Native American Societies

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Native American Societies

Introduction

Many years before Christopher Columbus discovered the Americas, another group of nomads already inhabited Native America. These people hiked from Asia to Alaska. This was about 12000 years ago. By the time European adventurers arrived in America, it is estimated that about 50 million people were already settled in America. Archeologists and scholars have divided the people who lived in Americas into different subgroups. These are the Arctic, Subarctic, and Southeast natives, Northeast, California, Northwest, Plateau and the Plains.

These groups of people shared many cultural aspects. For instance, they were mainly nomads moving from place to place looking for animals on which they could prey on for survival. In addition, these people practiced fishing which helped them obtain food. Some groups also engaged in agriculture where they engaged in growing crops such as corn, vegetables and beans. Trade was an instrumental economic activity among these groups. The Indians started engaged in trade of fur in the 17th and 18th century. The Indians supplied pelts to the traders from Europe. Trade was an activity that helped the communities obtain most of the commodities that they did not have. The emergence and growth of fur trade later led to the displacement and extermination of the indigenous groups in America. The indigenous Indians lived in dome shaped houses. Other lived in underground dugouts when it grew too cold to engage in fishing. They also lived in tents which they constructed using sticks and skin from animals. The early inhabitants moved on foot and when fishing used canoes and boats to help them traverse the waters of river basins. The Indians wore snow shoes and lightweight canvas that served as a means of transport. They wore skins and seal to help them keep warm. Native Americans turned wild plants such as pumpkins, corn and beans into food fit for human consumption. The Southwest societies later started engaging in irrigation practices, this helped them water their crops so that they could flourish. Irrigation also helped them in times of extreme climatic conditions such as drought and famine. In fact, most of the American farm products known today originated from native America way before colonization by the British. This society also knew medicine as a vital science. They used medicinal herbs to cure ailments. Archaeologists have also established that Native Americans engaged in mining of minerals such as lead, coal and copper. This later became their basis of engagement in trade with European traders.

Political structures of this group of people dictate that these societies lived in small groups/bands. Each of these patterns pursued its own style of movement. Considering that these people were nomads, they kept roaming from place to place. It was thus difficult to have a centralized type of government. Government revolved around the kinship structure. The Indians had no hierarchies of leadership. Family and social pressure were the main contributing factors to order within these small decentralized groups. Government was decentralized, the egalitarian kind. Older members of the society, mainly men directed the activities of the band/group. They organized hunting expeditions and planned movements for migration purposes. The older men also mediated disputes that occurred between individuals. Most men who took up leadership roles were considered role models. They were organized, generous, eloquent, industrious ad skilled hunters at the time hence most members of a band respected them highly. There was a priest or a shaman. The priest connected the members of the society to the spiritual unseen world.

Pueblo Government

The descendants of the Anasazis existed in adobe pueblos. This was a unique sociopolitical structure. The pueblo believed that no one had monopoly to land. All land was communally owned. Any person was thus allowed to engage in farming in any part of the land. In addition, he or she could engage in fishing in any section of the waters. Decisions were made by adult men. However, women had a voice in the day today decision making process. The Isleta pueblo people were ruled by a chief, hunting chief and war priest (Thompson, 27) Chiefs performed the role of selecting individuals responsible for managing and maintaining facilities for irrigation. It was expected that for one to qualify for the position of chief, one had to be a gentleman. He was expected not to have been involved in injuring or killing of a fellow human being. In addition to selecting people to take care of irrigation facilities, the chief also performed agricultural rituals. These rituals ensured that rain would come in abundance so that irrigation would not be a problem in the community. The public supported the chief left right and center. For instance, they harvested his crops for him. The war priest was responsible for obtaining firewood, clothing and meat on behalf of the chief from resident of the community. He also headed the community warriors who defended the community from external attacks. These warriors were mainly young adult men, strong and fit to go to war. The hunting chief was in charge of organizing and leading hunting troops. He also performed rituals to ensure supply of adequate game to the community. Specialized shamans performed the role of regulating weather and healing.

In the Pacific Northwest, the inhabitants maintained life in villages. The clanship system was evident in this society. They believed in the existence of ancestors and used the totem pole as a means of claiming social superiority over other families (Luebering, 87). Each village maintained its own systems and claimed responsibility over its territories. Each village also had its own distinct hunting, fishing, meeting and sacred grounds. Visitors who used these spots were considered as visitors to the village. In other villages, such visitors were considered to be trespassers. War was a common occurrence in this society. The people of the Northwest often fought over fishing grounds with their neighbors. Each village was headed by a chief who was assisted by sub-chiefs and a council. The council was responsible for governing the society. They encouraged peace and harmony in the community. All village members were given a chance to speak at meetings. Chiefs performed the role of settling disputes in the village. They also hosted the council meetings. They engaged in counseling people in the village who had different kinds of problems. The chief was also in-charge of diplomatic relations with other communities. The chief was however limited in his scope of discharging his mandate. He could only make decisions that conformed to the principles and culture of the community. The position of chief was inheritable as it passed over from father to son. It could also pass on from a brother to another brother. The council had the mandate of recognizing the position of the chief meaning that the chief could only serve with the support of the council. The chief was expected to be an honest person, fair and a great mediator in times of disputes. He was hence expected to make wise decisions at all times.

The chief selected a sub-chief with the consent of the council. He assigned him duties to discharge within the chiefdom. The societies also selected a speaker. The speaker was the spokesman of the chief during council meetings. The chief whispered his thoughts in the ear of the speaker who then delivered the thoughts of the chief to the council. If a prospective chief attempted to gain a following in the village he had to organize and event, the pot-latch. This prospective leader would give away to his neighbors or destroy almost all property that he owned. The organizer of this event would then chant pronouncing his abilities to the village. He would then ridicule his rivals who competed against him for the headship position. By giving up his wealth to other people the contestant would gain popularity among people who would support him by virtue of being indebted to him. In some Columbia River Societies, the villagers selected a special officer, the Salmon Chief. This chief had authority as he was guided by the salmon. The special officer made critical decisions such as determining who would be in-charge of building fishing traps. He would then decide where these traps will be set up. He would then perform rituals to encourage fish to swim towards the traps. He also enforced rules and regulations relating to use of fishing traps. The Salmon chief would then decide how the catch would be distributed among people in the village (Luebering, 87).

Gender/Class Distinctions

Native Americans had differentiated roles for males and females in the villages. It was the role of women to take care of children in the homesteads. Women also helped in home chores such as cooking for the males who went out on hunting sprees. Women also engaged in gathering of wild fruits and berries. They also processed the food obtained from hunting.

The role of men was well defined. The men were responsible for security of the community whereby they defended the community against external aggression. They also took up leadership positions such as chiefs and high priest positions. It is the men who went out to hunt and fish in water bodies. They were also responsible for manufacturing weapons.

Uses of the Environment

The Native Americans were extremely well skilled in using their environment. They used the oceans and river basins for purposes of transport from one position to the other. In addition, they relied on the water bodies for extracting fish which was common food at the time (Anita 127). In addition, they made good use of the water from these basins to irrigate their crops such as vegetables and beans so that the society would not go hungry even in times of hunger. The society used skin from animals that were hunted as protective clothing. This proved to be instrumental especially in times of cold weather. They also used the skins from hunted animals to build tents in which they could live. Native Americans also used the ground as hideouts against enemies. In addition they could take cover in these hideouts to shelter them from extreme cold. The environment was also the source of tools and weapons used in the society.

Conclusion

Native Americans were well organized. They ensured that their material culture stood strong so that they could survive. In terms of defense, gathering of food, manufacturing weapons and housing, we see that this society was well organized. In addition to this, the society also has strong political and religious authorities. Gender roles were also well differentiated such that both men and women performed distinct roles. The Native Americans made proper use of their environment. The environment proved instrumental in survival strategies as it provided food and defense mechanisms.

Works Cited

Dalal, Anita. Native American Myths. New York: Gareth Stevens Pub, 2010. Print.

National Geographic America in 1607: Jamestown and the Powhatan

(http://ngm.nationalgeographic.com/2007/05/jamestown/jamestown-standalone)

Native American Directory: Alaska, Canada, United States. San Carlos, AZ (P.O. Box 5000, San Carlos 85550-0301: National Native American Co-operative, 1982. Print.

Thompson, William N. Native American Issues: A Reference Handbook. Santa Barbara, Calif: ABC-CLIO, 1996. Internet resource.Luebering, J E. Native American History. Chicago: Britannica Educational Pub, 2010. Internet resource.

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