Native Americans Lesson for Kids: Facts & History

Instructor: Joelle Mumley
Native Americans were the first people to live in the Americas. In this lesson, learn what a Native American is, where they came from, what their lives were like, and where they are today.

Who Are Native Americans?

You may remember seeing Indians in Thanksgiving pictures. Or maybe you remember movies like Pocahontas and Night at the Museum, in which Indians ride horses and chase buffalo on the open plains. These early Americans got called Indians by accident because explorers were looking for another country called India. Can you imagine? That would be like someone calling Americans Canadian! So instead of calling them Indians, we now call all the native people Native Americans. America is the land that many people have used to find freedom, but Native Americans were the first people that ever came to the American continents.

Native American Origins

Scientists believe that Native Americans walked across a giant land bridge that stretched from Asia to Alaska over 10,000 years ago. The theory is that, over time, they moved to different parts of Alaska, Canada, the United States, Mexico, and South America forming their own groups. However, more evidence has been uncovered that suggests early seafaring explorers from Polynesian islands across the Pacific Ocean may have travelled as far as South America. This evidence comes from various things, including evidence of plant matter not native to South American and found only on these Polynesian islands. Regardless of origin, most Native Americans are separated by tribes. Tribes are groups named because of their culture, religion, common language, and location. There are still more than 500 tribes recognized in the United States today!

Native American Diet

Most Native American tribes ate the local plants and animals from their region. The Inuit natives from Alaska and Canada were skilled fisherman and hunters because it's so cold they couldn't find many plants. The Navajo who lived in warmer climates like New Mexico ate corn, squash, grapes, and rabbits, while the plains peoples like the Blackfoot from Montana ate mostly buffalo.

What Were Their Houses Like?

Native Americans used what they had in their areas to make their houses. Some used straw or grass mixed with mud, while others built houses out of animal skin. Some even built clay houses in cliffs to protect themselves from their enemies.

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