Who Was Here First?

 Who was here first?
The Tribes of North America
Was it the English? The French? The Spanish? Or was it a different European country?

It was none of these.  Before all of those cultures came across the ocean, there were rich cultures thriving on the continent. They lived along the coasts, rivers, and lakes. They lived in mountains, on the plains, and in the desert. They lived on islands, in the freezing cold of the Arctic, and in the steamy heat of the swamps. They hunted, they fished, and they farmed.  Today, there are more than two million Native Americans in the United States.  More than 1/3 live on reservations, but the rest live in cities and towns just like the rest of the Americans.

As many know, the Native Americans were not even thought to be natives of America at all.  Many believe they were following their food source over a great ice bridge across the Bering Strait thousands of years ago.  We also know that the natives were called Indians because Columbus thought he had reached the Indies in his quest to find a faster route to India.

When Christopher Columbus first came, he brought with him disease.  By 1493 – “There occurred an epidemic of smallpox so virulent that if left Hispaniola, Puerto Rico, Jamaica, and Cuba desolated of Indians . . .” Gonzalo Fernandez de Oviedo Y Valdez, Natural History of the West Indies.

American Southwest, 1540 – “About this place … were large vacant towns grown up in grass that appeared as if no people had lived in them for a long time.”  The Desoto Chronicles.

New England, 1616 – “The Indians died in heapes, as they lay in their houses . . . and the bones and skulls upon the severall places of their habitations made such a spectacle . . . that, as I travailed in the Forrest nere the Massachusetts, it seemed to me a new found Golgotha.”  Thomas Morton, New England Canaan.

What is the Treaty of 1855? In this treaty, the The Cayuse, Umatilla, and Walla Walla tribes signed a treaty to cede, or give up, more than 6 million acres of Northeastern Oregon and southeastern Washington to the US. A small area would be left to the tribes for a permanent reservation. The natives were also given the right to fish, hunt, and gather traditional foods on the ceded lands.  This gives the natives an interest in what happens to those lands since they can utilize the natural resources to continue the survival of their culture.

Dr. Carlos Monetzuma (Yavapai – 1865-1923) sowed the seeds for Chicago’s Native organizations in the early 1900s. He was a surgeon and activist who helped Indians traveling through Chicago and defended Native people whose rights had been violated. More than 30 Native organizations and programs provide assistance.

There were two Chicago conferences on Native American issues. 1961 – The American Indian Chicago Conference gathered over 400 people from 90 tribes across the US to discuss tribal sovereignty and self-determination. 1981 – The Chicago American Indian Community Organization Conference brought representatives together.

The Northeast:
In the Northeast lived several different tribes. The Delaware, the Iroquois, and the Penobscot lived in the woodlands. They usually lived in longhouses and were great hunters. The Wampanoag people met the Pilgrims in Plymouth Colony.

The Algonkian tribes hunt and fish along the Atlantic coast.  The lived in wigwams, which were dome-like homes made of bent saplings that were covered with mats of grass or bark.  One group lived near the Great Lakes called the Ojibwas and they were nomadic, which means they traveled from place to place.

The Iroquois lived around the Great Lakes.  Five nations make up the Iroquois League – the Mohawk, Oneida, Onondaga, Cayuga, and Seneca. They were known as the People of the Longhouse. They often built their homes out of logs and lived in more permanent villages. They hunted but also farmed the land.  They lived in long houses covered with elm bark.  Usually more than one family would live in a long house.

A word we recognize well is wampum.  Wampum were beads cut from seashells.  At first wampum was not used as money. It was used in special ceremonies, carried by messengers, recorded important information, and events, and sometimes read aloud. 

The Southeast:
The Seminole tribes actually left their homes in Georgia when the settlers arrived.  They lived in the Florida swamps.  Their homes were called chickees and had no walls because of the heat and were built on stilts because of the swampy land surrounding them and to keep certain animals from coming into their homes at night.

The Cherokee called themselves the Principal People – Aniyunwiya. They originally came from the Northeast and even kept the language of their ancestors. Women would wear jewelry around their necks, ankles, and wrists made from beads, feathers, animal teeth, stones, and seeds.  Their clothes were made from animal skins. They  had two homes – a winter house and a summer house. Most people like to have a summer home in a warmer climate, but the Cherokee homes were next to each other.  Like the tribes in the north, they would encircle their villages with a tall fence to keep out enemies and animals that might attack or raid their food stores.

The Plains:
The Plains Indians lived between the Mississippi River and the Rocky Mountains.  The Sioux, Pawnee, and Cheyenne were just three of these tribes. They followed the buffalo and traveled by foot until they discovered horses. (The Spanish brought horses to the new land in the 1500s)  During the winter, they built sleds and toboggans to get around. Cheyenne often came to hunt buffalo on the plains. They would use every part of the buffalo, leaving nothing to waste. They only killed what they needed.
The Blackfeet also hunted the buffalo and lived in tepees (tipis). Pictures on their homes often told stories of great heroism.

The Sioux lived in the Plains. They would follow the buffalo using a travois, which was a cart to carry their home and other belongings. When a boy reached the age of 12, he would go to the sweat lodge to receive his special spirit dream.  He would stay awake for over 4 days, then afterwards he had to remember his dream.  A girl would also have to stay awake for 4 days and nights in hopes of seeing her spirit dream. The medicine man would tell them the meanings of their dreams.

The Southwest:
Tribes in the Southwest were called Pueblos by the Spanish because their homes looked like “small towns”. The buildings were built into the sides of mountains and were several stories high. They were called “cliff dwellers”.  Usually the pueblos were made of adobe, which is a very hard mixture of clay and straw. It helped to keep the heat out in the summer. Some of the tribes who lived here were the Zuni and the Hopi. Hopi means peaceful ones and they often prayed for rain.

Two tribes from the north moved to the southwest – the Apache and the Navajo.  The Apache searched for food and took horses from the Spanish.  The Navajos settled down and grew crops. They lived in a home called a Hogan which made from poles covered in hard-packed brush and earth.
How would the natives find water?  They would have springs where everyone would share the water since there were no lakes or rivers in the desert.

Finally, we have all heard of kachina dolls – Kachinas were special protectors who were powerful spirits.  There are more than 200 different kachinas.  Just a few of them are: Cloud Bringer, Flute, Butterfly Maiden, and Pour Water Woman.

The Northwest:
Native Americans in the Northwest lived along the Pacific coast. They were fishing communities that decorated their homes with totem poles.  They used the trees from the redwood forests to build their homes.  A totem pole told the history of each family who resided there.  Totem poles were made with birds, animals, and sometimes people carved into them.  Many times, you would walk through an open mouth as the door.  Today we use a word from this tribe – potlatch (we call it a potluck) where there is a great feast and food was given away.
Further north, natives hunted whale, seals, and bears. Mostly they lived along the coast and used the blubber to trade. They also fished for salmon along the riverbeds.  The most important day of the year is the day the salmon return.

Sequoyah invented a syllabary.  He was a Cherokee man who helped write down the Cherokee language.  Born around 1776, his father was a Virginia fur trader named Nathaniel Gist but his mother was Wut-the, the daughter of a Cherokee chief.  After fighting in the Creek war, he decided to return home and create an alphabet for the Cherokee language. He spent years jotting down symbols to represent words and sounds. He finally whittled down thousands of symbols to only 85.  Before long he was teaching the new symbols to other Cherokee, helping them become literate.

The Gifts of the Seven Grandfathers:
The Gifts of the Seven Grandfathers – the seven teachings – honesty, love, courage, truth, wisdom, humility, and respect.  These teachings are passed on to the community in the teaching lodge.  They learn to live in harmony with nature.

Sasquatch (the Wilderness Man) teaches honesty. He is given the responsibility to look after all human life. His honesty encourages people to be honest with themselves. (Garry Raven, 2000)

They learn what the names represent and what their responsibilities are.
A long time ago, the people were suffering because they had stopped listening to the Creator.  Then one day, Little Boy decided to look for ways to help his people. He started walking toward the east where the sun rises. 

Little Boy continued walking to the south, to the west, and to the north. Along the way, the animals brought him many lessons about survived and he learned the healing power of the plants. 
He walked for a long, long time and grew into an old man on his journey.

In a dream, Little Boy went to the Seven Grandfathers and they explained to him the meaning of all that he had learned.  With the wolf as a guide, Little Boy returned home and shared all that he had learned with his people, helping them to live a good life on Earth.

Women’s Roles – women are the carriers of life.
Adult female – adult women, along with elders and young girls, have the main responsibility of raising children. They also pass along their knowledge of harvesting and preserving food, cooking, tanning animal skins, making clothing, and utensils, and the painstaking art of bread and quillwork.  (Garry Raven, 2000)

Child – Babies are born with wisdom and that true innocence that we lose as we go through life.  Babies teach us many things.  (Wilson Scott, 2000)

Elder Female – Many elder women are healers, knowledgeable in finding and using herbal medicines. They take part in many of the same sacred rituals as men and share responsibility for passing along traditional ways. (Conrad Spence, 2000).

Teaching lodge – we receive the Seven Teachings in the teaching lodge. Here you’re taught about love tradition, and the clans responsible for teaching these traditions. You’re taught about Grandfather Sun, Grandmother Moon, and Brother Sky.
You learn about our responsibility to Mother Earth, how we have to look after her. And you learn about the people who have gone to the spirit world and how they help us. (Mark Thompson, 2000)

Elder Male – In the teaching lodge and in everyday life, elders use their wisdom to help people develop skills, strength, and spirituality.  (Conrad Spence, 2000)

Purification – purification, or the smudging ritual, plays an important role in the teaching lodge. During this ritual, a man or woman burns an aromatic plant and gently fans the smoke over a room, person, or object. The smoke heals and purifies whatever it touches. (Garry Raven, 2000).

Clans – people have to know who I am. And who I am is the Sturgeon Clan. If I’m to be comfortable and useful and peaceful, then I must know my clan. (Conrad Spence, 2000).

The Creator gave the clan system to the Anishinaabe to help them govern themselves wisely and follow the right path in life.  The seven original clans were named Buffalo, Fish, Bird, Bear, Martin, Crane, and Loon.  (Garry Raven, 2000).

Adult male – As Anishinaabe men, we’re supposed to help look after women and children as providers. (Garry Raven, 2000).

Men’s roles – in the teaching lodge, men pass along their knowledge of hunting, fishing, combat, lodge building, and other skills. Through stories, songs, and demonstrations, they remind their sons and other young men of their responsibilities as husbands and fathers. (Garry Raven, 2000).

Young Boy – as young children, boys remain with their mothers and elders in the community. Their games and toys help them learn about the lives of Anishhinaabe men.  In this way, they discover their special path in this world. (Garry Raven, 2000).

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