to hold several families.
" A typical Pacific coastal village (southwest) consisted of up to thirty or more rectangular houses set out in one or two rows in a sheltered cove, far enough back from the edge of the sea. They were built of skillfully cut wooden planks and tied together with stout cords. " (7) Some people lived far from the ocean, but their way of life was still connected.
The early Native Americans of California came from several tribes and spread out in many zones. The climate was mild there, and lived from hunting small animals, birds, and fishing. Plants were also important and the main food was the seed of oak trees. The women and children collected, let dry and after, used then to make flour. Shelters were made or built on a frame of poles of debarked willow or sycamore, forming a circle base and horizontal stringers were lashed in tiers onto the frame. Other tribes covered their shelters with earth, where the weather was sometimes harsh.
Tribes of the Great Plains
Here are some of tribes found through my research: Crow, Sioux, Blackfeet, Comanche, Mandan, and Pawnee. They used to live west from the Mississippi Valley to the Rocky Mountains and South from Canada to Southern Texas. This is and was a vast geographic territory where millions of acres of grass grew. Most of the tribes were nomadic. Before the Indians were introduced to the horse, they hunted the buffalo pushing them toward the edge of a cliff where they would fall and were easy to kill. The buffalo was a very important resource for the tribes.The buffalo provided necessary material that the Indians used for building shelters named "tepees", and for making clothes. The bones were used to prepare tools. The young people became warriors as they found the way to prepare weapons. The buffalo provided food for daily life.
The Sioux tribe is well known even at the present time. They occupied a vast territory including South Dakota and part of North Dakota, Montana, Wyoming, Nebraska, Iowa, Wisconsin, and Minnesota. There are still reservations in some of these locations. They were named "Masters of the Plains."
Depending on the tribe, "tepees" were built on three or four base poles. To prevent them from the wind, the tepees were opened to the East. The top of the tepee had an opening hole to allow smoke to escape.
Desert or Southwest Tribes
The Southwest includes what is now Arizona, New Mexico, parts of Colorado, Utah, and California (South).
The people of the Southwest had their own lifestyle and customs. They were herders and hunters at the same time. They planted also small gardens and cultivated different foods depending completely on the rain. Society was much more complicated. Clan families lived closely together and "followed rigid codes of behavior." (8)
Some of the most important tribes described by scientists are the Anasazi, Zuni, Pueblo, Hohokam, Mogollon, and Hopi. " They are all identified as having descended from the Cochise population, some 10,000 years ago." (9)
Zuni and Pueblo are tribes to be mentioned because of the way they built their homes and developed fine art of pottery. Hopi tribes also made beautiful jewelry, baskets and clay bowls.
In the Arizona desert there is still a Hopi village. These villages were named "Pueblo," that means town in Spanish. The women built these houses out of stone and clay, like apartments, two to five floors high and needed to climb ladders for access and to protect them from enemies.
Anasazi tribes built cliff dwellings at Mesa Verde. A good resource book is The Ancient Cliff Dwellers of Mesa Verde by Caroline Arnold, with photographs by Richard Hewett (New York, Clarion Books,1992).
Anasazi tribes abandoned their Mesa homes and lived in adobe houses in natural limestone caves. No one knows why. Speculations are that they believed in some spirit disaster and had to move to another sacred place. Their shelters demonstrated the skills of their architects, with finely shaped windows and doors.
The Anasazi left behind pottery, baskets, blankets made of turkey feathers, and jewelry made of silver and turquoise, giving us a lot of information about America's past.
The United States preserves the prehistorical building as a National Park in Mesa Verde, Colorado.
The Eastern Woodlands (or Forest Indians)
The Woodland region stretched from eastern Canada to the western shores of the Great Lakes. This landscape of woodlands, mountains, seacoast, and lakeshore, with prairie on its western rim was the homeland of tribes to three mayor families: The Iroquoian, the Algonquian, and the Siouan All these tribes used the natural resources provided by the fertile region irrigated by a number of ponds and rivers.
"The Iroquois lived in what is now New York State." (10) The forests were so thick the sunlight barely filtered through the ceiling of leaves. The many tribes who settled in eastern Woodlands had also easy access to the Atlantic shore. Most of the inland people depended as much on agriculture for their food as on any fishing or hunting.
The Iroquois were a united nation, consisting of the Mohawk, Oneida, Onondaga, Cayuga, Seneca and Tuscarora tribes extended from New York State through Pennsylvania to Northern Ohio and into Canada. Its center was the area of the Eastern Great Lakes and the St. Lawrence River.
Though the tribes tended to be warlike, they preserved their confederation for two centuries up until the American Revolution.
The Iroquois lived in villages in the forest. The tribes into them were divided, they had their own language. To communicate with one another they used hand signs and pictures. Their villages were along the shores of rivers, streams, or lakes. Walls of split logs surrounded every village. The people lived in wooden dwellings called longhouses made for families they were related through blood or marriage. Single families lived in "wigwams" made by bending young trees into round shapes. The roof was made of bark and dry grass or thatch.
The canoe was one of the most important means of transportation and were beautifully designed and made in different sizes, from a one-man model to others large enough to transport six men.
The Iroquois were excellent farmers not only hunters. Corn was their staple food but they also cultivated "squash" an Indian name we still use; pumpkins, beans and other crops.
The Algonquin were another group of farmers and woodsmen in Eastern North America. One of their customs was to give thanks to their great spirits each year to harvest time. This custom still reflects today in American Life.
Other Algonquian communities were the Narragansett who lived in Rhode Island and Connecticut. They were the most powerful tribe in the northeastern New England in 1637. Conflicts did occur among these tribes, in between the Wampanoag, (who used to live in what is today Massachusetts and Rhode Island) and the Narragansett reflecting their concern for preserving their identity and freedom after the Europeans started to push them out, trying to expand their new possession: the land.
I also would like to mention some tribes who used to speak Algonquian and lived between the Hudson and St. Lawrence. They and others lived in present day Maine, a cold region exposed to the Labrador winds. This region was not appropriate for farming. The tribes used to live from hunting, and moved from places to places according to the season. They were brave warriors and formed a confederation of tribes: Micmac, Abenaki, Mahican, Penobscot, and others.
The moose was a favorite hunting game. Because of the deep snow in winter, these tribes used snowshoes to follow the moose. Most of the native people of this region built temporary housing made of bark, and birch trees.
Although Native Americans groups had many differences, they shared some traits. They believed that land could be use but not owned. They shared the belief in spirits as the supreme creators, and that they had to live in harmony with all living things.
In all these tribal societies, the elders, or grandparents held the place of honor and respect in the community. These precious elders fulfilled the capacity of nursemaid for their married children. They were the constant, and stabilizing companions for the very young. Such an influence was colored with respect, demanding that children learned the correct items of address and the proper modes of behavior for those lineal as well as collateral relatives who were members of the "Tiyospaye" (11) (a family group who hunt buffalo and belong to one of the Lakota tribes.) This love for one another continued throughout life and was constantly reinforced by acts of generosity and affection. They were valued for passing on their knowledge.
Subarctic and Arctic Region
According to Gilbert Legay ,(1995)" two linguistic families shared the Subarctic region. To the east were the Algonkians and to the west and north, the Athapaskan, Chipewyan, Yellowknife, Kaska, Koyukin, Tahahua and others."(12) All these tribes had something in common, they were hunters and fishermen.
Archaeologists are almost certain that these were the ancestors of the Native Americans, and they believe that they crossed a bridge of ice and that they were from different Asian groups.
These people became known as the Aleuts, and their islands are called Aleutians. The rest of the group seems to have spread along the Arctic Coast. They became the Inuits or Eskimos. This Arctic people hunted bison with cleverly made small tools and fished with harpoons. They were making and using kayaks, twenty five hundred years ago. Among their other inventions were hobnails and boots. The boots were made of skin, the hobnails of bone or ivory; also sun googles to protect their eyes. Even today, people who live in the Arctic use similar clothing because of the bitter cold.
These first Americans could talk and teach and plan ahead. They knew how to make and use fire 10,000 years ago. They did not leave written history but there were found a lot of evidence of what they knew and did. One of these evidences were the cleverly fashioned spearpoints used as weapons like "guide -post on the way"." " These weapons have been found in 49 states of the United States."" This is the trademark of the first American hunters."(13)
The Inuits were named in the language of an Indian group in the North American Arctic. It means: "people", but other group named them "Eskimo", an Indian word that means: "eaters of raw meat."(14) When the Europeans arrived they heard the word and believed it was the right one. So, they were known with an Indian name ever since.
The Inuits made their home on the tundra in northern Canada. They lived in homes made of sod. But to survive during the harsh winter they built igloos, or houses made from blocks of snow. In summer they used tents made from animal skins. To hunt along the Alaskan and Labrador coasts, the Inuits used "kayaks", long, narrow, small, canoe-shaped skin boats. In general they were hospitable and happy people, in spite of the hard living conditions.
Comparison of Two Native American Regions: The Eastern Woodlands and California
By introducing these two specific regions, students may learn that marked similarities exist between the Native American cultures and ways of life A study such as this may open to discussion and understanding of the people or early Native Americans who used to live in different regions.They shared certain general ideas about life. They both believed that the land belonged to all. They took from the land only what they needed. Some ecologists like Helen Caldicott,MD.,(physician) have been trying to teach us the same today.
Both regions wanted to live in peace with the earth, and shared spiritual beliefs. They thought that every natural object had a spirit, and that there were both good and bad spirits. The tribes of the different regions started to live in villages or around them. They followed specific rules and had a very strong sense of community. Shelters were built depending of tribal traditions.
For a better historical appreciation students may use the website or spend one or two class periods with the school librarian researching basic sources of the two regions and using a chart to compare their ways of life given emphasis to the basic building system.
The Eastern Woodlands
Native Americans of the Eastern Woodlands used the natural resources provided by the surrounded forests. This is an area where the Finger Lakes region is set in the wooded and fertile hills. The first inhabitants of the region were the Iroquois. They used to live in what is now New York State. They formed a nation of five tribes: The Cayuga, Mohawk, Oneida, Onondaga, and Seneca.
The Iroquois lived in large bark-covered houses called "Longhouses" where related families could live together. They also built wigwams by bending young trees into round shapes. These wigwams were built for single families.
" Women played an important role in the community. " They held great power in Iroquois society. Women decided who would be the representative chief of the Nation. "Some leaders were chosen from among the male descendants of the mothers of the first chiefs."(15) The women did most of the cultivating, planting, and harvesting of the crops. Corn or maize was a large part of their daily food.
The Iroquois were farmers, hunters, and warriors. After the European came, they allied with the English against the French, and participated in most of the European wars. After they were defeated during the Revolutionary war, many of their villages were destroyed.
I chose California as a region to be compared and related to the Eastern Woodlands.
The Indian population was large and enjoyed optimum living conditions. Despite the diversity of languages they shared a great similarity of customs and way of life. Fishing and hunting were important to survive. In the summer they fished from the sea;" trapping whales, dolphins, seas, and otters." "They traveled in simple wood boats called pirogues." " This tribe and others lived in Southern California. " (16) We found the Tipaï, Luiseno and Chumash. Further north we found the Miwok, the Mohawe who lived downstream the Colorado River, the Miwok, the Pomo, The Yurok, the Hupa, and others.
In California the young boy of 12 or 13 often had to pass tests of courage before the tribe would see him as a grown up. An older man became the boy's life-long advisor; he shared age-old secrets with the boy and instructed him in the history and lore of the tribe. The girls were treated differently. When they changed from childhood to adolescence "they took note of her coming of age with feasting, dancing, singing, and games." "Friends or relatives came to celebrate and give the young girl many gifts." " An older woman became her advisor and told her about her new duties (as a woman) and the special secrets of the universe." (17)
California had the greatest variety of shelters of any region in North America, and some of the earliest known, as well. How the shelters were built depended on the weather, what materials were available, and tribal traditions. Chumash built grass houses with a frame of poles of debarked willow or sycamore. " They also put a "doorbell" made from shells, hanging outside the door." (18)
Many California villages had lean-tos, flat-topped brush shelters that provided shade during the hot summer months. Some tribes moved to the cooler hills during the summer and used theses simple structures as temporary houses.
California Tribal Languages
The first European who came to California were amazed at how many languages were spoken, among there – nearly 100 languages and 300 dialects.
Here are some words spoken among various tribes that had been brought together by Franciscan priests in about 1759. Students may learn them and compare it with other words they may find in a Dictionary I mentioned as a resource book for the unit.
Woot–Chah = sky
Koh-mah = moon
Too– ah = sun
Hay-see-koh-mah = (big) star
Loo–hoh–lo = rain
Tchah-kay-hay = springtime
Too–toh–sah = wind
How-nah = morning
May-may-ahch = morning
Toh-yoh = arrow
Koh-hoh-lay = evening
Some Native American Tribes and where They Lived, Around 1650.
( Anne Zeman and Kate Kelly. Scholastic Inc. 1997. (19)
Native Americans of the North and Northeast
Native Americans of the Southeast
Native Americans of the Plains
Native Americans of the Southwest
Native Americans of the Northwest
* These tribes lived in the area that is now Alaska.
"ABC of Native Dwelling ." by Elizabeth Crosby ,Stull.Multicultural Discovery Activities .New York 1995. (20)
A very interesting ABC of Native American dwellings to be used for activities .
A. adobe houses
B. brush shelters
D. dome – shape roof
E. earth lodges
F. framed houses
G. grass – covered hut
I. island hut
J. just form men (sweat lodge)
K. kiva (underground ceremony chamber)
M. mat-covered hut
N. night dwelling (when on a hunt)
O. oral-shaped house
P. pitched-roof dwelling
Q. quiet large multi-family dwelling
R. rain house
S. square house
T. tipi (or tepee)
U. underground lodge
V. villages with rows of house facing out to sea
W. witus (dome-shaped wigwams)
X. x-shaped wigwams
Y. yellow grass, woven and clay-covered hut
Z. Zebra hide or buffalo hide covered hut