9 Facts about the Lives of America’s Original Inhabitants After Europeans Arrived

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  1. Native Americans or American Indians?

The native peoples of America were given the name Indians by the explorer Christopher Columbus, who thought he had reached a place called the Indies. At that time, each group of native peoples in the Americas had a name for itself. But the Indians did not have a name for themselves as a whole. Over time, the terms American Indian and Indian became widely used. Some Indians say that Native Americans is misleading because any person born in America is a native American.

  1. A Plentiful Population

Estimates of the Indian population of the New World when Columbus arrived vary. Many scholars estimate that there may have been 30 million, with some estimates running as high as 118 million.

  1. New Foods

The Indians grew many foods that Europeans who came to America had never heard of, such as avocados, corn, peanuts, peppers, pineapples, potatoes, squash, and tomatoes. They also introduced the Europeans to tobacco.

  1. Modern Inventions

In turn, the Europeans brought many goods that were new to the Indians. These goods included metal tools, guns, and liquor. The Europeans also brought cattle and horses, which were unknown to the Indians.

  1. “The Five Civilized Tribes”

After the Revolutionary War, the Cherokee and some other Southeastern Indians tried to adopt the ways of white Americans. They began to dress, speak, and act like whites. White people sometimes called the Cherokee, Creek, Choctaw, Chickasaw, and Seminole the Five Civilized Tribes because whites considered their own ways more civilized than Indian customs.

  1. Indian Citizenship Act

In 1924, Congress passed the Indian Citizenship Act, which gave citizenship to every Indian born within the territorial limits of the United States. Indians who live on reservations pay most federal and state taxes, but they pay no taxes on reservation lands and property or on income earned from them.

  1. Return of the Black Hills

In 1980, the Supreme Court of the United States ordered the federal government to pay about $105 million to eight tribes of Sioux Indians. The money was payment for Indian land in South Dakota that the government seized illegally in 1877. The tribes refused the settlement and sought the return of part of the Black Hills in South Dakota as well as a cash payment.

  1. Lost Languages

When Europeans arrived in North America, at least 300 languages were spoken by Indians. Today, fewer than 200 languages are still spoken, and many of them are used little or only by a few older members of a tribe. Only about 40 of the languages are spoken by people of all ages.

  1. Indians Today

Today, a number of tribes operate successful industries. For example, the Navajo make electronic parts for missiles; the Choctaw manufacture parts for automobiles; and the Cherokee produce a variety of horticultural products.

Be sure to read about the Lives of America’s Original Inhabitants Before Europeans Arrived

These fun facts­—and much more—can be found in World Book Online, your answer for fast, reliable information.

Feel free to share your comments below!

This article is part of our Native American Heritage Month Blog Series

12 Facts about the Lives of America’s Original Inhabitants Before Europeans Arrived

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  1. What’s in a Name?

Native American tribe names often reflected the pride of each group in itself and its way of life. For example, the Delaware Indians of eastern North America called themselves Lenape, which means genuine people.

2. Saying “I Do”

Many Indians married at a relatively early age—the girls between 13 and 15 and the boys between 15 and 20. A boy had to convince the girl and her parents that he would make a suitable husband. In many cases, he offered them valuable gifts to win their consent. Many newly married couples lived with the girl’s family—and the husband worked for her family—until the birth of a child.

  1. Seeing is Believing

Boys in their early teens went through a test of strength or bravery called an initiation ceremony where they went without food, sleep, or companionship for a long period or lived alone in the wilderness until they saw a vision of their guardian spirit. This is known as a vision quest. In some tribes, a boy was expected to have a vision of the spirit that would become his lifelong guardian. Some wounded themselves to help bring a vision.

  1. Catching Dinner

Both North and South American Indians used drugs to catch fish. In one method, Indians chopped up certain plants and threw them in the water. These plants stunned the fish. Then the Indians could easily scoop them out of the water.

  1. Alternative Medicine

Some Indians believed that certain diseases were caused by an object in the body. Shamans, sometimes called medicine men or medicine women, sucked on the body of the sick person until they “found” the object causing the illness. Then they spit out the object—usually a small stick or a stone that they had hidden in the mouth. They also blew tobacco smoke over the sick person because tobacco was believed to have magical powers.

  1. Crop Insurance

The Pueblo of the Southwest had religious societies that performed dances the year around to ensure good crops. One such group was the Kachina Society of masked dancers who visited the homes of children to ask if the youngsters had been good. If they had not, the Kachina dancers might punish them. The sun dance, which lasted several days, was the chief ceremony of the Plains Indians. The Indians performed it to gain supernatural power or to fulfill a vow made to a divine spirit in return for special aid. Some men even tortured themselves as part of this ceremony.

  1. A New Language

The Indian tribes of the Plains spoke many languages and needed some means of communicating with one another. From this need came a series of commonly understood gestures called sign language. Sign language was not a complete language, and it could not express any complicated idea. 

  1. Asian Ancestors

Scientists believe that American Indians are descended from the peoples of eastern Asia. For example, Indians, like those who descend from eastern Asians, have straight black hair and high cheekbones, and little hair on their bodies.

  1. Female Power

The five tribes that formed the Iroquois League chose 50 sachems to lead their federation. Only men could be sachems, but only women had the right to select who became a sachem. If a sachem did not do what the women wanted in council, they could remove him and select a new leader.

10. Wartime Heroes

Success in warfare earned fame for a warrior. Counting coup—that is, the act of touching a live enemy and getting away from him—won the highest honor. After battle, the warriors told of their heroic deeds and celebrated their victory. Eagle feathers were awarded for bravery.

11. A Purified Village

The Pueblo usually fought only when attacked. If a Pueblo killed someone—even in warfare—that individual had to go through a long period of self-purification before returning to live in the village.

12. Perfect Precision

The Inca, a group of South American Indians who ruled a large empire in Peru and other parts of western South America, did not use mortar to bind stones together to construct their huge public buildings. However, they carved the stones so carefully that a knife blade could not be inserted between the stones of a building.

Be sure to read about the Lives of America’s Original Inhabitants After Europeans Arrived

These fun facts­—and much more—can be found in World Book Online, your answer for fast, reliable information.

Feel free to share your comments below!

This article is part of our Native American Heritage Month Blog Series

Día de Los Muertos: A Mexican Tradition

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A Blend of the Old and the New

Día de los muertos is usually celebrated on November 2, which is also the Roman Catholic feast of All Souls’ Day. In some communities, the dead are remembered over several days, including November 1, All Saints’ Day.

Mexican Halloween?

coverotherNot exactly! Día de los muertos, is often mistaken for Mexican Halloween because it takes place around the same date. Actually, the celebration is a unique blend of ancient native beliefs and Spanish Catholic traditions.

An Important Link Between the Living and the Dead

The day of the dead reinforces the ancient belief that death is a part of life. It is an important tradition through which families pass on their oral histories to help keep these ancestors alive for future generations.

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Ofrendas

Many families prepare an elaborate altar, known as an ofrenda (offering), for the holiday. The ofrendas are created to welcome back the souls of departed family members and friends for a day. Families set up the ofrendas in their homes and in cemeteries, and decorate them with flowers, fruits, popular foods, sweets, drinks, and personal mementos of the person being remembered.

Cemetery Celebrations

Bringing food and music, families also visit the graves of their loved ones, often cleaning and decorating the headstones with flowers.

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Sweet Skull Treats

Special candies and pan de muerto (bread of the dead), a sweet bread, are popular treats on Día de los muertos. They are served in the shape of skulls, skeletons, and other symbols of death.

 

These fun facts­—and much more—can be found in World Book Online.
Explore our recent post on the origins of Halloween!

Discover the Haunted History of Halloween with World Book Online!

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Ancient Origins

  • Halloween developed from an ancient pagan festival celebrated by Celtic people over 2,000 years ago in the area that is now the United Kingdom, Ireland, and northwestern France.
  • The festival was called Samhain (pronounced SOW ehn), which means summer’s end. The festival marked the beginning of the dark winter season and was celebrated around November 1.
  • During Samhain, Celts believed that the barriers between the natural world and the supernatural were broken, and that the dead could walk among the living for just a little while.

From Samhain To Halloween

  • In the 800’s, the Christian church established a new holiday, All Saints’ Day, on November 1st. All Saints’ Day was also called All Hallows’. Hallow means saint, or one who is holy. The evening before All Hallows’ was known as All Hallows’ Eve, or as it came to be abbreviated, All Hallow e’en.
  • For centuries in Europe, people remembered the dead at All Saints’ Day and All Souls’ Day (November 2) with bonfires.

Origins of the Jack-o’-Lantern

  • Although bonfires are less common on Halloween today, people still mark the night with candles burning in jack-o’-lanterns.
  • The jack-o’-lantern originally represented spirits present in the dark, or souls released from Christian purgatory.
  • According to an Irish legend, jack-o’-lanterns were named for a character named Jack, who could not enter heaven because he was a miserly, bad-tempered man. He could not get into hell either, because he had tricked the devil several times. As a result, Jack had to walk the earth forever with only a coal from hell to light his lantern.

American Traditions

By the late 1800’s, Americans celebrated this spooky holiday in a variety of ways:

  • In rural New Hampshire, people held barn dances for Halloween.
  • In New York City, Halloween parades and firecrackers were common aspects of the celebration.
  • In mountainous North Carolina, many thought Halloween was a time when people could hear the future whispered in the wind.
  • In Louisiana, it was tradition to cook a midnight dumb supper (which means a meal eaten without speaking) and watch for a ghost to join the table.

Halloween In Europe

  • In Ireland, objects, such as a coin, a ring, and a thimble, were baked into a cake or other food. It was believed that the person who found the coin would become wealthy. Whoever found the ring would marry soon, but the person who got the thimble would never get married.
  • In England, people went house-to-house souling—that is, asking for small breads called soul cakes in exchange for prayers.
  • In some areas of the United Kingdom and Ireland, people went mumming (parading in masks) on many holidays, including Halloween.

Warding Off the Spirits

People in Scotland and Ireland once carved out large beets or turnips to use as lanterns on Halloween. After this custom reached America, people began to use pumpkins.

Pumpkins: A New World Vegetable

Pumpkins probably originated in North America. Seeds from related plants dating back to 7000 to 5500 B.C. have been found in Mexico. Most pumpkins weigh between 5 to 30 pounds (2.3 to 14 kilograms). But some may weigh more than 1,000 pounds (450 kilograms)!

These fun facts­—and much more—can be found in World Book Online, your answer for fast, reliable information.

3 Activities to Help Address Bullying in Your School or Classroom

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An unfortunate trend among youth today has sparked anti-bullying organizations to designate the month of October to be “Bullying Prevention Awareness Month.” Many cite the increased incidents of bullying to the rise of social media usage, which has allowed for many of the abusers to hide behind electronic walls. A recent USA Today article pointed out some surprising and scary statistics:

  • Nearly one in three students across America reported being bullied in 2013, according to the National Center for Educational Statistics.
  • Nearly 15 percent of high school students were bullied online in 2014, say officials from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
  • A Kentucky Department of Education study released this month found one in four students ages 12 to 18 reported being bullied.
  • The same Kentucky Department of Education study found, in 2013, one reported bullying incident occurred every four minutes of every school day.

In order to help combat the issue, it’s important to educate students about this growing problem and provide them with real-life ways to identify and respond to bullying, as well as ways to avoid it.

For helpful resources, check out these free activities that can help students identify bullying in your school or classroom.

Download the Free Activities

This Week in History: Archbishop Desmond Tutu was born on Oct. 7, 1931

People call him “the Arch.” He is Desmond Tutu, who served as the Anglican archbishop of Cape Town, South Africa, from 1986 to 1996. As archbishop, Tutu was the leader of the Anglican Church in southern Africa. He was the first black African to hold that post. In 1984, he received the Nobel Peace Prize for his efforts to end apartheid in South Africa. Apartheid was the strict and often brutal system of racial segregation that existed in South Africa from 1948 to the early 1990’s. Tutu believed it was morally wrong and sought to end it by nonviolent means. He led the effort to convince foreign nations to push for change by imposing economic sanctions on South Africa. He called on both the supporters and the opponents of apartheid to find a peaceful way to end it.

Sometimes it takes courage to be a peacemaker. In 1985, the South African government banned large black funeral gatherings, which had sometimes turned into politically heated events. Tutu defied the ban. In August, hundreds of police officers and soldiers surrounded a gathering of about 1,000 funeral mourners. With military helicopters circling overhead, Tutu negotiated with the police for half an hour to avoid a violent encounter. A month earlier, he had waded into a mob of enraged black youths and kept them from killing a man whom they suspected of being an informer for the police. Nelson Mandela, who became South Africa’s first black president in 1994, once said of Tutu, “Sometimes strident, often tender, never afraid, and seldom without humor, Desmond Tutu’s voice will always be the voice of the voiceless.”

It also takes understanding to be a peacemaker. Tutu was born in Klerksdorp, South Africa, on Oct. 7, 1931. He lived through the imposition of the apartheid system. He began his career as a teacher, but he left teaching in protest against laws purposely designed to give black students second-rate educations. He became an Anglican priest in 1961 and later was made a bishop. After the end of apartheid, he headed the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC), a South African panel that conducted hearings on suspected human rights abuses during apartheid. Tutu is known for his compassion. On more than one occasion during TRC testimony, he lowered his head on his hands and wept. Under Tutu’s leadership, the commission promoted healing, forgiveness, and national unity.

It takes hope to be a peacemaker. Tutu is famous for his joy and his marvelous laugh. He believes all people were “made for goodness,” and that we should search out the good at the true heart of every person. He believes all people are brothers and sisters, children of God. All, therefore, deserve honor and respect. For Tutu, this faith exists in harmony with the traditional African concept of ubuntu, which sees people as interdependent. An injustice to one diminishes all. To oppress one person diminishes the entire community, as does taking revenge on the oppressor. Tutu has said, “There is no peace without forgiveness.” Both in South Africa and in other nations that have experienced conflict or oppression, Tutu has worked to help people overcome hate and find peace.

Great Lives in Jazz

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In honor of Thelonious Monk’s birthday this week (October 10), see if you can match some jazz greats to their dates of birth and accomplishments!