Reaction Paper On American Indians Research Paper
Type of paper: Research Paper
Topic: America, United States, Region, Religion, Belief, Politics, Life, Water
This paper provides a look the history of the American Indians, their traditional customs and lifestyle. Also their settlement patterns pre and post contact, how they started agriculture to grow plants to support their food and medicines, the structure of their societies and their land holding methods will be examined. Additionally we will also explore their socio-economic issues, their dependencies and post colonial life. Their early migratory routes and subsequent settlements over large geographies will also be detailed. Ten different settlement areas with their own host of problems and quality of life will be examined in detail. Along with the political, social and ethnic scenarios related to them.
For the American Indians of North America, many different methods are used to study them. Observation participation and Ethnographic research have been mostly used in these studies for American Indians. Key people are identified based on their qualities of leadership, manners, political understanding and cultural beliefs. The participant then tries to forge a relationship with these identified persons so that information is more easily available. It has to be kept in mind that the observer must not let his/her personal biases impact any representation.
Ethnographic research is also based on observation. But it is more qualitative in nature. It is essentially dealing with in-depth research of smaller groups. Ethnographic studies of one culture or subculture are not referenced to other cultures or subcultures. Statistical measures are not used in this form of studies. At times, such research is somewhat subjective, since the researcher may already have biases and preconceived notions.
The first arrivals of Native Americans came from Beringia( islands in the Bering Strait), which give some proof of the land bridge that existed between the Americas and Asia. Archeological and geological evidence points to fact that the first arrivals came from Asia to North America 15000 to 17000 years ago. It is estimated that one group entered fron Beringia, following the glacial melt, using the pacific coastline and another group used the land corridor between two ice sheets to approach the rocky mountain area. Another migration happened more to the east near the Saskatchewan plains. These early arrivals then dispersed into various directions. Some family groups moved a Alaska and Canada, while others migrated southwards towards the Rocky Mountains and further towards Montana and Colorado. Some groups travelled further into South America into Mexico and Chile. It is an accepted theory that two major migrations took place, which formed the first known Native Americans known as the Paleo Indians. Interestingly, a later study on molecular genetics revealed a common maternal ancestor for both the groups. When Christopher Columbus reached the Americas in1492, the Native American population covered areas from the Bering Straits to Tierra del Fuego. Each group or tribe had their different social behaviors and their own individual customs, practices and religious beliefs. In his writings, Columbus describes these people as very gentle and ignorant about the meaning of evil.
These Native Americans spread all over the Americas, adapting to different lifestyles as defined by the region and habitat. This varied from nomadic patterns of living to the sedentary, with the creation of permanent structures, villages and towns. In some regions, they experimented with agriculture and domestication of animals. In other regions the use of fire, baked pottery and traces of trading were found. Different regions forced different means of living and survival. Most Indian tribes gave equal importance to men and women both, since each gender had unique skills suitable for the prosperity and growth of the tribe. Many Native Americans had no concept of ownership. They were initially mostly nomadic, and took new possessions in each place they migrated to. They largely depended on nature for their food and clothing.
In 1492, when Christopher Columbus discovered the Americas, the Indian populations were estimated to be ion millions. Approximately, 2000 languages and sub dialects were spoken. Some were hunter gatherers and others practiced complex methods of agriculture. The Mayas and Aztecs of the Mesoamerican regions, the Incas of Peru and the Mound builders and Mississippians in Ohio and the Mississippi river valley, all practiced complex and sophisticated means of farming. All Indian tribes followed organized political structures and religion.
During the mid 15th century, Europe started controlling the oceans, having developed astronomical instruments and complex trigonometrical formulae for calculating directions for navigation, based on the position of the sun and the stars. The lead in exploring other worlds was taken by Portugal. Spain followed closely. The Europeans brought diseases with them like smallpox and measles, to which the Indians were very susceptible and this wiped out entire villages. Spain mostly used the Indians for labor, France traded with them for fur, and the English displaced them from their settlements and occupied these lands with their own people. There were some inter racial marriages between the French and the American Indians. During the 17th century, England started consolidating their first permanent colonies in North America. They mostly used the Indians as servants. The population growth amongst the white settlers in England’s North American colonies started posing the problem of land. In 1622, the Indians, who were being pushed further away from the mainland because of the arising demand for land, started fighting back. These wars and the accompanying diseases made a number of tribes extinct. The name Apache is derived from the pueblo term for enemy. Similarly, Comanche is a derivative of the Ute term “those who are always against us”. The “Removal Act” of 1830, which was enacted to obtain land for white settlers by removing the Indian natives, almost forced the entire Cherokee tribe into extinction, due to forced marches and extreme living conditions. Later, the U.S government also started the Homestead Act of 1862, which further worsened the state of the American Indians. Below is a representation of the geographical spread of the North American Indians.
. The Arctic and Sub Arctic Indians
The Arctic and Subarctic region covers the northern tip of Alaska and extends till Greenland and Canada, in the frozen Tundra area. The tribes depended on the natural environment for their food and clothing. The tribes of Alaska are known as Aleuts or alutiiq, Yup’ik and Inupiaq. The tribes settled in Greenland and Canada are known as Inuits. The Alaskan tribes were made up of the Chinook, Tillamook, Eyak, Salish and Tlingit. The language in use by the tribes is Eskimo- Aleut and Athabascan. The Aleut tribes lived on the Alaskan peninsula and also the Aleutian Islands. The Inuit tribes lived on the coast, near the Bering sea. The animals in this region include seal, whale, caribou, walrus, polar bear and otter. They are hunted for their meat and skin. The Indians made warm clothing from the skins of the seal and caribou by keeping the fur part inside to retain the body warmth. It provided defense against the Arctic’s sub-zero temperatures. Many tribes hunted whales and sea lions using their kayaks. The Aleuts constructed houses called “Barabara”, which were partly underground structures. The Inuits on the other hand made igloos, made of block of compressed snow and ice.
The different tribes had different religious beliefs but some common threads were identified. Animism, a belief common to most tribes in the Arctic region, was centered on the theme that the universe and all objects had a soul. Most tribes also believed in the Shaman, a religious leader who was considered the platform between the human and spirit worlds. These Arctic tribes were masters in the art of carving. They fashioned tools, container, eating dishes and figures from wood and ivory procured from walrus tusks.
Their settlement patterns consisted of an annual migration between camps, to avoid hostile weather and ensure supply of game. There was no political organized structure amongst these Indians, and camps usually had an accepted leader, who would give advice on various matters. The social structure was very simple. It was in the form of households with the immediate family and relatives living in the same household.
The Northwest coast
The Northwest coast consisted of tribes from Washington, southeast Alaska and British Columbia. The major tribes in these areas were the Cowlitz, Quinault, Kwakiutl, Haida and Nootka. The geography was lush with numerous plants and trees and rivers and water bodies. This land of plenty encouraged the tribes to settle near the rivers or the coastal waters, which provided ample food through fishing and hunting. Their prey included elk, bear and seals. These Northwest coastal tribes developed the religious masks and totem poles. In the absence of the written word, totem poles were used to pass down the history, learning, stories and beliefs through intricate carvings on these totem poles. These tribes believed in ceremonies and dance forms.
There was a ceremony called “Potlatch”, which was a ceremony to honor the dead, and had both social and religious connotations. The tribes here were quite aware of social standing and this ceremony gave an opportunity for the host to present gifts to his guests. The quantity and quality of the gifts could increase or lower the host’s social standing. There were ceremonies held to remember their ancestors and these involved ceremonial dancing dressed in their ceremonial clothes. Once such clothing is the Chilkat blanket, which were elaborately woven with symbols and designs which came to life during the movements of the dance.
These Indians followed a hierarchical society, where there were clearly defined strata. From the nobles, to the commoners, to the slaves. Religious beliefs were centered on the Shaman, like for the Eskimos.
The Plateau Indians
These Indians occupied the high plateau region near the Rocky Mountains. Te major tribes in this area were the Shuswap, Lilloot, Ntlakapamux, Okanagan and kalispel. They speak the Salishan and Sahaptin languages. Four other nearby tribal settlement areas, California, The Great Basin, Northwest Coast, and the Plains added their influence on the culture and trade of this area. In the 18th century, Shoshone tribe from the great Plains had acquired horses and provided the Plateau Indians with them. Feathered headgear and beaded dresses along with tepees became common here. Settlement patterns emerged with permanent villages for the winters and temporary camps during the summers, driven by their proximity to hunting and fishing grounds. Their houses were partially underground pit houses and mat enclosed surface houses. Hunting and fishing were the main sources of subsistence. Bow and arrows and small spears used for hunting game. Plant were also used for food. Dugouts or bark canoes were used for travel along the waterways.
The tribes followed a sociopolitical structure, where a village had a chief and a sub-chief and an adult voting system. The chiefs presided on matters of war, and their word was final. Family relatives maintained close ties. In the 1800s, there developed a dance form amongst the Plateau Indians known as the Prophet dance. The Prophets were people who were supposed to be talking to the sprits and the supernatural. They were further thought to be bringing about the renewal of the world and returning the dead to life.
The first contact of these tribes happened during the early 1800s. Amongst these were some Indians from the Iroquois tribe, who had converted to Christianity. In the late 19th century, these tribes were confined to reservations. In the 1880s, a process known as allotment was introduced, which transferred the common land title given to each tribe, into smaller individual holdings.
The Indians of the Great Basin
This area is where the modern day Utah and Nevada are located. Also included were portions of Arizona, Montana, Wyoming, Colorado, Oregon and Idaho. This was mostly an arid land. Some of the major tribes here included Shoshone, Paiute, Ute and Comanche. The languages used were Numic, Hokan and Bannock. The arid nature of the land did not permit complex social norms to develop. Small groups were constantly on the move foraging for food. Gathering of larger number of people were seldom more than once or twice a year, and that too only for hunting or fishing, thus hardly conducive for sustained social and political adaptation. Kinship was restricted to nuclear families. Religious beliefs centered on sprits and the concept of a dual soul. It was believed that animals preceded humans and animals such as the wolf, coyote, rabbit and bear hold a place of reverence in these tribes of the Great Basin. Like in most other tribes, Shamans were a part of these tribes. These tribes, especially the Utes, came into contact with the Spanish in New Mexico in the 1600s. The other tribes had the contact much later during the 1800s, largely due to the fur trade. As everywhere else in the U.S, laws were resisted by the local tribes, resulting in wars.
Indians of the Great Plains
This region consisted of the vast grasslands between the Rocky Mountains and the Mississippi river. The tribes of t Great Plains were regarded as the original American Indians. The major tribes in this geography were Mandan, Hidatsa, Crow, Assiniboin, Omaha,Ponca, Osage, Kansa, Iowa, Oto, Blackfoot, Arapaho, Atsina, Cheyenne and the Kiowa. The languages used here were Algonquian and Siouan. Another language, essentially a trade language known as Michif developed in the Canadian plains. Horses were introduced to these regions by the Spanish around 1650. The source of subsistence was initially hunting, but gradually shifted towards farming, where the men grew tobacco. Dogs were domesticated earlier than horses and were used for transportation by pulling a travois, a crude vehicle made with two poles in the shape of an inverted V. With the advent of horses, the frequency of tribal warfare increased. The political structure consisted of band leaders, who had to prove their superior skills to be able to hold on to the position. Elaborate rituals were a way of life and more so the ritualistic Sun Dance. Religious beliefs were similar to some other tribes and Animism was practices as was the belief in shamans. Cheyenne Shamans were thought to have walked on fire to prove their magical powers.
The fur trade in the 18th century brought in metal tools and guns. There was a major conference held between the tribal leaders and the U.S government in 1851 at Fort Laramie. This brought about a sustained period of peace in this region.
The Indians of California
The area in this region was vast, comprising of present day California, Mojave Desert and Nevada. The major tribes were Cahuilla, Hupa, Yurok and Klamath. They put up settlements near the water bodies, which provided ample fishing. Wooden plank dwellings provided their housing. Some farming was also practiced. They were skilled basket makers and had moiré complex religious systems than other tribes. These tribes had a loosely formed political and social structure, which made them vulnerable to the incursions of the white settlers. They adopted the Ghost Dance like many other tribes. This dance form was started by a Paiute Prophet called Wovoka in the 1880s.
The Indians of the Northeast
This region covers North Carolina, Tennessee and the stretch between the Atlantic coastlines to the Mississippi river. The major tribes here were the Mohawk, Iroquois, Algonquin, Powhatan, Wampanoag and Mohican. The language used was mostly Iroquoian with many sub dialects. These tribes lived in the forests and their housing consisted of wigwams and long houses which could accommodate up to 200 persons. Like others, hunting and fishing were their primary source of food. First contact with the Europeans was in the early 16th century. Their political system was a little different with a formation of a League, which took all major decisions. This League consisted of the Seneca, Onondaga, Cayuga, Mohawk and Oneida. There were some interracial marriages with the white colonists.
The Indians of the Southeast
The region covered present day Louisiana, Alabama, Georgia and a little part of Florida. The major tribes were Apalachee, Cherokee, Choctaw, Natchez and Tunica. The primary languages spoken were Muskogean, Siouan and Algonquian. The climate was conducive to farming and the tribes here grew pumpkins, squash, beans and corn. There was an annual corn festival held which was a time of celebration. Their housing comprised of chickees, wattle and daub houses. They had communal eating houses and storage facilities. The religion and beliefs were based on Animism. They also believed in the Shaman.
The Indians of the Soutwest
The geography covered Arizona, New Mexico, south Colorado and north Mexico. The major tribes in this region are Apache, Guarijio, Cora, Hopi, Mojave, Yakui and Zuni. The languages spoken were Siouan, Algonquian, Uto-Aztecan and Athabaskan. This region was mostly inhospitable desert. Their crops were corn, squash, pumpkin, melons and beans. Their housing consisted of adobe and clay houses. The famous Kachina dolls were made in this region. They are also famous for their colorful baskets. Like other tribes they also believed in Animism and the power of the Shamans.