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Native American History For Dummies

From Native American History For Dummies by Dorothy Lippert, Stephen J. Spignesi

Who were the first Native Americans? No one knows, but four theories offer speculation. Native American culture is diverse and varies based on the tribe's culture area, which impacts each tribe's traditional modes of housing and transportation. English colonists preferred some Native American tribes over others, and today's U.S. government requires a tribe to meet seven criteria to be federally recognized as such.

4 Native American Tribal Migration Theories

Where did the Native Americans come from? No one knows for sure, but here are four theories regarding how the first people came to occupy the North American continent.

  • Tribes migrated across the Bering Sea across what was the Beringia land bridge from what is now Russia.

  • Tribes arrived along the western coast by boat.

  • There is a new theory that the Chinese may have been here first.

  • There is a similar theory that the Celts may have stopped by before the Chinese.

Native American Major Culture Areas

A culture area is a region where different Native American tribes shared certain characteristics, such as housing and hunting practices, all of which were based on the climate and resources in the area. These are the major culture areas:

  • Arctic and the Subarctic

  • Eastern Woodlands

  • Southeast

  • Plains

  • Southwest

  • Plateau and Great Basin

  • Pacific Northwest

  • California

5 Native American Tribes the Europeans Liked Best

At the time the English started to colonize North America, five tribes greatly impressed them. The English admired these tribes because of their perceived intelligence, work ethic, and character, as well as their effort to acquire some of the culture of the Europeans — in short, these tribes didn't resist European colonization and dominance.

At the time, the Europeans called these the five "civilized" tribes. These tribes are:

  • The Choctaw

  • The Cherokee

  • The Chickasaw

  • The Creek (Muscogee)

  • The Seminole

Native American Types of Housing

Native Americans (called Indians or American Indians in historic times) lived in several types of housing, all of which depended on the resources and climate of the area. The most important types of Native American domiciles were

  • Plankhouses: The design of the plank house is long and rectangular, with a sloped, inverted "V" roof. Like a barn without a wide door at the end.

  • Longhouses: Longhouses needed to be long, as they were designed to house several families, each of which needed its own sleeping and storage bunks and spaces, as well as its own central fire. There was a hole in the roof above each fire, and this would tell visitors how many families lived in a particular longhouse. Some longhouses were big enough to house a hundred (or more) people.

  • Hogans: A special structure among the Navajo. There are a variety of designs depending on its purpose. Modern hogans are often round or multi-sided and only have one room inside. Many hogans are only used for ceremonial purposes. Traditionally, the door faces east.

  • Tipis: The fifteen poles of a traditional tipi each stand for a character, virtue, trait, or strength and, thus, the structure is held in high esteem by Natives. The exterior of the tipi is made from hides. Flaps controlled by poles or ropes allow a fire to be built inside the dwelling and also serve as a ventilation source. During cold winters, an interior lining is often used for additional warmth. The tipi's cone shape is remarkably stable in high winds, as long as the support poles are securely anchored.

  • Chickees: Chickees have no walls, but that's okay, since the climate where they were invented was always warm. The original chickees had a thatched roof that was supported by logs. Today's modern versions use either steel or wood support beams and a wood or shingled roof. Some Native American chickees had a raised floor, allowing sleeping and comfort off the ground, but the sides were still wide open.

  • Wigwams and wickiups: A round, domed structure. It usually has flexible wooden poles, which are either completely arched or gathered together at the top. It is usually covered in thatch.

  • Lean-tos: Two stakes were placed in the ground several feet apart. The stakes were often anchored with vines hammered into the ground. Two long sticks were then affixed to the top of each stakes, extending on an angle and likewise secured to the ground. A covering was then placed across the two diagonal sticks. Hides could be used, as well as thatch or bark. The front and side remained open, and the angular design shed both wind and rain.

  • Igloos: A cold-climate domed shelter built with blocks of snow, the floor of an igloo is below ground level and is commonly the hole that remains after the snow blocks used to construct the shelter are removed. The blocks are placed in a spiral around the hole, with each one being shaped to not only fit, but to create a sloping, continually rising wall. The spiral begins to create a dome, until the igloo is a complete enclosure.

Native American Types of Transportation

Native Americans used a wide variety of means of moving around and transporting themselves, and their tribes. The choices depended on the climate and the resources of the area.

  • Dugout canoe: A fire would be set down the middle of the log to efficiently get rid of the central portion. Next, using hand tools, the log was chopped at and gouged out until it was deep and open enough to comfortably fit one or more people.

  • Bark canoes: A bark canoe was comprised of two separate parts: a wooden frame, and a bark outer shell. The bark was almost always birch, and it would be removed in a large single sheet and then stretched out and shaped to fit the wooden frame.

  • Kayaks and umiaks: The original kayak was made of wood and then covered with seal or walrus hide, including the top deck. There is a hole left in the center of the kayak for the paddler, who used a two-headed paddle to avoid switching hands. The difference between the kayak and umiak is that the kayak is a covered boat and the umiak is an open boat.

  • Bull boats: Bull boats were made from birch wood that was shaped into a round shape and then covered with buffalo skin which had not been "de-haired."

  • Snowshoes: Each tribe designed snowshoes to accommodate the snowfall in their region, and there were many styles created.

  • Plank boats: These boats were between 10 and 30 feet in length and were commonly made from redwood and pine.

  • Travois: A travois was made of two long sticks that were criss-crossed so that the front end could be draped across the animal's shoulder and not fall off.

  • Sleds and toboggans: A sled has two parallel runners across which slats of wood or leather are placed. It is pulled across snow or ice by people or dogs. A toboggan is a sled but doesn't have runners or skis. It, instead, has a flat bottom with a curved front and it is pulled by a rope.

7 Requirements to be a Federally-Recognized Native American Tribe

In order for the United States government to recognize a Native American tribe, the tribe (or group of Native Americans) must meet the following seven requirements:

  1. The petitioner has been identified as an American Indian entity since 1900.

  2. A predominant portion of the petitioning group comprises a distinct community.

  3. The petitioner has maintained political influence or authority over its members.

  4. The group has governing documents which include its membership criteria.

  5. The petitioner's membership consists of individuals who descend from a historical Indian tribe or from historical Indian tribes which combined and functioned as a single autonomous political entity.

  6. The membership of the petitioning group is composed primarily of persons who are not members of an acknowledged North American Indian tribe.

  7. Neither the petitioner nor its members are the subject of congressional legislation that has expressly terminated or forbidden the federal relationship.

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