Native Americans are also called American Indian, Amerindian, Amerind, aboriginal American, or First Nation Person. They are members of any of the aboriginal people of the Western Hemisphere. The term refers mainly to people whose original territories were in present-day Canada and the United States. How many Native American cultural facts do you know?
Culturally, the indigenous people of the Americas are usually recognized as constituting two groups, American Indians and the Arctic people.
We will try to explain the different cultural areas of Native Americans, and then talk more about cultural facts.
- 1 Native American Cultural Areas
- 2 Customs and Traditions
Native American Cultural Areas
Thousands of years before Christopher Columbus landed in the Bahamas, a different group of people discovered America. They were the nomadic ancestors of modern Native Americans who hiked over a land bridge from Asia to what is now Alaska. That happened more than 12,000 years ago.
By the time European adventurers arrived on US soil in the 15th century, more than 50 million people were already living in the Americas. Of those, almost 10 million lived in the area that is now called the United States of America.
Anthropologists and geographers have divided these Native Americans into different cultural areas. Here is a quick breakdown.
- The Arctic culture area is a region near the Arctic circle in present-day Alaska, and its population was comparatively small and scattered. The Inuit people were nomads, following seals, polar bears, and others as they migrated across the tundra
- The subarctic culture area is mostly composed of swampy and piney forests, stretching across Alaska and Canada. There, two people thrived the Athabaskan speakers and the Algonquian speakers. Travel was difficult in this area, with canoes being the primary mean of transportation
- The Northeast culture area was one of the first to contact the Europeans. It stretches from present-day Canada to North Carolina and inland to the Mississippi River. Members of this area were Iroquoian speakers and Algonquian speakers. The Iroquoian group was rather aggressive and warlike
- The Southeast culture area spreads from north of the Gulf of Mexico and south of the Northeast. It was a humid, fertile agricultural region and many of the natives were expert farmers
- The Plains culture area comprises the prairie region between the Mississippi River and the Rocky Mountains, with inhabitants mostly hunters and farmers
- The Southwest culture area was a huge desert region in present-day Arizona and New Mexico, developing two ways of life, including sedentary farmers, and nomadic, including the Navajo and the Apache people
- The Great Basin was a barren wasteland of deserts, salt flats, and brackish lakes. Following European contact, Great Basin groups got horses and formed equestrian hunting and raiding bands
- The Plateau culture area is where people lived in small, peaceful villages among streams and riverbanks. They survived by fishing for salmon and trout but also hunting and gathering
- We finish off with California, an area that had more people than any other landscape before European contact. People in California organized into small, family-based bands of hunter and gatherers, known as tribelets
Customs and Traditions
Now that we talked about different cultural areas, let’s see some of the Native American facts and traditions that have remained to this day.
The name was given among the tribes, and those who were named Medicine Man are at the vital top of the cultural heritage. They were also known as Holy Men, medical men, Mayan shamans, and more. This guy is a symbol of many traditions and has the equivalent status of a priest. Medical men were therapists and practiced different rituals in Native American history.
Speaking about Native American beliefs, we have to mention the totem animal. They believed every human being was influenced and inherited the power of an animal. Totem animals included an eagle, wolf, bear, and more.
During life in tribes, totem animals were the most important source of inspiration and determined the character of a tribe.
Modern history shows a strong link between animal symbolism and astrology.
Traditional foods in the US differ from one region to another. But the frybread, a traditional Navajo recipe is common among many indigenous people.
It is a large, fluffy, plate-size piece of fried dough. Modern dieticians and nutritionists blast the bread because it is not nutritionally healthy.
Native American Dances
Native American celebration was symbolized by grand ritual dances. Modern examples can be seen during the Pow Wow festivals. Male and female tribal members were involved in dancing.
Some of the events included winning a battle. Dancing played a huge role in tribal life.
We have to mention one celebration that has remained popular to this day. Pow Wows began as a way for nations to come together and celebrate success in hunting or battle. Today, they are a way to reconnect to culture, tradition, and family.
The Stomp Dance
Here is another tradition linked with dancing. The stomp dance is a tradition practiced by Eastern Woodland and Southeastern tribes. This dance takes place during the height of the crop season.
Practiced on stomp ground around a fire, it is called stomp dance because the pattern of movement is a stomp and shuffle in a circle
There is quite a lot of symbolism in this Native American tradition. The fire in the center, for example, represents the light of the sun.
Among the many Native American traditions and Native American customs, we have to mention one that comes from Navajo beliefs. The art originated from when the Holy People ordered the tribe to produce works of art using natural materials.
So, the Navajo people made paintings on a flat base using sand for many different uses. Later on, it became an Indian tradition. The images from sand paintings can be seen in Navajo mythology.
Wakan-Taka was everywhere. Native American tribes believed in the Father Heaven, Great Spirit Mother, and Mother Nature.
So, every morning, they would thank the Master of Life for their life donated to them. The belief in the blessed circle symbolizes the Earth’s rotation directive.
Returning to Native American dancing rituals, drum circles were quite common in ceremonies. The rhythmic beat of the drum represents the heartbeat of Mother Earth.
Native American people believed that the beating of the drum is a uniting force that would bring people together.
These dolls represent the spirit of Hopi. They were prepared as gifts for tribal children. Every Kachina Doll has a different meaning and significance.
Generally speaking, they carried the Holy Spirit.
Let’s talk about Native American cuisine. Grape dumplings were a traditional dessert prepared as a juicy pastry dish.
The dumplings have a sweet taste that is reminiscent of home for many Native Americans.
We cannot talk about Native American customs without mentioning the dream catcher. The talisman was created by Ojibwe to teach the wisdom of nature.
They were knitted from natural materials, including feathers and threads. According to Native American tradition, the night air was full of dreams. So, the symbol helped good dreams find their way.
Gender Roles and Leadership
Each tribe had its own view on leadership. Patriarchy was the dominant leadership way, but not the prevailing one. Some tribes were matriarchal, placing important significance on the roles of women. Mother Earth is regarded as sacred.
Celebrating Native American Heritage Month
In the US, November is Native American Heritage Month. Sometimes, it is referred to as American Indian and Alaska Native Heritage Month. There are more than 570 federally recognized Native American tribe groups in the US today.