The first people who lived in North America were the Indians. The name “Indians” is actually not very accurate, because the people are not from India. But when the first Europeans came to North America, they mistakenly believed that they had reached India, so they referred to the people as Indians. In different parts of North America, the Indians had very different cultures and very different ways of making a living.
On the west coast of North America, many large rivers flow into the Pacific Ocean. In these rivers is an abundance of fish, such as salmon. The Indians in these areas obtained much of their food by fishing. They lived in settled villages, and became experts in carving wood from the tall trees of the area. They carved large canoes for traveling on the rivers and oceans, and they also carved tall “totem poles.” Totem poles were carvings of various animal or human figures, and often the poles had a mythical or spiritual significance for the people who carved them. Many beautiful totem poles can be seen in cities such as Vancouver or Victoria, in the Canadian state of British Columbia; or Seattle, in the American state of Washington.
The Plains Indians lived in the central prairie of North America. The various nations of the Plains lived by hunting large animals called buffalo, or bison. Horses were brought to North America in the sixteenth century by the Spanish. The Indians who lived in the prairie areas had learned to become experts at riding horses, and on horseback they could hunt the giant herds of bison. They followed the buffalo from place to place. The Plains Indians lived in portable houses called “teepees,” which were made by sewing together buffalo skins, and holding them in place with wooden poles.
In the southwestern United States, some Indians lived by farming. In this dry area, the Indians raised several crops, such as corn, beans, and squash. Many of the Indians in these areas lived in large settlements, where the houses were made from stone or dried mud. The people were experts at weaving, and they made clothing and blankets that had beautiful artistic designs.
Near the eastern coast of North America, many Indians lived by a combination of farming and hunting. These people lived in fortified villages, some of which were inhabited for many years at a time. In some places, they built large earthworks that can still be seen today.
In the forests of northern Canada, the Indians lived primarily by hunting, fishing, and gathering. Like the Indians of the prairie regions, they often moved from place to place in search of game animals to hunt.
Today, the Indians of North America no longer live in their traditional ways. However, several Indian languages are still spoken by many thousands of people. Also, many Indians in the United States and Canada are very interested in maintaining the cultural traditions of their ancestors.