Native Americans

Native Americans
Sitting Bull

- Questions on the text (by Elie)

- Questions on the text (by Felix)

Native Americans

The original people of North and South America were called Indians by European explorers who thought they had arrived in the East Indies. Native Americans speak many different languages and have very different customs and ways of making a living. Before contact with Europeans, Native Americans had their own political systems and national boundaries. They depended on their environment for food and materials to make clothing, shelter, tools and transportation. Their religions taught respect for all of nature. Many Native American nations had no concept of owner-ship.


No one owned land, but they respected the right of villages and families to farm certain fields and hunt in certain areas. Farmers asked forgiveness for cutting down trees to plant crops, and after a few years let the land return to forest. Hunters killed only for food.

North America
Before contact with Europeans, Native Americans in the forests of eastern North America grew maize, trapped small animals, fished and hunted deer. They travelled by canoe to trade. Some lived in villages where two families shared one long house.

At first, both Native Americans and Europeans benefited from contact. The Native Americans wanted to trade for iron pots and knives. They led the Europeans on their explorations and provided them with food. Thanksgiving celebrates the assistance given to the Pilgrim Fathers when the Native Americans brought maize, sweet potatoes, pumpkin, squash and wild turkey.
Beginning with George Washington, the first president of the United States, some government leaders questioned whether Native Americans and white people could live together. Many Native Americans were forced from their homelands and moved westwards during the 1830s. The Cherokee Indians called the route they followed ‘The Trail of Tears’. Today, very few Native Americans live east of the Mississippi River.

The grasslands of central North America were home to millions of buffalo (bison), and these were hunted on foot by tribes who lived around their fringes. After the arrival of the Spanish, these tribes acquired horses. Then they could hunt the buffalo at will. They followed the buffalo herds and lived in buffalo-hide tipis, or tents, which could be easily moved. When, through the work of both Native American and white hunters, the buffalo were almost wiped out, the Native Americans were reduced to poverty. The government moved them to reservations, land set aside for their use only. But they were not farming people and most could not survive on the poor reservation lands. They received some assistance from the government, but not enough to provide a better way of life.

Along the north-west coast many families lived together in large log houses. People such as the Haida of the Queen Charlotte Islands carved totem poles to tell their family history. They hunted whales in dug-out canoes and speared salmon in the rivers. Today, they live on reserves and try to maintain their traditional life-style.

Native Americans today
In the deserts, mountains and cold northern regions, many Indians have been successful in main-taining the old ways. These lands were not valued by the European settlers. The Navajo of New Mexico raise sheep on the largest reserve (65,000 square kilometres) in the USA. It is desert. Today the US and Canadian governments are making deals to use traditional Native American lands for mines, roads and pipelines. Damage to the environment and increased contact with new technology make it difficult to maintain traditions.
Some Native Americans are using the law to negotiate better deals with the governments of Canada and the USA. Others are using aggressive methods to enforce their land claims, causing disruptions such as roadblocks.
Many Native Americans now leave the reservations for the cities, and merge into the general population. But some of those who remain are reviving their native languages and practising the old skills of their ancestors.
North American society is beginning to appreciate many of the Native American values, such as their relationship with nature and the manner in which they represent everyone on their councils.

top of the page

Sitting Bull

Sitting Bull with Buffalo Bill

Sitting Bull was a Sioux Indian chief. His Indian name was Tatanka Iyotake. He is remembered for his part in the defeat of General Custer and his cavalrymen at the battle of Little Bighorn in 1876. This battle came about because the white men broke the Sioux resettlement treaty, which Sitting Bull had agreed to in 1868. Sitting Bull's main role was as the chief medicine man in the lead up to the battle. He is said to have had a vision that all the Sioux's enemies would be defeated.
He led a sun dance in which he said that the Sioux must fight to kill in order to keep the white men from taking their lands. The result was that Custer and all his men were killed.
After this battle, Sitting Bull and his followers were relentlessly pursued by the US army and were forced to escape to Canada. They returned to the USA in 1881 and Sitting Bull became famous once again, this time for his appearances in the Wild West show of Buffalo Bill. He finally settled on a reservation in South Dakota, where he continued to lead the Sioux in their refusal to sell their lands to white settlers. He was killed shortly after during an uprising there.

(taken from "Oxford Children`s Encyclopedia", OUP 96)

top of the page



Here are Elie`s questions:

1) Do the Native Americans speak many different languages?
2) What did Indians hunters only kill for?
3) Who was Sitting Bull?
4) What was his Indian name?
5) What vision did Sitting Bull have?
6) How did the fight between the Sioux and Custer and his men go out?
7) Where did Sitting Bull and his followers escape to after the battle?
8) When did they return to the USA?
9) How did Sitting Bull become famous again?
10) What did he finally do?


These are the questions Felix made for you:

1. Who thougth they had arrived in the East Indies?
2. What kind of language are the Native Americans speaking?
3. Did they have their own political system before the contact with the Europeans?
4. What did hunters only kill for?
5. Where did some Indians live?
6. What did the Native Americans want to trade with at first?
7. Where do many Indians live today?
8. Why is it difficult for Indians to maintain their traditions?.

felix + elie

felix.jpg (24713 Byte)       Elie

top of the page

back to the start