What Did Native Americans Do?

After migrating to North America around 11,000 years ago, Native Americans grew corn, maize, beans and squash. They hunted, built homes out of branches and animal skins, practiced tribal religions, enjoyed music and dancing, and used stories to pass on their culture and history.

After arriving in North America, Native Americans prospered and lived peacefully until around the 15th century, when European settlers arrived. Women tended to the crops while men hunted and gathered. Some Native American tribes, such as the Hopi, saw gender roles reversed, with women responsible for building houses and men tasked with weaving. Historians credit Native Americans with inventing maple syrup, hammocks and kayaks, and with inventing and playing lacrosse. Exposed to diseases for which they had no resistance, they began dying out, and in some cases were easily conquered.

Though their religious beliefs and practices were in no way Christian, many tribes adopted Christianity as more Europeans settled on their lands. The Mohegan Samsom Occom, for example, was one of many who volunteered to live with white Christians, abandon their original values and beliefs, and return to their former tribe as missionaries. Many Native Americans were forced to convert or risk losing their land or lives.

For fun, many Native Americans played music, sang and danced. They made instruments out of gourds and covered platters with animal skin to make drums. Theirs was also a culture with a rich tradition of telling stories. Tribes used stories to pass on their history and keep it alive. They used stories to record their culture and share magical tales that explained larger truths and natural occurrences such as eclipses or earthquakes.