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Why did Native Americans originally migrate to the Americas?

Why did Native Americans originally migrate to the Americas?

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Native Americans migrated to America around 13000 or 15000 years ago just around the last ice age. I read that during the first wave of migration, they used the Beringia strait to travel across from Asia. However, considering there was little to no knowledge of the new world I wonder why would the tribes risk travelling so far?

Correct me if I am wrong but the global temperatures around that time were around -5 degrees Celsius. It seems unreasonable for humans at the time to take the risk to migrate towards the north in search for a place that may or may not exist. Also to consider is the fact that they wouldn't have the best clothing for the weather, making them more susceptible to succumbing to the cold. Since humans still migrated under those conditions, there must be a very strong reason why they did so. Tribal conflicts, unfit weather and the human tendency to migrate doesn't seem valid reasons to migrate under such extreme conditions.

However, considering there was little to no knowledge of the new world I wonder why would the tribes risk to travel to far… it seems unreasonable [humans would] risk it to migrate towards the north in search for a place that may or may not exist

In a general sense, this is not particularly remarkable. All humans evolved in Africa, and from there we spread throughout the whole of Eurasia - reaching even Australia. What you called the "new world" was no newer to the Amerindian ancestors in Siberia, as Arabia was to the early humans in East Africa. Or more to the point: Provideniya today is over 11,000 km from Djibouti. What was another 400 km across the strait to Nome in Alaska?

Of course, it is exceedingly unlikely that one individual or group traversed any significant fraction of such a large distance. Instead, as @jamesqf commented, tribes or subtribes would've moved short distances, but over multiple generations. Humans were hunter-gatherers, dependent on ranging for food, so it was both a natural inclination to explore beyond the horizon, and to move around according to resource availability.4 When faced with pressures to migrate - whether out of conflict with their neighbours, in pursuit of food, or due to overcrowding - they already knew where they could go.

In other words, they weren't searching - they could see where they were going. Naturally, you'd only expect them to move in habitable directions. Doing so eventually took some of them to North America, because back then, the area looked nothing like it does today.

during the first wave of migration, they used the Beringia strait to travel across from Asia.

There was, in fact, no strait at all: Beringia was a massive land bridge, exposed by low sea levels due to the Earth's glaciation. In other words, the early human inhabitants of North America simply walked over, a few steps at a time.

Source: National Geographic

global temperatures around that time were around -5 degrees Celsius,

As @justCal pointed out, it was actually 5 °C lower than today, not negative 5 degrees. The ice-free parts of Beringia was thus certainly habitable. In fact, it formed an important glacial refugium, a relatively hospitable region in which many tundra flora and fauna survived glaciation.

This included humans.2

Tribal conflicts, unfit weather and the human tendency to migrate doesn't seem valid reasons to migrate under such extreme conditions.

The exact details of early human movement into North America is disputed, but it may well be that they didn't. The earliest concrete evidence of human settlements in North America dates only to about 15,000 years ago, yet genetic studies indicate that Amerindians diverged from Siberian populations over 25,000 years ago. One explanation for this not insignificant gap is that those humans were stuck inside the Beringia refugium during the worst of the ice age.1

From about 17,000 years ago, rising temperatures began unlocking routes out of Beringia. In other words, migration happened after warming rendered conditions less extreme. As ice sheets retreated, humans probably followed the expanding vegetation out into the rest of North America,3 ahead of the flooding that began to submerge their former refuge beneath the Bering Sea.

This is known as the Beringian Standstill Hypothesis, proposed in 2007 by Erika Tamm et al. It is as yet unproven due to a lack of archaeological evidence - perhaps because humans settled in the lowland areas of Beringia, which are now underwater.


1. Tamm, Erika, et al. "Beringian standstill and spread of Native American founders." PloS ONE 2.9 (2007): "The finding that humans were present at the Yana Rhinoceros Horn Site dated to 30,000 ybp suggests that the isolation in Beringia might have lasted up to 15,000 years. Following this isolation, the initial founders of the Americas began rapidly populating the New World from North to South America."

2. Fagan, Brian. Fishing: How the Sea Fed Civilization. Yale University Press, 2017: "Were there humans in the refugium during the LGM? It is certain that there were, not because of known archaeological sites but because of newly acquired genetic data from modern populations. Native Americans are descended from groups that lived in the refugium and were isolated from their mainland Siberian ancestors during the LGM. This scenario has groups of hunter-gatherers living there during the coldest millennia."

3. Hoffecker, John F., and Scott A. Elias. Human Ecology of Beringia. Columbia University Press, 2007: "Not only is there a correlation between the spread of people and shrub tundra into the lowlands at 15-14 cal ka, but also there's a correlation between later movement of shrub tundra and human occupation into upland areas as well… increase in wood fuel was the factor."

4. Cribb, Roger. Nomads in Archaeology. Cambridge University Press, 2004: "Hunter-gatherer migration is centred on procurement and consumption… the territorial system of the hunter-gatherer is based on moving himself towards his resources, or moving resources to people, for purposes of consumption."

To address the temperature component:

Correct me if I am wrong but the global temperatures around that time were around -5 degrees Celsius.

You are correct, however it should be noted that the Bering strait would have been significantly warmer.

Theres a few links I can refer to, but this is the best: http://www.sciencemag.org/news/2012/04/land-bridge-caused-wild-temperature-swings

The Bering Strait being open to water flow vs closed impacts our globes climate heavily. In particular:

If waters of the far North Atlantic don't sink, says Hu, much of the large-scale ocean circulation worldwide temporarily collapses. One result: the Gulf Stream, which brings climate-warming waters from the equator to the North Atlantic, comes to a halt.

In short, the North Atlantic is thrown into a heavy cooling cycle that sees it's temperatures (including those of Britain) to drop signficantly. This would have seen northern Europe far colder than today.

On the other hand, the Bering strait blocking access to the arctic ocean sees the warm pacific currents to travel along the Bering straits coast, which would have seen the Bering strait to be exceedingly temperate and friendly to human life. This wasn't the climate we see in Alaska today at all.

The reason why the Native Americans came to America is because they had the urge to explore and conquer their own world and the new world. The proof behind this is that human's naturally have the urge to explore because we are curious creatures. Just like if you were stuck in a house for 18 years and never could escape, (my life). You would have the urge to get out of your place and explore. That is why tourism is so high. I mean, like in San Marino, 22% of their GDP is based on tourism. We just have the urge to travel and explore. The reason why we wanted to conquer is because we humans feel like we need to be a higher authority over each other. That is why monarchies are formed, because they want to make a government and rule over people. It is like how people want to live on Mars, they want to explore and conquer the land. Even land on Mars and the Moon is for sale, for people to have.,

Hope that helped.

Native American populations descend from three key migrations

Scientists have found that Native American populations - from Canada to the southern tip of Chile - arose from at least three migrations, with the majority descended entirely from a single group of First American migrants that crossed over through Beringia, a land bridge between Asia and America that existed during the ice ages, more than 15,000 years ago.

By studying variations in Native American DNA sequences, the international team found that while most of the Native American populations arose from the first migration, two subsequent migrations also made important genetic contributions. The paper is published in the journal Nature today.

"For years it has been contentious whether the settlement of the Americas occurred by means of a single or multiple migrations from Siberia," said Professor Andres Ruiz-Linares (UCL Genetics, Evolution and Environment), who coordinated the study. "But our research settles this debate: Native Americans do not stem from a single migration. Our study also begins to cast light on patterns of human dispersal within the Americas."

In the most comprehensive survey of genetic diversity in Native Americans so far, the team took data from 52 Native American and 17 Siberian groups, studying more than 300,000 specific DNA sequence variations called Single Nucleotide Polymorphisms to examine patterns of genetic similarities and differences between the population groups.

The study of Native American populations is technically very challenging because of the widespread occurrence of European and African mixture in Native American groups

Professor Andres Ruiz-Linares

The second and third migrations have left an impact only in Arctic populations that speak Eskimo-Aleut languages and in the Canadian Chipewyan who speak a Na-Dene language. However, even these populations have inherited most of their genome from the First American migration. Eskimo-Aleut speakers derive more than 50% of their DNA from First Americans, and the Chipewyan around 90%. This reflects the fact that these two later streams of Asian migration mixed with the First Americans they encountered after they arrived in North America.

"There are at least three deep lineages in Native American populations," said co-author David Reich, Professor of genetics at Harvard Medical School. "The Asian lineage leading to First Americans is the most anciently diverged, whereas the Asian lineages that contributed some of the DNA to Eskimo-Aleut speakers and the Na-Dene-speaking Chipewyan from Canada are more closely related to present-day East Asian populations."

The team also found that once in the Americas, people expanded southward along a route that hugged the coast with populations splitting off along the way. After divergence, there was little gene flow among Native American groups, especially in South America.

Two striking exceptions to this simple dispersal were also discovered. First, Central American Chibchan-speakers have ancestry from both North and South America, reflecting back-migration from South Americaand mixture of two widely separated strands of Native ancestry. Second, the Naukan and coastal Chukchi from north-eastern Siberia carry 'First American' DNA. Thus, Eskimo-Aleut speakers migrated back to Asia, bringing Native American genes.

The team's analysis was complicated by the influx into the hemisphere of European and African immigrants since 1492 and the 500 years of genetic mixing that followed. To address this, the authors developed methods that allowed them to focus on the sections of peoples' genomes that were of entirely Native American origin.

"The study of Native American populations is technically very challenging because of the widespread occurrence of European and African mixture in Native American groups," said Professor Ruiz-Linares.

"We developed a method to peel back this mixture to learn about the relationships among Native Americans before Europeans and Africans arrived," Professor Reich said, "allowing us to study the history of many more Native American populations than we could have done otherwise."

The assembly of DNA samples from such a diverse range of populations was only possible through a collaboration of an international team of 64 researchers from the Americas (Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Canada, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Guatemala, Mexico, Peru, Russia and the USA), Europe (England, France, Spain and Switzerland) and Russia.

Native American Ancestors Came From Asia In Three Migrations

The ancestors of Native American populations from the tip of Chile in the south to Canada in the north, migrated from Asia in at least three waves, according to a new international study published online in Nature this week that involved over 60 investigators in 11 countries in the Americas, plus four in Europe, and Russia.

In what they describe as the most comprehensive survey of genetic diversity in Native Americans so far, the researchers studied variation in Native American DNA sequences. They found that while most Native American populations descend primarily from one migration, there were two later ones that also made a significant genetic contribution.

The first migration, that led to the majority of Native American populations, was of a single group called the &ldquoFirst Americans&rdquo that crossed from Asia to America in a land bridge called Beringia, that existed during the ice ages more than 15,000 years ago, say the researchers, whose efforts were co-ordinated by Professor Andres Ruiz-Linares of the department of Genetics, Evolution and Environment at University College London (UCL) in the UK.

The later migrants probably arrived in boats, after the land-bridge disappeared at the end of the ice ages.

In a press statement, Ruiz-Linares explains that for years there has been a debate about whether the settlement of the Americas came from one or several migrations out of Siberia.

&ldquoBut our research settles this debate: Native Americans do not stem from a single migration. Our study also begins to cast light on patterns of human dispersal within the Americas,&rdquo he adds.

The findings confirm what linguist Joseph Greenberg proposed in 1986. From studying language differences among Native Americans, he said the Americas must have been populated in three waves of migration.

For the study, the researchers searched more than 300,000 specific DNA markers or &ldquosnips&rdquo (SNPs, Single Nucleotide Polymorphisms) from 52 Native American and 17 Siberian groups, looking for similar and different patterns of genes.

Co-author David Reich, Professor of genetics at Harvard Medical School in the US, says they found evidence of at least three &ldquodeep lineages&rdquo:

&ldquoThe Asian lineage leading to First Americans is the most anciently diverged, whereas the Asian lineages that contributed some of the DNA to Eskimo-Aleut speakers and the Na-Dene-speaking Chipewyan from Canada are more closely related to present-day East Asian populations,&rdquo says Reich.

It appears that 50% of the DNA of Eskimo-Aleut speakers comes from the First Americans, while in the Na-Dene-speaking Chipewyans, 90% of their DNA descends from the First Americans.

The analysis also showed that once these waves of migrations arrived in the Americas, the groups expanded southwards, hugging the coastline, splitting off along the way. After they split off, the groups mixed very little with each other, especially the ones that ended up in South America.

But while non-mixing appeared to be the general pattern after dispersal, the researchers found two striking exceptions. One shows a North-South re-mix, and the other a West-East re-mix.

In the North-South re-mix, it looks like there was some back-migration from South America northwards, and this is reflected in the genomes of Central American Chibchan-speakers, which contains DNA from two widely separated strands of Native ancestry.

In the West-East re-mix, it seems some Eskimo-Aleut speakers migrated back to Asia, as the genomes of Naukan and coastal Chukchi populations of north-eastern Siberia carry some &ldquoFirst American&rdquo DNA.

The analysis was not straightforward, because the researchers had to find a way to rule out genes from the European and African populations that arrived in the Americas from the late 15th century onwards.

Ruiz-Linares says they managed to develop a method to &ldquopeel back&rdquo the addition of those genes to the mix, which he says &ldquoallowed us to study the history of many more Native American populations than we could have done otherwise&rdquo.

The team included researchers from: Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Canada, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, France, Guatemala, Mexico, Peru, Russia, Spain, Switzerland, the UK, and the US.

Why did Native Americans migrate to North America?

Native Americans were from Asia, back then there was a land bridge between Asia and North America, the land bridge was made from grass and usually was covered with buffalo, the native americans chose to follow them ending up in North America. So apparently they just followed the buffalo's.

There are many theories as to how the Natives of North America arrived here, one of the more popular ones is the "land bridge" theory. As for the reason(s) it could have been a migration for food sources however the Lenape have some of the oldest verbal histories of any tribe (they are generally known as the first tribe) - and these stories tell of the migration through snow and ice. Part of this story was that they were searching for the home of the sun (loosely translated), the east (home of the sun, sunrise) plays a significant roll in most Native American religions. It should also be noted that they migrated to the east coast of North America and settled there.

The Americas’ first human settlers arrived in a complex series of migrations, pushing over the ancient land bridge from Asia at least three times but moving in both directions, with at least one group scrapping it all and bringing themselves and their genetic signature back home to Asia.

Research conducted by an international team led by scientists from Harvard University and University College London illuminates the roots of today’s Native Americans through genetic analysis and by comparison with native groups in Siberia.

The results, published in the July 11 issue of the journal Nature, examined genetic data from 52 Native American groups and 17 Siberian groups, and helped settle a debate among anthropologists over whether the Americas were settled just once or several times.

The results not only show that multiple waves of settlers arrived on the continents’ shores from Asia, but that some groups reversed direction. In addition to those that headed home to Asia, another that made it to South America migrated back north to Central America.

The work made no findings about the timing of settlement, but prior research indicates that the first humans reached North America some 15,000 years ago when the massive glaciers of the last ice age locked up enough water to lower sea levels and expose a 1,000-mile-wide land bridge between Siberia and Alaska.

The current research, led by David Reich, professor of genetics at Harvard Medical School, and by Andres Ruiz-Linares of University College London, shows that the majority of the genetic signature of today’s Native Americans comes from an initial migration during which people, termed “First Americans” by the researchers, pushed south along the Pacific Coast from Alaska to the tip of South America.

The second migration was smaller geographically but had a large impact on the native people of the far north. Today’s Aleut-Inuit populations owe about half of their genetic background to this second migration.

The third migration contributed about 10 percent of the genetic background of Canada’s Chipewyan people, concentrated today around Hudson Bay.

“The Americas are, of course, an important region of the world,” said Reich. “The native peoples of America have a fascinating and contentious history. It’s very important to understand how people first got here and how people dispersed within the Americas.”

The return of some Native Americans to Asia was revealed only as researchers struggled to understand their data, Reich said. Early results clearly indicated the migration of First Americans along the coast to South America, but the results for North America were more complex. As researchers struggled to decipher the data, they traced their confusion to a false assumption: that the DNA signature from Asia was purely ancestral and contained no later recombination with Native American genes.

Once they took that possibility into consideration, it became clear there had been at least three migrations from Asia to America and at least one back to Asia, contributing Native American genes to the Naukan and Chukchi people of northeastern Siberia.

The four-year study involved 64 researchers from institutions around the world. Key to the work, Reich said, was access to genetic information on native peoples collected over many years by senior author Ruiz-Linares.

In conducting the research, scientists studied more than 300,000 genetic changes called single-nucleotide polymorphisms, which are isolated changes in the molecules that make up DNA’s long, twisting structure.

The work was further complicated by multiple genetic changes in native peoples since 1492, when the continents’ conquest and settlement by Europeans began, followed by the arrival of African slaves and of later immigrants. Using techniques refined in earlier research, Reich said researchers were able to isolate and study portions of the genome known to be of Native American origin.

Though the research has settled one important question, the work is far from done, Reich said. Further investigation, particularly of native people of northern North America where sampling was thin, can further enrich the picture of the hemisphere’s original inhabitants.

“No picture of human history is complete. The harder you look at it, the more there is to find,” Reich said. “What we’ve shown is that there were at least three streams of gene flow from Asia, but there could easily — perhaps are likely to have been — more. There’s just some that we can’t detect.”

Ancient Navajo and Native Americans Migrations

This is the story of the Diné, The People, as the Navajos call themselves and there migration to Dinétah.

Dinétah is the traditional homeland of the Navajo tribe of Native Americans. In the Navajo language, the word “Dinétah” means “among the people”.

The Navajo, are the largest Native American group in North America.

The Navajos say they came from the north and archaeologists bear them out. From Bering Strait to the shores of Hudson Bay and from the Arctic Ocean to the American line, the native inhabitants are chiefly Athabascans.

Then down the coast of the Pacific, near the coast but seldom on it, little tribes of Athabascan stock mark the trail of a great southern migration which may or may not have brought the ancestors of the Navajos.

‘The earliest inhabitants of America were hunters who migrated from the Asian mainland across the Bering Straits land bridge between 40,000 and 25,000 B.C.E. ‘ (European Voyages of Exploration: Latin America University of Calgary The Applied History Research Group)

That a land bridge between Asia and North America existed during the last ice age is strongly supported by geological evidence. Ocean water locked up in glacial ice lowered sea levels to the point where a corridor up to 1600km or more wide existed between Siberia and Alaska.

“Long before Euro-Americans entered the Great Basin, substantial numbers of people lived within the present boundaries of Utah. Archaeological reconstructions suggest human habitation stretching back some 12,000 years. The earliest known inhabitants were members of what has been termed the Desert Archaic Culture–nomadic hunter-gatherers with developed basketry, flaked-stem stone tools, and implements of wood and bone. They inhabited the region between 10,000 B.C. and A.D. 400.

These peoples moved in extended family units, hunting small game and gathering the periodically abundant seeds and roots in a slightly more cool and moist Great Basin environment.

About A.D. 400, the Fremont Culture began to emerge in northern and eastern Utah out of this Desert tradition. The Fremont peoples retained many Desert hunting-gathering characteristics yet also incorporated a maize-bean-squash horticultural component by A.D. 800-900. They lived in masonry structures and made sophisticated basketry, pottery, and clay figurines for ceremonial purposes. Intrusive Numic peoples displaced or absorbed the Fremont sometime after A.D. 1000.

Beginning in A.D. 400, the Anasazi, with their Basketmaker Pueblo Culture traditions, moved into southeastern Utah from south of the Colorado River. Like the Fremont to the north the Anasazi (a Navajo word meaning “the ancient ones”) were relatively sedentary peoples who had developed a maize-bean-squash-based agriculture.

The Anasazi built rectangular masonry dwellings and large apartment complexes that were tucked into cliff faces or situated on valley floors like the structures at Grand Gulch and Hovenweep National Monument. They constructed pithouse granaries, made coiled and twined basketry, clay figurines, and a fine gray-black pottery. The Anasazi prospered until A.D. 1200-1400 when climactic changes, crop failures, and the intrusion of Numic hunter-gatherers forced a southward migration and reintegration with the Pueblo peoples of Arizona and New Mexico.”

The Athapascan speaking populations of Canada and the United States belong to this group of migrants. The Apache and Navajo in the southwestern United States are from the Athapascan migrants.

According to modern belief The Navajos are descended from that great race which produced Genghis Khan and conquered in his lifetime half the world. While the victorious Mongols were driving relentlessly west and south, making kings and emperors their vassals, some small fragments of their clans were crossing Bering Sea, probably on the ice, and gradually overrunning North America.

Photography by Dane Coolidge NAVAJO TYPES Above: Hosteen Yazzi, Short Man, showing Pueblo influence (left) Hosteen Nez, Tall Man (right). Below: Kia ahni Nez, Tall Kia abni (left) Hosteen Tso, Big Man (right).

“Wherever they went — until the white people subdued them — the Dineh’ like the Mongols, were raiders and spoilers. The mystery of the vanished Cliff-Dwellers is a mystery no longer when we know the nature of the warriors who came among them. The Zuñis told Cushing that twenty-two different tribes had been wiped out by the Enemy People, as they called them and the walled-up doors of proud Pueblo Bonito testify mutely to the fears of its inhabitants.” (Dane Coolidge 1930)

Photograph by Dane Coolidge NAVAJOS WRESTLING, KAYENTA, 1913

Photograph from the Central Asiatic Expeditious of the American Museum of Natural History MONGOLS WRESTLING

The settlement of the Americas is widely accepted to have begun when Paleolithic hunter-gatherers entered North America from the North Asian Mammoth steppe via the Beringia land bridge, which had formed between northeastern Siberia and western Alaska due to the lowering of sea level during the Last Glacial Maximum.

In Brief. For decades archaeologists thought the first Americans were the Clovis people, who were said to have reached the New World some 13,000 years ago from northern Asia. But fresh archaeological finds have established that humans reached the Americas thousands of years before that.

John Jacob Astor and other important fur traders

John Jacob Astor is credited as the founder of the American fur trade industry in the lower forty-eight states. The man was a real go-getter, once selling nearly half a million muskrat pelts at a New York fur auction, says the Fur Trapper. Although he never came West, according to the Oregon Encyclopedia, he did send men from his Pacific Fur Company to the mouth of the Columbia River between Oregon and Washington to establish Fort Astoria. Astor was not the only one to make history in the fur trade, however. History cites the real men who actually hunted and trapped in the mountains: James Beckwourth, Jim Bridger, Kit Carson, John Colter, Jedediah Smith, and Joseph Walker as equally important mountain men who explored various parts of the country from east to west.

Lesser known but notable mountain men in history include Hugh Glass, who survived a bear attack and was abandoned by his company before straggling for miles to safety. The Revenant, a movie starring Leonardo DiCaprio, was made about Glass's adventures in 2015. Even more obscure is "Rocky Mountain Jim" Nugent, whose gorgeous face was forever scarred by a bear attack. He survived to become one of the most colorful characters in Estes Park, Colorado. Nugent was a learned man who could recite poetry, but was such an awful drunk that he was shot by Griffith Evans and subsequently died in 1874.

Why did Native Americans originally migrate to the Americas? - History

This article first appeared in the Vegetarian Journal, September 1994, published by The Vegetarian Resource Group

How well we know the stereotype of the rugged Plains Indian: killer of buffalo, dressed in quill-decorated buckskin, elaborately feathered eaddress, and leather moccasins, living in an animal skin teepee, master of the dog and horse, and stranger to vegetables. But this lifestyle, once limited almost exclusively to the Apaches, flourished no more than a couple hundred years. It is not representative of most Native Americans of today or yesterday. Indeed, the "buffalo-as-lifestyle" phenomenon is a direct result of European influence, as we shall see.

Among my own people, the Choctaw Indians of Mississippi and Oklahoma, vegetables are the traditional diet mainstay. A French manuscript of the eighteenth century describes the Choctaws' vegetarian leanings in shelter and food. The homes were constructed not of skins, but of wood, mud, bark and cane. The principal food, eaten daily from earthen pots, was a vegetarian stew containing corn, pumpkin and beans. The bread was made from corn and acorns. Other common favorites were roasted corn and corn porridge. (Meat in the form of small game was an infrequent repast.) The ancient Choctaws were, first and foremost, farmers. Even the clothing was plant based, artistically embroidered dresses for the women and cotton breeches for the men. Choctaws have never adorned their hair with feathers.

The rich lands of the Choctaws in present-day Mississippi were so greatly coveted by nineteenth century Americans that most of the tribe was forcibly removed to what is now called Oklahoma. Oklahoma was chosen both because it was largely uninhabited and because several explorations of the territory had deemed the land barren and useless for any purpose. The truth, however, was that Oklahoma was so fertile a land that it was an Indian breadbasket. That is, it was used by Indians on all sides as an agricultural resource. Although many Choctaws suffered and died during removal on the infamous "Trail of Tears", those that survived built anew and successfully in Oklahoma, their agricultural genius intact.

George Catlin, the famous nineteenth century Indian historian, described the Choctaw lands of southern Oklahoma in the 1840's this way: ". the ground was almost literally covered with vines, producing the greatest profusion of delicious grapes. and hanging in such endless clusters. our progress was oftentimes completely arrested by hundreds of acres of small plum trees. every bush that was in sight was so loaded with the weight of its. fruit, that they were in many instances literally without leaves on their branches, and quite bent to the ground. and beds of wild currants, gooseberries, and (edible) prickly pear." (Many of the "wild" foods Anglo explorers encountered on their journeys were actually carefully cultivated by Indians.)

Many of the Choctaw foods cooked at celebrations even today are vegetarian. Corn is so important to us it is considered divine. Our corn legend says that is was a gift from Hashtali, the Great Spirit. Corn was given in gratitude because Choctaws had fed the daughter of the Great Spirit when she was hungry. (Hashtali is literally "Noon Day Sun". Choctaws believe the Great Spirit resides within the sun, for it is the sun that allows the corn to grow!)

Another Choctaw story describes the afterlife as a giant playground where all but murderers are allowed. What do Choctaws eat in "heaven"? Their sweetest treat, of course: melons, a never-ending supply.

More than one tribe has creation legends which describe people as vegetarian, living in a kind of Garden of Eden. A Cherokee legend describes humans, plants, and animals as having lived in the beginning in "equality and mutual helpfulness". The needs of all were met without killing one another. When man became aggressive and ate some of the animals, the animals invented diseases to keep human population in check. The plants remained friendly, however, and offered themselves not only as food to man, but also as medicine, to combat the new diseases.

More tribes were like the Choctaws than were different. Aztec, Mayan, and Zapotec children in olden times ate 100% vegetarian diets until at least the age of ten years old. The primary food was cereal, especially varieties of corn. Such a diet was believed to make the child strong and disease resistant. (The Spaniards were amazed to discover that these Indians had twice the life-span they did.) A totally vegetarian diet also insured that the children would retain a life-long love of grains, and thus, live a healthier life. Even today, the Indian healers of those tribes are likely to advise the sick to "return to the arms of Mother Corn" in order to get well. Such a return might include eating a lot of atole. (The easiest way to make atole is to simmer commercially produced masa harina corn flour with water. Then flavor it with chocolate or cinnamon, and sweeten to taste.) Atole is considered a sacred food.

It is ironic that Indians are strongly associated with hunting and fishing when, in fact, "nearly half of all the plant foods grown in the world today were first cultivated by the American Indians, and were unknown elsewhere until the discovery of the Americas." Can you imagine Italian food without tomato paste, Ireland without white potatoes, or Hungarian goulash without paprika? All these foods have Indian origins.

An incomplete list of other Indian foods given to the world includes bell peppers, red peppers, peanuts, cashews, sweet potatoes, avocados, passion fruit, zucchini, green beans, kidney beans, maple syrup, lima beans, cranberries, pecans, okra, chocolate, vanilla, sunflower seeds, pumpkin, cassava, walnuts, forty-seven varieties of berries, pineapple, and, of course, corn and popcorn.

Many history textbooks tell the story of Squanto, a Pawtuxent Indian who lived in the early 1600's. Squanto is famous for having saved the Pilgrims from starvation. He showed them how to gather wilderness foods and how to plant corn.

There have been thousands of Squantos since, even though their names are not so well-known. In fact modern day agriculture owes its heart and soul to Indian-taught methods of seed development, hybridization, planting, growing, irrigating, storing, utilizing and cooking. And the spirit of Squanto survives to this day. One example is a Peruvian government research station tucked away in a remote Amazon Indian village called Genaro Herrera. University trained botanists, agronomists and foresters work there, scientifically studying all the ways the local Indians grow and prepare food. They are also learning how to utilize forests without destroying them, and how to combat pests without chemicals.

The trend that moved some North American Indian tribes away from plant food-based diets can be traced to Coronado, a sixteenth century Spanish explorer. Prior to his time, hunting was a hobby among most Indians, not a vocation. The Apaches were one of the few tribes who relied heavily on animal killing for survival.

But all that changed as Coronado and his army traversed the West and Midwest from Mexico. Some of his horses got away and quickly multiplied on the grassy plains. Indians re-tamed this new denizen, and the Age of Buffalo began.

Horses replaced dogs as beasts of burden and offered excellent transportation. This was as important an innovation to the Plains Indians as the automobile would be to Anglos later on. Life on the Plains became much easier very quickly.

>From the east came another powerful influence: guns. The first American settlers brought their firearms with them. Because of the Indian "threat", they were soon immersed in weapons development and succeeded in making more accurate and powerful weapons. But they also supplied weapons to Indians who allied themselves with colonial causes. Because it was so much easier to kill an animal with a rifle than with a bow and arrow, guns spread quickly among the Indians. Between the horse and the rifle, buffalo killing was now much simpler.

The Apaches were joined by other tribes, such as the Sioux, Cheyenne, Arapahos, Comanches, and Kiowas. These tribes "lost the corn", gave up agriculture, and started living nomadic existences for the first time. It wasn't long before their food, clothing, and shelter were entirely dependent on one animal, the buffalo.

George Catlin lamented this fact as early as 1830. He predicted the extinction of the buffalo (which very nearly happened) and the danger of not being diversified. Catlin pointed out that, were the Plains Indians only killing a buffalo for their own use, the situation might not be so grave. But because the great beasts were being slaughtered for profit, they were destined to be wiped out.

It was the white man who profited. There was an insatiable Eastern market for buffalo tongue and buffalo robes. In 1832, Catlin described a wholesale buffalo slaughter carried out by six hundred Sioux on horseback. These men killed fourteen hundred animals, and then took only their tongues. These were traded to whites for a few gallons of whiskey. The whiskey, no doubt, helped to dull the Indian talent to make maximum use of an animal. Among the tribes who did not trade with whites, each animal was completely used, down to the hooves. No part went to waste. And buffalo were not killed in the winter, for the Indians lived on autumn dried meat during that time.

But now buffalo were killed in the winter most of all. It was in cold weather that their magnificent coats grew long and luxuriant. Catlin estimated that 200,000 buffalo were killed each year to make coats for people back East. The average hide netted the Indian hunter one pint of whiskey.

Had the Indians understood the concept of animal extinction, they may have ceased the slaughter. But to the Indians, the buffalo was a gift from the Great Spirit, a gift which would always keep coming. Decades after the disappearance of huge herds, Plains Indians still believed their return was imminent. They danced the Ghost Dance, designed to bring back the buffalo, and prayed for this miracle as late as 1890.

In spite of the ease and financial incentives of killing buffalo, there were tribes that did not abandon the old ways of the Plains. In addition to the farming tribes of the Southeast, tribes in the Midwest, Southwest, and Northwest stuck to agriculture. For example, the Osage, Pawnee, Arikaras, Mandans, Wichitas, and Caddoans remained in permanent farming settlements. Even surrounded by buffalo, they built their homes of timber and earth. And among some of the Indians of the Southwest, cotton, basketry, and pottery were preferred over animal-based substitutes like leather pouches.

Catlin was eerily accurate when he predicted dire consequences for the buffalo-dependent tribes. To this day, it is these Indians who have fared the worst from assimilation with other races. The Sioux of South Dakota, for one, have the worst poverty and one of the highest alcoholism rates in the country. Conversely, the tribes who depended little or not at all on animal exploitation for their survival, like the Cherokee, Choctaw, Creek, and Chickasaw, are thriving and growing, having assimilated without surrendering their culture.

In the past, and in more than a few tribes, meat-eating was a rare activity, certainly not a daily event. Since the introduction of European meat-eating customs, the introduction of the horse and the gun, and the proliferation of alcoholic beverages and white traders, a lot has changed. Relatively few Indians can claim to be vegetarians today.

But it was not always so. For most Native Americans of old, meat was not only not the food of choice, its consumption was not revered (as in modern times when Americans eat turkey on Thanksgiving as if it were a religious duty). There was nothing ceremonial about meat. It was a plant, tobacco, that was used most extensively during ceremonies and rites, and then only in moderation. Big celebrations such as Fall Festivals centered around the harvest, especially the gathering of the corn. The Choctaws are not the only ones who continue to dance the Corn Dance.

What would this country be like today if the ancient ways were still observed? I believe it is fair to say that the Indian respect for non-human life forms would have had a greater impact on American society. Corn, not turkey meat, might be the celebrated Thanksgiving Day dish. Fewer species would have become extinct, the environment would be healthier, and Indian and non-Indian Americans alike would be living longer and healthier lives. There might also be less sexism and racism, for many people believe that, as you treat your animals (the most defenseless), so you will treat your children, your women, and your minorities.

Without realizing it, the Indian warriors and hunters of ages past played right into the hands of the white men who coveted their lands and their buffalo. When the lands were taken from them, and the buffalo herds decimated, there was nothing to fall back on. But the Indians who chose the peaceful path and relied on diversity and the abundance of plants for their survival were able to save their lifestyles. Even after being moved to new lands they could hang on, re-plant, and go forward.

Now we, their descendants, must recapture the spirit of the ancient traditions for the benefit of all people. We must move away from the European influences that did away with a healthier style of living. We must again embrace our brothers and sisters, the animals, and "return to the corn" once and for all.

(Rita Laws is Choctaw and Cherokee. She lives and writes in Oklahoma. Her Choctaw name, Hina Hanta, means Bright Path of Peace, which is what she considers vegetariansim to be. She has been vegetarian for over 14 years.)

A ‘Warrior Tradition’: Why Native Americans continue fighting for the same government that tried to wipe them out

Native Americans serve in the military at a higher percentage than any other ethnicity. (David Goldman/AP)

Often lost in conversations surrounding military history — and most discussions on sociology — are the contributions of Native Americans.

To this day, American Indians serve in the armed forces at a higher rate than any other demographic. Since 9/11, nearly 19 percent of Native Americans have served in the armed forces, compared to an average of 14 percent of all other ethnicities.

Among the 573 federally recognized tribes — each with their own cultures, traditions, belief systems, and stances on war — military service remains remarkably consistent. No matter the conflict, American Indian men and women continue to risk their lives for the very government that once tried to eradicate their way of life.

Peter MacDonald is one such veteran. The Navajo who served in the Marines during World War II is one of the last surviving members of the distinguished Code Talkers. Jeff Means is another. A member of the Ogala Sioux Tribe and Marine Corps veteran, Means currently teaches history at the University of Wyoming. And as a member of the Odawa Nation, D.J. Vanas uses his position as an author and motivational speaker to share his experiences as an Air Force captain.

To these three, the definition of “warrior” — just like their reasons for serving — is as diverse as their tribal backgrounds.

Military Times spoke with MacDonald, Means, and Vanas about their military service, the evolution of Native American warrior culture, and treatment of Native Americans by the U.S. government during and post-military service.

Each veteran is included in the recently released PBS documentary, “The Warrior Tradition,” directed by Larry Hott. Hott also joined the discussion.

With 573 tribes, the motivations for Native Americans to join the military are incredibly diverse. What compelled you to join?

[MEANS] My reasons were financial. I had been kicking around since high school doing really a whole lot of nothing. I went to a little strip mall where all four branches had recruiting offices. The Air Force wouldn’t take me, then the Army turned me down. I got in my truck and left, but came back when I realized I hadn’t checked out the Marine Corps. I stuck my head into the office and there was this gunnery sergeant. He was like 6-foot-6 and 240 pounds of muscle. I said, “Hey, I already tried with the Air Force and Army. Should I even bother coming in?” This gunny walks over, takes me around the shoulders and says, “Son, let’s see what the Marine Corps can do for you.” [Laughs]

[VANAS] Family heritage was one of the things I was imbued with growing up through stories and firsthand experiences of relatives, including my dad, who served 21 years in the Air Force. We had relatives who served dating back to World War I. It not only seemed like a comfortable path to follow, because there’s so much familiarity, but it’s almost an expectation just because it was a common family theme.

Reservations were certainly a catalyst for stripping tribes of warrior culture. What changed in the 20th century?

[MEANS] The warrior culture was disappearing simply because by the late 1800s, there was literally no one left to fight. The whole warrior culture of protecting and providing became irrelevant up through World War I. That was a transitional time for Native Americans, because an entire generation of people who remembered having autonomy and freedom were dying off.

Instead, you now had individuals who had only ever known reservation life. Then here comes World War I and a tremendous opportunity for Native Americans to provide for themselves again and revitalize that warrior tradition.

/>Navajo Code Talkers Peter MacDonald, left, and the late-Roy Hawthorne in 2010. (Air Force)

[VANAS] Many took advantage of World War I and subsequent wars because it was something we’ve always looked at as a way of protecting our home. People ask, “Why serve in the military when this government has done so much to our people to hurt our culture?” But we’ve always looked at the bigger picture. This is our home, it always has been and always will be, and we sign up to defend that.

How has the definition of “warrior” evolved since then among native communities?

[MEANS] A warrior was always somebody who fought for their native nation. For the most part, that was militaristically. But now that has expanded to fighting for your native nation in any context: legally, socially, culturally, politically.

Women are taking a tremendously active position in today’s battles because it’s no longer just about military prowess. It’s about intellectual prowess. It’s about cultural prowess. It’s wonderful to see so many native people from all walks of life fighting for their rights and sovereignty.

[HOTT] There are people who said to me that getting a college education is being a warrior. But, an obvious one is the number of native women in the military. It’s not easy for them because there are still traditionalists out there who think women should not be fighting.

That’s a big reason we included the story of Lori Piestewa, the first Native American woman to be killed in combat as a member of the U.S. military. What does that say about the warrior tradition that she felt strongly enough to die for it?

Do you think the military has exploited that willingness of Native Americans to fight?

[MACDONALD] Yes and no. There was exploitation, but our desire to maintain what belongs to us and protect our families is part of our desire to volunteer and protect our land.

[MEANS] Absolutely, whether consciously or unconsciously. Native Americans have this weird place in American culture where they’re part of America’s past in becoming the great nation. But at the same time, they’re still here. That’s why Native Americans have been relegated and confined within these boxes. When you think of an American Indian you think of Dances with Wolves. You don’t think of somebody wearing a suit or a tie.

It's cultural exploitation, but at the same time, because Native Americans have been forced into this horrible economic and cultural position on reservations, the U.S. and the military exploit that by providing the military as an option out of poverty and hopelessness.

[VANAS] It takes two to tango. Enlisted recruiters always have to hit quotas. But, we are kind of groomed from a young age to see this as an accessible option for us to fulfill that warrior path in a positive way. So, I don’t know that I would call it exploitation as much as I would call it finding willing partners.

[HOTT] I don’t think it’s horrible, but it does happen. The military knows the pickings might be easier. You have families with tradition, and young people might say, well, maybe I don’t want to go in, but everybody in my family did it and there’s a lot of pride in that. There’s a reason there are recruitment centers near reservations.

The U.S. has a history of celebrating native achievements only when it benefits the country — for example, punishing the Navajo for speaking their native language only to capitalize on it when it could be of use. Is there a sense a feeling used or abandoned among native veterans once they leave the military?

[MEANS] Yes, but the sad caveat is that that’s actually cultural wide and not just relegated to military service. The U.S. government has forgotten Native Americans as a whole. It’s part of the entire cultural push where natives are great as long as they’re only seen in a certain context. This is why the Dakota Access Pipeline resistance is interesting, because they broke out of that confine.

/>Native Americans protest the Dakota Access Pipeline. (David Goldman/AP)

Native Americans are supposed to be people of the past. They’re supposed to be exotic, but mostly, what they’re supposed to be is quiet. When they raise their voice and make noise, the United States gets very uncomfortable. Abandoning Native Americans has been the M.O. of the U.S. since reservations were created as temporary reserves.

[MACDONALD] Yes. We — as matter of fact, every — American were needed to protect and preserve our freedom and liberty. We are first and foremost Americans and we love this country.

However, once our service was no longer needed, we were, in most cases, forgotten and left to fight to keep what is rightfully ours — our natural resources, water, and land were being exploited by energy companies and by our own federal government.

We have yet to achieve self-sufficiency and self-determination. More importantly, our treaty promises by “the great father” have yet to be fulfilled.

What was the perception of Native Americans in the military when you were in? How do you think the perception by non-natives has evolved?

[MACDONALD] During WWII, Marines and sailors treated us, in most cases, with respect as fellow warriors. We were all in it together. We survive if we stick together.

After all, bullets don’t discriminate.

Today, much has changed in the military in terms of respect and understanding of Native American culture and traditions. This is all for the good of America, for we are a diverse nation.

[VANAS] You’re always looked at as something that is of interest. My experience was good, although there were some tense moments.

For example, Sun Dance is a ceremony that was done by the Plains Indians. My medicine man was Lakota from South Dakota. He was my mentor, my spiritual leader, and I became a Sun Dancer. In the ceremony we pierce our chest — they put skewers in our chests on either side — and are tied to a tree, which is called the Tree of Life, or our antenna to the creator. We go up to the tree and back four times, and on the fourth time we dance backwards until we rip free. Sometimes it takes two minutes, sometimes it takes two hours. I’ve seen it take two full days.

/>Army veteran Nick Biernacki prays at the Cannonball River in North Dakota. (David Goldman/AP)

It’s about sacrifice and thanksgiving, but it leaves scars, obviously. When I was in the Air Force we had a volleyball game and one side were the shirts and one the skins. I was on the skin side and had finished Sun Dance a couple weeks before so I still had scars. A couple of colonels were talking amongst themselves in a way I could definitely feel the negative vibe and the judgment. I got so uncomfortable that I ended up leaving. I put my shirt back on and left the game. Moments like that when there’s a lack of understanding makes things tense.

The documentary discusses how Native American communities emphasize ceremonial cleansing after a service member returns home. What can greater U.S. society learn from how tribes reintegrate soldiers?

[MEANS] It’s tricky because the U.S. and native nations have such completely different worldviews. But, to a large degree, native nations look at the health of the community at large. Every person needs to be as productive as they can be, and needs to be spiritually and physically healthy to achieve that.

When someone has gone into combat, they need to be spiritually and emotionally cleansed of that trauma or guilt. So those kinds of ceremonies are really important to tell that person, “Everything you’ve done was for us. We appreciate it, and you’re still part of us.”

The U.S., to an extent, ignores that militaristic part of society because it’s not what we would consider a larger part of American culture. It has been separated to a tremendous degree. Most people have no idea what military service is like, what combat is like. So therefore, they have no empathy.

[VANAS] The reintegration process is one thing our native communities have always done a really good job of. It’s a common theme across Indian country of, “Now that this is done, here’s how you start your next chapter of your life within this community.”

It is healing and lets that person know they’re not on their own. There were things that were put in place to bring people back in a much smoother way. In the greater scheme, we have people leave the military, and it’s, “Good luck. Thanks for your service. You’ll figure it out.”

We do a great job of equipping our soldiers, but we need to greatly improve how we support those soldiers once they are out.

What happened to Native American tribes that once existed in North Texas? Curious Texas investigates

7:00 AM on Sep 9, 2020 CDT — Updated at 3:01 PM on Dec 25, 2020 CST

Recently, a reader asked Curious Texas: “What happened to the Native Americans that resided in the North Texas area? When were they pushed out, and how come there aren’t any reservations in North Texas?”

The three federally recognized tribes in Texas are the Alabama-Coushatta Tribe of Texas in Livingston, founded in 1854 the Kickapoo Traditional Tribe of Texas in Eagle Pass, founded in 1983 and the Ysleta del Sur Pueblo in El Paso, founded in 1968. None are in North Texas.

To understand why no tribes are in this area, Curious Texas took a step back to research the history of Native Americans in Texas.

After Mirabeau B. Lamar became president of the Republic of Texas in 1838, he declared an “exterminating war” on Native Americans, said Scott Langston, Native American nations and communities liaison and instructor of religion at Texas Christian University.

The removal of indigenous peoples from Texas took place around the same time as the Trail of Tears, or the forced relocation of tribes from all across the country — most notably Cherokee — to northeastern Indian Territory, Langston said. Some 4,000 Native Americans died during the Trail of Tears, which lasted from 1830 to 1850.

In Texas, the extermination effort wiped out nearly all American Indians around the republic.

“Lamar’s whole point — and of those who supported him, which was the vast, vast majority of Texans — was to either kill all Indians literally or culturally to remove them from the Republic so that they could get their lands,” Langston said. “And that’s why I’m very comfortable in calling this a genocide.”

Langston and other historians have pointed to the 1841 Battle of Village Creek, which occurred on the border of present-day Fort Worth and Arlington, as one of the final acts in the removal of Native Americans in North Texas. The attack, in which Gen. Edward H. Tarrant and 69 militiamen from Red River settlements carried out a raid on Village Creek tribes, killed more than a dozen Native Americans as well as John B. Denton, for whom Denton County is named.

The attack, Langston said, was carried out in retaliation for Native American raids on settlements along the Red River — raids that he said were an attempt to “repel a foreign invasion.”

“Indian peoples responded in an effort to protect their families, their lives, their homeland, in a way that any of us would respond,” he said. “I think that gets overlooked, because in the American telling and the texts and telling of history, we want to make it sound like this great, heroic event that took place and that it’s the progress of civilization.”

After the Battle of Village Creek, reservations were established in Young and Throckmorton counties for the resettlement of American Indians primarily from the Caddo, Comanche and Wichita nations. The reservations existed from 1854 to 1859, and when they closed, their occupants were relocated to reservations in Oklahoma.

That was the end of Native American reservations in North Texas.

In 1956, more than a century after Lamar launched the extermination war, Congress established the Indian Relocation Act to encourage American Indians to move off the reservations and to assimilate into urban centers under the premise of receiving education and health care, as well as help finding work.

Native Americans were moved to cities including Dallas, Chicago, New York City and Philadelphia. From 1957 to 1973, over 10,000 American Indians representing 82 tribes moved to the Dallas area through the program, according to the Urban Inter-Tribal Center.

Why does Dallas exist? Curious Texas answers what we’ve all been wondering

By 1983, an estimated 20,000 American Indians were living in west Oak Cliff and East Dallas, accounting for about half of the state’s Native American population. However, many were struggling as an “invisible minority,” The Dallas Morning News reported in 1983. Rather than being integrated into society, they struggled with culture shock and found they had little to no political voice.

Linda Pahcheka-Valdez, 66, a full-blooded Comanche living in Oak Cliff, was 9 years old when she came to Dallas from Cache, Okla., with her family through the Indian Relocation Act. Pahcheka-Valdez said she believed the program was initiated to make Native Americans “forget that we were Indian.”

“They put us in areas like the West Dallas projects, and in the projects, our people became aware of each other,” she said. “We have four Native American Indian churches here in Dallas. And we have a tendency to find each other.”

“We are a community, but we are scattered. We’re all over North Texas,” said Pat Peterson, a citizen of the Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma. Peterson said her family was among the first to move to Texas through the Indian Relocation Act.

In the city of Dallas, more than 4,000 people identify as American Indian, according to 2019 U.S. Census Bureau estimates. But for many Native Americans, Texas has turned a blind eye on its Native American history. To them, the lack of federal recognition of native tribes leads many non-natives to believe that American Indian communities don’t exist.

The most painful reality that area Native Americans live with is that many North Texans don’t realize that they live on stolen land, said Yolanda Blue Horse, a Dallas resident and citizen of the Rosebud Sioux Tribe.

“It’s simple,” Blue Horse said. “A lot of people don’t realize that this is land that is supposed to belong to all of the indigenous people.”

Peggy Larney, a citizen of the Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma and a former Dallas ISD employee living in Dallas, has been advocating for land acknowledgment, or the act of recognizing that indigenous peoples are the original inhabitants of the land.

Larney knows it’s an uphill battle. In 2019, she was among those who successfully lobbied for the city to recognize Indigenous Peoples’ Day, which serves as a salute to the peoples who once roamed North Texas and is a small victory for the community.

To work toward land acknowledgment, Larney said conversations need to be started among the community to give the issue more visibility.

“Everybody that lives here in Dallas needs to realize that this is stolen land that was taken away from the Indians and what tribes used to live here a long time ago,” Larney said. “And they need to give gratitude to those people that are stewards of this land before they got pushed out.”

The ultimate goal is mutual respect, Blue Horse said.

“We have been so beaten down through the years, and we’re still here, and we’re still fighting,” she said. “It’s been quite a struggle for a lot of the people here.”

Watch the video: DIALOGUES: Talking and Listening Across Divides (July 2022).


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