Introduction to Native Americans

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Native Americans:

Native Americans


Tribes and Culture

Economy and Government


New Settlers












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Native Americans were the first people to live in America. Learn more about the Native Americans.

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Native Americans

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Archaeologists suggest that people arrived in several groups or tribes to America, from at least 15,000 years ago. The first Americans came from Asia and followed herds of grazing animals across a land bridge formed during the Ice Age. When the Earth began to warm, this land bridge disappeared and became the Bering Strait. The people journeyed on foot slowly southward into North America through a harsh landscape. They were excellent hunters and speared huge animals such as woolly mammoths and long-horned bison.

The earliest inhabitants of America were hunters who migrated from the Asian mainland across the Bering Straits land bridge between 40,000 and 25,000 B.C.E. They adapted quickly to their environment. Their population in Central America and in the high valleys of the Andes alone had grown to approximately 45 million by 1492, the year Christopher Columbus arrived in America. In 1500, over 350 major tribal groups, 15 distinct cultural centres and more than 160 linguistic stocks existed in Latin America, a variety so great as to invite
comparison with all of Eurasia or all of Africa.



Tribes of Native Americans spread across the land, depending on nature for food and shelter. In California, the mild climate meant that tribes there had plenty to eat, unlike the extremely dry Great Basin where food and water was scarce.


Native Americans loved, decorated ceremonial costumes, but had simple everyday clothes. They dressed to suit the weather.


Apache girls were showered with yellow tule pollen, Alaskan girls had their faces tattooed. After puberty, girls joined the women in the tribe. Where as boys had to pass tests of courage, such as wounding or killing an enemy, before they could become true hunters and warriors.

Marriage ceremonies varied greatly between tribes and regions. Sports helped the men develop their hunting and fighting skills, such as strength, courage, staying power, swiftness and alert.


Native Americans walked huge distances in their never-ending quest for food. Horses brought speed to the Plains Indians and changed their hunting and fighting ways. People built boats for fishing, moving between hunting grounds, carrying goods and going to war. In some places, people harnessed dogs to wooden carts to carry their goods and belongings. Later, horses and pack ponies made life easier for the tribes who had them. For long distances where there were no dogs, horses, or carts, mothers used to carry young children on their back, which is called "Piggy backing" or "Hopi toddler."

Food and Cultivation

Food and Cultivation


Starting from early spring to late autumn, many Native American tribes moved around frequently, searching for things to eat. In the Great Basin, they searched for seeds, berries, nuts, and roots. In California, the Foragers harvested acorns from oak trees and ground them into flour. They hunted on the sea coast and in the mountains. The Southeast, parts of the Southwest, and the Eastern edge of the plains were the best areas for farming. Tribes grew corn, wheat, fruits and garden vegetables often using clever methods.


Buffalo meant life to the Indians. They used every part of the buffalo. They used the hides for clothing and shelter, dung for fuel, fat for lamps, horns for spoons, bones for tools and toys, stomachs for cooking pots, and hooves for rattle and glue. They dried the meat and crushed it with berries and kidney fat into an energy food called 'Pemmican.' One day’s good hunting could keep a tribe in provisions for a year. Native Americans had no set meal times. People ate when they were hungry, after a good hunt or when travelers arrived. Sharing was very important for them. Most tribes’ stored food for the winter, as in cold seasons, it was very hard to grow plants or hunt animals.


Some Native American tribes’ hated war, but many fought constantly over land and horses, to revenge people and to defeat thoroughly to live up the battle honors.



Native American dwellings came in various shapes like cones, domes, triangles, squares, and rectangles. Their names were just as varied, chickees, hogans, igloos, tepees, long houses, lean-tos, wigwams, and wickiups. The Plains Indians lived in cone-shaped structures called tepees, made out of buffalo hides sewn together. When tribes needed to move on to find food or to escape from enemies, they could fold the tepees and transport them easily.



Native Americans enjoyed many special occasions. Ceremonial clothing, decorated with fur, feathers, quilling, and beadwork, was worn for these events, and people made necklaces, earrings and bracelets from animal teeth, bones, and claws, shells, and stones. Ceremonial dancing was the Native American way of celebrating joyous occasions and praying for health, successful hunting and good harvests.

Later Generations

New Settlers

Columbus inspired adventurous Europeans from the “Old World” to visit America, the “New World.” People from Spain, England, France, and Russia came in search of land, minerals, and furs. Some tried to convert the tribes to their religion, others used them as slaves. When Europeans began to colonize America, they fought bitterly with the Native Americans over land. In 1830, President Jackson passed a law saying that the government could set up areas in the West called Reservations. These were exchanged for tribal homelands, which the new settlers wanted to farm.

Arts and Crafts

The Native American arts and crafts are famous throughout the world. Native Americans made practical and beautiful crafted objects for everyday use. Their ceremonial clothing and sacred things were richly decorated. Painting, carving and embroidery told stories and were linked with the spirits through designs that had special meanings. Skills such as basketry, pottery and weaving have been passed down from one generation to another for many centuries.

The Future

Native Americans suffered badly from the changes caused by European settlement. Many people died and some tribes disappeared altogether. Governments are beginning to recognize Native Americans’ rights as citizens of the United States and Canada. Out of thousands of tribes during the Native American period, one of the most important tribe that the archaeologists named were, the Cherokee. “Aniyunwiya,” meaning ‘The Principle People’, that is how the Cherokees quoted themselves. We learn about some more important tribes, their lifestyles, and traditions in this section.

The First Thanksgiving

The American custom of giving thanks did not begin with the arrival of European colonists. Spirituality it was a deeply sacred and personal part of Wampanoag life. Everything is sacred, and giving thanks for the Creator’s gifts is an integral part of daily life. Giving thanks was an important part of the celebrations, called Nickommo, which are still held by the Wampanoag. Give-away ceremonies, feasting, dancing and sports and games were common features of these occasions. Give-away ceremonies show gratefulness to the Creator who provides for the people and makes possible the blessings celebrated. If an animal was hunted for food, special thanks were also given to the Creator and to the spirit of the animal. If a plant was harvested and used for any purpose, or a bird or a fish, if an anthill was disrupted, gratitude and acknowledgement were given for the little ones’ lives. To this day it is the same with most Native people and Americans.

Click here for information on "The First Thanksgiving".

Books on the Native Americans

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Links to other sites on Native Americans

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Native American Geography http://www.dickshovel.com/up.html
Native American Lore http://www.ilhawaii.net/~stony/loreindx.html
Native American Facts http://www.native-languages.org/kids.htm
Native American Resources http://www.cowboy.net/native/
Native Americans http://www.nativeamericans.com/Natives.htm
American Indian Studies http://www.csulb.edu/colleges/cla/
Thanksgiving and the Pilgrims http://www.picadome.fcps.net/lab/currl/
Native American Tribes http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Category:

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