Back To CourseGlencoe The American Journey: Online Textbook Help
31 chapters | 204 lessons
Chris has a master's degree in history and teaches at the University of Northern Colorado.
When Christopher Columbus sailed across the Atlantic in 1492, he bumped into modern-day Cuba and found people living there. As the Spanish made their way into Mexico, they found people there too. In fact, it seems that the entire hemisphere was populated by the time Europeans arrived. No duh. Across the American continents, people created distinct cultures over thousands of years, generating one of the most linguistically and culturally diverse areas in the entire world. Even within North America alone, Amerindian peoples, those of cultures indigenous to the Americas, developed a multitude of lifestyles and societies to cope with different environments. From Alaska to Florida, Amerindian peoples were as diverse and distinct as the Germans and Japanese, but all found ways to make it in North America.
There were literally hundreds of Amerindian cultures across North America, each unique, but we can start by organizing them geographically. Let's start in the northernmost parts of the continent. Although this frigid region has been inhabited continuously for at least 4,000 years, the cultural group to dominate the area are the Inuit. Inuit is a broad term to encompass a wide group of people who speak an Inuktitut based language that spread from Siberia through Alaska and Canada into Greenland. This group arrived relatively late, around 1050 CE, which to many explains why they ended up in the harshest environment in North America; everywhere else was taken. The Inuit were hunters, moving seasonally between hunting camps, who relied on domesticated dogs and even were known for hunting whales. There are eight main ethnic groups of Inuit people still living mostly in modern-day Canada.
Moving south along the Pacific Coast, the next region we'll discuss is the western shore of modern-day British Columbia. Based around the islands of Haida Gwaii. During a period of glaciation roughly 12,000 years ago, sea levels dropped making these islands accessible, and they were inhabited by the ancestors of the Haida people. Not surprisingly, these people became excellent sailors, developing canoes that could sail over open ocean, and Haida culture eventually expanded roughly from modern Alaska down through British Columbia. They were a warring society, and developed sophisticated techniques for both trading and fighting over open waters.
As we move a bit further south, we'll end up in modern US Pacific Northwest. One of the dominant cultural groups from this area is the Chinook, who originated around the Columbus River. The Chinook were sailors and fishers whose relationships with other Amerindian cultures were generally defined by trade. The Chinook preferred to avoid war, instead resolving conflicts through the maintenance of trade relations, to which they brought canoes and dried fish that were an important source of protein for people all across the region.
Our next stop across North America is in the modern American Southwest, previously Northern Mexico and before that home to a diverse set of Amerindian cultures. One of these groups was the Navajo. For centuries, the Navajo were primarily nomadic, moving seasonally and trading with other settled societies of the region. Eventually, however, the Navajo decided to take on farming, adopting the practice from the Pueblo people, and developed permanent settlements. The Navajo were highly-admired craftspeople, noted for their pottery and weaving skills which they frequently traded with other Amerindian nations. To this day, the Navajo are the second-largest federally recognized tribe in the United States and are working to preserve their language through Navajo language colleges and schools.
So, who were these Pueblo people that taught the Navajo to farm? Well, Navajo is a Spanish term, first applied to any Amerindian society that built permanent towns, but for the most part we call these people the Hopi. The Hopi are descendants of the ancestral Pueblo people, amongst the first people in North America to develop year-round agriculture. They relied heavily on trade, selling their crops to nomadic peoples who brought them meat from the plains.
These nomadic people of the Southwest who both traded with and fought with the Navajo and Hopi were the Apache. The Apache are linguistically related to the Navajo, and evidence suggests that both groups came from somewhere in Northwestern Canada around 1200 CE. The Apache were firmly dedicated to a nomadic lifestyle, split between hunting and warfare, which was intensified after the introduction of horses in the 17th and 18th centuries.
Of course, the Southwest wasn't the only place with nomadic societies. The Great Plains, which were not great for agriculture before the invention of the steel plow, was home to abundant natural wildlife and diverse people that hunted them. One of these groups was the Comanche, whose territory bordered the Southwest and the Plains. The Comanche were always a dominant warring society, but after the introduction of the horse they became the indisputable masters of the plains. Of the many nations to use the horse, only the Comanche learned to breed horses, domesticate them, and fight from horseback. They were the dominant horse culture of North America for about 200 years, and a constant terror to both the cavalries of the United States and Mexico.
Of course, we can't talk about Plains cultures without discussing the Sioux people, who traditionally lived around the current US-Canada border. There were three main subgroups of Sioux cultures, the Eastern Dakota, Western Dakota, and Lakota. All of the Sioux cultures were at least seasonally nomadic and relied on hunting, generally following the bison around the Plains. They too adopted the horse and used it to great effect, particularly in hunting, although they preferred to trade or steal horses from rivals rather than breed them.
Our last stop is going to be the East Coast of North America. Let's start around the region encompassing modern-day Georgia to Tennessee, and the Cherokee people. The Cherokee may have arrived in the area around 1500 BCE, originally coming from the Great Lakes, and they lived in agricultural societies that grew corn, beans and squash as well as pumpkins and sunflowers. The Cherokee had a unique strategy in dealing with Europeans; they learned English, taught themselves European legal systems, developed a written Cherokee language, and used the courts to defend their freedoms. Unfortunately, the Cherokee would also be the first and foremost victims of America's 19th century Indian Removal policy, which forcibly relocated the Cherokee to Oklahoma along a forced march remembered as the Trail of Tears. To this day, the Cherokee are the largest federally-recognized tribe in the United States.
The other major group to call the East Coast home were the Iroquois, a broad term for people who spoke an Iroquois-based language. The Iroquois also farmed, and also relied heavily on fishing and complex trade routes across the region. At various points in history, Iroquois chiefs would unite various Iroquois nations together into Iroquois Confederacies that had very real military, economic, and political power. In fact, at the outset of WWI, the modern Iroquois Confederacy declared war on Germany, expressing their rights as an Amerindian nation to conduct their own international relations without being tied to American foreign policy, an action followed by the Navajo and Sioux.
The history of North America begins thousands of years ago and encompasses hundreds of diverse cultural groups. Within each region, certain Amerindian groups achieved prominence. In the North, the Inuit people established seasonally nomadic societies reliant on hunting and whaling. Along the North American West Coast, the Haida developed massive canoes that could sail across open oceans, and the Chinook built a trade empire for canoes and dried fish. In the current American Southwest, the Hopi developed agriculture and settled societies, which they passed onto the Navajo, who were noted for their craftsmanship. Both nations traded and fought with the nomadic Apache people. In the Great Plains, nomadic societies like the Comanche and Sioux nations relied on the seasonal movement of herds, and were redefined by the introduction of the horse. On North America's East Coast, the Cherokee and Iroquois developed farming cultures, extensive trade networks, and complex forms of political organization. With thousands of years of extremely diverse cultures, the North American continent has truly seen it all.
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Back To CourseGlencoe The American Journey: Online Textbook Help
31 chapters | 204 lessons