Native American Cultures

I ative American tribes of the North American continent and the peoples of the Subarctic and Arctic have a long and rich history. Archaeologists, scientists who study past civilizations, believe that people have lived in North America from about 13,000 B.C.E. Our knowledge of Native American cultures begins with the first European contact in the tenth century C.E. between the Vikings and the Arctic Inuit, or Eskimo peoples, but becomes much more detailed in the early 1500s and 1600s when first the Spanish, then the French, the British, and the Dutch, began arriving on the shores of the continent. The Europeans set up trading centers from which our first documentation of Native American customs and costumes came. Traders would write about the native people they met and describe their clothing and lifestyles. More information came from missionaries who came to convert the natives to Christianity, and from white settlers who began establishing farms and towns across the continent.

The information gathered about Native Americans by Europeans is incomplete, however. Without a written language of their own, Native Americans offered oral histories of their peoples and practiced methods of producing garments, housing, weapons, and other necessities that had been passed on by their ancestors for hundreds, if not thousands, of years. These sources paint a picture

of Native American life that differs greatly from one region of the continent to the next. Yet strikingly similar among natives is the common belief that humans must try to live in balance with their natural world, an idea that was quite foreign to whites.

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