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Native Americans

Native Americans
Indigenous Peoples
The first people to live in a land are called indigenous peoples. This means they were the original
settlers. The Native Americans are the indigenous peoples and cultures of the United States.
American Indians
Sometimes these peoples are referred to as Indians or American Indians. This is because when
Columbus had first landed in America, he thought he had sailed all the way to the country of India.
He called the locals Indians and the name stuck for some time.
Where did they live?
Native Americans lived throughout North and South America. In the United States there were
Native Americans in Alaska, Hawaii, and the mainland of the United States. Different tribes and
cultures lived in different areas. In the middle of the country lived the Plains Indians, including
tribes such as the Comanche and Arapaho. In the Southeast area of the country lived tribes such
as the Cherokee and the Seminole.
The Native Americans were grouped into tribes or nations usually based on the area they lived in
and their culture such as their religion, customs, and language. Sometimes smaller tribes were
part of a bigger tribe or nation. As best as historians can tell, these tribes were fairly peaceful prior
to the arrival of Columbus and the Europeans. There were hundreds of tribes throughout the
United States when Columbus first arrived. Many of them are well known such as the Cherokee,
Apache, and the Navajo.
How do we know about their history?
The Native Americans did not write down or record their history, so we have to find out about
their history in other ways. Today archeologists are able to learn a lot about past cultures by
digging up artifacts such as tools and weapons. Much of what we know comes from the recordings
of the first Europeans to arrive. We can also learn from traditions and stories that have been
passed down within the tribes from generation to generation.
Native Americans Today
Today, some of the descendants of the original American Indians live on reservations. These are
areas of land set aside specifically for Native Americans. This helps to protect their heritage and
culture. However, only around 30% live on reservations. The rest live outside the reservations just
like anyone else.
How did Native Americans get their food?
Depending on the tribe and the area they lived in, Native Americans got their food by different
methods including farming, hunting, fishing, and gathering. Most tribes used a combination of
these four ways to get their food, but many specialized in one area such as farming or hunting.
Native Americans in the Great Plains area of the country relied heavily on the buffalo, also called
the bison. Not only did they eat the buffalo as food, but they also used much of the buffalo for
other areas of their lives. They used the bones for tools. They used the hide for blankets, clothes,
and to make the covers of their tepees. They even made rope from bison hair and used the
tendons as thread when sewing. Almost every part of the buffalo was used.
In the coastal areas or near large lakes, tribes would specialize in fishing. They often used spears or
nets to catch fish. Fish could be smoked or dried to be stored for the winter. In the north, some
Native Americans would ice fish. This is where they would cut a hole in the ice and fish using
The primary material used by Native
Americans in their clothing was made
from animal hides. All of their clothes
were made by hand. The women
would generally make the clothes. First
they would tan the animal skin.
Tanning is a process that would turn
the animal skin into leather which
would last a long time and not decompose. Then they would need to cut and sew the leather into
a piece of clothing. The Native Americans would use feathers, animal fur such as ermine or rabbit,
porcupine quills, and, after the Europeans arrived, glass beads to decorate their clothes.
Most Native Americans wore some kind of footwear. This was
usually a shoe made of soft leather called a moccasin. In the
cold northern areas like Alaska, they wore a thick boot called a
Prior to the Europeans arriving, American Indians used wood,
shells, and bone to make beads to decorate their clothing and make jewelry. Later they would
start using the European's glass beads.
The brain of the animal was sometimes used in the tanning process
because of its chemical properties. Plains Indians sometimes wore
breastplates made of bone for armor when going to war.
The most popular kind of headdress was not the feathered one you
see on TV a lot, but one called a roach. The roach was made from
animal hair, generally stiff porcupine hair.
Elaborate clothes, headdresses, and masks were often used in
religious ceremonies.
Famous Native Americans
Squanto (1581-1622)
Squanto (also called Tisquantum ) lived an interesting life. As a
teenager he first met a group of Europeans led by Captain
Weymouth. He learned the English language and traveled back to
England with them. After a while he became homesick and
eventually traveled back to his homeland. However, he didn't stay
in America long as he and 19 other members of his tribe were taken
captive by Captain George Weymouth, brought back to Europe, and
sold as slaves. Years later, Squanto once again found his way back
to his homeland. However, when he finally got home, he found out
that his entire village had died from disease. Squanto joined
another tribe and lived with them.
Around a year later, the Pilgrims arrived and settled in Plymouth near the Squanto's tribe. Since Squanto could
speak English he helped establish a treaty between the local Native Americans and the Pilgrims. Squanto
helped the Pilgrims learn how to catch fish, grow local crops, and survive through the winter. The Pilgrims
would likely have not made it without Squanto's help. Despite all the bad things that had happened to
Squanto, he still wanted peace and to help others.
Pocahontas (1595-1617)
Pocahontas was the daughter of the chief of the Powhatan tribe which lived near
the English settlement of Jamestown, Virginia. She ended up saving the life of
Jamestown leader Captain John Smith when he visited her village. She also
helped to warn the settlers of an attack from her father and his warriors. Later,
Pocahontas would be captured and held for ransom by the settlers. She was
treated well, though, and soon fell in love with English settler John Rolfe. After
marrying John Rolfe, Pocahontas traveled back to England with Rolfe and
became a famous celebrity. Unfortunately, she died in
England at the young age of 22.
Sequoyah (1767-1843)
Sequoyah was a member of the Cherokee tribe. He invented the Cherokee alphabet
and a way to write down the Cherokee language. He did this amazing feat all on his
Black Hawk (1767-1838)
Black Hawk was a capable and fierce war Chief. He led the
Sauk tribes in assisting the British in the War of 1812.
Then he fought to save his people's land from the
settlers. However, he eventually was captured and his
people lost their lands.
Geronimo (1829-1909)
Geronimo was a leader of the Chiricahua Apache tribe.
Geronimo led the Apache in stiff resistance for many years against both
invaders from the west and from Mexico. His name means "one who yawns".
Sacagawea (1788-1812)
Sacagawea was a member of the Shoshone Indian tribe. When she was a girl her
village was attacked and she became a slave. Later, she was sold to a French
trapper named Charbonneau who married her. She was living with Charbonneau
when the explorers Lewis and Clark arrived. They asked for Sacagawea to travel
with them as she could help translate with the Shoshone. She joined their
expedition and played a major role their successful journey to the Pacific Ocean.
Sitting Bull (1831-1890)>>>
Sitting Bull was a famous leader of the Lakota
Sioux Plains Indians. He is most known for
having a premonition that the Sioux would win a
great battle against the white man. Then he led
a combined group of warriors from the Lakota,
Cheyenne, and Arapahoe tribes into battle. This
famous battle was called the Battle of Little Big Horn and was fought against
General Custer. In this battle, sometimes called Custer's
Last Stand, Sitting Bull completely destroyed Custer's
army killing every last man.
<<<<Jim Thorpe (1888 - 1953)
Jim Thorpe grew up in the Sac and Fox Nation in
Oklahoma. He is considered one of the greatest
athletes of all time. He played professional baseball, basketball, and football. He also
won Olympic Gold Medals for the pentathlon and decathlon in the 1912 Olympics.
Native American
Trail of Tears History
What was the Trail of Tears?
The Trail of Tears was when the United States government forced Native Americans to move from their
homelands in the Southern United States to Indian Territory in Oklahoma. Peoples from the Cherokee,
Muscogee, Chickasaw, Choctaw, and Seminole tribes were marched at gunpoint across hundreds of
miles to reservations.
The Trail of Tears can also refer to the specific forced march and path of the Cherokee Nation from
North Carolina to Oklahoma.
When did it take place?
The Indian Removal Act was
passed by Congress in 1830. The
actual removal of the Native
American tribes from the South
took several years. It began with
the removal of the Choctaw in
1831 and ended with the
removal of the Cherokee in
Did they want to move?
The people and leaders of the tribes were often divided on the issue. Some thought that they had no
choice but to agree to move. Others wanted to stay and fight for their land. Few of them actually wanted
to leave their homeland, but they knew they could not fight the United States government and win.
Leading Up to the Cherokee March
After the Indian Removal Act was passed in 1830, the Cherokee peoples resisted moving to Oklahoma.
Eventually, President Andrew Jackson convinced some
Cherokee leaders to sign an agreement called the
Treaty of New Echota. By signing the treaty they
agreed to trade their homeland for land in Oklahoma
and $5 million. However, many of the Cherokee leaders
did not agree to the treaty. They petitioned to
Congress begging them to let them stay on their land.
Despite gaining some support in Congress, the
Cherokee were told they must leave by May of 1838 or
they would be forced from their land. When May
arrived, only a few thousand Cherokee had left. President Jackson sent General Winfield Scott to remove
the Cherokee by force.
The March
General Scott and his soldiers rounded up the Cherokee people into large prison camps called
stockades. In many cases, the Cherokee were not allowed to
gather up their possessions before being put into the camps.
During the summer, some groups were forced to start
marching to Oklahoma. However, many people died from
the heat and diseases. The remainder of the people were
held in camps until that Fall.
In the Fall, the rest of the Cherokee headed out to Oklahoma. It took them several months to travel
around 1,000 miles across mountains and wilderness terrain. The journey lasted into the winter months
making it very difficult and dangerous. Along the way, thousands of Cherokee died from diseases,
starvation, and the cold. Historians estimate that at least 4,000 Cherokee died on the Trail of Tears.
Aftermath and Legacy
The Trail of Tears is one of the darkest and most shameful events of American history. The famous poet
Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote of it at the time saying "the name of this nation...will stink to the world."
Today, the path of the Cherokee is memorialized by the Trail of Tears National Historic Trail.
Interesting Facts about the Trail of Tears
 The persecution of Native Americans didn't end with the removal to Oklahoma. Much of the land
they were promised by law in Oklahoma was soon taken from them.
 The Cherokee were given money to buy food along the way. However, dishonest suppliers sold them
bad food at high prices causing many of them to starve.
 John Ridge, a Cherokee leader who agreed with the removal treaty, was later assassinated by
Cherokee men who survived the march.
Around 17,000 Choctaw people were forced to march to Oklahoma. It is estimated at least 3,000 died
on the journey.
Native American Vocabulary
Adobe - A sun-hardened clay building material made from straw, dirt, and water.
Algonquian tribes - A large group of tribes in the northern United States that speak the Algonquian
Buckskin - Soft leather usually made from the skin of a deer, elk, or moose.
Canoe - A narrow boat with pointed ends that is propelled by paddles.
Chickee - A dwelling built by the Seminole Indians with a raised floor, thatched roof, and open sides.
Cradleboard - A frame which a baby is attached to by using blankets. It is used to protect the baby while
it is being carried around.
Ghost Dance - A religious movement that prophesied an end to the expansion of the white man.
Hides - Animal skins.
Hogan - A Navajo dwelling built with a log frame and covered with packed mud.
Igloo - A home build by the Inuit of the Arctic built from blocks of ice and snow.
Iroquois tribes - A league of several nations of Native Americans located in the northeastern USA.
Kachina - A spirit of an ancestor or nature. They were often represented by dolls called kachina dolls.
Kiva - An underground ceremonial room used by the Pueblo for religious ceremonies and meetings.
Lacrosse - A team sport using sticks with nets on the end to pass around a ball. It was first played by
Indians in North America.
Maize - The main crop of many of the original tribes. Maize is a grain and is the Indian name for corn.
Moccasins - Shoes made from soft leather.
Medicine man - A religious or spiritual leader.
Potlatch - A festival celebrated by Indians in the northwest United States and Canada where gifts were
Powwow - A ceremony or meeting among Native American Indians.
Pueblo - A village of multistoried buildings made from stones covered with adobe clay. Sometimes they
were built into the side of a cliff.
Reservation - An area of land set aside by the United States government that is managed by a Native
American tribe.
Roach - A headdress worn by many Native American men made from stiff animal hair that stood strait
up from the head. It was sometimes called a porcupine roach.
Teepee - A home made from long polls covered with buffalo hide. It took the shape of an upside down
cone. Teepees were portable homes used by the plains Indians.
Tomahawk - A small axe similar to a hatchet used both as a tool and a weapon.
Totem pole - A tall wooden post carved with symbols.
Travois - A sled made from long poles that trailed behind dogs or horses used to carry belongings when
Tribe - A group of families that have a common language, culture, and religion.
Vision quest - A rite of passage ceremony where the person seeks to find spiritual guidance and their life
Wampum - Beads made from shells that were sometimes used as money.
Wigwam - A dome shaped home made from wooden poles covered with bark.