- The people who first lived in North America can be called “American Indians,” “Native Americans,” and “First Nations People”. It is not correct to use the terms such as “Red Indian” or “Redskin,” because this name originally referred to a specific tribe, the Beothuks, who painted their bodies and faces with red ochre.
- There were hundreds of Native American cultures, from coast to coast and from the Yukon to the Gulf of Mexico.
- All of the Native American tribes had some things in common. They lived off the land by gathering food in the earliest times and then planting crops later in history. Once they began planting crops, they were able to begin creating villages that were permanent.
- They all hunted and eventually domesticated animals. Most of the tribes used as much of the animal as they could. Meat was used for food. Furs and skins were used for clothing and shelters. The stomach was used to carry and hold water. Bones were used for needles and weapons.
- The most important Native American food crop was corn, or what they called maize. Other important American Indian crops included squash, potatoes, wild rice, tomatoes, sweet potatoes, beans, pumpkins, sunflowers, peanuts, peppers, chocolate, and avocados.
- Native American tribes also had diets that included a lot of meat. These meats were: elk, buffalo, caribou, rabbit, deer, salmon, fish, ducks, turkeys, geese, pheasant, shellfish and other marine animals like whales and seal. Porcupines and snakes were also hunted as food. Native Americans ate honey, eggs, maple syrup, nuts, salt, pine nuts, cranberry, blueberries, raspberries, acorns, root vegetables and greens. Native American cooking tended to be simple. Most Native Americans preferred to eat their food very fresh, without many spices.
- All Native American people were very spiritual and they had many religious customs and rituals. They also had many gods. They believed in a special relationship with nature. For most, the Sun was the supreme god. They worshiped the sun because they needed it to grow their crops. They also needed rain, so many had a Rain god.
- Other elements in nature were also worshipped. Most tribes believed in the power of their dreams They were considered to be revelations made by the gods. Most had an important religious leader which some called Shaman, or medicine man.
- Native Americans did not know about the wheel, so they used travois to transport their goods while following the bison herds. A travois was made from two large branches joined to one end and diverging to the other. The travois was attached through harnesses to the back of a horse. It was dragged on the ground and cargo was place on the skins that was stretched across it. Before wild horses were domesticated, smaller travois were dragged by dogs.
- The roles men and women in most Native American tribes were the same. The men hunted and provided protection for their people. The women prepared the food, made clothing and shelters and cared for the children. The men used bows and arrows, spears and knives to hunt. They would also work together to move herds of animals into enclosures or off cliffs to kill them.
- Native Americans had many different kinds of shelters depending upon where they lived. Some used portable structures that could be moved to follow the bison herds. These structures were called the tipi. Some built homes out of logs. Others built homes from mud bricks they baked in the sun. Others even made their homes from blocks of ice.
- The Native American tribes began to diminish when white settlers began to move onto their lands. Native Americans were eventually moved onto lands called reservations. Many died from disease during these forced moves. These were terrible times for Native American people.
Native Americans are the people who were in North America, Central America, South America, and the Caribbean Islands when Europeans arrived. Christopher Columbus was travelling west, so he thought he was going to India. This is why he called the people "Indians". See the fact file below for more information about the Native Americans.
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