Imagine 40,000 years ago ... the last great ice sheet still covers much of the north. You are a hunter with your family, tracking animals for food and for hides to make warm clothing. You carry a stone-tipped spear. On foot, you follow wild herds through the cold and fog. You cross a bridge of ice. On the other side, you find a new land. You do not know that it is a new land. You only know that there are no human enemies to stop you.
You keep pushing south, following the herds. You find paradise - elk, deer, bison, wild vegetables, wild fruits - and forests, with so many trees - and squirrels and rabbits. Fish leap from the streams.
As time goes by, other people find their way across the frozen land.
Many years pass. The ice begins to melts. Now there is a wide strip of water where once there was a walkway of thick ice. Still, people find their way across the Bering Strait in boats of bark and hide ...
For many hundreds of years, people wandered into the great northwest. They wandered in all directions across Canada and the United States. These early people were not only skilled farmers, they were also clever builders, engineers, and weavers. They made artistic pottery without a pottery wheel. They loved games of skill. They created stories and poetry. Although they spoke many different languages, and had many different customs, they had at least one thing in common - they were all immigrants.
Native Americans are not actually natives. They are immigrants, like everyone else in this country. Some scientists say the first people arrived in the United States over forty thousand years ago from Asia, crossing the frozen sea. Some say twenty thousand years ago. It is safe to say that Native American culture is really old, as old as that of Ancient China.
How do we know about these early people?
Typically, when we first study an ancient culture, we look at the artifacts they left behind. But there is not much left. The early people of the Americas believed in using things they found in nature. They did their best to disturb nature as little as possible. Scientists have found pictographs carved on rocks, which tell us some things, but not nearly enough.
And normally, we look at oral histories and ancient proverbs, both of which can tell us a great deal about the daily life and beliefs of the people who created them.
But things are not that easy when exploring ancient American cultures. Many oral histories were lost when European explorers and settlers came to the Americas. They brought disease. The People became ill with smallpox and other diseases. Many died. Much was lost. As for proverbs ... Native Americans did not use proverbs to teach their children about their beliefs and culture. They used games, myths, dance, and impersonation, all of which are a very fun way to learn.
Today, there are over 500 federally recognized tribes in the United States alone. Tribes are ruled by representative tribal governments. Native Americans today have a variety of jobs, including doctors, lawyers, engineers, teachers, ministers, writers, artists, and workers of all sorts. But they also hold jobs like tribal leaders.
Neat frame houses have replaced former wigwams and tepees. Kids go to public school. Some kids additionally attend tribal school, especially tribal pre-school, where they learn about their traditions. Much has been lost, but much has been saved through the hard work of today's tribal leaders.
It's been an interesting study for us, one we intend to continue. The more we learn, the more we want to learn about the fascinating culture of these clever, creative, generous individuals, who call themselves collectively "The People".
Come meet the early people of the Americas in olden times. Learn what people invented to make themselves happy and comfortable. Read fabulous myths! Play games. Meet mischievous magical beings. Explore the daily life of the people who lived in the Americas a long time ago - some of them right here, in your backyard.