Native Americans

Table of Contents :


Native Americans or Indians were the first people to live in the New World. They had been living there long before the first Europeans arrived.

In 1492, Columbus sailed across the Atlantic Ocean to find a shorter and faster route to India. When he landed on an island near the American coast he thought he had reached India, so he called the people he met there Indians.

Many historians think that the first Indians came to the American continent from Asia over 20,000 years ago. At that time it was very cold and ice covered most of the northern part of our world. Indian tribes wandered across the Bering Strait and spread down to the southern part of South America.

Indians lived in different ways and had different cultures that depended on the climate and their surroundings.


Family Life

Most Indians concentrated on the important things in life: getting food, making clothes and building houses.


Buffalo - Food of Native AmericansIndians ate many different kinds of food. Those who lived on the plains of the Central United States ate the meat of buffalo. The Pueblos of the south-western part lived on corn, beans and squash. Indians in Alaska and Canada were fishers and hunted deer and other wild animals in the forests. Most Indians ate berries and collected nuts.

Indians cooked their food in ovens that they made with hot stones. They preserved meat by smoking or drying it in the sun.


Marriage and Children

Many Indians married at an early age – girls between 13 and 15, boys between 15 and 20. In some Indian tribes parents chose husbands and wives for their children. Some Indian tribes allowed men to have more than one wife. After a man died his wife often lived with his brother’s family.

Most Indian families were small because many children died at birth or at an early age. When boys got older they were tested for their strength and bravery. Many had to live alone in the wilderness for a long time.

In many areas, Indians lived in big families called clans. These clans were a group of relatives who had one common ancestor.



Many Indians made clothes from animal skins and furs. Buffalo skin and rabbit fur were especially popular. They also used bird feathers to decorate their heads.

Indians of the tropical regions only wore simple skirts. Some tribes wore no clothes at all


Houses and Homes

Indians built many different types of homes because they lived in different climates and didn’t have the same building materials. Some groups built large houses with many rooms where many families could stay together, others had small dwellings in which only very few people lived.

The Inuit of Canada built snow houses during the winter and in summer they lived in tents made of animal hides.

In some parts of America, Indians built wigwams that were covered with leaves. Some tribes built houses into the earth that they covered with leaves and grass.

Indians of in the Great Plains built tepees made of buffalo skin. The Pueblo Indians of the south-western part of America used sun-dried bricks to make houses.




Families and whole clans joined together to form tribes. Hundreds of tribes lived in America when Columbus arrived in 1492. Each tribe lived in its own area, shared the same language and had its own religion. The leader of the tribe was called a chief. Decisions were made at meetings of the tribal council. Members were important people of many different families.



Indians often fought against other tribes because it was sometimes the only way to settle disputes.

The bow and arrow was the most common weapon of the Indians. Some tribes put poison on the arrowheads. Many Indians fought with spears and tomahawks.

When an Indian defeated his enemy he often took his scalp as a prize to show to others. Killing an enemy tribesman often made a warrior famous and respected.

When white people came to North America, Indians bought guns and other new weapons from them.


Arts and Crafts

Native Americans worked in many arts and crafts. They created beautiful pottery, made baskets to carry food and wove cloth into blankets and rugs.

Indians also painted their pottery with colourful patterns. Some made wall paintings of important ceremonies or everyday life.



Native American war danceIndians did not have one single religion, but they did have many beliefs. They believed in a mysterious force in nature and in spirits that were higher than human beings and influenced their lives.

People depended on them when they searched for food or when people were ill. Some tribes believed in one or many gods – special sprits that were more powerful than others.

Shamans were religious people who had close contacts with spirits. They were often medicine men and treated sick people in a family. They set broken bones and used plants to cure certain diseases. When helping the ill they often moved around their bodies and sang songs.

Many ceremonies were held to help Indians get enough food. The Plains Indians thought that the buffalo dance would help them hunt buffalo. Some tribes held harvest festivals and organised rain dances where they prayed to gods for enough rain.

Music accompanied the Indians through everyday life. Many tribes sang to the rhythm of rattles and drums. Some tribes used flutes and whistles.


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  • accompany = to go with somebody or something
  • ancestor = a member of your family who lived a long time ago
  • area = place
  • arrowhead = the sharp pointed end of an arrow
  • at birth = when a baby is born
  • basket =container made of wood that is woven together; you can put things in it
  • bean =a small seed or fruit that comes from a climbing plant ; it is cooked and used as food
  • beliefs = ideas that you think are true
  • berry = a small soft fruit with seeds
  • blanket =a cover for a bed, made of wool
  • bow and arrow =a weapon made of a long curved piece of wood; the ends are connected with a string; you shoot long thin pointed pieces of wood with it
  • bravery =actions that show you have courage and are not afraid
  • brick = a hard block of baked clay used to build houses
  • buffalo = an animal that is like a large cow with long curved horns
  • building material = things that you use to build houses with
  • ceremony = a very important event
  • cloth = material that is used to make clothes
  • coast = where land meets the sea
  • common = popular, liked by many people
  • common =shared
  • cover = a layer over something
  • craft = to make things with your hands
  • cure = to heal
  • decision = choice
  • decorate = to make something look very nice by putting things on it
  • deer = a large wild animal that can run very fast. It eats grass and has horns
  • defeat = to win against
  • depend = affected by something else
  • depend on = if you need something
  • disease = illness
  • drum =musical instrument that you play be hitting the surface with a stick
  • dwelling = a place where people live
  • enemies = people you don’t like and fight against
  • especially = above all
  • few = not very many
  • flute =musical instrument that looks like a pipe ; you blow air into it and cover some of the holes to make a sound
  • force =power, strength
  • fur = the thick soft hair around an animal’s body
  • Great Plains = a large area of flat land in the middle of the USA
  • harvest =to bring in the fruits or the crop
  • hide = an animal’s skin
  • historians = people who study history
  • influence =to have an effect on
  • join = to get together
  • oven = a place in which you cook food
  • plains = large areas of flat and mostly dry land
  • poison =something that you eat or drink that may kill or hurt you
  • popular = if many people like something very much
  • pottery = objects made out of baked clay
  • pray =to say words to God
  • preserve = to make something last for a long tme
  • rattle = an object that makes noise when you shake it
  • reach = get to
  • relative = member of a family
  • respected = if other people like you because you have done good things
  • rug = a small carpet
  • scalp = the skin on top of your head
  • set = to repair
  • settle disputes = to end arguments
  • share = to have together
  • skirt =clothes that women wear ; they hang down from the waist
  • spear = a pole with a sharp point on one end
  • spirit = something that has no body but people think it exists
  • spread down = move to
  • squash = large vegetables that have a hard skin
  • strength = the power and energy that makes someone strong
  • sun-dried = if you leave something in the sun to dry
  • surroundings = the world around you
  • tent = a sheet of cloth that is held down by poles and ropes; it is used for camping
  • tomahawk = a light axe used by Indians
  • tribal council = when members of the tribe get together to discuss important things
  • tribe = a group of people who have the same way of life and the same language. They are ruled by a leader
  • tribesman = a member of a tribe
  • warrior = a very brave fighter
  • weapon =something that you use to attack a person with, like a gun or a knife
  • whistle =a small object that you blow into; it produces a high sound
  • wilderness = land where nobody lives or works on