Economy and Systems of Government

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Native Americans were the first people to live in America. Learn more about their economy and systems of government.

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Tribal constitutions and codes are the heart of self-government for over 500 federally recognized tribes, and is the lifeblood of Indian sovereignty. The Constitution of the United States specifically refers to Indian tribes where it says "Congress shall have the power to regulate Commerce with foreign nations, among the several states, and with the Indian tribes."Definition of Economy: The use or management of resources. The study of prehistoric Native American economy most often concerns not only how they acquired and used resources for basic needs such as food, clothing, and shelter, but also involves the study of trade and exchange.


During the Mississippian period, Native Americans developed an economy based on cultivating corn. Since mid 1760, the Native Americans had complained that the supply of deerskin was diminishing. In spite of the attention paid to deerskin trade, even at its peak this commerce had a very little impact on Native American economies. Whatever its value, working with deerskin trade made sense to the Native Americans. In certain places, Native Americans also worked for wages. Some Indians became involved in slave trade. In many low-lying areas colonists created plantations to produce rice. They also reshaped the low lands to make them suitable for rice production.The Native American economy was based on hunting and gathering resources whose availability was largely influenced by the season of the year and geographic distribution. The availability of plants and animals depends on the season, especially the growing season during which plants produce fruits, seeds, and nuts. The distribution of plants and animals is also affected by the availability of water and by topography. Cultivated food became an increasingly larger part of Native American economy. At the beginning of the period, only native plants grew in gardens, but by the end of the period, Native plants new to Illinois Americans grew new plants such as corn. The mix of wild and cultivated plants and animals provided a varied and stable supply of food.


The discovery of the new world by the European explorers created endless problems to the Native Americans in all aspects. Their homelands were taken away and their cultures dramatically altered or destroyed. Resources such as stone suitable for tool making were also not available everywhere. This is the first sign of Native Americans greatest challenge. After 12,000 years of adapting to the challenges of nature and neighbors, Native Americans struggled to maintain their way of life while coping first with European demands for land and fur, and later the ravages of European diseases. Hunter - gatherer economy is a matter of being at the right place at the right time to take advantage of a desirable resource. A more bountiful and stable food supply allowed Native American people to live in communities for longer periods of the year. Native American people invented pottery to cook and store new foods. They invented the bow and arrow and improved their hunting efficiency. They traded to acquire exotic objects from far away places. In addition, they made cemeteries covered with mounds of earth near their villages. During this period, the pace of change accelerated, and it continued to increase over the coming centuries.

Systems of Government

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Tribal Governments were recognized as legitimate representative bodies of the Indian nations. During 1790's and the first decade of the 19th century, the Americans took up an abstract frame of Government and put it into practice. In the process, they developed a host of innovations such as a two party political system and the principle of judicial review.There were 10 million Native Americans on the continent when the first non-Indians arrived. During the next 300 years all the Native American, population was wiped out due to disease, famine, or warfare imported by the whites. By 1840, all the Eastern tribes were forcibly moved to the West of Mississippi.


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Sovereignty - royal rank, authority, or power

Economy - careful, thrifty management of resources, such as money, materials, or labor

Constitution - the system of fundamental laws and principles

Self-government - government of a country run by its own people

Trade - act of buying or selling

Exchange - give in return for something received

Resources - an available supply that can be drawn on when needed


Books on Native American Economy and Systems of Government

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Links to other sites on Economy and Systems of Government

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A Chronology of US Historical Documents http://www.law.ou.edu/hist/
Great Chiefs and Leaders http://www.indigenouspeople.net/
Economics for Kids http://www.socialstudiesforkids.com/subjects
Government for Kids http://www.socialstudiesforkids.com/subjects
Native American Resources http://marilee.us/nativeamericans.html
First Americans - Activities http://www.ic.arizona.edu/ic/kmartin/School
Cherokee Stories http://www.powersource.com/cocinc/
Cherokee Nation http://users.aol.com/Donh523/navapage
Cherokees of California http://www.powersource.com/cocinc/
Cherokee North Carolina http://www.cherokee-nc.com/

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