Before I talk about the wonderful contributions to the arts that have been made by Native Americans, let’s take a quick look at their history.
What is a Native American?
Native Americans are the indigenous people of both North and South America, as well as the Caribbean Islands. There has been evidence indicating that these people originated from Siberia and relocated to North America over 11,000 years prior to their discovery. During the time of the Ice Age there was a land bridge that connected the old world to the new world, and it was this land bridge that allowed them to travel and settle in North America. This was long before Christopher Columbus happened upon the shores of the Americas. In fact, there has been documentation that goes as far back as 150,000BC showing the Sandia Indians had been dwelling in North America for some time.
Many waves of nomadic people migrating occurred over time and it is said to account for why there are many different Native American tribes who have different cultures. For example, in the first wave of migration those who followed the bison, also known as the cultures of Folsom and Clovis, settled. In the second migratory wave there would have been the people of the Na-Dene, where the Apache, Dene and Navajos were descended from. Recent genetic studies have indicated that there were at least 4 waves of migration from Siberia to the Americas, with the Aleut and Inuit people being the last of these waves.
Native Americans were a peaceful people and prospered until the first Europeans arrived in North America during the 15th century. The Europeans brought horses with them that was the cause for the spread of disease amongst the native people. Having no immunity to these new and strange diseases, thousands of Native Americans died from illnesses like chicken pox and the measles. While that was going on, the Europeans were taking over land to build farms and homes in order to settle.
The natives were intrigued by these newcomers at first and held the new fair skinned people in high regard, almost to point of worshipping them. However, that view changed as they witnessed the cruelty and greed of the “white man”, seeing them as the bringers of hate and disease.
Over time the Native American’s situation grew worse, as they were forced from their lands and pushed further west. Many conflicts cropped up that would eventually fuel the start of the Indian Wars. They lost their lives in both wars and massacres and in time were only left with small pieces of land called reservation for their people to live on.
At one time the Native American population numbered in the millions. Sadly, they only account for 1.4% of the population today and most still live on reservations designated for Native Americans. That said, there are still many Native Americans who take great pride in their heritage and ancestral traditions. They continue to practice their ceremonies, art and music today.
In 2004 the National Museum of the American Indian was opened as a way to pay tribute to their heritage. You can often find festivals and gatherings across the country that are dedicated to Native American culture, where some of the ritual dances can be seen and Native American art, crafts, music and food can experienced and bought.