How did environment influence Native American cultures in North America?
How Did The Environment Affect The Native American Indians With Particular Reference To The Woodland Indians?
The environment hugely affected the Native American Indians in many different ways. This is because of the way in which the Indians used the environment and the surrounding land. The Indians were very close to nature, and so that meant that any changes in nature would be changes in the Indians.
The Indians thought of land very differently to the white man. The land was sacred, there was no ownership, and it was created by the great spirit. They could not sell their land to others, whereas the white people could fence off the land which belonged to them, and sell it freely to whoever they wanted. The Europeans didn’t think that the Indians were using the land properly, so in their eyes, they were doing a good favour to the earth. To the Indians, the land was more valuable than the money that the white man had brought with him, even though it didn’t belong to them.
Indians lived all over America, in many different environments including the flatlands, the forests, the mountains, the deserts, the prairies, on the coast, and even in the arctic. All these Environments affected the different Indians in different ways, so that different Indians evolved over time.
Religion was a very big part in many Indians life. Almost every part of Indian life is related to religion, the land is sacred, and religion plays a part in what can be done with it, the first Indians had many different religions, and they continued to have religion for the whole of their lives. Dress was affected, many Indians wore special clothes and jewellery of religious importance. Religion often changed family life, the children respected their elders, especially their grandparents, and the Indians believed in divorce and marriage. Education was religious, the boys were taught to hunt, and the girls to treat leather and prepare food. The Indians believed all life to be sacred, but it could be hunted, as long as it was treated with respect, so this affected the way they hunted, and what food they had.
The environment also affected the Indians shelter in many ways. Depending on where they lived, the Indian tribes had different ways of protecting themselves from the elements using the available resources, and different designs for the general climate. For example, the Indians living in the mountainous and semi-desert areas of the south west lived in light twig shacks and log huts, whereas the Inuits of the sub arctic north America built igloos, and the woodland Indians lived in bark covered houses.
The Indians food was decided by the environment that they lived in. Most of the food that the Indians ate was hunted, so that means that the main part of their diet was the animals that lived around them in the same environment as them. Buffalo in the plains, Deer and Rabbit in the south west, Elk, Moose and Deer in the north east, and mainly Fish in the south east.
The food that was produced by Indians was also important for family life, and religion; if you can provide for your family well, then you’d make a good husband / wife. This was shown when two Indians are attracted, the parents of each would take a leg of venison to the other, and say, “my son killed this deer”, or a dish of beans that their daughter had prepared.
The First Americas
People think that the first Indians crossed to America thousands of years ago, in the ice age. Because of the water freezing, the sea level drops, and it was possible to cross via a thin bit of land which had been revealed when the sea fell between America and Siberia. They might have been hunting and slowly followed the animals across. There was many different cultures, in different groups of Indians, but most of them died away, including the Magan culture, the Aztecs, Anasazi, Hopewell, and the Omlecs. When the Europeans came and found some Indians, along with the remain of the many cultures, a lot of them found it very difficult to believe that the Indians could be so civilised, or as powerful as the remains suggest.
The environment changed the way in which the young Indians were taught, and also what they were taught. But Education was probably one of the least affected thing by the environment, all Indians were taught to respect their elders, from an early age, especially their grandparents, who were the ones who taught them everything, not the parents, although they may teach a little. Boys were taught to hunt, and girls to prepare food and pick berries etc.
Most Indians used materials from the local environment for clothing, until the whites came and trading began. Clothing was usually made from deerskin. The women spent a long time preparing the skin, and took pride in how well the clothes were made. The clothes that Indians wore were of great religious importance too. When an Indian was preparing to be a warrior, he would often have all his hair pulled out, and his ears cut around the edges so that ear rings and other ornaments could be worn.
Contact With Whites
Before the Europeans arrived, the Indians were self sufficient, and only did what was necessary to live, but all this changed when the white man arrived, he wanted more beaver than he could trap, because beaver skin is very useful. This meant that the Indians traded with the Europeans, for pots pans, weapons, and eventually even guns. So some Indians were specialising in hunting beaver, and that meant that they were dependant on the white man. Although the Indians living standards did increase, they eventually ran out of beaver in their area, and ended up fighting with neighbours for land, so they could hunt more beaver.
The Woodland Indians
The Algonquins were woodland Indians, and they first met the English in the late 1500s. some of these English made a record of the Indians they met.
The woodland Indians mainly lived in villages of bark covered houses. Thomas Hariot wrote in 1586, "Some towns are surrounded by poles. They are not strong. The entrance is very narrow. Only the lord and his nobles have hits is there. One side is the temple. Some towns are not enclosed. They have gardens to grow tobacco, woods full of deer, and fields to grow corn. These people are free of greed and live happily together."
Most of the food that they ate was from farming. They cleared the land without metal tools, and to clear trees, they striped the bark off, and this would stop the sap flowing, so the tree would eventually die and fall down. The main crops that the woodland Indians grew were corn, which is maize, beans, squash and pumpkins. They also collects berries and nuts from the forests, and even had maple syrup from the trees in the forests. The woodland Indians, like many other Indians did a lot of hunting, and when the captured or killed an animal, nothing was wasted. If they got a deer, they used everything: Antlers for tools and arrow points. Skin for clothing. Meat for food, which they could preserve by cutting into strips, and drying in smoke. Sinews for thread, bow strings, and snares. Hoofs for rattles. Bones for hairpins, needles, skin-dressing tools, handles and ornaments. Bladder for bags and containers, and tail for stiff hair ornaments and embroidery.
From all the information I have gathered, I have concluded that the environment was probably one of the most influential aspects of life for the native American Indians, especially the woodland Indians.