Native Americans

By Ajay Anand

American Indian

Members of any of the aboriginal peoples of the Western Hemisphere are called American Indian.

They are also called Indian, Native American, indigenous American, aboriginal American, Amerindian, or Amerind.

Eskimos and Aleuts are usually excluded from this category.

Ancestors of Native American

The ancestors of American Indians were nomadic people.

They moved from Asia to North America during the last Ice Age.

About 30,000 – 12,000 years ago they crossed the land bridge connecting the two continents.

Geographical Distinctions

American Indian can be segregated into three geographical groups:

Northern America
Middle America
South America

American Indian of Northern America

Early Culture

The earliest ancestors of Native Americans are known as Paleo-Indians.

They used fire and domesticated dogs.

But they were not involved in grazing animals, domesticating plants, and using the wheel.

Hunting Preferences

Paleo-Indians in the interior of North America hunted wooly mammoths, giant ground sloths and a very large species of bison.

Paleo-Indians traveling down the coast hunted for fish, shellfish and other maritime products.

Tools Used

Paleo-Indians mostly used stone tools.

They made Clovis points from stones, and used them as spear-head.

Archaic Cultures

After the Ice Age, the Indians began to hunt smaller animals, like deer and elk.

They also started catching fish and shellfish from inland rivers and lakes.

They also used variety of plant foods, like seeds, berries, nuts, etc.

This phase marked the transition to settled life and trade.

Archaic Technology

They used grinding tools, woodworking tools and plummets.

Spear-thrower came into use. It enabled a hunter to throw a dart accurately, with a great force to a distant target.

Archaic period continued from 8000 BCE to 2000 BCE.

Prehistoric Agriculture

In the valleys east of the Mississippi River, people grew amaranth, sumpweed, sunflower and squash.

People also made fine sculptures, pottery, basketry and copperwork.

Surplus food enabled many to have a privileged life.

Elaborate burial rituals started around this period.

Colonisation and Conquest

Spain, France, England, and Russia colonized Northern America for different reasons.

The Spanish colonized the Southeast, the Southwest, and California.

Their goal was to create a local peasant class.

Indigenous peoples were missionized, relocated, and forced to work for the Spanish crown and church, all under threat of force.

The French

The French colonies extended from the present state of Louisiana to Canada and from the Atlantic coast to the Mississippi River.

They were primarily interested in extracting saleable goods.

French traders and trappers frequently smoothed the exchange process by marrying indigenous women and becoming adoptive tribal members.

The English

The English focused their initial occupation on the mid- and north-Atlantic coasts and Hudson Bay.

They prohibited marriage between British subjects and indigenous peoples.

The Russians

The Russians sought to supply Chinese markets with rich marine mammal furs from the Northwest Coast and the Arctic.

They forced indigenous men to hunt sea otters.

19th Century

During the 19th century, the governments of the United States and Canada disenfranchised most Northern American tribes of their land and sovereignty.

Most indigenous individuals were legally prohibited from leaving their home reservation without specific permission.

Assimilation in Dominant Culture

Boarding or residential school was the most insidious instrument of assimilation.

Use of traditional language, behaviour, or religion was totally banned at boarding schools.

Assimilation in Reservations

Government authorities often prohibited indigenous religious practices in reservations too.

Many of the hunting, fishing, and gathering rights guaranteed in treaties were abrogated by a many regulations.

Many of these policies were not fully discontinued until the Civil Rights movements of the 1960s and 1970s.

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