Three Native American cultures not nearly as old as you think

We like to think of things as “unspoiled”. Unspoiled wilderness, unspoiled frontier, unspoiled seas and forests, and unspoiled cultures. It’s like we think stuff just stays in a magic jar, perfectly preserved and unchanged forever, until civilization comes in and breaks the jar and ruins everything.
But the world changes all the time. The wilderness is in a constant state of flux – how much rain an area gets can mean the difference between life or death for the animals there, with or without people. Likewise, cultures evolve and grow and change; they don’t sit around waiting to be discovered.
In that spirit, here are some Native American cultures that didn’t even exist until well after Columbus arrived.
The Seminoles
One of the first things people think of when they hear “Florida”. Well, after orange juice, Disneyland, beaches, alligators, hurricanes, Jimmy Buffet, and CSI.
The Seminoles are probably best known for their dwellings, the chickee, that have a characteristic lack of walls.
You also may know the Seminoles from your history class, where you would have learned that they fought the U.S. Army to keep their homes for forty years.
Actually date from: The 1700s.
The Seminoles’ ancestors were a mixed bag of refugees of different kinds. Many were Lower Creeks fleeing the rise of the Upper Creeks, some were refugees from the Yamassee War in South Carolina, and some were escaped slaves trying to find their freedom. The Spanish, who ruled Florida, helped these refugees settle the undesirable land there, and soon the new Seminole tribe had become an important part of trade routes in the area.
It should be noted that Florida is a state today because of the Seminoles. Their practice of accepting escaped slaves infuriated James Monroe, who sent Gen. Andrew Jackson to force the Spanish to return the escaped slaves to the United States. Jackson, exceeding his orders, decided to conquer the peninsula instead.
Information from Wikipedia.
The Navajo
What could be more characteristic of the American southwest than the Navajo? Their famous wool blankets, their beautiful silver-and-turquoise jewelry, and their centuries-old way of life have enchanted many a tourist and anthropologist. And who can forget their contribution to the war effort in World War II, all because of their ancient language?
Actually date from: 1868.
The earliest date we can talk about a “Navajo tribe” is about 1725. Before that, we could only talk about bands of Athabaskan hunter-gatherers and refugees from the Pueblos that raided the Spanish settlements for much of their livelihood. And were in turn raided by the Ute Indians to the north.
Even after the Navajo began to emerge as a distinct people with their own language and evolving culture, most of what we now consider to be central elements of Navajo culture only came in the 1860s. That was when the U.S. Army was sent in to put an end to the Navajo’s violent raiding ways that had paralyzed Spanish and Pueblo settlements for generations.
After defeating the Navajo, the Army first tried moving them 300 miles away to a reservation near Fort Sumner (the infamous “Long Walk“). This proved to be a disaster, as disease and starvation ran through the reservations. The news media reported on the disaster, and public pressure forced the government to abandon the camp strategy and let the Navajos return home.
Fearing that the Navajos would simply return to violence, Uncle Sam provided them with thousands of sheep, goats, and horses to give them a new means of supporting themselves. Thus was born the Navajo tradition of sheep-herding, and using the wool to make those famous blankets.
Oh, and that Navajo jewelry everybody loves? It was the Spanish who taught them how to make that.
Information from my Native American Cultures class and This Land Was Theirs: A Study of Native North Americans.
All of the Great Plains Culture
No! Not the most iconic of all the Native American cultures; the one we picture when we think of Indians! Certainly not!
Alas, dear Cat Flaggers, ’tis true.
Actually date from: 1750-1800 or so.
What is the classic image of the Plains Indian? A man riding a… horse, right?
Except horses didn’t exist in the New World until the Spanish brought them over. As they traversed the New World, horses would sometimes get loose, and go wild, only to be captured by Indians later. Or, some Indians might raid a Spanish settlement and steal their horses. Or maybe the Indians might have acquired those horses in trade.
Then neighboring Indian tribes would trade or raid to get some horses of their own, and then their neighbors would trade or raid for horses, and so on up the Great Plains. Most Plains Indian tribes originated in the Rocky Mountains or Great Lakes areas, and moved in once horses came along.
Why? Well to exploit those giant herds of buffalo just waiting to be hunted, of course. There was just no efficient way to hunt the buffalo until horses came along (except driving a whole herd off a cliff). With their horses, these Indians turned to full-time buffalo hunting as their source of food, clothing, and everything else they needed; even giving up agriculture to do so.
Information from my Native American Cultures class and This Land Was Theirs: A Study of Native North Americans.

One Response to Three Native American cultures not nearly as old as you think

  1. AuntLeesie says:

    Wow… VERY interesting! Thanks! Guess I can still learn something new every day. 🙂

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