IntroductionHistorically Native Americans obtained the food they ate through farming, hunting, fishing, and gathering. How they obtained food and what foods they ate was largely determined by the regions they inhabited. On this page is a list of interesting facts about this aspect of Native American Indian culture; including what foods Native Americans ate and how they obtained their food. This information is written for both kids and adults.
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Native American Indian Farming for Food
- The main traditional crops grown and consumed by Native Americans were Corn (Maize), Beans, and Squash. They are often referred to as the Three Sisters.
- Corn, which was called Maize by the Native Americans, was the main crop grown by indigenous Americans. The Indians not only ate corn but used the cob as fuel for fires and the husks for crafts.
- Many tribes, like the Cherokee and the Navajo, employed advance farming techniques such as irrigation and crop rotation.
- Many Native American tribes that relied on farming as their main source of food would produce a surplus which would be stored to provide food throughout the year.
Native American Indian Hunting for Food
- Many American Indian tribes relied heavily on hunting for food. They hunted many different types of animals including buffalo, deer, rabbits, and ducks.
- The Buffalo (also called Bison) was an important food source for Native Americans who lived in the Great Plains region of America. Buffalo were not only a food source but the Indians also used their hides for blankets, clothes, and for their tepees. They used many parts of the buffalo for various purposes including the buffalo's hair for rope.
- Horses, which were brought to America by the early European explorers and settlers, drastically improved the American Indian's ability to hunt. An Indian on horseback could chase down prey as opposed to having to trap prey or sneak up on an animal.
- American Indians mainly used spears and bows and arrows to hunt.
Native American Indian Fishing for Food
- Fishing was a way to obtain food for those tribes that lived near rivers, lakes, and coastal areas. For example the Ojibwe, who lived around the Great Lakes, depended heavily on fishing as a food source.
- Numerous methods were utilized by Native American to fish including nets, spears, traps, and line and fishhooks.
- American Indians often used weirs to catch fish. There were several different styles of weirs but they all involved stretching a net across the water with the top of the net protruding above the water and usually with sticks securing the net on both sides. Sometimes the weirs would be pulled along the water and sometimes the flow of the water would trap fish in the net.
- Often tribes would smoke and dry fish in order to store it for the winter.
Native American Indian Food Gathering
- Gathering involves obtaining food that is naturally available in the environment.
- Many American Indian tribes relied, to some degree, on gathering for food. For example the Iroquois grew most of their food but would supplement this with gathering food.
- Indians gathered such foods as berries, roots, fruits, mushrooms, nuts, and eggs.
- The Indians who inhabited California were given the derogatory nickname "diggers" by early settlers. This nickname derived from the fact that they obtained a lot of their food from gathering; including digging for roots.