North America was inhabited by many various Indian groups. Each group was distinct with its own language and customs. Several Indian groups often shared a single culture, the same worldview, language, religion, food, clothes and architecture of buildings. The cultural groups of Indian people depended on the same natural resources and used them in a similar way. For instance, the Plains Indians, constituting distinct cultural group, lived in the area of Great Plains. This Indian culture is well-known for their reliance on the buffalo, their traditional religious rites, the use of the tepee, and their customs related to warrior’s lifestyle. The most significant tribes of this culture include Cheyenne, Dakota, Sioux and Comanche.
The Plains Indians
One of the most distinct features of the Plains Indians is great importance of the buffalo. This animal was the essential natural resource. The Plains Indians were traditionally hunters. They hunted many types of animals, but buffalo was the one which provided them with all essential elements of their life: clothing, food and shelter. Therefore, Plains strictly followed the migration of buffalo, such constant movement required very mobile form of the shelter. Such kind of home was called the tepee. The tepee was made by tying the long poles and covering them with the hide of buffalo. When the Indians moved on, these long poles were used to carry their belongings and were called the travois (Garbarino & Sasso, 1994).
The meet of the buffalo was used for food. The fresh meat was either roasted on fire or boiled. Also, a sort of sausage and dry meat was made. The skin of the buffalo was used to make clothes and shelter. Thus, no part of this animal was wasted. Horns were turned into cups, spoons or toys. Bones were generally used as weapons or tools. The stomach was cleaned and then used to carry water. It should be nevertheless noticed that Plains Indians, being hunters, only killed what was needed to survive and never killed more then necessary. Only with the appearance of the white man, the slaughter of the buffalo began.
The plains Indians believed in numerous gods. They thought that the gods showed themselves in the form of the moon, stars, sun, and anything that was strange or possessed great power, such as person, animal or even stone with odd shape. Indians received their power from the gods by visions. Those who saw visions were considered medicine men. They were believed to see future and heal people from the diseases. One of the ceremonies of the Plains Indians is powwow. It is a celebration of prayer to the Great Spirit. Another important ceremony was called the Sun Dance. It took place during the summer and lasted four days, during which dancers kept repeating the same movements and didn’t eat nor drink. Indians believed that such dances would help return their land.
The Southwest Indians
Merwyn S. Garbarino and Robert F. Sasso (1994) in Native American Heritage use culture areas distinction approach in comparing the tribes belonging to different cultures. This approach, though somewhat generalized, may prove fairly reasonable on the example of comparing the cultures of Plains Indians to those of Southwest group. This culture is very different from the Plains culture largely due to the climate of the territory the tribes inhabited. The climate of the Southwest region is very dry. A large part of the territory is desert. Therefore, water was a precious resource and Indians had strict rules as to using water. Also, the desert was very purely inhabited with animals. That is why hunting was not a priority in Southwest Indians’ life, instead, their occupation was farming. The most well-known tribes of the area are Anasazi, Hopi, Pueblo and Navajo (Garbarino, Sasso., 1994).
Anasazi Indians, for instance, built their homes in the sides of the canyons, or mesas. Their buildings looked like big apartment buildings. They were large and had over 200 rooms with more then 400 people living. The buildings were built with stone. The homes had window but no doors. Anasazi entered their rooms by climbing the ladder and jumping into the hole in the roof. The Anasazi men had special rooms for religious rituals. This room was named kiva. The room was decorated with paintings of gods on the walls and featured a hole in the floor. It symbolized the ancestors of the Indians, who came from belly of the Earth. The Indians prayed to the Great Spirit for such things as good harvests, rain and other. The Anasazi Indians left Mesa Verde very suddenly and since 1888 haven’t been heard of. Now, the place of their former living has become a national park.
Other representative tribe of Southwest culture is Hopi Indians. They lived at the foot of mesas as well. Hopi believed in many gods and used so-called Kachinas to talk to their gods. Kachinas were gods or spirits living in mountains. Children of Hopi were never punished. If they were bad, they were talked to. If they were very bad, the parents scared them with the masks of Scare Kachinas, but never hurt them. The religious and world-vision beliefs of Hopi Indians were called the Hopi Way. The Hopi Way included loving all people, animals and plants. Also, Hopi way included obligation to be kind to everyone and everything. The Hopi Indians, as well as Anasazi, lived quiet life (Wright, Leitch, 1981).
Thus, the difference between Plains Indians as Southwest culture is more than evident.
Current state of Native American tribes
In a whole, 20th century was marked for Native Americans with poor education, inadequate health care, grave poverty and unemployment. Nevertheless, some tribes experience positive change of such situation. Native tribes face new economic opportunities from tourism and development of natural resources. Increasing interest of wide public to Native American culture, crafts and arts, music and customs also brings new income to tribes and contributes to preserving of their traditions and culture. Today, the largest number of Native American people lives in sates of California, Oklahoma, Arizona and New Mexico.
Merwyn S. Garbarino, Robert F. Sasso. Native American Heritage. Waveland Press; 3rd edition (April 1, 1994)
Wright, J. Leitch, Jr. The Only Land They Knew: The Tragic Story of the American Indians in the Old South. New York: The Free Press, 1981.