Note on Photos viii
Authors’ Note ix
1 Houses of Snow and Houses of Wood 1
2 Houses of Fiber and Bark and
Houses of Hide 12
3 Houses of Earth and Houses of Stone 26
4 Public Buildings and Cities 37
5 Clothing from Hides 52
6 Clothing from Fiber 63
7 Wearable Art 74
8 Baskets and Pottery 84
9 Painting and Sculpture 94
Glossary of Ancient Cultures of the Americas 109
Tribes Organized by Culture Area 114
Appendix: Maps 121
Further Reading 135
At least 800 unique tribes, or bands, of Indian people lived in the Americas at the time Europeans first arrived there in 1492. A tribe is a community or group of families who share the same culture, or way of living. The things that make up a culture can range from clothing and housing styles to ways of singing or praying. They include how people make and decorate the objects that they use in their daily lives. Tribal members speak the same language. Sometimes the language they speak is similar to the one that their neighbors speak. It could also be very different. A list of tribes of Indian people is located at the end of this book.
American Indians were and continue to be skilled at adapting to the places where they live. From the start, the features of the land where Indian people lived and the plants and animals that they found there influenced their way of life. Their cultures were also shaped by the climate and by neighboring tribes. Tribes that lived in similar regions developed many of the same ways of doing things. For example, they used many of the same medicines and developed similar styles of art. The geographical regions where similar tribes live are called culture areas. The list of tribes at the end of the book is divided into culture areas. Maps of these culture areas are also located at the back of this book. The maps contain the names of tribes that live in these areas.
Over time tribes and their cultures change. Some of the tribes mentioned in this book existed hundreds or thousands of years ago, but they do not exist as groups today. The people themselves did not vanish. Their language changed along with their way of doing things. Sometimes they moved. Sometimes they became part of other tribes. Other tribal groups, such as the Maya of Mesoamerica, have ancient beginnings and continue to exist today. A glossary of ancient cultures that are mentioned in this book is located on page 109. Here readers will find a short explanation of when these ancient people lived and where they lived. Maps at the end of the book show the location of these ancient peoples as well.
The cultures of the first Americans were so varied and their accomplishments were so many that it would be impossible to write everything about them in one book or even a series of books. The authors apologize in advance for anything in this book that might offend any tribe or band of American Indians. There has been no intention to speak on behalf of any tribe or to pretend knowledge in the ways of all Indian people.
Indian peoples have lived in the Americas for about 15,000 years. Some scientists who study the past believe that they may have come to the Americas 40,000 years ago or even earlier. Many believe that the very first Americans came from Asia, traveling over a strip of land that emerged from the sea several times during the Ice Age. By at least 10,500 B.C. they were living in what is now Monte Verde, in Chile—about 11,000 miles from where they entered the continent.
They settled in climates that ranged from the Arctic, where temperatures sometimes drop lower than 50 degrees below zero, to the Amazon Basin, where the weather is hot and rainy. American Indians adapted to these challenges by inventing houses and clothing that were uniquely suited to the climates where they lived. They also developed art that reflected their surroundings.
By the time European conquistadores and colonizers began arriving in the Americas starting in 1492, American Indians had built cities in Mesoamerica and South America that were as large as the modern cities of San Diego, California, and Trenton, New Jersey. Mound Builders in North America had constructed enormous earthworks. At first, Europeans, starting with Christopher Columbus, wrote about the accomplishments of the American Indians whom they encountered. Shortly after this, the conquistadores and colonists denied that American Indians were responsible for building the cities that they had seen or for creating the beautiful works of art that filled them. They began telling themselves and the rest of the world that long ago the Americas had been settled by a lost tribe of Israel and that this tribe had vanished.
When non-Indians saw the earth mounds that Indian people had built at Cahokia, near what is now St. Louis, Missouri, they refused to believe that Indian people made them. Instead they thought that the mounds must have been built by people who were not related to the Indians living at the time the Europeans had arrived in the Americas. As non-Indians took more and more land for themselves, they displaced more and more American Indians. In Mesoamerica and South America, the Indian cities became Spanish cities. Indian people were forced to work for the Europeans and live the way they dictated. In North America, the U.S. and Canadian governments moved Indian people from the land where they lived to reservations or reserves. Indian people were discouraged from living in houses of their own design and from wearing their traditional clothing. Because so much of their art reflected their spiritual beliefs and kept their history alive, they were discouraged from creating art as well. Often Indian people were punished for trying to keep their traditional way of life.
In the meantime, American schoolchildren were taught that Indians were ignorant and that their way of living was inferior. This went on for many years. Halleck’s History of Our Country, a popular elementary school textbook in 1923, told children, “. . . the Indian was ignorant, and no great teacher had come to him. He had few tools, and most of these were of wood or stone. We could scarcely build a hen coop to-day with such tools.” Generations of people believed this and other untruths.
Since that time archaeologists started to rediscover the truth about how American Indians had lived before 1492. They now know for certain that the ancestors of the American Indians alive today built the cities that so impressed the conquistadores. They understand that, rather than trying to change the world around them to suit their needs, American Indians adapted to the world where they found themselves living. With efficient tools, they built comfortable houses and made practical clothing.
Today modern environmental scientists are concerned about how much timber Americans use to build their homes. These scientists also worry about how many energy resources are used to heat and cool modern homes and power modern cities. As they search for solutions to these problems, many look to the traditional lifestyles of Native peoples for answers about how to live in harmony with the environment.