Native American Daily Life - Native American People
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Native American Daily Life

An Apache cradleboard (from the Peabody Museum)

Most kids in North America lived with their mothers and fathers and brothers and sisters, generally in one room of a pueblo, or one tipi or hogan or wickiup. Because a lot of kids died of sicknesses, you usually had a lot of brothers and sisters, to make sure that some would grow up. Iroquois and Chinook kids lived in longhouses with their grandparents (if they were still alive), and with their aunts and uncles and cousins. As in medieval Europe, most people kept their babies swaddled, and carried them around using a wooden cradleboard, at least until they were old enough to crawl.

There weren't any schools in early North America. Older kids followed their mothers or fathers around, so that girls learned to do what their mothers did and boys learned to do what their fathers did. Mostly girls gathered wild plants and planted corn and hoed beans and harvested the crops, and made clothes. Boys learned to hunt and fish and make weapons. And boys learned to fight so they would fight wars when they grew up, while girls learned how to take care of babies and cook.

When a girl got to be a teenager, she usually got married. When people got married, they gave each other gifts of food instead of gold rings. A bride gave her husband corn or corn bread, and he gave her venison (deer meat) or some other kind of meat. If she lived in a small house like a tipi or a hogan, the young married people would set up their own house. If she lived in a longhouse, she didn't move out of her mother's house, - she stayed home, and her husband moved in with her family. Sometimes a man had more than one wife, but usually women only had one husband.

If married people got divorced later, the dad would move back to his mother's house or his sister's house, and the children would stay with their mother in her house.

Women in North America had more power and freedom than women in Europe or Asia at the same time. Women owned their own houses and their own stuff. They could get divorced whenever they wanted to, and they could keep their kids with them if they did get divorced.

You might think that because everyone in North America was a Native American there would be no racism at this time. It's true that Native Americans didn't treat people differently based on the color of their skin. But they often did treat people from other cultures badly. Navajo people thought they were better than Ute people, and Ute people thought they were better than Navajo people. Pueblo people didn't get along with Navajo people, and the Iroquois were always fighting with the Algonquins. All of these people used to capture people from their enemies and force them to work for them as slaves.

Because people didn't always get enough food, and they didn't have much medical knowledge, most people in North America at this time died of old age in their forties or fifties (just like in Europe, Africa, or Asia at this time). So most kids never knew their grandparents, and by the time they grew up they often had lost one or both of their parents too. Teenagers often had to take care of themselves.

American Daily Life after the European invasions

Bibliography and further reading about North American people before 1500:

American people after the European invasions
More about Native Americans
South and Central America home

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Karen Carr is Associate Professor Emerita, Department of History, Portland State University. She holds a doctorate in Classical Art and Archaeology from the University of Michigan. Follow her on Instagram or Twitter, or buy her book, Vandals to Visigoths.
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  • Carr, K.E. . Study Guides, . Web. 23 April, 2017