Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Native Americans: The First Immigrants

America is truly a land of immigrants. Historians believe the first Americans came here thousands of years ago, either crossing over the Bering Strait on foot or sailing in boats across the ocean.   Although we don’t know exactly when they came, tribes of these "Native American" people were already present across America by the early 1400’s when European explorers discovered the Americas.  These people had adapted to the land, becoming fishers, nomad hunters, and traders. 

Native tribes in New Jersey
            The Eastern Woodlanders were mostly fishermen or otherwise involved in a marine society. These tribes can be divided in two groups, the Northeast and the Southeast. The Northeast region contains the northern Atlantic coast, the Great Lakes, and the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers. The tribe that settled in my home state, New Jersey, was the Delaware.  Three main groups of Delaware lived here: the Minisink (Munsee) in the northwest, the Unami (Lenape) in the central section, and the Unalachtigo in the southwest.  The section of the state where I live, modern Gloucester County, was home to the Unalachtigo Delaware tribe.  Southern Woodlanders inhabited America from Kentucky to the Gulf of Mexico and the Caribbean Sea.  Over one hundred tribes lived in this area, including the tribes that formed the Five Civilized Tribes. In 1859, the Cherokee, Chickasaw, Choctaw, Creek, and Seminole tribes gathered together and crafted an alliance. They agreed to help each other instead of fighting over resources.  They called themselves “civilized” because they adopted European customs.  
The natives of the Great Plains were nomadic hunters. Their main resource was buffalo. The animal's hide was used to create shelters and clothes, the meat was used for food, and the leftover bone and sinew for crafting tools.  Nothing was wasted; even the excrement was gathered and burned for fuel.  Plains Natives lived between the Mississippi River and the Rocky Mountains.  Among these tribes are the Sioux and the Nez Perce. 

The Native Americans lived from the Rocky Mountains to the Pacific Ocean in the northwest area of North America.  Coastal Plateau, Great Basin, and California tribes would fish and then trade excess resources with inland tribes, often using beach shells as a form of currency. In contrast to the Plains people using buffalo hides for clothes, the northwest peoples made clothes from plant fibers. The California areas’ main food source was acorns.  They made all sorts of food from acorns, including bread and soup.  

All Americans are immigrants, even the people we now consider "Native."   These first settlers came to America either by boat or on foot. They dispersed across the entire continent, adapting to the areas in which they settled. Their customs were influenced by geography, creating a colorful and variegated culture.

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