Between 5 and 15 million Native Americans lived in North America when the Europeans arrived. They lived in varied climates and geographic areas. Just as you wouldn’t expect people living in the Southwest today to live exactly like people in New England, Native American tribes varied considerably in their traditions, languages, and culture. Their clothing, homes, and diet were different, depending on the resources available. Yet, many of the tribes shared similar traits. Families were tight-knit with grandparents and uncles and aunts helping with childrearing. Men and women had defined roles and jobs. Children were expected to help and were taught the skills they’d need as adults.
Native Americans’ homes varied, depending on the resources available. In the Northwest and Northeast, where forests were abundant, tribes built wood homes. Up to 12 Iroquois families lived together in a longhouse, a long wooden building with rooms separated by curtains. Plains Indians lived in teepees made from buffalo skins. In the Southwest, families lived in houses made from clay or stone bricks.
Native Americans wore simple, loose fitting clothing made from animal skins most of the time. They wore elaborate beaded clothing during ceremonies. Women wore dresses and skirts. Men wore shirts and leggings. Along the Northwest coast, Native Americans wove clothing from shredded cedar bark. Elsewhere, people used cotton or other plant fibers.
Babies spent most of their time strapped in a cradleboard and carried by their mothers. Older children were cared for by their extended family. Girls learned to sew, weave baskets, prepare food, tan hides, and make pottery. Boys learned how to hunt and fight. They made weapons and tools. All children liked to play games and listen to stories.
Native American tribes often traveled long distances in search of food. In the North, they harnessed sleds to dogs. In other areas, people walked. Women carried babies and supplies on their backs. The men usually didn’t carry anything because they needed to be ready to hunt or defend their tribe from enemies. Native Americans were skilled at building boats and canoes for traveling on rivers, lakes and the sea. Native Americans soon learned to use horses, brought by Europeans.
Many tribes were peaceful, but some tribes were aggressive and constantly at war. Men received honor for their bravery in war.
Geographic: refers to the land
Trait: a characteristic
Questions and Answers
Question: Were Native Americans religious?
Answer: Native Americans believed that spirits were all around them and controlled their fortunes. They performed rituals and dances for rain and abundant harvests. They felt strongly connected to the natural world. Shamans performed healing rituals.