The Wonderful World of Vintage Postcards (Fifth Edition)


Once again, it’s summer vacation season where people travel to some far off destination before having to deal with back to school season. Or if they can afford it and have any vacation days. Because a lot of people in the US don’t. Nevertheless, this California postcard is one of the greats since each block letter shows you each unique feature and destination you can see like the Golden Gate Bridge, Hollywood, Yosemite, the Redwood Forest, Death Valley, the freeways, beaches, orange groves, and more. And it even has the California state house in the corner like that is even necessary. As you might’ve seen before in my previous postcard posts, you might find a lot of them from back in the day. However, though I can show you all the wonderful postcards out there, you might find them incredibly uninteresting. So I’m going to stick with those you might find incredibly ridiculous because I like to play with people’s sense nostalgia. After all, most of these are from the 1950s-1970s anyway. Now for your reading pleasure, enjoy yet another selection of these vintage postcards.


  1. We begin with a couple ladies enjoying a thrilling ride down the escalator.
Yes, it's so fun to go down the escalator at the mall. This is especially for the Ooomah Loompah's beautiful daughter. Or Donald Trump's mother, but I don't wish to offend the woman in yellow.

Yes, it’s so fun to go down the escalator at the mall. This is especially for the Ooomah Loompah’s beautiful daughter. Or Donald Trump’s mother, but I don’t wish to offend the woman in yellow.

2. Explore the picturesque view of Bass River State Park, New Jersey.

Either this woman is trying to cover up a major wardrobe malfunction or she's not wearing a bra. Because the way she has her hand on her chest makes me feel quite suspicious.

Either this woman is trying to cover up a major wardrobe malfunction or she’s not wearing a bra. Because the way she has her hand on her chest makes me feel quite suspicious.

3. “And this dress comes with two matching hats.”

I know the print is very atrocious and would better as window drapery. Then again, I apologize to any of my window viewers reading this.

I know the print is very atrocious and would better as window drapery. Then again, I apologize to any of my window viewers reading this.

4. For efficient liquid handling, try Hannay Hose Reels.

Yes, these hose reels are for your garden hose. I know they're industrial looking but that was what they were like at the time.

Yes, these hose reels are for your garden hose. I know they’re industrial looking but that was what they were like at the time.

5. This old man just loves to frolick with his black eyed susans.

I don't know about you. But there's something very unsettling about this old guy. I just don't know what.

I don’t know about you. But there’s something very unsettling about this old guy. I just don’t know what.

6. At Colonial Williamsburg, feel free to put one of our reenactors into the stockade.

However, if you want to harass and throw some rotten produce at her, then you're shit out of luck. But you can still get your picture taken.

However, if you want to harass and throw some rotten produce at her, then you’re shit out of luck. But you can still get your picture taken.

7. Welcome to Oklahoma City from their local Veterettes.

Only in Oklahoma City where you can find a local VFW having its own majorette squad. Bad Postcards adds, "Name changed after its first year as the Veterans of Foreign Warsettes."

Only in Oklahoma City where you can find a local VFW having its own majorette squad. Bad Postcards adds, “Name changed after its first year as the Veterans of Foreign Warsettes.”

8. Hope you enjoy Lolly the Magic Clown making balloon animals.

However, when he's asking for a volunteer, feel free to not raise your hand. Because those who do are never seen again. And those who volunteered to be sawed in half usually meet a grisly end onstage.

However, when he’s asking for a volunteer, feel free to not raise your hand. Because those who do are never seen again. And those who volunteered to be sawed in half usually meet a grisly end onstage.

9. Desmond “the Daffy Diplomat” always knows where the fun is.

Tragically for some people, it involves making volunteers' money magically disappear from their bank accounts. Also what's with the dice on his fingers?

Tragically for some people, it involves making volunteers’ money magically disappear from their bank accounts. Also what’s with the dice on his fingers?

10. More mail for Santa Claus in North Pole, New York.

Due to melting Arctic ice caps caused by climate change, Santa Clause was forced to relocate his operations to a more stable location. He tried to move to Siberia but the Soviets thought he was too much of a capitalist icon. So he settled for upstate New York.

Due to melting Arctic ice caps caused by climate change, Santa Clause was forced to relocate his operations to a more stable location. He tried to move to Siberia but the Soviets thought he was too much of a capitalist icon. So he settled for upstate New York.

11. Lake of the Woods, Minnesota is proud to present to you Willie Walleye.

The area's historical society has a whole page dedicated to this guy as well as plenty of tall tales. So he's sort of like the Paul Bunyan of fish?

The area’s historical society has a whole page dedicated to this guy as well as plenty of tall tales. So he’s sort of like the Paul Bunyan of fish?

12. As we all know, good fences make good neighbors.

However, when it comes to neighborhood fencing, I would prefer something more inviting. Like a wooden picket fence. Because metal ones are more suitable for public places.

However, when it comes to neighborhood fencing, I would prefer something more inviting. Like a wooden picket fence. Because metal ones are more suitable for public places.

13. “Performing in the Last Chance Saloon 3 times daily” are Miss Kitty and her Can-Can dancers.

Sorry, but to me, that just looks like a poorly executed version of Moulin Rouge. Also, fringe underwear? That's stripper wear.

Sorry, but to me, that just looks like a poorly executed version of Moulin Rouge. Also, fringe underwear? That’s stripper wear.

14. Always dress your best during deer hunting season, ladies.

I guess the orange and camo dress code didn't exist at the time. Still, how exactly do you shoot a deer with fur mittens? I don't get it.

I guess the orange and camo dress code didn’t exist at the time. Still, how exactly do you shoot a deer with fur mittens? I don’t get it.

15. I guess this restaurant owner is like, “I use antlers in all of my decorating.”

Okay, I know it's not entirely decorated with antlers, but I couldn't resist that. Nevertheless, I'm sure this restaurant isn't recommended for Mount Lebanon residents.

Breakfast specials include the 4 dozen eggs every morning to help kids get large. The adult version is 5 dozen eggs that will make you roughly the size of a barge. Nevertheless, I’m sure this restaurant isn’t recommended for Mount Lebanon residents.

16. Here we come to what seems to be in an undisclosed location.

Because it really seems like this might be a blood facility with the red liquid and people in scrubs. And it kind of creeps me out.

Because it really seems like this might be a blood facility with the red liquid and people in scrubs. And it kind of creeps me out.

17. From St. Louis, you might remember the Jakovac Tamburica.

From Bad Postcards: "If, by some bizarre turn of events, I become a designer of sex toys, I have the name for my first product." Also, those outfits really don't make their case any better.

From Bad Postcards: “If, by some bizarre turn of events, I become a designer of sex toys, I have the name for my first product.” Yeah, when your band goes by the name Jakovac Tamburica, you might want to reconsider.

18. Welcome to Wildwoods by the Sea, New Jersey, home of the Hellhole.

Of course, some people might think hellhole applies to New Jersey in general. But this one has demonic statue to greet you.

Of course, some people might think hellhole applies to New Jersey in general. But this one has demonic statue to greet you.

19. Come to Wisconsin, home of the world’s largest cheese.

Now that is a hell of a lot of cheese. You have to think of the cows whose milk went to its production.

Now that is a hell of a lot of cheese. You have to think of the cows whose milk went to its production.

20. Of course it’s not every day you find a flying jackalope.

So there's more than one kind of jackalope? Had no idea. Still, this consists of a rabbit, small antlers, and pheasant wing and tail.

So there’s more than one kind of jackalope? Had no idea. Still, this consists of a rabbit, small antlers, and pheasant wing and tail.

21. Come to Rogue River, Oregon, home of the National Rooster Crowing Contest.

Marked by an enormous rooster statue. Has a plumage of green and gold unlike most roosters. Perhaps it symbolizes Rogue River's profits.

Marked by an enormous rooster statue. Has a plumage of green and gold unlike most roosters. Perhaps it symbolizes Rogue River’s profits.

22. In Bemidji, Minnesota, stop by at Morrell’s Chippewa Trading Post.

Sorry, but that wolf looks so demented at the moment that you can't take it seriously. Apparently this place isn't known for its taxidermy.

Sorry, but that wolf looks so demented at the moment that you can’t take it seriously. Apparently this place isn’t known for its taxidermy.

23. Look super hip in Valerie’s “Young Look” belt.

From Bad Postcards: "Looks like she’s trying to put on her best model face while hiding the need to barf up all the bacon and pancakes and syrup being squeezed out of her gut." Also doesn't seem very enthusiastic about having her picture taken.

From Bad Postcards: “Looks like she’s trying to put on her best model face while hiding the need to barf up all the bacon and pancakes and syrup being squeezed out of her gut.” Also doesn’t seem very enthusiastic about having her picture taken.

24. “Uh, dude, can you uncoil me for a moment. You’re kind of suffocating me right now.”

Because strangling is how snakes kill large prey. Still, I have no idea why anyone would want to put that statue on a postcard. It's just crazy.

Because strangling is how snakes kill large prey. Still, I have no idea why anyone would want to put that statue on a postcard. It’s just crazy.

25. From Mansfield, Ohio is country music guitarist Tex Forman.

From Bad Postcards: "Tex, if you’d like to break into a larger market, start by emblazoning your name on your instrument with something other than electrical tape." Yeah, that kind of looks very cheap.

From Bad Postcards: “Tex, if you’d like to break into a larger market, start by emblazoning your name on your instrument with something other than electrical tape.” Yeah, that kind of looks very cheap.

26. “Okay, Snowflake, what is it this time?”

Didn't know Santa even had a white reindeer. Why didn't they even tell us about this?

Didn’t know Santa even had a white reindeer. Why didn’t they even tell us about this?

27. “A portrait grows in value to you.”

Maybe, but that doesn't stop this girl seeming quite creepy. Maybe this was taken when they were searching for actresses for Rhoda in The Bad Seed.

Maybe, but that doesn’t stop this girl seeming quite creepy. Maybe this was taken when they were searching for actresses for Rhoda in The Bad Seed.

28. “What’s that your pointing to, Lucifer?”

Because that's impression I get when I see this. Still, Satan seems like he's some sort of crazy guy you might watch on Game of Thrones.

Because that’s impression I get when I see this. Still, Satan seems like he’s some sort of crazy guy you might watch on Game of Thrones.

29. In Spokane, Washington, feel free to look at the world’s largest bear.

Uh, couldn't he just take a picture of it and hang it somewhere? Seriously, why he kill it as a trophy? Something tells me he might be compensating for something.

Uh, couldn’t he just take a picture of it and hang it somewhere? Seriously, why he kill it as a trophy? Something tells me he might be compensating for something.

30. Linville Caverns always contain beautiful stalagmite formations.

There's nothing like going into a cave dressed in your trench and pearls. Or as I call it, something you shouldn't wear in a cave.

There’s nothing like going into a cave dressed in your trench and pearls. Or as I call it, something you shouldn’t wear in a cave.

31. It’s always pleasant to have a portrait made at Hess Brothers.

However, this kid might not share that opinion. Because he doesn't really seem to be smiling.

However, this kid might not share that opinion. Because he doesn’t really seem to be smiling. More like wanting to get out of there.

32. Nothing makes a romantic evening like listening to Enzo Stuarti.

From Bad Postcards: "The guys at the table seem more enamored of Enzo than the women. Where’s the band?" When you think about it, it seems about right.

From Bad Postcards: “The guys at the table seem more enamored of Enzo than the women. Where’s the band?” When you think about it, it seems about right.

33. Welcome to Ole’s Big Game Lounge in Paxton, Nebraska.

Guess Ole seems quite proud that he shot all these African animals before they were on the Endangered Species list. Still, the taxidermy is kind of unnerving.

Guess Ole seems quite proud that he shot all these African animals before they were on the Endangered Species list. Still, the taxidermy is kind of unnerving.

34. Here we have a recreation of John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, and Benjamin Franklin working on the Declaration of Independence.

For some reason Benjamin Franklin wasn't feeling so well today. But knowing that such task was so important for the country, he showed up to Independence Hall anyway.

For some reason Benjamin Franklin wasn’t feeling so well today. But knowing that such task was so important for the country, he showed up to Independence Hall anyway.

35. “Okay, guys, shall we proceed with the battering ram exercises?”

Actually this is a bunch of marines at Parris Island doing a log lifting exercise. And all in unflattering fitness attire.

Actually this is a bunch of marines at Parris Island doing a log lifting exercise. And all in unflattering fitness attire.

36. “We will be glad to pick you up for Sunday School next Sunday.”

Mr. Harris would be happy to drive Timmy there in his windowless van. Oh, God, I'm horrible.

Mr. Harris would be happy to drive Timmy there in his windowless van. Oh, God, I’m horrible.

37. “I always want to look my best whenever I go to the farmer’s market.”

Because the farmer's market is the place where women dress up in furs, gloves, and fine jewelry. Don't forget to top it off with a tiara.

Because the farmer’s market is the place where women dress up in furs, gloves, and fine jewelry. Don’t forget to top it off with a tiara.

38. All hail to the almighty beach ball of Calamari.

Another marine training session at Parris Island, South Carolina. You have to admit that these guys aren't afraid to look utterly ridiculous.

Another marine training session at Parris Island, South Carolina. You have to admit that these guys aren’t afraid to look utterly ridiculous.

39. Welcome to the bank of the future.

That's a bank? I kind of liken it to if Emperor Palpatine's vacation home was designed by Frank Lloyd Wright.

That’s a bank? I kind of liken it to if Emperor Palpatine’s vacation home was designed by Frank Lloyd Wright.

40. Greetings from the North Pole from Santa Claus.

For some reason, I think having this postcard from some place in upstate New York instead of the North Pole might lead to childhood disillusionment. Mostly because a lot of kids don't imagine Santa living in upstate New York.

For some reason, I think having this postcard from some place in upstate New York instead of the North Pole might lead to childhood disillusionment. Mostly because a lot of kids don’t imagine Santa living in some town in upstate New York.

41. “Missed me, guys?”

Yes, I've put a lot of bad wax Jesus in these vintage postcard posts. However, this one stands out because he seems to have a goatee.

Yes, I’ve put a lot of bad wax Jesus in these vintage postcard posts. However, this one stands out because he doesn’t seem to have the kind of arm stretching emotion that comes with resurrection.

42. Today Smokey the Bear and Flippy the Fire Porpoise will discuss fire safety.

Of course, putting out a fire is easier if its surrounded by water. And you a dolphin extinguish it.

Of course, putting out a fire is easier if its surrounded by water. And you a dolphin extinguish it. Where’s the educational value in that?

43. Here a Sioux Native American plays his drum at Mt. Rushmore.

While Mt. Rushmore is referred to in this postcard as, "Shrine of Democracy," most Native Americans see it as a "shrine to white people kicking us out, taking over our land, and desecrating our sacred sites." Bet you never heard that before.

While Mt. Rushmore is referred to in this postcard as, “Shrine of Democracy,” most Native Americans see it as a “shrine to white people kicking us out, taking over our land, and desecrating our sacred sites.” Bet you never heard that before.

44. Here we come to a woman standing on a wall.

I doubt that she's managed to defy gravity. However, her checkered pants seem to defy fashion.

I doubt that she’s managed to defy gravity. However, her checkered pants seem to defy fashion.

45. For a Badlands visit, check out Toadstool Forest in South Dakota.

Though the name is Toadstool Forest, it's not a forest nor does anything there resemble a toadstool. Yet, that one rock does resemble a giant rabbit.

Though the name is Toadstool Forest, it’s not a forest nor does anything there resemble a toadstool. Yet, that one rock does resemble a giant rabbit.

46. Along Wyoming’s Lincoln Highway, you’ll find a high statue of the Great Emancipator.

Now I wonder why they decided to go with Lincoln's head instead of the rest of him. I don't understand it. Bad Postcards said it, "Makes him look like a psychopath."

Now I wonder why they decided to go with Lincoln’s head instead of the rest of him. I don’t understand it. Bad Postcards said it, “Makes him look like a psychopath.”

47. Jesus Christ is always with you, even when you’re scuba diving in Florida.

Guess you can say that Jesus is literally swimming with the fishes here. Though he seems to have his arms outstretched more than anything.

Guess you can say that Jesus is literally with the fishes here. Though he seems to have his arms outstretched more than anything.

48. Never thought I’d come across a roadside dinosaur before.

This is from South Dakota by the way. I know it's not as cool as you'd see in Jurassic Park. Still, some states seem to have a thing for large animal statues.

This is from South Dakota by the way. I know it’s not as cool as you’d see in Jurassic Park. Still, some states seem to have a thing for large animal statues.

49. Paul Bunyan and Robin Hood are together at the Enchanted Forest.

And here's Robin Hood complaining about Paul Bunyan's stiffness and bad fashion sense. The two do not get on.

And here’s Robin Hood complaining about Paul Bunyan’s stiffness and bad fashion sense. The two do not get on.

50. Take a picturesque view of Silver Bridge which collapsed into the Ohio River.

Caption: "WORST U.S. HIGHWAY BRIDGE DISASTER IN HISTORY — Occurred Dec. 15, 1967 when Silver Bridge collapsed. It carried U.S. 35 from Knauga, Ohio to Point Pleasant, W. Va. Built 1928 of unique eye-bar and rocker tower design. Forty-six bodies have been found and two still missing. Railroad bridge in background is still in use." Really? This is just in really bad taste.

Caption: “WORST U.S. HIGHWAY BRIDGE DISASTER IN HISTORY — Occurred Dec. 15, 1967 when Silver Bridge collapsed. It carried U.S. 35 from Knauga, Ohio to Point Pleasant, W. Va. Built 1928 of unique eye-bar and rocker tower design. Forty-six bodies have been found and two still missing. Railroad bridge in background is still in use.” Really? This is just in really bad taste.

51. You may have seen St. Louis’s Gateway Arch, but have you been inside it?

Caption: “A roomy observation platform at the top of the Gateway Arch offers 32 windows for viewing a thirty mile panorama of Missouri and Illinois.” However, why they decided to take the rear view of the tourists, I have no idea.

Caption: “A roomy observation platform at the top of the Gateway Arch offers 32 windows for viewing a thirty mile panorama of Missouri and Illinois.” However, why they decided to take the rear view of the tourists, I have no idea.

52. Come over to New England and visit the great state of Massachusetts.

Sorry, but that does not look like Massachusetts. That's shaped like North Dakota with a hook.

Sorry, but that does not look like Massachusetts. That’s shaped like North Dakota with a hook.

53. For your 4th of July celebration, Pedro’s Nutte House has the fireworks you’ll need.

Just don't shoot fireworks on his turf. Also, I think they need to take the, "t" and "e" out of "nutte."

Just don’t shoot fireworks on his turf. Also, I think they need to take the, “t” and “e” out of “nutte.” Not to mention, the sombrero does not help at all.

54. Stay awhile at the Mt. Sunapee Motel in New Hampshire.

Yeah, there's a place called Sunapee. I know it stirs giggles. Also, note the bikini clad woman who just got out of a pool.

Yeah, there’s a place called Sunapee. I know it stirs giggles. Also, note the bikini clad woman who just got out of a pool.

55. Spain’s Juan Ponce de Leon was in search for the Fountain of Youth while he discovered Florida in 1513.

Sure this is a rather tacky and historically inaccurate statue of Ponce de Leon with a swimsuit model. But for Florida, this is just so ironically appropriate.

Sure this is a rather tacky and historically inaccurate statue of Ponce de Leon with a swimsuit model. But for Florida, this is just so ironically appropriate.

56. Big Brother Bob Emery wants kids to drink 4 glasses of United Farmers milk every day.

Now this just has to be one of the creepiest milk ads I've seen. So, kids, drink your milk because Big Brother is watching you.

Now this just has to be one of the creepiest milk ads I’ve seen. So, kids, drink your milk because Big Brother is watching you.

57. Had better dining before? How about try the Beacon Shack?

Sure it's a complete shithole and the food is lousy. But, c'mon, at least they're being honest.

Sure it’s a complete shithole and the food is lousy. But, c’mon, at least they’re being honest.

58. There’s nothing like having a carefree day on the beach.

Can't do a postcard post without a woman in a swimsuit like this one. Of course, why she brought a thin cloth to raise above her head, I have no idea.

Can’t do a postcard post without a woman in a swimsuit like this one. Of course, why she brought a thin cloth to raise above her head, I have no idea.

59. Here we come to a tri-state view of Nebraska, South Dakota, and Iowa.

I know you can't really tell the where each state is in this postcard. Well, neither can I. Perhaps a map might be handy.

I know you can’t really tell the where each state is in this postcard. Well, neither can I. Perhaps a map might be handy.

60. Greetings from Liberal, Kansas, pancake hub of the universe.

Well, at least these women aren't wearing bikinis. But what the hell does this scene have to do with pancakes?

Well, at least these women aren’t wearing bikinis. But what the hell does this scene have to do with pancakes?

61. Here we come to some sagebrush which is the state flower of Nevada.

Caption: "This beautiful scene of sagebrush with its colorful pink blossoms is a common sight in the southwest. It stretches as far as the eye can see and besides being beautiful, has practical purposes, as deer and other wildlife feed on it. Sagebrush blooms only after a heavy rain but will bloom in any season. It’s referred to as Cenizo by many Anglos as well as Latin Americans." When you read the caption, you're expecting to see something more spectacular than brown, desert foliage.

Caption: “This beautiful scene of sagebrush with its colorful pink blossoms is a common sight in the southwest. It stretches as far as the eye can see and besides being beautiful, has practical purposes, as deer and other wildlife feed on it. Sagebrush blooms only after a heavy rain but will bloom in any season. It’s referred to as Cenizo by many Anglos as well as Latin Americans.” When you read the caption, you’re expecting to see something more spectacular than brown, desert foliage.

62. Meet President Lyndon B. Johnson and his wife Ladybird at the White House.

Tumblr member from Bad Postcards: "While the female figure bears some resemblance to Lady Bird, the man hardly looks like LBJ at all. He looks almost more..." Uh, like a psychokiller.

Tumblr member from Bad Postcards: “While the female figure bears some resemblance to Lady Bird, the man hardly looks like LBJ at all. He looks almost more…” Uh, like a psychokiller.

63. Welcome to Cyanmid Laboratories, here are your escorts to show you around.

I think the correct term is "tour guide" escort is another term for prostitute. Also, these outfits are hideous.

I think the correct term is “tour guide” escort is another term for prostitute. Also, these outfits are hideous.

64. There’s nothing better than watering your plants with a blowtorch.

Okay, it's a mister with a jetpack for watering plants. Still, the card say this mist blower gives deep penetration and steady output.

Okay, it’s a mister with a jetpack for watering plants. Still, the card say this mist blower gives deep penetration and steady output.

65. Pennsylvania welcomes you to Gifford Pinchot State Park.

And it seems that this place is starving for tourists since it has swimsuit clad women at the sign. Guess there's nothing to see there.

And it seems that this place is starving for tourists since it has swimsuit clad women at the sign. Guess there’s nothing exciting to see there unless you’re a nature lover.

66. How about spend a day at Pennsylvania’s Monroeville shopping center?

Known for its vast picturesque parking space. Just look at all the untamed streetlights and asphalt.

Known for its vast picturesque parking space. Just look at all the untamed streetlight, concrete, and asphalt.

67. Greetings from Kansas, home of a very long building.

Really Kansas? Surely your state must have something more interesting than an over 1/2 mile long building.

Really Kansas? Surely your state must have something more interesting than an over 1/2 mile long building.

68. Here we see a black bear in its natural habitat in New York’s Central Adirondacks.

So let me get this straight, the Central Adirondacks' idea of promoting tourism is a postcard of a dumpster diving bear. As Bad Postcards says, "We’re on vacation! Let’s go to the dump!"

So let me get this straight, the Central Adirondacks’ idea of promoting tourism is a postcard of a dumpster diving bear. As Bad Postcards says, “We’re on vacation! Let’s go to the dump!”

69. The Sterling Hotel at Greenwood Lake, New York presents the All Girl Topless Band.

I'm sure their performances were not suited for a PG-13 audience. Makes you wonder what kind of place the Sterling Hotel is.

I’m sure their performances were not suited for a PG-13 audience. Makes you wonder what kind of place the Sterling Hotel is. I know I don’t always show nudity but I can’t pass this one up. Best known for their fanservice.

70. Howdy from Nebraska where we herd cattle on our giant jackrabbits.

One of the reasons why cowboys ride on jackrabbits in Nebraska was because the state was once the sight of a large Native American nuclear power plant which suffered a major meltdown. That's why the rabbits are so huge out there.

One of the reasons why cowboys ride on jackrabbits in Nebraska was because the state was once the sight of a large Native American nuclear power plant which suffered a major meltdown. That’s why the rabbits are so huge out there.

What Americans Get Wrong About Undocumented Immigration


There are very few people in the United States who have been so unfairly exploited, marginalized, vilified, and scapegoated in political smear campaigns than the undocumented immigrants. These are people who have entered the country and reside there without any legal authorization. As of 2016, there are 11.3 million undocumented immigrants living among us throughout the nation. Many of them live in poverty and are vulnerable to exploitation as well as live in fear of their status being discovered, detained, and deported. Some of them came to the US as children and to them America is the only country they know. Many are parents of children who are US citizens and run a high risk of their families being torn apart. These are people whose lives are in limbo but all are human beings who deserve to be treated with dignity as well as contribute to this country. But they suffer immensely for their undocumented immigration status, are denied rights and services most Americans enjoy, have no path to legalization and citizenship, and live every day in isolated fear that the life they’ve built for themselves and families could fall apart. A key centerpiece of Donald Trump’s campaign includes a promise to build an immense wall at the Mexican border and mass deportations. He’s also called Mexicans rapists and criminals which have alienated most Hispanic voters. The fact most undocumented immigrants are Hispanic (with the vast majority being Mexican), such remarks reflect the racism and xenophobia that reflect the anti-immigration movement today. Many also believe that these people have broken the law and should be punished accordingly and deported. But the fact is our immigration system is so outdated and broken that undocumented immigrants usually enter the country illegally because no practical legal immigration channels exist for them. These people are victims of injustice since many of them have built their lives in this country, not criminals which they don’t see themselves. Here I list what Americans get wrong about undocumented immigration, why current undocumented immigration policy is unjust and dehumanizing, and why this nation most desperately needs comprehensive immigration reform that gives undocumented immigrants a path to legalization and citizenship. Sure I might get flack from people in the comments section for my views on undocumented immigration aren’t popular. But undocumented immigrants are human beings.


Of course, early American colonists didn’t ask permission from those who already lived there to enter into the country. But nobody seems to talk about that. Could it be that the residents were Native Americans and the colonists were white?

  1. Undocumented immigration is a new problem.

Did the original colonists ask the Indians permission to settle their lands? I don’t think so. At any rate, it didn’t end well. Besides, in US history after the colonial era, undocumented immigration was most prevalent during the Gilded Age. Today 3.5% the US population are undocumented immigrants which is equivalent to how many Americans own a boat. Nevertheless, undocumented immigration is more of a problem pertaining to a system, not the individuals.

  1. My ancestors didn’t come here illegally.

Are you sure about that? If you’re of Asian descent and your Asian ancestors came to this country between 1880 and the 1940s, then there’s a very strong chance they came to the US illegally. Mostly because US immigration policy at the time either excluded Asians from entering (save under certain circumstances) or had very small quotas on arrivals from Asian countries. Chinese immigrants used a variety of techniques to enter the country such as changing their names or showing pictures to officials of fake relatives already living there. And even if Asian immigrants managed to enter the country legally, they were still banned from becoming citizens. Basically, the only way for an Asian to have American citizenship at the time was being born there. Also, being European descent doesn’t mean your ancestors came to this country legally either. Because there were plenty who arrived to the US as ship stowaways, used false papers like citizenship documents, hid previous criminal behavior, bribed officials and captains, forged medical records, traveled as first class passengers who were only given cursory examinations.Oh, and there were plenty of Mexicans and other folks from Latin America crossing the border. Besides, it’s very clear that restrictive immigration policies in the US were often used to keep racial and ethnic minorities from entering.


Here is a chart on immigrants from the Pew Hispanic Center in 2005. Note that over half of them are either legal permanent residents or naturalized citizens.

  1. Most immigrants today are undocumented.

75% of all immigrants in the US are legal. Out of the 25% who are undocumented, 40% of them entered legally but overstayed their temporary (non-immigrant) visas without renewal.

  1. Most undocumented immigrants are border crossers.

Nearly a third to a half of all undocumented immigrants in the United States today have entered legally but overstayed their visas or failed to renew their green cards. Also, a lot of undocumented immigrants also came to this country by plane or boat.


There’s a group at the US-Mexican border called the Minutmen Militia who are a group off self-appointed and heavily armed border patrollers who are known to threaten and shoot anyone they suspect as an undocumented immigrant trying to get across. Though their numbers have been declining since their heyday in the mid-2000s, they are nativist extremists who deserve to be in prison.

  1. More US border enforcement will deter undocumented immigration.

More incentives to make it easier for immigrants to renew their visas or pursue paths to permanent residents or citizenship will be more effective. Besides, the border between the US and Mexico is almost 2,000 miles long, spanning difficult terrain that includes deserts and mountains. Add to that much of the area is private property which the government will have to buy from owners if you want to build a wall there. Many don’t want to sell their land. Also, the logistics alone in building Mr. Cheetohead’s wall are either very difficult, if not impossible. Not only that, but history has shown that people find ways to cross walls. The Great Wall of China didn’t deter Mongol invaders nor did the Berlin Wall keep East Germans from fleeing the Eastern Bloc. In the US, should Mr. Angry-Oompah Loompah’s wall be built, experts predict coyotes (human smugglers who charge migrants high rates to cross the border) to dig tunnels and create breaches. This would increase smuggling prices, making such process simply more lucrative for those who merely exploit migrants. And even if that didn’t happen, people will still come to the US wanting to seek better life. Hell, many undocumented immigrants are willing to risk their lives for that, let alone breaking the law and deportation. No wall can deter that.

  1. Undocumented immigrants don’t want to learn English.

Most immigrants usually learn English within 10 years after arrival and there is a great ESL demand for them that far exceed the supply. Many immigrants also learn some English while on the job, whether they arrived to the country legally or not. But while undocumented children usually learn English in school, most undocumented adults simply don’t have the resources.


Here’s a chart showing the how the rate of naturalizations per year is often outnumbered by the number of petitions for citizenship filed. And this chart pertains to the legal immigrants who can become citizens. As for undocumented immigrants, most of them do want to become citizens since the majority have lived in this country for 10-15 years. It’s just they can’t.

  1. Undocumented immigrants don’t want to become American citizens.

There are plenty of immigrants who become citizens in which they have to overcome obstacles like getting here, finding a job, language barriers, naturalization fees, a lethargic immigration bureaucracy, and a written citizenship test. These people don’t take becoming American lightly. Currently, 47% of immigrants are naturalized citizens. And let’s just say attaining citizenship isn’t easy since the naturalization process involves untenable wait times, often too few spots, and requiring expensive filing fees. In other words, the US immigration system is an outdated, expensive, and convoluted one which doesn’t help the immigrants seeking citizenship as the proportion has grown significantly. And that’s only for those lucky legal residents. Besides, there are plenty undocumented immigrants who have resided in this country for years, some nearly their whole lives. 86% of undocumented immigrants have been in the country since 2005 (while a third have lived there for 15+ years). Nearly half of them are parents of minor children while 2 million came to the country as children. So if these people aren’t citizens it’s not a matter of wanting to because most of them clearly want to stay in the country. It’s just that their immigration status doesn’t allow them. Because it’s very likely that most of these people would’ve taken advantage of that opportunity by now.

  1. Undocumented immigrants are a drain on our economy.

Most undocumented immigrants who enter the country are of prime working age and they work pretty shitty jobs. Not to mention, the only impact undocumented immigrants have on wages would be in firms that hire them as well as their documented counterparts (as well as the unscrupulous employers who hire them). There are some undocumented immigrants who even start businesses and create jobs that wouldn’t exist without them. We also forget the fact that undocumented immigrants are consumers who buy stuff in American stores that also contributes to the economy.


This billboard from Arizona tends to also spread a lot of misinformation about undocumented immigrants. Contrary to this, most undocumented immigrants pay taxes and are ineligible for most government programs. Whoever erected this Arizona billboard is a complete tool.

  1. Undocumented immigrants don’t pay taxes but still get benefits such as education for their children.

Yes, there are undocumented immigrant children who do attend public schools as well as US citizen children with undocumented parents. However, undocumented immigrants do spend money in this country and most states have sales taxes. Also, many have property taxes as well whenever they rent or buy a house or apartment. And since many might need transportation for a job, many pay excise taxes when they stop for gas. In fact, the Social Security estimates that half to 3 quarters of undocumented immigrants pay federal, state, and local taxes, a lot of which go to benefits they’ll never receive. Besides, most undocumented immigrants work for employers who either don’t know they’re undocumented or don’t want to know. For instance, employers in 2009, reported paying $72.8 billion in wages to 7 million workers without legitimate Social Security numbers. Undocumented immigrants can send their children to school or receive medical care in the ER as well as public health immunizations. But since they lack essential documents, they aren’t eligible for welfare, Medicaid, Medicare, Social Security, public housing, or food stamps. And many don’t even seek them even if their children are eligible (because you know, fear of deportation). So it’s very unlikely that they’re receiving benefits at the taxpayers’ expense (though people might have to pay for their care in the ER through their insurance since they’re a lot more likely to be uninsured and ineligible for government medical benefits. Even so, they use disproportionately less medical services and contribute less to healthcare costs). Hell, there are some programs not even lawful immigrants are eligible for until they’ve been in the country for at least 5 years. Thus, it’s more likely, that undocumented immigrants pay more in taxes than they receive in benefits which many can’t even access like $80,000 more. Hell, it’s even estimated that giving all these undocumented immigrants a clear path to citizenship, tax revenues could increase by $845 million a year once fully in place just at state and local levels. Give them higher wages and ability to file income taxes like the rest of us and their net tax contribution can go up to $2.2 billion in addition to the $11 billion they already pay.

FB National Immigration Meme-thumb-850x478-1834

And here’s a graph on how much undocumented immigrants pay in state and local taxes. these include income, property, sales, and excise. Many of these will go to programs that will never benefit them. So even though undocumented immigrants aren’t living here legally, they’re not living here for free.

  1. Most undocumented immigrants are Latino.

This might be true when it comes to those crossing the border into Texas. However, there are plenty of immigrants who aren’t out of those who’ve overstayed their visas.And they come from all over the world, particularly Asia. Besides, Asian undocumented immigrants are on the rise.


For a time there was a movement among Republicans for getting rid of birthright citizenship as well as the insidious notion of “anchor babies,” which has no basis in reality. Because it’s been well known that just because undocumented immigrants have US citizen children, doesn’t mean they’re less likely to be deported. Because 5,100 American children are in foster care because their parents were either deported or at some immigration detention center. Deportation tears families apart.

  1. “Anchor babies” keep their parents in the United States.

Today nearly 5 million undocumented immigrants are in families with minor children. Only 1 million of these minor children in undocumented families are undocumented themselves while 4.5. million of them are native born US citizen. This comprises of 9 million people living in mixed status families, often with one undocumented parent and at least one child born in the US. However, there have been 108,000 parents of US born citizens who were deported over the last decade. Thus, being a parent of a native born citizen doesn’t guarantee them any right to stay in the US. Besides, in order for the “anchor baby” scheme to work, the child in question must turn 21 before they can sponsor a parent for legal entry in the US using form I-130. So this would mean that undocumented immigrants would have to stay for 21 years before their “anchor baby” could keep them in the country. This assuming that they return to their home country and not personally raise their child for 10 years. And unlawful entry usually result in deportation as well as 3-10 year bars to eventually a permanent bar. So it’s not a practical solution. Most undocumented immigrants tend to be deported earlier whether their kids are American citizens or not. The fact undocumented parents of US citizens can still be deported for their immigration status is a very serious problem (if not, then outright cruel since it tears families apart). Nevertheless, despite what Mr. Hamsterhair and fellow Republicans might say, I would never advocate that the US do away with birthright citizenship because it’s a wonderful thing (as well as the rest of the Fourteenth Amendment I might add). So, yes, I do think having a child who’s a US citizen should allow their undocumented immigrant parents to stay because keeping families together is the right thing to do. It’s especially the case for infant children and their mothers or children with single parents. Unfortunately, “anchor babies” don’t prevent deportation much.


Though Republicans like to think that undocumented immigrants come to the US to have “anchor babies,” most of them come to this country for the same reasons as their legal counterparts. In this graph on undocumented Latinos, the two biggest reasons are for better jobs and opportunities and better life for family and children.

  1. Most undocumented immigrants come to this country to have “anchor babies.”

While birthright citizenship is a wonderful thing, having an American child has no effect on a foreign parent’s immigration status whether undocumented or not. Research consistently shows that immigrants mostly come to the US for economic opportunity, build a better life for their families and kids, as well as flee violence, persecution, or poverty. Immigration trends tend to be consistent with US economic activity. Besides, if people were coming to the US to solely have children, we’d expect to see the same number of women as men. But research has shown that there are many more young men coming to the US than young women. Then there’s the fact that undocumented immigrants do not personally receive any legal benefits whatsoever for having children on American soil. In fact, they’re just as prone to deportation as any undocumented immigrants who don’t. Need proof? Ask the 5,100 American children currently in foster care because their undocumented parents had no access to adjust to a legal immigration status so they could stay in the country as well as were unlucky enough for law enforcement to find out about it. Thus, they’ve either been detained or deported.

  1. Undocumented immigrants are criminals because they didn’t enter the country through the proper legal channels.

Under federal law, undocumented immigrants aren’t considered criminals because undocumented immigration is a civil offense and tried in civil courts. The punishment is usually deportation and ban on reentry. Criminals violate serious laws and are tried in criminal courts, which usually results in imprisonment. Besides, most undocumented immigrants tend to have very legitimate reasons for not entering the country through proper legal channels. Mostly because they were simply not available to them in the first place (because the US only distributes 5,000 visas to low-skill workers each year and there’s a 4.4 million people line for that green card lottery, many who’ve waited for years or even decades). And that obtaining legal status or citizenship is impossible for them. Add to that the fear that many fear deportation as well as what would happen to their US citizen children if they’re not around. If an undocumented immigrant chose to enter the country illegally, it was mainly because illegal entry was their only viable option while the legal alternatives simply didn’t exist.

  1. There are more undocumented immigrants in the US than ever before.

There were more undocumented immigrants in the US during the Gilded Age mainly due to a large foreign born population as well as racist immigration quotas that severely restricted certain groups from entering, particularly East Asians.


Those who are against immigration reform, often say that undocumented immigrants bring crime or are criminals. Studies have shown that immigrants are less likely to commit crimes than their native born children and other citizens, regardless of legal status. Because the realistic possibility of getting deported or obtaining citizenship brings a very high incentive to obey the law.

  1. Undocumented immigrants bring crime.

They are more likely to become victims of crimes that never get prosecuted since their undocumented status makes them especially vulnerable. After all, they’re 70% less likely to call police to report themselves as victims because they’re unwilling to risk deportation. And they’re right to fear that since 240,000 undocumented immigrants with zero prior convictions have been deported under the Obama administration compared to 200,000 who did. Still, most crime statistics over the last 70 years would point out that immigrants have lower incarceration rates than native born Americans even for the most minor offenses. Legal immigrants know that even committing the most minor offenses might can count against them when they’re going through the naturalization process. The criminality rate among immigrant families increases with each generation born in the US. So instead of bringing criminality to this country, they tend to grow into it as they become more American. Not to mention, it says a lot that 3 out of 4 people caught bringing drugs across the border are US citizens. As immigration has risen, crime rates have declined even in the poorest neighborhoods. Undocumented immigrants are usually sent through the deportation process if they’re arrested. Thus, they have a very high incentive not to break the law.

  1. Undocumented immigrants take good jobs away from Americans.

Most undocumented immigrants usually take jobs Americans don’t want like in the low-income service industry. This thanks to better education and an aging population that most native-born Americans prefer to take jobs in management, professional, sales, and office occupations. And many undocumented immigrants take certain service and menial labor jobs because they don’t have the skills or education or there are no better jobs available (I’m talking general trends but some do become managers). Nevertheless, undocumented immigrants are very prone to exploitation by unscrupulous employers and are more likely to be paid below minimum wage. They’re also prone to occupational hazards and less likely to receive benefits. Also take account they are much more likely to have their wages stolen by their employers. Still, undocumented immigrants don’t compete for the same jobs as native born Americans even in the low-income sector (like service occupations where you’ll have to be present for the customers like at a restaurant or a store). It’s also often said native born and undocumented workers tend to possess different skills that complement one another. Some may even start businesses and even create jobs that wouldn’t exist without them. We should also be aware that undocumented immigrants buy stuff in this country as consumers which also creates jobs. Besides, there are no negative effects of immigration on most native workers’ wages anyway (because negative effects on wages have more to do with greedy employers than anything).


Too many people like this idiot protester tend to believe that undocumented immigrants could’ve simply entered the US legally. Unfortunately, unless they’re willing to wait decades for authorization or get extremely lucky with the 5,000 low-skill worker green card lottery, most poor immigrants don’t have any legal options. Also, no programs exist for undocumented immigrants to obtain a legal status, let alone citizenship. If there was, then they’d certainly take advantage of it.

  1. There’s a way to enter the country legally for anyone who wants to get in.

Most poor people who enter have few skills to stand in and gain permanent US residency. So there’s no “line” for them. This is because gaining permission to stay in the US is limited to people who are highly trained in a skill that is in short supply here and were offered a job by a US employer, escaping political persecution, joining close family already here, or got lucky in the green card lottery (that only has 5,000 slots for low skill workers). I’m sure “anchor babies” and green card marriages aren’t desirable strategies either. While the US had an open immigration system for its first 100 years, many citizens’ immigrant ancestors arrived between 1790 and 1924 wouldn’t even be allowed to enter in today under the current policy (or even under policy then but plenty got in, anyway like Asians who were mostly low-skilled workers as well). There are many rules about who can enter the country and stay legally. Also according to the State Department, that imaginary “immigration line” is already 4.4 million people long and depending on the type of visa sought, the wait can be for years to decades long. In some countries such as the Philippines and Mexico, people have been waiting for 20 years for approval of a family-sponsored visa (which usually takes about 5-6 years). In many poor, violence ridden countries, or where parents are separated from their children, immigrants say the wait is unbearable, leaving many to resort to illegal border crossings. The journey can be dangerous. Not to mention, the US currently has no program whatsoever for undocumented immigrants to adjust to a legal status, let alone citizenship. Most of these people want nothing more than play by the rules and legalize their status but most of them have no legal way to enter or remain in the US. This is wrong, especially when we’re talking about undocumented parents with American born children.


To deport undocumented immigrants is not just impractical and economical, it’s also downright cruel. All that deportation will accomplish will be families torn apart, more American children in foster care and utterly traumatized, lost jobs, wasted tax money, and an overall humanitarian crisis.

  1. Undocumented immigrants can and should be deported from the United States.

If we got rid of all the undocumented immigrants in this country, it would be a real government and social nightmare. For one, there are approximately 11 million undocumented immigrants in the US and it would be impossible to locate and deport that many people. Then there’s the fact that they have an estimated 4.5 million children born on US soil whom the government would have to put in foster homes. Hell, at least 5,100 native born kids are in foster care now because their parents have been detained or deported. Deportation will often result in family separation which will pose serious risks to children’s immediate safety, economic security, well-being, and long-term development. Other effects include housing instability, food hardship, and adverse behavioral changes. That’s not talking about the citizen children being traumatized and vulnerable by the whole experience along with entire communities (who may also have undocumented immigrants and their US citizen children living there, too). Not to mention, it’s unlikely that native born Americans would want to do the lousy back-breaking agricultural work and other menial labor for minimum wage and no benefits that undocumented immigrants do which is said to be at 50 to 60%. Then there’s the fact mass deportation would lead to remove millions of taxpayers, consumers, and entrepreneurs as well as cost jobs in the economy.


Here’s a cartoon of the Holy Family being besieged by ICE feds in the stable. Undocumented immigrant families fear deportation and family separation on a daily basis. The fact deportation rips families apart should illustrate why such a practice is morally inexcuseable.

  1. Denying undocumented immigrants from obtaining a drivers’ license will solve the problem.

Almost all American workers need to drive great distances to get to work, and undocumented workers are no exception, especially if they work on a farm. Some even drive for a living. Most US citizens would agree that everyone driving on the highways should complete a driver’s course to qualify for a driver’s license would be better for public safety. Thus, not worth it.

  1. Our undocumented immigration problems would be solved if employers were required to verify the Social Security Numbers for every employee.

It could but only as long as there’s a legalization program put in place at the same time which the US doesn’t have at the moment. Thus, such a policy would create chaos in multiple sectors of the US economy, especially in the agricultural industry complex. The tourist industry would suffer as well since many undocumented immigrants are employed in low skills jobs like dishwashers, janitors, chambermaids, and others.


While comprehensive immigration reform may be a highly contentious issue that brings out a lot of racism, nativism, and xenaphobia, most Americans support it. According to pew 72% of Americans want undocumented immigrants to remain in the country with some legal status.

  1. Most Americans don’t support immigration reform.

Newsflash: most do, particularly when it comes to allowing undocumented immigrants to obtain legal status so long as they have a strong work history, don’t commit any crimes or get deported, pay taxes, learn some English, and pay fines. Because if an undocumented immigrant has lived in the US for at least 10-15 years, has a steady job, paid taxes, raised American children, observe the law, and minded their own business, then they should be able to remain in the country.


Those who believe that immigration restrictions will lead to a secure society have no idea of how law enforcement depends on its relationship with the community. And most police don’t want undocumented immigrants to fear deportation. Besides, history has shown that restrictions don’t deter undocumented immigration. However, Metropolis’s safety is a toss up.

  1. Restrictions to undocumented immigration will lead to a secure society.

Enforcing laws make it difficult for undocumented immigrants to contact law enforcement which can have an adverse effect on overall security in society. If immigrants fear deportation, then they’re less likely to report on criminal activities, which can interfere with creating a safe community. This is why many local areas have sanctuary cities since protecting law-abiding undocumented immigrants from deportation does keep people safe. Not only that, but rigid limits on legal entry have already fueled undocumented immigration as we speak (such as East Asian immigrants during the Gilded Age).


Green card marriage fraud is another allegation Republicans make when pertaining to undocumented immigrants. However, since the US government and Homeland Security have been familiar with green card marriages being one of the easiest ways for foreigners to remain in the country, this is not a viable option. By the way, this is from a movie called Green Card from the 1980s starring Gerard Depardieu and Andie McDowell.

  1. Undocumented immigrants tend to gain citizenship through marriage fraud.

For one, there are a lot of undocumented immigrants who are already married and thus ineligible or unwilling to commit to an American citizen for a green card. Secondly, the US has been quite successful in deterring this for quite some time which usually result in offenders being caught and convicted with heavy penalties like deportation. Homeland Security is a pro at detecting these so most undocumented immigrants won’t even try it. And even if an undocumented immigrant does have an American spouse, this may not mean they’re safe from deportation. Or not without a tedious process that could possibly take years (despite it being in an easier position to get a green card than most undocumented immigrants). Because a lot of undocumented immigrants with American spouses do face threats of deportation even if both partners are living together.

  1. Undocumented immigrants bring diseases into the US.

Well, this was certainly true in this country’s colonial period since we know what happened to the Native Americans. However, although people claimed that undocumented immigrants have brought diseases to the US including measles, hepatitis C, HIV, tuberculosis, and even ebola, these claims aren’t supported by science or medicine. There is no evidence that immigrants have been the source of modern outbreaks in the US since 113 countries, including many in Latin America have higher vaccination rates for 1 year olds. Mexico has a 99% vaccination rate for measles while Guatemala, El Salvador, and Honduras have around a 93% vaccination rate. US vaccination rate is about 92%.

  1. Terrorists are infiltrating the US by coming across the Mexican border.

There’s no evidence that terrorists are entering the US through the Mexican border. According to the Department of Homeland Security, “the suggestion that individuals that have ties to ISIL have been apprehended at the southwest border is categorically false, and not supported by any credible intelligence or facts on the ground.” In 2015, the US Department of State, Bureau of Counterterrorism added, “there are no known international terrorist organizations operating in Mexico, despite several erroneous reports to the contrary during 2014.” In fact, the vast majority of US residents linked to terror since 2002 are US citizens. Also, those 9/11 hijackers came to the US through legal means and not through crossing the Mexican border either.


While there are undocumented immigrant children in American schools, they only make a small percentage of US schoolchildren. And they only constitute a minority of kids who are children of undocumented parents.

  1. US schools are overflowing with undocumented immigrants.

About 7% of all K-12 students in the US had at least one undocumented immigrant parent in according to Pew in 2012. Of these students 79% were born in the US, making them US citizens. So undocumented immigrant children are a very small segment of that population enrolled in American schools. Those with the largest shares of children with at least one undocumented immigrant parent are Nevada (18%), California (13%), Texas (13%), and Arizona (11%), all of which have less than 20%.


Along with saying that undocumented immigrants bring crime, many anti-immigration folks claim that sanctuary cities are criminal hellholes that protect the guilty. In reality, they’re anything but because a lot of sanctuary cities’ staunchest defenders are local and state law enforcement. This is mostly because sanctuary citizens protect undocumented immigrants from deportation as long as they don’t commit any crimes. Such practice allows police to build relationships with more immigrant residents as well as improve their ability to fight crime. Unfortunately, sanctuary cities aren’t very popular among the general public.

  1. Sanctuary cities are criminal hellholes.

Now sanctuary cities are places where officials have explicitly or implicitly said they won’t prosecute undocumented residents solely because of their immigration status or if they would otherwise qualify for release. Most sanctuary cities tend operate on a “don’t ask, don’t tell,” basis. Meaning that law enforcement and municipal officials can’t inquire on an individual’s immigration status and can’t share such information with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). So long as the undocumented immigrant in question minds their own business and doesn’t commit any crimes. Such policies could be in ordinances, laws, resolution, or law enforcement directive. But this doesn’t necessarily mean that these areas won’t cooperate with Homeland Security completely. Because that’s not necessarily the case. There are over 300 of such places in the US. However, what you may not know is that sanctuary city measures became law in these areas thanks to community activists and local law enforcement efforts. Why? Well, because not checking whether a person is undocumented actually makes it easier for police to do their job and helps deter crime since undocumented immigrants don’t have to worry about being deported if they report anything to the police or over a speeding ticket. Because deportation fears are the main reason why undocumented immigrants in the US are 70% less likely to report themselves as victims when something terrible happens. Such fears make it harder for law enforcement to keep their cities safe because it prevents detectives from having access to potential victims, witnesses, snitches, or neighborhood advocates. Not having that access might keep local law enforcement from catching criminals and putting them in jail, particularly since undocumented immigrants tend to be particularly vulnerable in becoming crime victims. Sanctuary city policies have allowed police build bridges with immigrant communities, earn trust from immigrant residents, and improved their ability to fight crime and protect the entire community from harm. They also spare taxpayers from the expense of arresting and holding people the feds are in no hurry to deport. The federal government isn’t a fan of sanctuary cities (since they might be illegal) and public opinion isn’t very high. Many Republicans would want to see these places punished and denied crime-fighting federal funding. But contrary to popular belief, sanctuary cities aren’t nearly the criminal hellholes anti-immigration politicians make them out to be and it’s wrong to punish them. Besides, the federal government isn’t giving sanctuary to the undocumented immigrants who clearly should have a right to stay.


If there’s a reason why we should leave sanctuary cities, it is because they provide mercy for a group of people whose very presence makes them susceptible to deportation. And these are people who have families as well as built their lives in this country. Besides, deportation tears families apart and is morally unconscionable. I’m sorry, but it’s just cruel.

  1. Immigration reform is another form of amnesty.

If immigration reform includes a pathway to citizenship for the 11 million undocumented immigrants already living here, it will be a rigorous path. Under the Senate’s proposed Border Security, Economic Opportunity, and Immigration Modernization Act of 2013, they would have to wait 10 years for a chance at permanent residency and 3 more for citizenship. On top of that they’d have to pay $2,000 in fines along with hundreds of dollars in fees and taxes. Not to mention, they’d also be required to learn English, pass criminal background checks, as well as prove to have lived continuously in the US and have been regularly employed during this time. Not exactly a free ride, but it gives more undocumented immigrants a way to become citizens than the current system. Also, what the hell is wrong with amnesty anyway? (Nothing).


Arizona’s S.B. 1070 is a notorious example of anti-immigration policy at its worse. Not only does it make police officers immigration agents (which police don’t want), it also encourages racial profiling which make even Hispanics squirm regardless of legal status.

  1. An immigration law like in Arizona will solve our immigration situation.

No, it will not. For those who don’t know, there’s this law in Arizona in which requires police to determine the immigration status of someone arrested or detained when there’s a “reasonable suspicion” they aren’t in the US legally. Its passage in 2010 sparked many angry protests across the country until local and federal courts overturned parts of it. Mostly because it encourages racial profiling on Hispanics. That law in Arizona is an overreaction that can be best compared to 1942 Japanese internment camp policy. Besides at least 30% of Arizona’s citizens are Hispanic and legal. The Arizona law is vague and only invites discrimination against them. Arizona’s police chiefs opposed the measure because most police don’t want to identify non-criminal undocumented immigrants for deportation and don’t want to be seen as immigration agents. Mostly because they believe doing so would make it harder to build for them to earn the immigrant residents’ trust as well as protect the community. Treating undocumented immigrants like criminals is not the answer.


This is a group of undocumented students demonstrating for the opportunity for a college education. These kids particularly have a hard time being able to do so because their immigration status makes them legally ineligible for the financial aid their legal counterparts take for granted. And even if they do graduate and/or go on for advanced degrees, they are legally barred from entering any profession that requires a license.

  1. Undocumented students have the same opportunities as their documented peers.

Sorry, but this isn’t true at all. Aside from the usual socioeconomics, fears of deportation, and ineligibility for social services, undocumented students don’t have the same opportunities as their documented peers at all. While most children of undocumented immigrants don’t graduate from high school, not all of them have the same opportunities. Of course, economics certainly plays a critical role here since most undocumented immigrants are poor and it’s certainly a reason why many of their children don’t finish high school. And I’m very aware that many of these kids who do graduate may not be college material. However, the difference becomes very apparent when pertains to children of undocumented immigrants who do graduate and are college eligible. Those who were born in the US will have access to a college education as well as all the rights they’re guaranteed as citizens. Those who weren’t, will have to face legal barriers that deny them the resources and opportunities necessary that might make a college education virtually inaccessible. Undocumented students can’t legally receive any federal funded student financial aid including loans, grants, scholarships, or work-study money (because undocumented immigrants are barred from receiving any grants and loans under federal law). Only 5 states allow instate tuition for undocumented students while most private grants, scholarships, and loans require either citizenship or permanent resident status (which they can’t get). Many of them will denied a college education because they’ll simply be unable to afford it without the financial aid they need but can’t have. Even if these undocumented students do graduate from college (or receive other vocational training), they may not be able enter certain career paths because they’re barred from receiving a professional license under federal law. This means undocumented immigrants legally can’t be doctors, lawyers, accountants, pharmacists, engineers, architects, nurses, land surveyors, cosmetologists, building contractors, therapists, electricians, and others. Sometimes this can vary by state law but it’s said that 30% of American workers need licenses to do their jobs. Thus, 30% of Americans workers are in careers that undocumented immigrants can’t pursue. To deny an undocumented child an education or other benefits and opportunities is simply discriminatory. Most of these kids didn’t choose to come here and some grew up perhaps unaware of their immigration status for most of their lives. Some may not discover their status until they’re much older. One of the reasons for the DACA and Dream Act under Obama was so most undocumented immigrant students can have legal status as well as legal access to an education all through college. Now with the Supreme Court being impasse on Obama’s immigration policy, so many undocumented children might be in limbo.


Here is another group of undocumented students who are demonstrating in support of the DREAM Act. Because they don’t have the kind of opportunities as their legal counterparts and it’s a real shame. After all, these students came to the US as children and are legally barred from certain opportunities due to extenuating circumstances. This isn’t right.

  1. Undocumented immigrants are lazy.

96% of undocumented immigrants are employed, exceeding the labor force participation rate of their legal counterparts as well as US citizens. Many work 2 or more jobs. Besides, it’s clear that employment is a driving force behind undocumented immigration with many industries such as restaurants, hotels, and agriculture reporting a reliance on them. Thus, most undocumented immigrants came to this country to provide for themselves and their families.

  1. Undocumented immigrants don’t contribute anything to society.

Uh, since most undocumented immigrants are employed, most of them also pay taxes as well as goods and services. Some of them even end up starting their own businesses. Many even pay rent or have their own homes. So to say that undocumented immigrants don’t contribute anything to society is absurd.

  1. Undocumented immigrants bring down wages.

Only in low-skill and low-wage jobs and this minimal. But this is mostly because they lack legal status. Undocumented workers are exploited as well as constantly threatened with the possibility of deportation. Thus, they’re often forced to put up with low pay and poor conditions as well as be most prone to wage theft (in which employers fail to pay them what’s rightfully owed). Most studies show that legalization would raise wages in these types of jobs, because workers can organize for better pay and employers cannot scare immigrants into accepting a poor deal. At least at a general legal level (because US businesses can still ban workers from joining a union like Wal Mart, unfortunately). Nevertheless, undocumented immigrants don’t bring down wages, their unscrupulous employers do.


Here is an infographic showing the economic impact of comprehensive immigration reform. By granting undocumented immigrants a path to legalization and citizenship, more jobs would be created while incomes and revenues would increase across the war.

  1. Comprehensive immigration reform that includes a pathway to citizenship for undocumented workers would hurt the economy.

Comprehensive immigration reform including a pathway to citizenship for undocumented workers could yield at least $1.5 trillion US GDP in over 10 years. Because eliminating the undocumented underclass workers that employees use to undercut wages and drive down standards, comprehensive immigration reform will ensure that all workers have full labor rights, resulting in higher wages across the board.


This Princeton pamphlet for undocumented immigrants points out that these people have the right to remain silent, right to legal representation, and a right to make a call when they’re arrested. Their children also have a right to a free K-12 education as well.

  1. Undocumented immigrants are without rights in the United States.

Undocumented immigrants do have rights in the US under the US Constitution and federal statutes such as equal protection under the law (even non-citizens) and can’t be denied due process under the 14th Amendment including the right to remain silent and the right to an attorney as well as the right to be protected against unwarranted searches and seizures under the 4th Amendment. Undocumented children also have the right to a free, public K-12 education. Undocumented immigrants also have a right to receive emergency services from publicly funded hospitals, protection from workplace discrimination, emergency and disaster relief, and others.

  1. Employers may easily and accurately determine whether an immigrant is adequately documented.

According to US Chamber of Commerce Vice President Randel K. Johnson, “The current system has made it impossible for employers to really know who is actually authorized to work and who is not.” It is possible for employers to hire undocumented immigrants unintentionally which might happen when they present falsified documentation or when an employer fails to verify their work eligibility. Yet, since 1986, all employers have to verify identity and work eligibility for all new employees at the time they’re hired by filling out an I-9 verification form. Many employers are unaware or do it poorly or incorrectly. Completing this form requires skills and knowledge: there’s a list of acceptable documents and many exceptions, it’s difficult to know if a document is genuine, acceptable, or still valid. Moreover, employers face penalties for discriminating against well-documented immigrants even if their intention was to avoid hiring undocumented ones. In addition, the US immigration system doesn’t meet the needs of American business who must face lengthy delays before hiring foreign workers. Not only that, but there are many employers who hire undocumented workers and know it but either don’t care or use their status to exploit them.


The idea that undocumented immigrants prefer to remain in the US illegally have no idea that these people have no realistic alternative for legal entry. If any undocumented immigrants had any option to enter legally, they would take it.

  1. Undocumented immigrants prefer to remain in the US illegally.

Undocumented immigrants who face economic hardship, life threatening situations, or persecution believe they have no reasonable alternative to becoming undocumented either because they don’t meet the strict criteria to immigrate to the US or because they can’t afford to wait 10, 15, or 20 years to obtain a visa. Some legal immigrants who become undocumented due to visa overstays even after applying for a visa extension are only due to government processing delays. Not to mention, some undocumented immigrants are brought to the US as children and at times, grow up here not knowing of their immigration status. They have absolutely no path to become legal residents without facing as much as a 10 year ban as well as deportation despite extenuating circumstances. Then there are undocumented immigrants who have spouses and children who are US citizens. Would you say these people prefer to stay undocumented and risk being taken away from their families? Nearly all undocumented immigrants would legalize their status if they had the opportunity.


This is a rough graph of undocumented immigrants living in the US. Most of them live in just 6 states and only make a small fraction of the labor force. Children of undocumented immigrants only make 7% of the school population.

  1. Undocumented immigrants are mostly single men.

Over 40% of undocumented immigrants are women and most undocumented men are either married or in families (54%). Fewer than half of undocumented immigrants are unattached and single men. There are also 267,000 undocumented immigrants who are part of the LGBT community, too.


While many Republicans say that most undocumented immigrant children are unauthorized, most of them are US citizens. And many of them have hard lives. This little boy is a US citizen who has to worry about the possibility of his dad being deported. If you think undocumented immigrants should be deported, then explain to him why such immigration policy should deny him a father in his life. You can’t.

  1. Most children of undocumented immigrants are unauthorized.

While undocumented children do exist, most children of undocumented immigrants are native born US citizens and members of mixed-status families. Nevertheless, these American children don’t have a great quality of life and are set up for failure. The majority of these kids don’t graduate from high school, averaging 2 fewer years than those with legal immigrant parents. Reasons for this are said to be stress, pressure to work at a younger age, poverty, and not having the economic resources needed for a higher education. They also are more likely to experience linguistic isolation, have limited English proficiency, have poor health outcomes, be uninsured, and are less likely to be enrolled in preschool. Nearly half are in households where no member over the age of 14 speaks English very well. For many of these children, their undocumented parents and relatives may be their main caretakers as well as their only means of support. If they’re aware of their parents’ immigration status, they may grow up living in fear that their someone will come in and take their parents away from them. And they live with such fears every day in their lives. 5,100 US children are now in foster care because they had nowhere else to go after ICE got a hold of their parents. While immigration reform that gives these children’s undocumented parents a path to legal status and citizenship won’t solve all their problems, it will at least give them some stability in their lives.

Estrella Manuel

Caption: “Estrella Manuel, 2, holds an American flag in her mouth during a news conference in Miami Wednesday, June 17, 2009. Roughly 150 children are suing President Barack Obama to halt the deportations of their parents until Congress overhauls U.S. immigration laws. The U.S.-born children say their constitutional rights are being violated because they, too, will likely have to leave the country if their parents are forced to leave.” Unless the US passes comprehensive immigration reform that gives undocumented immigrants a path to legalization and citizenship, these children will be condemned to live on the margins of prosperity, opportunity, and hope. Some of them also run the risk of having their parents taken away from them and possibly ending up in foster care. This is wrong.

  1. The US immigration system works and immigration laws are just.

Such notions like, “But they came here illegally!” assume the system works when the US immigration system hasn’t been reformed in decades to meet our country’s real needs as families, businesses, and workers. When you have laws that don’t match the reality, you have to change them. Besides, a lot of the immigration laws we have now don’t make any sense and our immigration system is broken since it keeps families apart, only 5,000 low-skilled visas are issued a year when there’s a 400,000 low-skilled job demand, and if they wish to enter legally, then they have to wait in line behind people that have been waiting in the legal backlog for years.  Would you say a system is just by denying countless people a right to stay in a country where they lived for decades, raised their children, obeyed the laws, paid their taxes, and just minded their own business? Would you say a system is just when it denies children the right to pursue a college education or pursue careers that require a professional license only due to extenuating circumstances? Would you say a system is just when it denies children certain rights they feel entitled to have in the only country they know such as the right to stay without fearing deportation? Would you say a system is just when 11 million people in this country have no way to pursue a path to legalization, let alone citizenship? Would you say a system is just which has torn families apart as well as put 5,100 children in foster care? Would you say a system is just when it makes legal entry for millions of people almost impossible? If you say yes to any of these questions, you must be a xenophobic racist, living in the white affluent bubble of delusion, or both. Because the US immigration system simply doesn’t work.


This is a girl with a cross saying no more deportations and an American flag. Whether she’s undocumented or a native born US citizen of undocumented parents should be of no concern to you. But the fact her life would be drastically improved if undocumented immigrants had access to legalization and citizenship should. Please, we don’t need any more families being torn apart by deportation.

The Indigenous Peoples of North America: Part 10 – The Southeastern Woodlands

A coastal Safety Harbor village at the time of Spanish contact.

The Calusa people of Florida were among the earliest people to have contact with Europeans with the 1513 landing of Spanish explorer and conquistador Juan Ponce de Leon. While initial encounters between whites and Native Americans tend to be initially friendly, this wasn’t one of those times since the Calusa knew about what went on in the Caribbean from native refugees and kept driving the Spanish out each time eventually resulting in de Leon’s death in 1521, which didn’t end their hostility to whites though which lasted for a couple more centuries. And it didn’t help they were being subjected to European diseases and slaving raids. Today the Calusa tribe has been considered extinct since the 18th century.

Finally, we come to the Southeastern Woodlands, a region situated from the Mississippi River to the East Coast and from the Ohio River to the Gulf Coast. In this region, contact with the Europeans began in the early 16th century with Juan Ponce de Leon landing in what is now Florida in his hopeless quest to seek the Fountain of Youth. He never found it but he ended up discovering a land that would become a haven for Cuban refugees, rich retirees, major theme parks, astronauts, and outright nutbags. But it’s said that news of Columbus’s 1492 arrival and the effects of such event on the offshore native people such as massive death, mistreatment, and enslavement before Ponce de Leon’s arrival. At any rate, by 1519, these Indian Floridians knew enough to fear the non-native intruders. Yet despite efforts to protect themselves, many of these Indians suffered violence and death from non-native depredation and disease. As European presence became more regular and permanent after the mid-to late 16th century, the Southeastern Woodlands Native Americans were drawn into increased trade with the Spanish and later the British and French who arrived in the 17th century. At the same time the Indians continued to die from disease and were increasingly forced to deal with problems like factionalism, fraud, land grabbing, and alcohol. Aspects of traditional culture like clan and political structure began to break down as overall conflict increased. Though there was a thriving regional deerskin trade by the mid-18th century, many Indians started raising cattle as the deer disappeared. Indians also participated in the regional slave trade where they were buyers, sellers, as well as victims (some even accepted African Americans into their ranks like the Seminoles). Yet, despite that the larger, so-called civilized tribes had adopted a very similar lifestyle to their non-native neighbors such as slave based agriculture, literacy, Anglo-style government and laws, and to some extent Christianity, native land loss accelerated to the point they were almost completely dispossessed in the late 1830s. This was the famous Trail of Tears in which tens of thousands of Southeastern Native Americans were evicted from their homelands and relocated to reservations in Oklahoma with significant numbers dying in transit or shortly after their arrival. Yet, there was a number of Seminole Indians who resisted removal by hiding out in the Everglades. Today most “southeast” Indians live in Oklahoma while traditional culture is preserved in varying ways and to different degrees.


Like their Northeastern Woodlands counterparts, the Southeastern Woodlands was also dominated by the mound building cultures consisting of the Adena, the Hopewell, and the Mississippian. This is painting depicting a Mississippian mound village in Louisiana.

Location: East of the Mississippi and south of the Ohio that spans to Florida and the Gulf of Mexico.

First Peoples: First inhabited at around 11,000 years ago either by people from the north or west. But they were mostly hunter-gatherers who lived in family bands. Most groups adopted large scale agriculture by 900. Adena (800 B.C.E.-200) and Hopewell peoples (300 B.C.E.-700) resided in the area in permanent villages with mound burials, earthworks, copper ornaments, extensive agriculture, and stamped pottery. Most tribes at this time lived in matrilineal clans in opposing red and white divisions to counter centralized power. Tribes were often loose aggregations of these clans. And such membership often established one’s role or position in rituals and society. Mississippian societies were highly centralized and hierarchically ranked as well as led by powerful if not absolute chiefs. Members of elite classes received tribute in goods and services from common people. Their cities were palisaded urban centers with ceremonial centers and populations of up to tens of thousands of people. They also built large mounds up to 300 acres as well as had fields that were several square miles in area.

Environment: Often humid with river valleys, forests, mountains, grasslands, saltmarshes, lagoons, and swamps. High precipitation. Experiences hot summers and mild winters.


Like their Northeastern Woodlands neighbors, most of the Southeastern Woodlands tribes practiced some form of agriculture. While corn was the main crop, they also grew squash, beans, pumpkins, sunflowers, fruit, potatoes, and tomatoes.

Subsistence: Primarily hunter, gatherer, fisher, as well as agricultural subsistence. Grew corn, beans, squash, potatoes, sunflowers, yams, tomatoes, fruit, and pumpkins. Gathered nuts, acorns, persimmons, wild rice, fruit, and mushrooms. Hunted deer, raccoons, opossums, beaver, eagles, otters, squirrels, rabbits, turkeys, bear, buffalo, elk, and wild hogs. Also fished.


The standard Southeastern Indian dwelling was the wattle and daub house. It consisted of pole frames covered with branches and vines and plastered by a layer of clay. Kind of looks like something you’d see from the Smurfs.

Housing: This region had several different types of homes depending on location, tribe, and availability of natural resources. The classic dwelling was made from pole frames covered with branches and vines as well as plastered by a layer of clay. This is known as a wattle and daub house. Summer houses were usually rectangular with gabled, thatched roofs like the chickee. Circular winter “town” houses could be plastered inside and out with animal skins, bamboo, bark, woven mats, and palm leaves may also be used in outer construction. Some of these homes could even have two stories. There were even house like storage structures in addition to these homes. Large towns would have huge town houses with up to several hundred seats used for conducting rituals or business. Sweat houses were also common. Then you have the Caddo people who lived in the “beehive” thatched grass houses.


Due to humid weather during the warmer months, Southeastern Woodlands Native Americans usually didn’t wear months. Both sexes also had a lot of body paint and tattoos.

Clothing: Most wore very little in the warmer months. Clothing was mainly made from tanned deerskin though inner bark was used to make hairnets and some textiles. Bear and buffalo robes were worn in the winter as well as ornate feather mantles or cloaks. Men wore breechcloths, shirts, leggings, shawls, or cloaks. Women usually wore short skirts, as well as tunics or mantles. Moccasins were mainly worn for travel. Ornamentation was made from shells, copper, pearls, and beads. Tattooing was widespread and body paint was used for special occasions. A lot of male warriors shaved their heads.

Transportation: Had bark and wooden canoes, preferably made from cypress. Though pine, poplar, and other wood canoes also existed.


Southeastern Woodland warfare often took a great deal of ritual preparation and during such conflicts, warriors would often leave distinguishing signs to show who committed the violent deeds. Scalping was considered high war honors. Most war were usually over clan revenge.

Society: Primarily sedentary and semi-nomadic, though nomadic at the coast. Estimated to have as many as 150,000 people before European contact. Had vast trading networks, though most exchanges took place along kin networks and related families. Villages and towns were often at river valleys whenever possible which can consist of a social and ceremonial center as well as houses strung out for miles. Many tribes had some degree of social stratification and chiefs married women from allied and subject tribes to strengthen ties. Clan vengeance was a primary motivation for war. But warfare often took a great deal of ritual preparation and warriors often left a distinguishing sign to show who committed the violent deeds. Prisoners were usually tortured and sold into slavery. Scalping was common and constituted war honors. War chiefs often led war parties. Later societies could consist of large confederacies.


Southeastern Woodland Indians were well known to practice exogamous marriage and matrilineal descent. Incest taboos were strictly enforced while inter-clan marriage was banned.

Family Structure: Practiced exogamous marriage and matrilineal descent. Observed strict incest taboos as well as marriage within a clan. Yet, polygamy was practiced among chiefs and wealthier men who could afford it. Men hunted, fished, fought, built houses, and sometimes farmed while women tended to housework, reared children, cooked, and made clothes.


From 1817-1842, the Florida Seminoles and their escaped slave allies put up a major resistance against the US Army which led the US to acquire Florida and Andrew Jackson serve as its first governor for a time. However, no Seminole resistance was better known than that of Osceola’s in the 1830s who led devastating guerrilla tactics against US troops even when vastly outnumbered before his 1837 capture and death. A few hundred Seminoles managed to stay hiding in the Everglades where their descendants reside to this day.

Practices: Wood carving, animism, shamanism, pottery, basketry, Green Corn festival, moundbuilding, Southern Ceremonial Complex, tobacco, music, dance, gambling, stickball, chunkey, metalwork, weaving, lacrosse, controlled burning, pictographs, and beadwork.

Tools and Weapons: Bows and arrows, spears, axes, adzes, clubs, fish hooks and line, nets, blow guns and darts, rope, spear throwers, grinding stones, stone pestles, flint hoes, and weirs.

Notable Tribes: Cherokee, Natchez, Choctaw, Caddo, Biloxi, Creek, Apalachee, Arawak, Seminole, Atakapa, Bayougoula, Chacato, Calusa, Chickasaw, Croatan, Timucua, Coharie, Mayaca, Mobila, Mocoso, Yazoo, Uzita, Waccamaw, Mayami, Mikasuki, Sewee, Sissipaw, Tequesta, Santee, Roanoke, Pacara, Pensacola, Quinipissa, Tocobaga, Yamassee, Winyaw, Jaega, Koasati, Machapunga, Mataumbe, Eno, Chisca, Chowanoc, Cusabo, Chitimacha, Cape Fear, Chakchiuma, Catawba, Calusa, Ais, Powhatan, Quapaw, Tonkawa, Karankawa, Cofitachiqui, Mosopelea, and Avoyel.

The Indigenous Peoples of North America: Part 9 – The Northeastern Woodlands


The Iroquois League was an association of 5 (later 6) linguistically related Northeast Woodland tribes consisting of the Mohawk, Oneida, Onondaga, Cayuga, Seneca, and Tuscarora peoples. Established between the 12th and 15th centuries, the League ruled on disputes and displace their raiding tradition except when it came to their rivals. Their political cohesion made the Iroquois one of the strongest forces in 17th and 18th century northeastern North America. Played both the French and British in the fur trade as well as sided with the latter during the French and Indian War. Was severely weakened after the American Revolution.

While the Great Plains tribes are the Native Americans you tend to see in western movies, the Northeastern Woodlands tribes are the ones you see in anything relating to early American history, particularly when it applies to Jamestown, Massachusetts Pilgrims, or the French and Indian War. Stretching from southeast Canada and east of the Mississippi River to the East coast and extending south to the Ohio River, these tribes were among the first Native Americans to have contact with Europeans than anyone else which were the Vikings who visited coastal areas from Newfoundland all the way to Cape Cod. However, they didn’t stay long and left little permanent influence. Yet, English and French settlers who arrived in the 1600s introduced these Indians to the beaver fur trade and infectious European diseases (sometimes via smallpox blankets). Sure relations were friendly at first, but they quickly deteriorated in some areas such as in 17th century Massachusetts Bay where they went from the first Thanksgiving to all out King Philip’s War in only a few decades. Yet, initial rounds of European diseases resulted in some tribes losing as much as 95% of their population alone in the early 17th century even before the Pilgrims landed at Plymouth (Squanto’s village being one of them). Growing European fur demand led to the New World becoming a center of colonial competitiveness between Britain and France which would eventually culminate into the French and Indian War. Intrusion and eventual domination of the fur trade led to systemic breakdown among these tribes including decline in native arts and material culture, relocation to trading centers even by risking famine, increased social stratification and personal ownership, alcoholism, STDs, increased inter-tribal warfare, increased pressure to convert to Christianity, and eventually Indian removal. By the mid-19th century, many Indian groups in this region had simply disappeared and most of those remaining had been militarily defeated and largely resettled on reservations, some of which were far from home like Oklahoma. On the other hand, there are more Indians in this region today than many people realize. Although they’re mostly acculturated many proudly maintain an Indian identity while Native Americans in both the US and Canada continue struggling for recognition, land, economic development, and sovereignty.


At its peak in the 13th century, the Mississippian city of Cahokia is estimated to have a population of 40,000 which wouldn’t be surpassed by any US city until the late 18th century. This city was said to have covered 6 square miles and included about 120 human mounds in a variety of shapes, sizes, and functions. But it would soon be abandoned by 1300 and little is known about those who lived there. Today the Cahokia Mounds is considered the largest and most complex archaeological site north of the great Pre-Columbian cities of Mexico.

Location: East of the Mississippi River spanning from south central Canada to the East Coast and Ohio River as well as encompassing the Great Lakes.

First Peoples: Region has been inhabited for at least 12,000 years with the first residents said to come from the Southwest. However, while the archaic period began in 6000 B.C.E., most cultures didn’t become fully established until 3,000 years later due to a dramatically changing environment. The Adena culture from 800 B.C.E. to 200 flourished around Kentucky and Ohio who were known as the agricultural and pottery producing Mound Builders (since they either cremated or buried their dead in mounds). They also used copper tools and red ochre in burial customs. Then there’s the northern Hopewell culture of the Great Lakes from 300 B.C.E. to 700 who also built mounds through their dead as well as performed other complex funerary rituals. Also had stamped pottery, metal work, weaving, large population centers, and vast trade networks. Alongside them is the Mississippian from 700-1500 which was characterized by intensive agriculture, fine pottery, distinctive art themes, stockaded villages, and flat-topped pyramid mounds. Sites from the Mississippian culture include Cahokia near St. Louis whose influence extended as far north as Wisconsin as well as Fort Ancient and Monongahela Woodland in the Ohio Valley. It’s speculative whether the tribes in the Ohio and Illinois Valleys as well as the Great Lakes are descended by their prehistoric counterparts who were gone by the mid-17th century due to warfare and fast-moving epidemics. It was later said to be repopulated by historic tribes from other locations.

Environment: Has many variations in climate, landscape, and natural resources. Much of it thick deciduous and conifer forest, mountains, and wetlands with an abundance in rivers, lakes, and ocean. Flat forests and prairies predominate in the far western areas. Experiences cold winter with deep snows and is often hot and humid in the summer. High precipitation all year round.


Northeastern Woodlands Native Americans greatly relied on agriculture, growing crops consisting of corn, beans, squash, sunflowers, and wild rice. Out of all of these, corn was their most important food above all.

Subsistence: Primarily hunter, gatherer, and fishing subsistence, agriculture, and everything in between. Crops were corn, beans, pumpkins, wild rice, sunflowers, and squash. Hunted deer, raccoon, fox, muskrat, rabbit, wolf, elk, turkey, turtles, bear, squirrel, beaver, moose, and caribou. Yet, they also hunted for whale and seals as well as fished. Gathered maple sap, honey, berries, roots, nuts, and fresh greens.


The standard dwelling for the Iroquois was the longhouse which was made from bent saplings and covered with bark. Longhouses could be up to 20 feet wide and 200 feet long as well as divided into 6-8 two room sections, each housing a family and sharing a fire.

Housing: Algonquin peoples mostly built birch bark domed wigwams with woven mat covered walls and floors. Each usually housed one family. Summer wigwams usually tended to be smaller while structures like menstrual huts, sweat houses, and temporary brush shelters were also built. Iroquois usually built wooden longhouses that were 20 feet wide and up 200 feet long (though most were less than 100 feet) made of bark pieces over a sapling frame with vaulted roofs. These were divided into 6-8 two room sections, each housing one family and sharing a fire.


Northeastern Native Americans tended to wear a lot of jewelry and body paint, especially the men. In fact, while most Native American men wore their hair long, Northeastern Woodlands men tended to wear mohawks with feathers in them.

Clothing: People in the region mostly wore very little during the summer. Clothing was mostly made from deerskin and other animals. Often tanned. Generally consisted of breechcloths, skirts, leggings, and moccasins. Fur robes were worn in the winter. Women usually wore overdresses and tunics. Clothes were often decorated with softened and dyed porcupine quills and/or paint. Some groups even had fringed outfits. Adornments could consist of stone and shell jewelry, tattoos, and body paint. Shaved heads and mohawks were common among some Algonquin tribes as well as feathers in hair.


Northeastern Woodlands Native Americans often traveled on river by canoe often made from bark, animal hides, or wood. Canoe styles often depended on water conditions.

Transportation: Algonquins used swift and light birch bark canoes while the Iroquois used canoes made from elm. Small ones were used for rivers while larger ones that could fit up to 10 people were used for lakes. Most were framed with cedar and trimmed with maple. Bark was sewn on with spruce roots and caulked with pine pitch or spruce resin. Dugout canoes were used as well. Styles were also based on water conditions.


Northeastern Woodlands was a place of violent and frequent tribal warfare that villages tended to have fortifications of dirt and fencing even before European contact (since it was a reason why the Iroquois League existed in the first place). Ritualized torture and cannibalism were both practiced.

Society: Primarily nomadic, sedentary, and everything in between. Pre-contact population density varied. But it’s possible that as many as 2 million might’ve resided there but this is a rough estimate. Increased social stratification existed but not to the extent than in the Pacific Northwest Coast or the Southeast (though they did practice slavery). Some tribes were even part of mass confederacies later on such as the Iroquois, the Powhatan, and the Illinois. Among the Iroquois, male chiefs were elected by clan leaders who were usually female. Village councils often acted in unanimity and some chiefs were stronger than others. Western tribes often had warrior organizations to perform policing activities and some women even held some formal political power such as in the Miami, Shawnee, and Potawatomi. Nevertheless, inter-tribal warfare was harsh and frequent resulting in villages being heavily fortified by fencing and reinforced with dirt. Iroquois even revered war. Ritualized torture was common among the Iroquois while cannibalism and human sacrifice existed as well. Though most captives were frequently adopted into the tribe making up for population losses. Trade was mostly localized.


Since descent and inheritance was matrilineal, Iroquois women often owned most of the family property even after marriage and kept the children if they divorced. An Iroquois woman can initiate divorce by telling her husband to leave the dwelling with his stuff. Iroquois women were also clan leaders who chose chiefs as well. Also, during marriage, an Iroquois man resided with his wife’s family.

Family Structure: Matrilineal descent among the Iroquois while Algonquins could have either this or bilateral. Bilateral or patrilineal among those near the Great Lakes and Ohio River. Men hunted, fished, and fought, while women made pottery, made clothes, looked after children, farmed, gathered, and other housework. Iroquois women owned property that stayed within their possession even after marriage and kept the kids if they separated. Married couples often resided with the wife’s family. Some Algonquin chiefs, shamans, and other wealthy men were allowed to have more than one wife if they could afford it.


Lacrosse perhaps originated in 1100 and was played as a ceremonial ritual by the Northeastern Woodlands Native Americans. Teams could consist between 100-1,000 men on a field that could span 1,600 feet to 1.9 miles long. Games were said to last from sunup to sundown 2-3 days straight or longer. Also, it was a rather violent bloodsport where players actually got severely injured or killed.

Practices: Animism, shamanism, dreamcatchers, peace pipes, wampum, storytelling, tobacco, war paint, pottery, basketry, beadwork, metalwork, masks, vision quests, Midewiwin, Green Corn festival, music, dance, feast of the dead, medicine dances, lacrosse, birch bark scrolls, and pictographs.

Tools and Weapons: Bows and arrows, harpoons, fish hooks and line, clubs, tomahawks, nets, hemp and basswood bags, wooden bowls and utensils, snowshoes, knives, hoes, rakes, grind sticks and stones, snares, and spears.

Notable Tribes: Iroquois, Algonquin, Mohawk, Huron, Objiwe, Abenaki, Beothuk, Miami, Massachusett, Menominee, Erie, Ho-Chunk, Patuxent, Mahican, Anishinaabeg, Monacan, Narragansett, Illinois, Mitchiganmea, Fox, Sauk, Kickapoo, Mingo, Delaware, Wampanoag, Susquehannock, Tauxenent, Tunxis, Quinnipac, Shawnee, Cayuga, Seneca, Tuscarora, Ottawa, Tutelo, Oneida, Powhatan, Podunk, Pequot, Mohegan, and Penobscot.

The Indigenous Peoples of North America: Part 8 – The Great Plains


When it comes to Native Americans in popular media, no culture area is so widely recognized as those in the Great Plains. Because Plains Indians tend to be in so many western movies, so many people tend to get the wrong impression that Plains culture was the standard way of life for North American Indians in general (save for those in the Arctic).

Out of all the indigenous peoples of North America, no culture region has been depicted in popular media more than the Native Americans from the Great Plains. Stretching from south central Canada to southeastern Texas and mostly situated between the Rocky Mountains and the Mississippi River, this region has given us tribes that have forever been ingrained in the popular perception of Native Americans for good or ill. Let’s just say in western movies, you’re bound to either see a Plains Indian or a Native American dressed as one perhaps due to how widespread Plains culture was or how lazy the screenwriters were in their research. Some aspects that distinguish Plains culture are teepees, dependence on bison, chiefs wearing war bonnets, as well as horses. Plains Indians in movies may or may not use guns. However, such descriptions don’t apply to all the Plains tribes. Not to mention, the Plains tribes didn’t acquire horses via trade and/or raid networks with the Southwestern and Great Basin tribes. But once they got a hold of these animals, the Plains Indians integrated them in their daily lives, developed a reputation for their equestrian skill, and led to the origin of the mustang. The Plains Indians also traded guns with English and French fur trappers in the areas as well (though they were always in short supply so they still depended on bows and arrows). However, while these European imports improved their lives drastically as well as helped them expand territory, they came at a very high cost in the form of European diseases. Not only that, but their dependence on bison would later come back to bite them later in the 19th century with American westward expansion, the Transcontinental Railroad, the rise of the cattle industry, and Indian Wars. At this time, the US federal government set initiatives permitting bison market hunting in order to weaken the Plains Indians and pressure them to either move onto the reservations or starve. This resulted in the bison being hunted to almost extinction. Another major change since European contact was their growing importance on warfare not against whites but also among each other both as livelihood and a sport. Yet, when Plains Indians fought each other, casualties were usually light, attacks were usually ambushes and hit and runs, success was based on quantity pertaining to horses and other property, and highest military honors were for “counting coup” consisting of touching a live enemy.


The Great Plains gets its name for being mostly vat flat grassland with rolling hills and valleys. However, while some areas in this region are perfectly suitable for agriculture (such as near the Mississippi), some areas aren’t (but most of it is great for ranching making it ideal bison country). Also prone to dramatic weather events like tornadoes, blizzards, and severe thunderstorms.

Location: Between the Rocky Mountains and the Mississippi River that spans from south central Canada to southern Texas, Oklahoma, and Arkansas.

First Peoples: It’s said that the first inhabitants of this region moved there between 40,000 and 10,000 years ago. The first millennium consisted of tribes with vast trading networks and complex religious practices. But as the region grew drier and less hospitable the nomadic bands slowly followed game and water eastward until by perhaps 1200 when the area was virtually empty. However, the region gradually repopulated due to a moderation of weather conditions as well as a severe drought in the Southwest.

Environment: Mostly flat grassland with many rolling hills and valleys, though not very rugged. Summers are very hot and winters are very cold. Trees are only found by rivers and other bodies of water. Average precipitation is low though there are higher levels in the east. Dramatic weather events such as blizzards, tornadoes, and severe thunderstorms are regular occurrences.

Uses of the Buffalo

The Plains Indians main source of survival was the buffalo which they used for everything. This diagram from the South Dakota State Historical Society illustrates which part of the animal was used for what.

Subsistence: Primarily hunter and gatherer subsistence though some practiced agriculture as well but didn’t use irrigation. Buffalo was the primary game food source which was hunted by men surrounding the animals and herding them off a cliff into confined spaces. Also hunted other animals like elk, antelope, porcupine, prairie dogs, mountain sheep, prairie chickens, eagles, cougars, wolves, beaver, bear, and deer. More agrarian tribes in the east planted crops like corn, squash, sunflowers, plums, pemmican, prairie turnip, and other wild plants. Gathered nuts, gooseberries, chokecherries, and onions. Some even fished.


Not all Plains tribes lived in teepees nor did all teepee dwelling tribes live in the Plains. However, the fact so many Plains Indians lived in these things has led many people to mistake the teepee as a standard Native American housing unit.

Housing: Mostly lived in teepees made from animal skins and poles. Each teepee could have 6-18 buffalo skins sewn together and stretched over a frame of poles. The average teepee was about 14 feet high and 14 feet in diameter and held between 5 to 8 people. Had an adjustable smoke hole at the top for ventilation. Less nomadic tribes also retained permanent earth lodges along rivers that could be square, rectangular, or beehive shaped. Each of these could hold up to 40 or more people.


The warbonnet is perhaps the most iconic Native American headdress from the Great Plains. It was a worn by men in the tribe who’ve earned a great place of respect after completing so many eagle feathers for their deeds. Such feather earning deeds might include courageous acts in battle but also political and diplomatic gains or acts that have helped the community prosper. They were also worn by the tribe’s chosen political and spiritual leaders like Chief Sitting Bull pictured here. However, expect controversy whenever you see a non-native wearing one of these as a culturally appropriated fashion accessory, which many of today’s Plains Indians consider offensive to their culture. This especially goes for sports team mascots.

Clothing: Mostly made from deer, mountain sheep, and buffalo skin. Women wore a 2-piece  dress with optional sleeves. During colder weather, they wore leggings, moccasins, and buffalo robes. Men wore breechcloths and moccasins as well as a deerskin shirt, leggings, and a buffalo robe in winter. Garments decorated with fringe and quill work may reflect war honors. Wore necklaces and earrings made from bone, shell hair, or feathers, as well as tattoos. Important figures would wear elaborate feather headdresses and buffalo hats.War bonnets were sometimes worn into battle by men who’ve earned a place of great respect for the tribe as well as political and spiritual leaders.


When moving camp, Plains Indians would often load their belongings onto a wooden frame structure known as a travois. While pre-contact Plains tribes often used dogs, they would later pulled by horses by the 19th century. This picture is of a modern travois. Note the dog would’ve been attached to something much bigger and made to drag a much heavier load.

Transportation: Used a buffalo skin and pole travois sled to carry their belongings which was pulled by dogs.


Most of the nomadic Plains tribes tend to bands comprised of no more than 30 people at a time, mainly extended family members. Several hundred of these groups congregated together would form a tribe. And they only got together during the summer to hunt, trade, socialize, make war, raid, and perform religious ceremonies.

Society: Primarily nomadic though some could be semi-nomadic or sedentary all year round. Were not especially warlike (though this would change with European contact, but this is about pre-contact culture here. Also, some practiced ritualized torture). Shamans were said to have some degree of political and spiritual power. Trade was not as well developed there though there was a degree of sign language communication. The most fundamental unit was the extended family which could consist of up to 30 people. Bands and villages variable constituency were composed of up to several hundred people or related families, formed the tribe. Some of the more settled tribes also recognized clans and/or dual divisions. Bands only came together during the summer, uniting under much more centralized political leadership to hunt, socialize, trade, raid, make war, and perform religious ceremonies. During this time, camp police and other elite warrior societies kept order and punished offenders, especially during the hunt. During the winter, bands often separated back into their constituent families in the winter. Band or kin group chiefs were generally older men but the position was more of an honorific than authoritative. Open societies were age graded and could be entered by anyone of the proper age who could purchase admission. Social order was maintained by peer pressure.


While Plains women didn’t wield as much political or social power as their men, they did hold enormous power in the domestic sphere. Since Plains practiced matrilineal descent, wives owned almost all the marital property and had sole custody of the kids in a divorce that she could initiate by throwing her husband’s belongings out of the teepee. By the way, frontiersman Kit Carson’s Cheyenne wife Making Out Road divorced him this way.

Family Structure: Primarily matrilineal descent. Men hunted and fought while women tanned hides, tended crops, gathered wild foods, cooked, made clothing as well as took down and erected teepees. Women had right to divorce by throwing her husband’s things out of the teepee as well as had custody of the children as well as owned the home. Though they weren’t as engaged in public political life as the coastal tribes, women still participated in advisory roles and through women’s societies. Dead were either buried in tree scaffolds or in the ground (which they cursed before burial in case someone disturbed it, just kidding).

7 Corps of Discovery at a Knife River Village, Vernon W Erickson

It’s worth noting that not all of the Great Plains tribes lived like those you’ve seen in westerns. For instance, the Mandan lived in permanent villages, built round earth houses like these, and farmed. They’re best known as one of the tribes encountered during the Lewis and Clark Expedition.

Practices: Animism, shamanism, storytelling, medicine bags, Great Spirit, vision quests, Sun Dance, dancing music, tobacco, incense burning, skin painting, stone pipes, common sign language, and beadwork.

Tools and Weapons: Spears, knives, bows and arrows, and clubs. Buffalo horn spoons and cups. Buffalo tail whips and buffalo water containers. Buffalo bone awls, hoes, and other tools. Buffalo sinew bowstrings and thread. Buffalo skull altars and buffalo hoof rattles.

Notable Tribes: Sioux, Comanche, Kiowa, Arapaho, Pawnee, Blackfoot, Cheyenne, Cree, Crow, Iowa, Kaw, Escanjaques, Mandan, Metis, Omaha, Osage, Otoe, Dakota, Lakota, Ponca, Quapaw, Nakoda, Teyas, Tonkawa, Waco, Wichita, Tsuu T’ina, Arikara, Missouria, Gros Ventre, Hidasta, Assiniboine, and Saulteaux.

The Indigenous Peoples of North America: Part 7 – The Southwest


The most distinguishing feature of this region has to be the Pueblo adobe apartment complexes with multiple stories and numerous rooms. These were built with baked bricks of clay and straw and were not held together by mortar. This complex is in Taos, New Mexico.

We now come to one of the more familiar Native American cultural areas in my series with the Southwest. You’ve probably seen stuff from this region since it’s been depicted in westerns and that you’ve might’ve seen an adobe house or a Hopi woman with traditional Padme Amidala buns. Then there are the Apache leader Geronimo who you’ve probably heard of. Like their Great Basin neighbors, the native peoples of the Southwest lived in a land that was dominated by a rocky desert. Yet, unlike the Great Basin, many of these people usually led sedentary lives and even farmed. Not that it was easy, because it wasn’t, especially without irrigation. But we know a lot about these pre-contact Native Americans better than those in other regions because they left an extensive amount of archaeology, particularly the adobe houses and villages which still stand. Not only that, but despite being among the first Native Americans groups to deal with European influence (such as the Spanish in the 1500s), but have shown a remarkable tenacity to retain their land, religion, institutions, languages, and aesthetic traditions while facing vigorous efforts over the centuries to eradicate indigenous culture as well as the people themselves. Today Southwest Indian identity remains relatively strong perhaps to a greater degree than Native Americans in most regions (like California). Today, much of the Native American population in the US is concentrated in this area with one of today’s most populous tribes being the Navajo. Of course, the fact that many Indians in the region were farmers and among the more settled probably worked in their favor as well as the fact that these cultures managed to integrate European innovations within their culture like domestic animals, silversmithing, wool and textiles, wheat and other crops, metal tools, and firearms. That and the fact the Pueblos managed to kick the Spanish out of the region for 12 years starting in 1680, leading them to moderate their demands. By the way, these Indians were also under a mission system during Spanish rule like their California counterparts. But that doesn’t change the fact that initial Spanish contact in the region wiped out 75-80% of the Southwest pre-contact population by the mid-17th century (mostly be European diseases). Or the fact Southwest saw more conflict between Native Americans and the US government than any other Indian region. The famous among them being the Apache Wars which spanned from 1849-1886 and is best remembered for numerous raids in both US and Mexico being led by Geronimo. Another famous Apache was Cochise who led a small warrior band that terrorized anyone who entered their territory as well as fought a bloody war with the US. Oh, and the fact, Native American archaeology and antiquities tend to face a lot of ethical dilemmas in general. So this isn’t a region to trifle with.


The Ancestral Pueblo peoples are known for their cliff dwelling villages like the famous Cliff Palace of Mesa Verde National Park in Colorado. This part of the Mesa Verde was built and inhabited between at about the 12th-13th centuries with as many as 22,000 living there. However, while they’re said to disappear by the late 13th century, it’s more likely that they simply made a mass exodus to Arizona and New Mexico due to environmental instability as well as economic and social unrest (as evidence of violence and cannibalism have been documented). Their descendants still live there today as the Pueblo.

Location: Spans from the American Southwest to northern Mexico covering Arizona, New Mexico, and western Texas as well as Mexican states Chihuahua, California, and Sonora.

First Peoples: Outside Mesoamerica, it’s one of the longest continuous inhabited region on the continent. The first people are said to come to the area between 23,000 B.C.E. and 10,000 B.C.E. and were originally hunter gatherers before gradually making the transition to agriculture at around 4,000 years ago to 500. The region would be dominated by 5 major groups such as the sandstone cliff dwelling Ancestral Pueblo of Mesa Verde and Chaco Canyon, the Mongollon of the Colorado Plateau known for using irrigation and some of the best pottery north of Mexico, the Hohokam known for their extensive irrigation canal system as well as large villages and towns, the Hakataya known for their semi-nomadic villages and small scale agriculture, and the Southern Athapaskans (early Apache) who settled abandoned Anasazi and Mongollon villages between 1200 and 1500.

Environment: Mostly hot and arid desert with dry, rocky land and cactus with canyons, bluffs, rock formations, caves, and plateaus. Has some forests, grasslands, and few river valleys at higher elevations. Experiences little rain but mild to cool winters.


Unlike a lot of Native American cultures, the Pueblo primarily survived on an agricultural subsistence. Yet, this wouldn’t be possible in a desert environment without some kind of water management, particularly irrigation. Nevertheless, unlike how corn is grown today, the Southwest Native Americans grew theirs in clumps instead of the standard rows.

Subsistence: Primarily agricultural subsistence with techniques including canal irrigation, trincheras, lithic much, and floodplain cultivation. Though some tribes like the Apache hunter-gatherers while the Navajo was somewhere in between. Crops planted consisted of corn, squash, beans, pumpkins, fruit, melons, and sunflower seeds. People living near rivers also fished. Gathered cacti, mescal, screwbeans, mesquite, and grasses. Hunted deer, mountain sheep, buffalo, wild turkey, pronghorn, and small mammals. Those with limited food access usually raided, traded, or received agricultural products as gifts


While the Pueblo lived in massive adobe complexes, the Navajo lived in clay houses called hogans that could be round, conical, multi-sided, or square. They could also have internal posts as well as be covered in stone or wood such as this one.

Housing: Depended on availability of natural resources in a location, the tribe, and whether the dwelling was temporary or permanent. Farming tribes lived in houses with numerous rooms and stories made from adobe brick (made from clay and straw) and stone that could be built next to each other in villages often at strategic defense positions. These also had flat roofs. Used bone and wood ladders to reach higher buildings or rooms. Also constructed canals, aqueducts, reservoirs, dikes, and dams. They also had ceremonial pits that were called kivas as well as water wells. The Navajo built clay roundhouses sometimes outfitted by logs called hogans as well as underground homes, summer shelters, sweat houses. Brush shelters, teepees, and wickiups were commonly used among the Apache.


There’s probably nothing that distinguishes the Hopi more from the other Southwest Pueblo than the trademark “squash blossom” buns worn by their unmarried women indicating their eligibility for courtship. Since the Hopi live in a matrilineal clan system, this practice is understandable. Still, Padme Amidala wore this hairstyle in at least one of the Star Wars prequels.

Clothing: Due to the climate, the Pueblo usually didn’t wear much. Though some tribes often made woven cotton clothes for colder weather. Men wore breechcloths, leggings, and ponchos while women wore blanket dresses and robes in these communities. Clothing can be decorated with flowers or feathers. Adorned themselves with turquoise jewelry believed to promote prosperity, health, and happiness. Often wore their hair long. All wore moccasins, however. Apaches usually wore clothing made from animal skins (particularly bison) or whatever else they could get their hands on.


Even before contact with the Europeans, the Apaches had already established themselves in the Southwest region as traders and raiders. After European contact, they gained a reputation as one of the most hostile groups in the region. Seen here is the legendary leader Geronimo with his half-brother, brother-in-law, and son.

Transportation: The Apaches used dogs to carry their stuff on travois (according to Francisco Coronado in 1541). Recent estimates state that these dogs may have pulled loads up to 50 pounds on long trips at rates as high as 2 or 3 miles per hour.

Society: Primarily sedentary save for tribes like the nomadic Apache and Navajo. Yet, even among the farming Pueblo tribes, there was a certain degree of mobility since growing food often required using many different environmental niches. Was a place of large scale trade between Pueblo, Navajo, and Apache groups. Devised complex systems of exchange to ensure, without risk to their independence and basic egalitarianism that each community received. Though localized raiding and plundering was a common occurrence (by the Apache raiding Pueblo villages), there were few organized wars. Of course, Apache raiding was done by small parties with specific economic targets while wars with large parties were usually to achieve retribution (but both could be quite violent on their victims). Pueblo villages had specialized offices for unique responsibilities required by their lifestyle and environment. One tribe had a chief, a war priest, and hunting chief. Some even had specialized shamans. Pueblo communities also held lands in common with village decisions requiring unanimous consent of all adult men (though women held an influential voice, too). They also had planned villages composed of large terraced buildings with many rooms. The largest of these is said to contain 700 rooms in 5 stories and may have housed as many as 1000 people. Apaches and Navajos resided in extended family units usually consisting of parents, unmarried children, their married daughters, and their families as well as relied on kinship networks. Local Apache groups and bands were headed by a male chief who was chosen due to his effectiveness and influence. He was only as strong as he was evaluated to be, no one was obligated to follow him, and his office wasn’t hereditary.


While Pueblo marriage and lineage patterns differed among various tribes, this was not the same with the Apache. Apache women lived within the same clan their entire lives as well as inherited the family property.

Family Structure: Pueblo tribes had differing marriage practices as well as lines of descent. Apaches and Navajo practiced matrilineal descent and matrilocal, exogamous marriages. Apache men practiced varying degrees of avoidance of his wife’s close relatives while women generally inherited and owned property. Men generally hunted, fished, fought, and farmed while women took care children, kept house, made clothes, and cooked. A Hopi baby would be named until 20 days after it was born when being held from a cliff by the women at their father’s clan at dawn (like in the Lion King). Though they’d also bear gifts. A Hopi child could be given over 40 names though it’s up to the parents to decide which one to use. They can also change their names if they decide to become members of the Kachina society or after a major life event.


Another major aspect of Pueblo Native American culture are the Kachina dancers during their religious ceremonies, particularly among the Hopi and the Zuni. These dancers are masked men meant to represent spiritual beings. The Hopi also have Kachina clowns, too.

Practices: Basketry, Kachina dolls, animism, shamanism, prayer sticks, ceramics, dancing, music, sandpaintings, katsina dances, masks, textile weaving, tobacco, murals, beadwork, storytelling, pictographs, lunar calendars, and intricate blankets.

Tools and Weapons: Bows and arrows, spears, knives, grinding stone and receptacle, spindles and looms, hoes and rakes, pump drills, axes, clubs, dibble sticks, and adzes.

Notable Tribes: Pueblo, Apache, Navajo, Pima, Mojave, Tewa, Tiwa, Towa, Zuni, Quechan, Manso, La Junta, Coahuiltecan, Comecrudo, Cocopa, Karankawa, Maricopa, Mamulique, Hopi, Yavapapi, Solano, Toboso, Quems, Tamique, Tompiro, Walalpai, Yaqui, Papagos, Solano, O’odham, Mayo, Opata, Seri, Taos, and Keres.

The Indigenous Peoples of North America: Part 6 – California


The California mission system was one in which the Spanish used to colonize the Native Americans under their control. Whatever Father Junipero Serra’s intentions, the California mission system ended up to be one of forced labor, exploitation, disease, fatalities, and cultural genocide. However, they weren’t the only agents responsible with the mass genocide pertaining to the California tribes in the 19th century in which 90% of them were wiped out. But what you can’t dispute is that they had pretty nice architecture which became popular with the publication of Helen Hunt Jackson’s Ramona (which was intended to expose the cultural genocide).

Before the contact of Europeans and Saint Junipero Serra’s Spanish missionary system of forced indigenous labor, assimilation, and cultural genocide, California was home to the largest population of Native Americans and the most distinct tribes of any US state and the highest population density north of Mexico. Over 150 of them are said to have US federal recognition to date. They even had 500 distinct sub-tribes or groups on top of that. And before European contact, native Californians spoke 300 dialects of approximately 100 distinct languages. Of course, when the Spanish came with their missionary system, all the ecological disruption, forced labor exploitation, and introduction of Spanish diseases took care of all that that population was reduced by 90% during the 19th century from 200,000 to 15,000. Still, most of the havoc was unintentional save for the assimilation and forced labor part. But those Spanish missions started a tradition by which we know California today, one in which white people cause a lot of ecological disruption as well as exploit minorities even when they think they’re helping. Also, displacing people who’ve resided in their hometown longer than you have with either guns, germs, or steel or simply raising their property values. Nevertheless, the most common language of the Native Californians was Valley Girl speak as well as took part in rituals like surfing, playing Beach Boys music, and disrupting the private lives of celebrities. Okay, I’m kidding about that. In reality, California’s diversity in climate, topography, and wildlife was part of why these Native American communities thrived in this place. Now even the state’s ecology is under threat due to climate change, drought, wildfires, earthquakes, and what not. Basically if an area in California isn’t made a state or national park, there’s not much protection going for it before it’s turned into some shopping mall. Yet, despite all the bad things that have happened to these California tribes, their descendants still live in the state today. Just don’t mention the canonization of Father Junipero Serra as a good idea. Just don’t.


Pre-contact California had a diverse environment including the coastal beach communities, the tall redwood forests, high mountain ranges, and southern deserts. Yet, most of these people were hunter-gatherers as well as had acorns as their primary food.

Location: Most of the state of California.

First Peoples: Evidence of human occupation in this region dates to 17,000 B.C.E. Early Southern California peoples include the La Jolla and Pauma Complexes each dating 6050 B.C.E. to 1000 B.C.E. The earliest inhabitants hunted with darts powered by throwing sticks at large game and resided in either open air dwellings or caves. Yet, from 9000 B.C.E., people from this region gradually started to depend on seed collection for food as well. Around 3000 B.C.E., the Windmiller culture flourished in the Sacramento Valley where they were known for fine craftsmanship, charmstones, and burying their dead face down facing west.

Environment: Has a wide variety of climates and geographical features, rivaling any other area of comparable dimensions. Mostly a mild temperate climate with coastline, rivers, and lakes. Features range from high mountain ranges, oak and conifer forests, mixed forest grasslands, vast grasslands, coastal plains, to long semiarid deserts in southern region. Precipitation is higher in the north than the south while forests can be susceptible to wild fires. Earthquakes and floods also occur.


Despite that California had a region of great abundance, a lot of the Native Americans in the area mostly lived in a hunter-gatherer existence. Here are some Native Californians who just caught a deer.

Subsistence: Mainly hunter, gatherer, and fisher subsistence since there was a local abundance of food. Yet, some did practice a form of low density “wild” agriculture and “fire stick” farming. And it’s known that these Indians practiced various forms of forest gardening. Hunted animals like deer, elk, rabbits, sheep, squirrels, chipmunks, quail, mountain sheep, and bear as well as seals and sea otters. Fished for trout, salmon, mollusks, and shellfish. Occasionally ate insects as well as gathered mushrooms, roots, nuts, and seaweed. Acorns were said to be a main staple of food there as well as ground into flour to make mush or bread.


California native housing depended on location, season, climate, available resources, and whether it was for temporary or permanent use. This straw wigwam house is known as a kicha.

Housing: Depends on the location, season, available resources, climate, and whether it was for temporary or permanent use. Ocean area tribes tended to build grass mat houses. Those in the northwest forest areas built cedar or redwood plank houses. Central tribes lived in subterranean round pit houses. Southern tribes could build conical homes of tule or croton and whalebone structures on the coast.


Since it was mostly warm and mild, the Native Californians typically wore very little clothing, save in winter in the colder areas. These women and girls are wearing grass and bead skirts with basket hats and lots of jewelry over their bras (the only article not part of the traditional outfit but necessary).

Clothing: People in this region mostly wore very little. Yet, those who lived in colder areas would wear skins and furs during the winter.


The coastal Native California tribes fished from redwood dugout and plank canoes. Southern tribes had double paddled oars called “tomols” which were made by a secretive craftsman guild. These could hold up to a dozen people and hundreds of pounds to trade goods.

Transportation: Northwestern tribes used dugout canoes from redwoods for fishing. Southern tribes had gracefully planked canoes with double paddle oars called “tomols” and made by a secretive craftsmen guild. These could carry hundreds of pounds in trade goods and up to a dozen passengers.


The California cultural region had an extensive trail system though trading was limited to friendly visits and religious ceremonies. Yet, some tribes had relatively rigid class systems perpetuated by custom and marriage as well as based on wealth and private property.

Society: Before European contact, this region had the highest Native American density north of present-day Mexico. It’s estimated that approximately 300,000 Indians might’ve lived there. Yet, these people tended to live a rather isolated existence due to the landscape. Lifestyle tends to vary according to climate and topography but it’s best that the vast majority of these Indians were semi-nomadic at best. Most common form of political organization was the tribelet which was a cluster of satellite villages around one or more permanent villages. It’s said that 500 of these groups existed where they shared a language, culture, and history. Each one could contain from 50-500 people on average and most were related through the male line. Now the tribelet was presided by a chief controlling economic resources and activity, settling conflicts, and organizing events. The chief was generally very wealthy and greatly respected. Some of these tribelets also had specialized occupations like craftspeople as well as minor officials like assistant chief, messenger, and dance manager. Some tribes had a relatively rigid closed class system perpetuated by marriage and custom as well as based on wealth and private property. Sometimes they even kept slaves. More nomadic groups tended to have greater social and gender equality. An extensive and continuous trail system in the region made trading in the region possible usually on friendly visits and ceremonies. Organized warfare was rare. Reasons for conflict ranged from physical offenses such as murder and rape to trespassing, sorcery, or a simple insult. Surprise attacks were preferred in regards to fighting while pitched battles were generally avoided and casualty rates were low. Also armed conflicts were relatively brief and quickly resolved as well as both parties being compensated.


Unlike a lot of the native cultural regions, most California native family structures were mostly patrilineal. Nevertheless, polygyny was said to be practiced among chiefs, shamans, and other wealthy men who could afford more than one wife, which was less unusual.

Family Structure: Mostly patrilineal descent. Marriages usually took place when the couple was at least in their late teens or early 20s. Northern group chiefs, shamans, and other wealthy men could have more than one wife. Men usually hunted and fished while women cooked, gathered, did housework, and looked after children.


Of course, we’re all too familiar with the fact that so many Native American tribes have their own dance rituals and the California region is no exception. Here is a picture of Ohlone Indians from the Mission of San Jose dancing in ceremonial regalia. Perhaps these images tell us that maybe the missionaries weren’t as much bent on cultural genocide as we thought, at least as long as they do such rituals to commemorate saint days or Christian holidays. Then again, the Spanish missions were pretty horrific and did result in cultural genocide in California.

Practices: Controlled burning, sophisticated forest gardening, basketry, animism, shamanism, psychoactive drugs, pottery, bead work, rock art, secret religious societies, tobacco, hoop and pole, hand game, cat’s cradle, music, dance, lacrosse, dice, athletic contests, and storytelling.

Tools and Weapons: Milling stones, bows and arrows, elkhorn wedges, spears, knives, nets, weirs, scrapers, hammers, and fish hooks and line. Normally made of stone, bone, obsidian, wood, grass, shell, and other materials.

Notable Tribes: Shasta, Maidu, Miwok, Mojave, Pomo, Chumash, Serrano, Wappo, Yurok, Karok, Hupa, Wintu, Yana, Kato, Wiyot, Cocopah, Juaneno, Chemehuevi, Yuki, Wailaki, Salinan, Sinkyone, Tolowa, Tataviam, Whilkut, Quechan, Modoc, Nisenan, Nomlaki, Panamint, Patwin, Mattole, Luiseno, Kawaiisu, Kitanemuk, Konkow, Klamath, Chilula, Cahuilla, Ohlone, Cupeno, Diegueno, Esselen, Kashaya, Atsuegewi, Achumawi, Shoshoni, and Nongatl.

The Indigenous Peoples of North America: Part 5 – The Great Basin


One of the more famous Native Americans from the Great Basin is none other than the Shoshone Sacagawea herself. Between 1804 to 1806, she served as a guide and interpreter for the Lewis and Clark Expedition where she traveled thousands of miles to the Pacific Ocean along with her husband Toussaint Charbonneau and their infant son Jean Baptiste. She is said to have died from an illness in 1812.

Between the Rocky Mountains and the Sierra Nevada is an area known as the Great Basin which is mostly a high and rocky desert land encompassing states like Nevada, Idaho, Montana, Wyoming, Colorado, California, Arizona, Utah, Oregon, and New Mexico. However, since they lived in a region that was so inhospitable, they were among the last groups to encounter European influence due to nobody wanting to live there. Sure there was Sacagawea, but she wouldn’t have served as a guide for Lewis and Clark if she wasn’t kidnapped by Hidasta Indians first. Nevertheless, the first white people who settled in this area were the Mormons in Utah starting in 1847 since there were no other white people around. Notice how I put emphasis on the word “white.” Since the Great Basin tribes didn’t have to worry much about white people displacing them until Mormon arrival, they have maintained stronger cultural and linguistic ties to their heritage than a lot of Native Americans in the lower 48. During the 19th century, they were leading proponents of cultural and religious renewals such as the Ghost Dance as well as introducing peyote to the world (to the glory of stoners everywhere for that “Rocky Mountain High”). You might see these people in westerns, by the way even though you might not be aware of it.


Most of the Great Basin consists primarily of high arid desert though few rivers and bountiful lakes do exist (but are dependent on mountain snow for water). It’s a very inhospitable environment, which explains why these Native Americans in this region were among the last to deal with white settlers. Ironically, this is where Las Vegas is located.

Location: Between the Rocky Mountains and Sierra Nevada covering southern Oregon and Idaho, part of Montana, Nevada, eastern California, western Wyoming and Colorado, and most of Utah.

First Peoples: Original peoples might’ve arrived as early as 12,000 years ago possibly arriving from the south. Great Basin Desert Archaic Period was between 9000 B.C.E. to 400 while the Fremont Culture came around 1-1300 who were hunter gatherers as well as agriculturalists. Numic speakers were said to arrive as early as the 11th century and are the ancestors of the Western Shosone as well as the Northern and Southern Paiute tribes. Aside from the Fremont culture, very little of their lifestyle has changed (from a pre-contact standpoint).

Environment: Mostly high elevation consisting high mountains, deep canyons as well as bountiful lakes along with few rivers and streams dependent on mountain snow (which is a major reason this area is threatened by climate change and has experienced drought). And most of these rivers in the region usually disappear into the sand. Lowest valleys are 3,000-6,000 feet above sea level while the mountain ranges can be about 8,000-12,000 feet. Climate is variable with summers with temperatures rising over 100 degrees Fahrenheit and winters with temperatures falling to 20 below zero. Rainfall can vary dramatically from year to year. But at lower elevations, evaporation is generally high while precipitation is generally low. Can be a barren wasteland of desert, salt flats, and brackish lakes. Definitely not a place hospitable to human habitation and it’s no wonder that it was the last part of the US lower 48 to be explored and settled by whites.


Despite mostly living in the desert with little precipitation, Native Americans in the Great Basin had a more plant based diet. Here we see a group of Great Basin women gathering wild rice from their canoes.

Subsistence: Mostly hunter-gatherer subsistence though some do engage in agriculture yet not to viable level of subsistence. Lived on roots, nuts, seeds, cactus, berries, wild rice, insects, as well as small game and birds. Hunted bison, deer, elk, antelope, and sheep as well as fished. Some groups grew corn, beans, and squash but only in a limited capacity and not without irrigation. Had a mostly plant based diet.


The standard winter dwelling for the Great Basin Native Americans was the wikiup. This was a conical 10 feet high and 10-15 feet in diameter house made from brush, bark, grass and/or tule over pinion and/or juniper pole frames. Sometimes these were covered in skins.

Housing: Season and location often determined type of shelter. Brush windbreaks were commonly built during the warm weather. Winter houses were typically conical wikiups at about 10 feet high and 10-15 feet in diameter as well as built of brush, bark, grass, and/or tule over pinion and/or juniper pole frames. Some northern groups covered these houses with skins. Doorways generally faced east. Caves were also used along with log and earthen hogans and even teepees.

Shoshone Indian Tribes

While the Great Basin Native Americans wore buckskin outfits during the winter, they wore very little or next to nothing during the summer. Mostly because even high desert summers could be unbearably hot.

Clothing: People in this region usually wore very little except in the coldest weather. In winter, men and women wore fur or twined bark breechcloths, moccasins, and leggings. Women often wore twined sagebrush bark or willow hats and long gowns. Clothing also included fur robes and rabbit skin blankets worn as capes.

Transportation: I guess these people usually walked. Though some tribes might’ve made canoes from animal skins and other materials.

Society: Mostly nomadic with mostly decentralized social and economic organization. Largest estimated population is said to be about 50,000-60,000. Basic unit was the camp or extended family that was autonomous and self-governing by consensus with the oldest male being the most influential. Bands tended to be small with the largest desert bands having no more than 30 and other areas with up to 100. And they were usually near water sources as well as have fluid membership. Yet, they’d also have links through blood relationships, marriage relationships, adoptions, and friendships. In regions of greater productivity, some related family clusters would form semipermanent winter villages where they could share information about resources, observe ceremonies, share mythological tales, and trade. Headmen usually presided over these winter villages where they delivered speeches on and coordinated subsistence activities. But such authority was tenuous among the egalitarian Shoshone. Trade was frequently practiced that the first regional trade routes appeared as early as 5000 B.C.E. and the region was part of a major network.


Unlike many Native American culture areas, there was no set family or marriage structure among the Great Basin peoples. Post marital residence simply depended on the available food supplies and divorce usually happened with one partner returning to their parents (which happened frequently). Polygamy, cousin marriage, and marrying a dead spouse’s siblings for recently widowed also existed. Not to mention, children were put to work as soon as they were old enough while elderly who couldn’t keep up with the group were simply put to pasture.

Family Structure: Family camps usually consisted of parents, children, grandparents, aunts, uncles, or cousins. Men mainly hunted while women cooked, gathered plants, made clothes, and looked after children. However, men and women were seen as equals and were free to engage in sexual exploration leading to a trial marriage. There was instruction on abortion and contraception. And divorce was simply a matter of one partner returning to their parental camp (which happened frequently). Northern Paiute and Shoshone tribes practiced fraternal polyandry where a woman would marry set of brothers. Yet, there were some instances of polyandry involving male cousins or men not related to each other at all. Sororal polygyny also existed. Cross cousin marriages weren’t uncommon among these people either as well as the practice of widows and widowers marrying their dead spouse’s sibling. There was no set pattern for postmarital residence with availability of food supplies being the determining factor. Children were put to work as soon as they were old enough to help. As for death rites, this might either consist of the individual being buried with their possessions or the possessions destroyed. Old people who couldn’t keep up with the group or could no longer produce their share of the food supply were occasionally abandoned.

chemheuvi-group-6x4image copy

Great Basin basketry is one of the best known out of the North American indigenous. One Nevada Washoe woman named Dat So La Lee would become celebrated for her craftmanship during the “basket craze” of the early 20th century.

Practices: Animism, shamanism, dance, music, Ghost Dance, Bear Dance, peyote, basketry, pruning, controlled burning, pottery, storytelling, rock art, Sun Dance, and petroglyphs.

Tools and Weapons: Nets, traps, snares, flaked stone knives, bows and arrows, fish hook and line, basket traps, harpoons, weirs, digging sticks, drills, clubs, seed grinding slabs and handstones, and spears.

Notable Tribes: Paiute, Shoshone, Ute, Bannock, Coso, Kawaiisu, Mono, Goshute, Timbisha, and Washo.

The Indigenous Peoples of North America: Part 4 – The Northwest Plateau


Known as “Hin-mah-too-yah-lat-kekt” in his native Nez Perce tongue, Chief Joseph led his Wallowa Nez Perce band during their most tumultuous period in their contemporary history. Basically, they were forcibly removed from their ancestral lands in the Wallowa Valley and relocated to the significantly reduced reservation in Lapwai, Idaho by the US federal government. The usual series of events culminated in episodes of violence led by Ned Perce resisting removal, including Joseph’s band and their Palouse tribe allies who attempted to seek political asylum in Canada. The US Army pursued them for over 1170 miles fighting retreat which would become known as the Nez Perce War. Though such resistance won him great fame and admiration, Chief Joseph would later surrender after a devastating 5 day battle in freezing conditions with no food or blankets as well as leaving the major Nez Perce leaders dead. By this time, 150 of his followers were either dead or wounded.

Between the Subarctic and Northwest Coast regions, you’ll find a small interior cultural area known as the Northwest Plateau. This region is situated in the interior of British Columbia as well as the non-coastal ranges of Washington state and Oregon with some of Idaho, Montana, and California. Topographically, you’ll find it between the Cascades and the Rockies. Nevertheless, this is an area with a very cold but semiarid climate which makes it nowhere near suitable for agriculture. However, it’s also home to 5 major volcanoes as well as 27 known to be active, which may good for soil content but not a place you’d want to live. Still, you don’t really hear much about this region except maybe when it comes to Chief Joseph and the Nez Perce. But it’s not a happy tale to tell. Yet, famed Native American author Sherman Alexie also hails from this region, too, and he’s perhaps the best known native literary figure to date. Not surprisingly these Northwest Plateau tribes tended to move around a lot following various food sources. But they also lived in a prime trading location and often exchanged goods with other tribes. Oh, and they also were prolific basket weavers, relying on many local fibrous plants to make them.


The Northwest Plateau may have its share of plants and waterways. But its generally rough terrain, high elevation, and semiarid but cold climate don’t make it ideal for a sedentary agricultural lifestyle. Is also home to a lot of volcanoes, including Mount Saint Helens.

Location: Area between the Cascade, Sierra Nevada, and Rocky Mountains that covers central and southern British Columbia, northern Idaho, western Montana, eastern Washington state, eastern Oregon, and northeastern California.

First Peoples: Region has been continuously inhabited for 10,000 years and save for the grinding stone and the bow and arrow, way of life remained mostly unchanged until the 18th century.

Environment: Consists of rivers, lakes, mountainous evergreen forests, and grassy valleys in the Canadian area with heavy rainfall. The US area is semiarid. Though summers are hot, winters are long and cold. Elevation ranges from 5,000 feet to 14,000 feet and is home to 27 active volcanoes as well as Mount St. Helens.


Like their Pacific Northwest neighbors, salmon consisted of a major part of the Northwest Plateau peoples’ diet. In eh summer, Pacific salmon would swim up river, leading the men to trap the fish. Once caught the salmon would be smoked on a fire, stored underground, or boiled in hot water for oil.

Subsistence: Hunter, gatherer, and fisher subsistence. Fish were a main staple in their diets (particularly salmon) along with roots and berries. Also hunted deer, elk, caribou, antelope, mountain sheep, bear, rabbit, squirrels, marmot, beaver, raccoon, porcupine, and other small game. Another major staple were Camas lily bulbs which were dug up (though the white ones are known to be poisonous).


The primary winter dwelling for the Northwest Plateau people was the pit house. These would consist of hole being dug into the ground with an earthen roof over a wooden frame. Entrance way was through a wooden ladder.

Housing: Pit houses were primary winter residences that were mostly built below ground with an entry via ladder on the roof that could either be flat or domed shaped. Several families lived in these houses while the chief’s could be twice as large. And these pit houses during the winter could sometimes be connected with tunnels. For summer shelter, some would reside in teepees, especially if they lived near the Plains. But unlike their Plains neighbors, they mostly used bulrush reed mat floors. Another shelter was the Tule mat lodge that were essentially large, oblong shaped teepees and constructed with the same materials. Lean-tos would also be constructed from poles and tule brush mats and were very temporary. Sweat lodges were built from grass and earth covering a wooden frame. Those who lived around the Lower Columbia lived in plank longhouses that could be 20-60 feet long and 14-20 feet wide (with each village there consisting about 5-20). These were built over a pit that was 4-5 feet deep and roughly the same size as the dwelling.

Edward S. Curtis - Wishham child

While clothing among the Northwest Plateau Native Americans can consist of the standard buckskin, braids, and beads you’d associate with native culture, the women were also known to wear the distinguishing basket hats. Also, both sexes had braided pigtails (or at least the women).

Clothing: Generally made from bark, grass, animal skins, and fur. Men and women wore breechcloth aprons, ponchos, and moccasins. Men wore shirts while women donned dresses or skirts. Men donned fur leggings in winter while women’s were of hemp. Ornaments were made from shell and bone while beads were derived from soapstone. Clothes were also painted. Headdresses were used to represent a person’s status within the community with the most elaborate being made from feathers and beads. Women were also well known for wearing basket hats. Sometimes the leaders wore feather headdresses. Both sexes left their hair long, sometimes in two braids.


Pre-contact Northwest Plateau transportation was mainly by canoe if not on foot. These would be made from bark, dugout wood, or animal skins. Once horses were introduce, people in this region would use them, too.

Transportation: Water transport consisted of dugout, animal skin, and bark canoes.

Society: Largest estimated pre-contact population is said to be around 50,000. Primarily nomadic with most groups following regular migratory routes to obtain foods at their greatest productivity to both meet immediate need, build surplus for winter, and trade (the largest being at the Dalles and Celilo Falls, at the head of the Columbian Gorge). Villages were politically autonomous and village chief authority lay more in their ability to persuade and adjudicate than in their power to make rules and enforce decisions. Both men and women can be chiefs of many bands though family chiefdoms were usually inherited. Specialized leaders like salmon and war chiefs only exercised leadership on special occasions. Only the far western groups practiced hereditary slavery and a caste system like the Chinook with the upper castes practicing social isolation. However, there was always a reluctance to engage in warfare.


Plateau area Chinook tribes were known to head bind their own children’s heads to create a pointed appearance. However, contrary to popular belief, the Flatheads were called such by their neighbors because they didn’t practice this.

Family Structure: Most people married outside their own village and many of these marriage networks survived after a spouse’s death as widows and widowers often married their spouse’s sibling afterwards. Men hunted, fished, as well as had a greater voice in politics, diplomacy, and military affairs. Women, meanwhile cooked, gathered plants, and tended to young children. However, both men and women were considered socially and economically equal in every way. Some Chinook Indians in the area were known for subjecting their kids to cranial deformation. Lower Columbia tribes buried their dead in raised canoes with all their worldly possessions and never spoke of the deceased again by name for fear of summoning a ghost. Boys from 5-10 were subject to a whipping ceremony in order to prevent sickness during the winter months.


The Northwest Plateau is well known of their art in fine beadwork, carvings, quillwork, and basketry. Like Native Americans from other cultural areas, such art was part of their every day lives.

Practices: Grass baskets, animism, shamanism, bone carving, controlled burning, vision quests, music, dance, rock painting, weaving, quillwork, and beadwork.

Tools and Weapons: Cordage, nets, bow and arrow, spears, clubs, rawhide and wooden slat armor, weirs, deadfall traps, slings, fish hooks and lines, pestles, snowshoes, a variety of knives, and mauls. Tule bulrush was used by these people for almost everything from mats, bedding, nets, rope, house coverings, flooring, and corpse shrouds. Coiled baskets of spruce and cedar root were used for household utensils, water and burden containers, cooking vessels, drinking cups, cradles, and numerous other purposes.

Notable Tribes: Chinook, Interior Salish, Nez Perce, Walla Walla, Yakama, Cayuse, Spokane, Kalapuya, Flathead, Kalispel, Nicola, Nlaka’pamux, Methow, Molala, Palus, Upper Cowlitz, Umatilla, Okanagan, Sanpoli, Wenatchi, Kutenai, Tenino, Fort Klamath, Chelan, Entiat, and Coeur d’Alene.

The Indigenous Peoples of North America: Part 3 – The Pacific Northwest Coast


The Native Americans of the Pacific Northwest Coast could just as well be called the “totem pole people” due to their best known art form. However, these monumental structures were said to symbolize or commemorate cultural beliefs recounting familiar legends, clan lineages, or notable events. They may have also served as welcome signs for village visitors, mortuary vessels for deceased ancestors, or as a means to ridicule someone. The complexity and symbolic meanings of totem poles, their placement and importance lies in the observer’s knowledge and connection to these figures’ meanings.

Though the Pacific Northwest Coast is only a narrow stretch from southern Alaska all the way to the northern reaches of California, it’s a region with and abundance of natural resources that these hunter-gatherer tribes usually stayed in one place. It’s no wonder that it was the most densely populated cultural area in Canada before European contact. Nevertheless, the Pacific Northwest Coast is best known for their totem poles and their distinctive art that you might instantly recognize. Their art is also seen on almost everything, including their large cedar plank houses. Because since these people lived in a temperate coastal rainforest, they didn’t need to spend a lot of time like other native peoples did, searching for food so they won’t starve to death. And since they lived in one place all the time, they had plenty of leisure time to kill. These Native Americans also had rather sophisticated societies based on clans and class systems as well as a special centrality on salmon. But it’s not the only food they eat, yet it received a special ceremony when it’s in season that continues today. Then there’s the tradition of potlatch which was a highly complex event of social, ceremonial, and economic importance. There a chief would bestow highly elaborate gifts to visiting peoples in order to establish his power and prestige and by accepting these gifts, visitors conveyed their approval of the chief. There were also great displays of conspicuous consumption such as burning articles or throwing things into the sea, purely as displays of the chief’s great wealth. You’d even have dancers put on elaborate dances and ceremonies which was considered an honor to watch. Still, these events were held on special occasions like the confirmation of a new chief, coming of age, tattooing or piercing ceremonies, initiation of a secret society, marriages, a chief’s funeral, or battle victories.


Because of the dense resource rich waters and rainforests along with a pleasant climate, the people of the Pacific Northwest Coast had an easier time than Native Americans in other regions. After all, most of them were hunter-gatherer tribes who usually stayed put.

Location: Along the coast starting from southern Alaska through British Columbia, Washington state, Oregon, and northern California.

First Peoples: First humans are said to enter the region at least 10,000 years ago via the Columbia River in the US Pacific Northwest. Evidence in southern Alaska and British Columbia suggests the early inhabitants existed at a basic subsistence level for 5,000 years until 3000 B.C.E. Earliest sedentary villages appeared in 700 B.C.E. with social ranking, woodworking, and regional art shortly thereafter. However, some areas in the US Pacific Coast along Washington state and Oregon continued in basic subsistence mode until possibly as late as 500.

Environment: Consists of dense temperate zone rainforests, rivers, islands, and oceans with abundant natural resources all year long. Climate is mild and rainfall is heavy that includes fierce winter storms and heavy fog. Trees are unusually tall and thick. Springs and glaciers usually flow into rivers that run to the coast.


While Pacific Northwest Coast Native Americans had a varied diet, there was no food source more central to them than salmon. When salmon travel up rivers to spawn, they would literally catch thousands of them that could feed their families for a year.

Subsistence: Primarily hunter, gatherer, or fisher subsistence. Salmon was the most important food for the Indians in this region. However, they also consumed halibut, eulachon (candlefish), smelt, herring, and sturgeon as well as shellfish, seals, and whales. They also hunted elk, bear, deer, mountain goat, turtles, and some land mammals as well as gathered berries and roots. Food was generally eaten fresh, grilled, or boiled in a basket with hot rocks or steamed or baked over a pit oven.


Your standard Pacific Northwest Coast dwelling was the cedar plank house w which could be up to 50-150 feet long and 20-60 feet wide. Each plank house could be home to as many as 30 people.

Housing: Mostly lived in plank long houses of red cedar that was said to be 50-150 feet long and 20-60 feet wide. Each plank house was held together by wooden peg nails, had a large hole in a low roof for smoke ventilation, as well as consisted of a front door to keep heat in. Plank houses were furnished with simple furniture including bunk beds against the wall, storage areas, fire pits, and open shelves as well as dug holes for storing and cooling food. Your typical plank house would be home to several families, perhaps as many as 30 people. They were also commonly painted, often with a family crest. Individuals who built the longhouse usually resided there with their families and their kids would be assigned as space inside upon reaching maturity. But if the village built the plank house together, then it was the chief’s responsibility to assign living spaces to each family. And when the plank house owner died, it was either given away or burned to the ground. Because it was believed if the family stayed, then the dead person’s ghost would haunt the place. Also built temporary shelters made from mats, planks from the main house, or bark.


While people of the Pacific Northwest Coast usually wore very little under temperate conditions, they tend to be known for wearing their chillkat blankets and decorative woven hats. And yes, these can be highly decorated as well.

Clothing: Usually wore very little clothing except when it was cold or special occasions. In the warmer months, men would go naked while women only wore bark skirts. Clothing was mostly made from softened cedar wood or bark, animal leather, and wool. Bark capes and spruce hats were used as protection against the rain. High ranking class members would usually don chillkat blankets, dance aprons, leggings, and moccasins on special occasions. Adorned themselves with piercings and tattoos.


The Pacific Northwest Coast had several different types of canoes, mainly made from red cedar. They can be 50 feet long and 8 feet wide while holding up 2-50 people and up to 10,000 pounds of cargo. Of course, passengers have to bring their own oars.

Transportation: Built canoes of red cedar of several different types. They were usually 50 feet long and 8 feet wide as well as can hold up to 2-50 people and 10,000 pounds of cargo. Also had smaller boats for families and short outings. Also had dog pulled sleds for overland transport.


Potlatch was a major event for Native Americans residing in the Pacific Northwest Coast as a means to reflect wealth and perpetuate social inequality within a village. These were held during a major event as well as hosted by aristocrats. At each potlatch, the host would display their wealth through distributing goods to visitors and others whether they be chillkat blankets, animal skins, or even slaves.

Society: Year round access to food allowed people to live sedentary lives in permanent settlements. Estimates state that as many as 250,000 could have lived in this region at one time. Houses were always grouped together side by side and facing towards the water in small villages, each marked by totem poles. Some even had as many as 1,000 living in only 30 homes. However, some groups had one or more small permanent, semipermanent, or seasonal villages or camping sites as well. Nevertheless, people in this region lived in a society based on hereditary status and the ceremonial winter potlatch was both as a means to reflect and perpetuate this social inequality. These consisted of the nobility, upper class free, lower class free, and slaves (actually not members of society at all). Each individual would also be ranked within their respective groups as well. Since this system was based on inheritance, the classes were fairly immutable though some transfer was possible through acquiring (by trade, purchase, marriage, and war) some inherited rights. Such rights and privileges were owned by the identified group which included songs, dances, performances, and control of subsistence areas identified by crests or design patterns. These patterns could reflect real and mythical family lines and associated incidents, animals, or spirits. The village chief always was always the head of the wealthiest and most powerful family and was a nominal war commanders, often undertaking political and ritual preparations before fighting. Though intragroup conflict was minimal, clan incest and witchcraft were considered capital offenses. Intergroup conflict took place within the framework of feuds and wars. Feuds entailed conflict for legalistic purposes while wars were waged solely for material gain (as in land, booty, and slaves). Northern tribes saw more regular conflict than their southern counterparts. Night raids were preferred strategy and victims’ heads were often displayed on poles as proof of fighting prowess. Also practiced intergroup trade where prices were negotiated.


In a Pacific Northwest Coast extended family, one’s social rank and wealth intake were usually determined by their relationship to the family chief. Of course, since this was a matrilineal clan that practiced exogamous marriage, this only applied to the people on his mother’s side. Family chiefs were usually the wealthiest and oldest member of the clan.

Family Structure: Primarily matrilineal descent. In extended families, family chiefs were usually the oldest and highest ranking individuals while everyone else’s rank was determined by their relationship with the chief.  Family chiefs were primarily responsible for distributing wealth according to social status. Men practiced hunting, building, carving, and fishing while women did housework, raised kids, cooked, wove, made clothes, and dug for shellfish. Marriages were always conducted between people of different clans. When a man decided to marry a woman, he paid her dad an agreed amount before the wedding took place. This amount would be paid back when after the birth of the couple’s first child. After the payment, the wife was no longer obligated to be with her husband (so she could stay or leave him after that point).


Aside from totem poles, the Pacific Northwest Coastal peoples are also well known for their elaborate ceremonies and their distinctive stylized art. Works of art could range from practical objects such as clothes, tools, transportation, houses, weapons, and what not to the purely ceremonial and aesthetic.

Practices: Totem poles, potlatch, music, dancing, shamanism, animism, storytelling, intricate crafts and sculpture, weaving, basketry, woodworking, masks, bentwood boxes, chillkat blankets, spirit quests, and heraldic art.

Tools and Weapons: Stone axes, adzes, spears, nets, traps, chisels, hammers, drills, knives, wedges, harpoons, traps, seal clubs, sledgehammers, deadfalls, fish line and hooks, and wooden crockery. Coast Salish practiced weaving on a full loom. Blades were made from rock, shell, horn, bone, and a small amount of iron.

Notable Tribes: Tlingit, Nisga’a, Haida, Tsimshian, Gitxsan, Haisla, Heiltsuk, Nuxalk, Wuikinuxv, Kwakwaka’wakw, Nuu-chah-nulth, Coast Salish, Chinook, Chimakum, Quileute, Willapa, Nootka, and Tillamook.