Thursday, November 3

Studying Indigenous Peoples for Native American Heritage Month

November is Native American Heritage Month, and it is a time to celebrate rich and diverse cultures, traditions, and histories of Native people.  Along with studies about Thanksgiving, this month is a good time to learn about different tribes and the unique challenges Native people have faced both historically and in the present...

Did you know that there are 573 federally recognized Indian Nations in the United States?  In 1990, President George H.W. Bush signed a joint congressional resolution designating the month of November “National American Indian Heritage Month.” Proclamations have been issued each year since 1994. 

Thousands of years before Columbus landed in the Americas, a group of people hiked over the land bridge from Asia into modern-day Alaska.  These people spread into new regions and flourished.  It is estimated that by the time the European explorers arrived, there were around 50 million people living in the Americas.

Anthropologists group these native peoples into ten different regions today, reflecting the variety of cultures that developed.  These include: the Arctic, the Subarctic, the Northeast, the Southeast, the Plains, the Southwest, the Great Basin, California, the Northwest Coast and the Plateau.
  • The Arctic is a frozen desert near the Arctic Circle in present-day Alaska, Canada and Greenland, and is home to the Inuit and the Aleut.  Both groups speak dialects descended from what scholars call the Eskimo-Aleut language family.  Due to the inhospitable landscape, the population of this region was and still is small, with northerners living a nomadic lifestyle, following game, while southerners tended to settle into fishing villages.  The houses of both groups were similar, featuring dome-shaped houses of sod, timber, or even ice blocks, and the use of seal or otter skin for clothing.
  • Just south is the Subarctic region, a taiga area of swampy, piney forests and waterlogged tundra that stretches across inland Alaska and Canada.  The two main groups of this region are the Athabaskan (western) and Algonquian (eastern).  Population was sparse here as well, largely in nomadic family groups.  In the 17th and 18th centuries, the fur trade changed their way of life as they went from being a nomadic people to supplying pelts to the European traders.
  • The Northeast region  stretches from Canada to North Carolina and as far inland as Mississippi.  The two main groups here were the Iroquois and Algonquian.  Both grew 'three sisters' crops of corn, beans, and vegetables.  This group was one of the first to make contact with Europeans.  Even before the arrival of the European colonizers, this region was prone to war, with the aggressive Iroquois tribes that often raided.
  • The Southeast was home to the Five Civilized Tribes, Cherokee, Chickasaw, Choctaw, Creek and Seminole.  Many of these natives were farmers due to the humid, fertile land.  In 1830, the federal Indian Removal Act compelled the relocation of what remained of the Five Civilized Tribes so that white settlers could have their land, forcing nearly 100,000 Indigenous people out of the southern states and into “Indian Territory” (later Oklahoma) west of the Mississippi.  The Cherokee called this frequently deadly trek the Trail of Tears.
  • The Plains area is a vast region of prairie stretching from the Mississippi River to the Rocky Mountains, and from Canada to the Gulf of Mexico.  The people living here included Sioux, Algonquian, Caddo, Uto-Aztecan and Athabaskan, and they were often hunters and farmers.  The most common dwelling for these hunters was the cone-shaped teepee, which could be easily transported during nomadic periods.  Plains Indians were also known for their elaborately feathered war bonnets.
  • In the Southwest region, two very distinct cultures developed.  The Hopi, Zuni, Yaqui, and Yuma were farmers in permanent settlements, whereas the Navajo and Apache were nomadic.  Many of these native people were enslaved on encomiendas, killed during the Mexican War, or resettled onto reservations.
  • The Great Basin is formed from the Rocky Mountains, Sierra Nevadas, Colorado Plateau, and Columbia Plateau, which all created a large bowl-like region of desert, salt-flat, and brackish lake.  The people here spoke Shoshonean or Uto-Aztecan, and were nomads were lived in easy-to-build shelters.  Once prospectors discovered gold and silver in the region in the mid-19th century, most of this region's people lost their land and, frequently, their lives.
  • At one time, California had more people than any other North American landscape; it's estimated there were 100 different tribes with approximately 300,000 people in the mid-1500s.  Despite this great diversity, many native Californians lived very similar lives, living in small family-groups of hunter-gatherers until the region was settled by Spanish explorers toward the end of the 16th century.
  • On the Northwest Coast, the ocean and rivers provided almost everything the people needed, including salmon, whales, sea otters, seals and fish and shellfish of all kinds.  Because of this, the Indians of the Pacific Northwest were able to build permanent villages.  Peoples here included the Tlingit, Chinook, and Salish.
  • The Plateau encompasses the intersection of the Subarctic, Plains, Great Basin, Northwest Coast, and California regions.  Most of the people here lived in small, peaceful villages along stream and riverbanks and survived by fishing for salmon and trout, hunting and gathering wild berries, roots and nuts.  In 1805, Lewis and Clark passed through the area, followed by increasing numbers of white settlers.  By the end of the 19th century, most of the remaining members of Plateau tribes had been cleared from their lands and resettled in government reservations.

Virtual Field Trip

If you've followed us for any length of time, you know that we were a roadschooling family for several years...winding our way across these United States, learning history, geography, culture, and more through years of travel.  While we tend to stay home these days, we still get out once in a while!  

Recently, on our way through North Carolina, we visited the Oconaluftee Indian Village, tucked into the Smokies of Cherokee. The Oconaluftee Indian Village is a replica of an 18th-century eastern Cherokee community.  Visitors learn the history and culture of the Cherokee and get to see the artistry and making of such items as arrowheads, baskets, and blowguns.  There's quite a bit of history to be gleaned here, and the guides help put the Native American history into the European timeline, covering more than just the 19th century era.

{Free} Printable Resources

    Activities to Do

    Upper Grades Reads + Unit Studies

    Elementary Reads

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