NATIVE AMERICAN REGIONS. NATIVES OF THE NORTHEAST.
Forests covered much of the northeastern region so it is called the Eastern Woodlands. These tribes relied on the many trees in their region for their food and shelter. They were experts at using the wood and bark from trees. They made baskets, canoes, tools, pots, and dishes from wood.
Like all Native Americans, the Natives of the Northeast learned to live in their environment. They hunted wild game, such as bear, wolf, fox, and deer. They also fished for cod, trout, salmon and smelt. They adapted the forest for farming by using slash-and-burn agriculture. In slash-and-burn agriculture, farmers chopped down and then burned trees on a plot of land. The ashes from the fire enriched the soil. When a field’s soil became worn out, the farmer abandoned it and cleared a new field. They grew such crops as tobacco, squash, yams, and corn.
Some Natives in the Northeast lived in longhouses, bark-covered shelters as long as 300 feet. One longhouse held eight to ten families. Others lived in wigwams, domelike houses covered with deerskin and slabs of bark. For protection, many tribes surrounded their villages with high fences made of poles.
Indians in the Northeast believed it was important to give back to nature. After eating plants or animals, members of these tribes offered a prayer or a sacrifice to the land. They might say, “The land gives the people what we need to survive. In return, people should respect nature.”
The southeast, which stretches from east Texas to the Atlantic Ocean, has mild winters and warm summers with plentiful rainfall. The long growing season led several of the southeastern tribes to become farmers. As many other Native Americans did, they grew corn, beans, squash, and pumpkins.
Women did most of the farming, while men hunted, fished, and cleared land. The men spent months in the forest tracking deer.
In the southeast, people traced their family ties through the women. Societies in which ancestry is traced through the mother are called matrilineal.
Some of the Indian tribes in the Southeast lived in homes called chickees. Chickees were wooden frame homes that were raised off the ground. They were open on all four sides so breezes could blow through the houses. This helped keep the Indians cool during the warm, humid summer months. Other tribes lived in log homes. These buildings helped keep them warm in the winter.
In southeastern villages, people gathered at a central square for public meetings and such religious ceremonies as the Green Corn Festival. Held once a year, this festival offered thanks for the corn harvest and also served as a kind of New Year’s celebration. People cleaned their houses, threw away old pots, and settled quarrels as a sign of a fresh start for the year.
Farther north, the Great Plains is a flat grassland region stretching from the Mississippi River west to the Rocky Mountains. Today, most people think of Plains Indians on horseback, but originally they had no horses. The Spanish first brought horses to the Americas in the 1500s.
Some Plains groups lived in villages by rivers, where land was easier to farm. Other groups were nomads. In the summer, entire villages set out to track bison. For many of the Plains tribes, bison was their main food source. Hunting bison on foot was difficult, but Plains tribes used their environment to help them. Working together, the villagers stampeded the herd over a cliff, so the fall would kill or disable the animals. Plains Indians not only ate the bison’s meat. To show respect to the Creator, they used every part of the bison. They made its hide into clothes and tepee covers. Its bones were made into tools and weapons. They even used its dried dung for starting fires.
NATIVES OF THE GREAT PLAINS
Tepees, which were made of animal skins and poles, were very popular homes with the Plains Natives because they were easy to pack quickly and move. In winter some Northern Plains groups lived in large circular lodges. Wooden beams held up the earthen walls. A hole at the top provided air, light, and an outlet for smoke from the fire. Buried partly underground, the earth lodge protected the people from the extreme cold and wind of the Plains climate.
The spiritual beliefs of Plains tribes varied. Some felt a close tie to regional animals such as the bison or plants such as corn. Some honored sacred places, such as the Black Hills of South Dakota and Wyoming. Many Plains tribes held a ceremony called the Sun Dance, which involved making a vow and asking the Creator for aid.
Since the Northwest Coast people lived by forests which contained large redwood trees they were able to use the wood to build many different items that assisted them in their every day lives.
The tribes of the Northwest were famous for making totem poles. The poles told family histories and showed social importance in the tribes. Poles had birds, animals, or spirits carved on them. It was actually good to be the “low man on the totem pole.” This meant that your job was to carve the lowest part of the pole. Often, the best artist was chosen to carve the bottom of the pole because it was the most visible part.
Northwestern Natives lived in long houses make of red cedar logs. The homes were as large as 60 feet by 150 feet. Multiple families lived in each long house. A specially decorated mat told others where each family’s assigned living space was located. The outsides of the long houses were painted and decorated. It rains quite a bit in the northwest, so these buildings were carefully built to keep out the water.
NATIVES OF THE NORTHWEST COAST
The main source of food for tribes along the Northwest Coast came from fishing and hunting. They fished for salmon, halibut, cod, herring, smelt, and octopus and hunted for seals and whales. They would talk to a whale before harpooning it to show respect to the whale. Then the village honored the whale with singing and dancing. They believed the whale allowed itself to die for the Indians. When the Indians harpooned a whale, they used every part of it. Everything from the bone to the blubber was important to the tribe.
The men and boys of the Northwest Coast tribes were in charge of the hunting and fishing. Boys were taught how to use traps, clubs, and arrows. The women and girls were in charge of cleaning, drying, and cooking the meat and fish.
Natives from the Northwest often traveled up and down the coast to trade with other tribes. They traded such coastal products as shells for items from the inland, such as furs.
Some Northwest Coast groups had a special ceremony called the potlatch. Individuals would give away most or all of their goods as a way to claim status and benefit their community. They held potlatches to mark life events, such as naming a child or mourning the dead.
The Pueblo people lived in the southwest. They believed that people should respect the spiritual world. They also believed that the land was sacred, or holy.
The Pueblo people did not move around to hunt or gather food; they did some hunting, but were mainly farmers. They farmed fields of corn, squash, beans, and chili peppers. For meat, they hunted game and raised turkeys.
Since Southwestern Natives lived in the desert, water was an important natural resource to them. Those who lived near rivers used the river water for their daily needs. Other tribes, who lived away from rivers, channeled the water to their crops.
The homes of the Pueblo tribes were also called pueblos. Pueblos were made of clay, sandstone, and natural materials. The tribes that lived along rivers used river clay called adobe to build their homes. These large buildings sometimes held an entire village.
NATIVES OF THE SOUTHWEST
Men did most of the farming, hunting, weaving, and building. Women ground the corn and cooked the food, repaired the adobe houses, and crafted pottery.
Some southwestern tribes that came to the region later than the Pueblo were nomadic, or wandering, hunter-gatherers. For food, they relied mainly on game and cactus, roots, and piñon nuts. Often, they traded these wild products for crops that the Pueblo had grown. Over time, the Navajo adopted farming and other Pueblo practices.
Every Pueblo man belonged to a religious society or group. They held their secret rituals in a kiva, or underground room. Women and children could not go into the kivas. Since the Pueblo people were matrilineal, this gave some power to the women.
Some tribes in the Southwest made kachina dolls. A kachina was a messenger between the Natives and their gods. During dances and ceremonies, kachina dolls were given to infants, young girls, and women. These gifts were treated with respect and hung in places of honor.