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.