Information from TeacherVision Books
Adapted by Selina Wertman
Native Americans were the first people to live in America. Native Americans are also called Indians and when they made their homes throughout North America they settled into four regions thus making four groups called culture areas. These culture area groups are, the Coastal Indians, the Desert Indians, the Woodland Indians, and the Plains Indians.
The Coastal Indians lived along the forest region from Alaska to northern California and from the Pacific Ocean to the Rocky Mountains. They were hunters, gatherers, and fishermen.
Coastal Indians lived in shelters known as plank houses. These varied in shape and design according to the tribe that was building it. The house was made primarily from wood pieces found along the wooded areas near the sea or water body. The homes were built, dismantled, and relocated near waters following the spawning of salmon.
The Coastal Indians lived right on the coast, ate mainly food from the sea. They ate salmon, seals, sea otters, whales, and other types of shellfish from the water.
In the fall, during the "salmon season," the people could catch enough fish to feed their families for the whole year. Coastal Indians followed the patterns of salmon as a source of food.
Just like all other native people, the people of the Pacific Northwest dressed in materials found in the region where they lived. In hot weather, men wore breechcloths made of animal skins or woven grass or reeds. When it got cold and rainy in the winter they added animal skin or woven cedar shirts and leggings. Women wore skirts and capes of woven cedar strips. In the winter, clothing was made of animal skins. Even in winter, people often went barefoot.
Totem Poles were carved out of giant cedar trees. These are like a book that you read, each section of the pole passing a story from generation to generation. The figures are symbols often representing tribes, clans, families, or persons.
The Desert Indians lived in the southwestern part of the United States. They were villagers, farmers, and wanderers who lived by hunting.
Hogans and Pueblos
Desert Indians lived in areas that were dry and rocky, the land was covered with sagebrush, cactus, and desert plants and so they had to build their homes with materials that were available.
One kind of desert home was a Hogan. A Hogan has 8 sides and is made from logs and mud, with grass used for the roof. The doorway of the Hogan always faced east toward the rising sun.
The second kind of desert home was called a pueblo. The walls of the pueblo were made with stones from the desert and mixed with desert clay, black river earth, and straw. Pueblos were often 3-4 stories high and had as many as 200 rooms.
Desert Indians grew what we now call “Indian corn.” This was their main crop and grew in many colors, blue, white, yellow, red, pink, and purple. The corn was used in many ways such as making soups, stews, tortillas, piki bread, and a drink called pasole.
The Desert Indians also had to use resources around them and in the rocky terrain mountain sheep were plentiful. The Desert Indians would use the wool from these sheep to create clothing, headbands, bedding, and jewelry.
The Desert Indians believed in friendly spirits called kachinas. They were not gods, they were kind and loving spirits what were the go-between for the people and nature. Kachinas helped people live a good life and respect the beauty and power of nature. Kachinas were often carved from cottonwood roots or woven from wool and were given as gifts to children to teach them about power, love and the spirits of the kachina.
The Woodland Indians lived in the region that stretches from the border of Canada to the Gulf of Mexico, and from the Mississippi River to the east coast and Atlantic Ocean. They were farmers, woodsmen, and hunters. These were the Indians that the Pilgrims met when they first landed at Plymouth Massachusetts.
Wigwams and Longhouses
Woodland Indians had 2 different kinds of homes, which kind they lived in depended on the location of their tribe and the trees available.
The first home is called a wigwam. These were dome shaped homes and they were made from young, green saplings. Wigwams were usually homes for just one family.
The second kind of home is called longhouses. These were made of a pole framework that was covered with large slabs of rough elm bark. The longhouse was usually about 20 feet wide and 120 feet long and home to as many as 20 families.
Woodland Indians lived off the land. They learned to plant food such as corn, harvest wheat, hunt, and fish from the ponds and streams. The Woodland Indians taught the pilgrims how to hunt, plant corn, and use plants for medicine.
Woodland Indians wore clothing made from animal skins and fur. Preparing the animal hide for making clothing was a long and hard job. After the men had skinned the animals, the women prepared the hide. First the skin was soaked in water for many days to soften it, then it was wrung out and laid over a log and the women used sharp-edged stones to scrape off the hair and fat. This process was repeated until all the hair and fat were removed and the skin was smooth and soft. Once this was done the skin was tanned by heating and smoking if over low burning fire which would seal the skin and protect it from being eaten by bugs. After this was done the skin was sewn into clothing.
The Plains Indians lived in the region between the Mississippi River and the Rocky Mountains, from Canada to Mexico. They were farmers, fishermen, hunters, and gatherers.
Plains Indians were nomad hunters and so they needed homes that were easily moveable and could be carried as they followed the buffalo. The tipi looks like a cone-shaped tent with bare ground floors. The walls of tipis are made with tanned buffalo skins. The average sized tipi, was about 18 feet high and 14 feet across, and uses about 10-12 buffalo hides to cover the frame.
The buffalo gave the Plains Indians everything they needed to survive, every part of the buffalo was used for something. The hides were used for clothing, moccasins, and coverings for tipis. The horns and bones were used for spoons and other utensils. The hair was used to make rope. The muscles and tendons were dried and used as string and thread. Even the stomach was used as a pot for carrying and cooking food and water. Meat that was not eaten immediately was dried in the sun or over smoking fires to be made into Pemmican, which we call jerky.
Plains Indians used the skins of buffalo to make their clothing. They would tan the hides in the same manner as for their tipis and then decorate the clothes with dyes from plans and beads and stones.
There were many different tribes of Indians living on the Great Plains and each tribe had their own spoken language. To understand and communicate with each other they used sign language and picture writing. This writing was used to decorate their homes and often painted on buffalo hides to record important events in the life of the tribe. Usually stories were written in circles instead of lines like we use.
North American Tribal Map
Coastal Indians Information