Before they were marginalised by European settlers, Native Americans had a vibrant culture. It is believed that up to six-hundred tribes occupied the country that is now known as The United States of America. Although each tribe had its own language and way of life, Native American lifestyles in the late 18th century were similar in many ways.
While the Native Americans did not have a particular religion, they all believed that the elements of earth and nature were spirits or gods, and that these forces influenced their lives. Native Americans held many ceremonies involving dancing, singing, and drums in order to communicate with the spirits or gods and ask them for goodwill, whether it be in the form of rain, or to heal the sick. Some tribes would also ask the gods for permission before reaping crops from the land.
Speaking of food, tribes that settled in the southeast, northeast and southwest regions were generally farmers. The weather in these regions were conducive to farming crops like maize (corn), beans, and squash. In fact, many of the foods we eat today (such as tomatoes, peanuts, potatoes and strawberries) were originally consumed by Native Americans and introduced to the European settlers when they came to the United States.
The Native Americans who lived in the plains were nomadic and they moved in clans 6-8 times per year to follow the buffalo migrations. Although these Native Americans gathered crops and hunted other animals, Buffaloes were an important part of their culture since every part of the buffalo was put to use. Buffalo meat was the main food, and their liver, nose gristle, and brain were considered a treat when eaten raw. The bones of the buffalo were carved into knives or boiled to make glue, while their hooves were used as cups. Buffalo skins were sun-dried and used to make clothes, water bags, beddings, moccasins (shoes), and tipis (conical tents which they lived in).
Although the buffalo skins were used to make clothing, the Native Americans also covered themselves in clothes made from deer hide, sewn together with emu thread or plant fibre. Some of them decorated their clothing with elk teeth and fringes. Native Americans also adorned themselves with headdresses and the war chief had the longest and most elaborate of them all. His was decorated with many eagle feathers and was a symbol of his status within the tribe.
As with many indigenous cultures, the men were expect to hunt, while the women took care of the home and the children. At a young age, boys of the Plains Indian tribe were distanced from the females and trained in fighting and horsemanship. In order to earn the respect of the tribe, they were expected to be tough and brave. When a boy attained manhood at age 17, he would leave the tribe in search of his guardian spirit. Upon his return, he would either join the warriors or the buffalo hunters. When the men brought their buffalo-catch back to the tribe, women were now responsible for preparing the meat and manipulating the carcasses for its many other uses. This included the difficult task of skinning the buffaloes and tanning the hides. Women also owned the tipis and were responsible for dismantling and pitching the tipi whenever the chief decided to move to another area.
The Native American lifestyle was simple yet fulfilling. Their connections to, and respect for nature are admirable, and it is still seen in the few Native American decedents today.