Things that Native Americans Contributed to US Society

Native American man In celebration of Native Americans Day, we feature some interesting facts about the contributions of American Indians to US culture. // Photo Source: Media Black Hills

The second Monday of October is when the state of South Dakota honors American Indians by celebrating Native Americans Day. The indigenous peoples of America have struggled throughout history to preserve and protect their culture, despite the challenges brought on by immigrants from Europe and other countries. And it’s great to see that even in modern times, Native Americans are able to seamlessly balance their time-honored traditions with progressive social trends. So in honor of all the indigenous peoples of the United States, we take the time to look at the various things that they have contributed to American culture.

What’s In a Name?

Did you know that the names of twenty-six out of the fifty states of America have their origins in Native American languages? That’s true! In fact, most of the original words where the names of the states come from even have meanings that kind of match the overall impression or personality of that particular place. For example: Alaska comes from the Aleutian word that means “place the sea crashes against”, while Kansas is based on the Kaw Nation which means “people of the south wind”.

 

Blessed and Bountiful Earth

Thanks to Native American expertise in agriculture, the early European settlers were able to discover food items that were otherwise unknown to them back in their homeland. Various crops such as corn, pumpkins, potatoes, tomatoes, peanuts, wild rice, and sunflower seeds are all things that the Native Americans have been cultivating for centuries. Even a popular snack item like popcorn has its origins with American Indians, so they definitely have the last word when it comes to popcorn bragging rights.

 

Precious Black Gold

Way before anyone else knew about this priceless fossil fuel, Native Americans were already using oil from under the ground in their daily lives, such as the Seneca and the Chumash peoples. They harnessed the resource from tar pits or certain pockets of land where oil naturally seeped from the earth. Aside from using it to make fires for cooking or ceremonial rituals, they also used oil for things like caulking their canoes, sealing baskets to use as water containers, creating lotion to soothe irritated skin, and even as a form of currency to trade with other valuable goods.

 

In All Colors of the Rainbow

Society could learn a thing or two from Native Americans about respecting people who have issues regarding gender identity. In fact, many American Indian cultures (from the Lakota and Mohave to the Kodiak and Zapotec) valued the “two-spirit people” in their communities—the term they used for the male and female members of their society who do not fall under the traditional gender roles of masculinity and femininity. The moniker stemmed from the principle that these people were born with two spirits inside themselves, and thus, they were revered in their culture and were often chosen to hold important positions in society such as being healers or keepers of tribal traditions.

 

Fighting for the Motherland

Perhaps the one of the most defining moments that highlighted Native Americans in a positive light was when American Indian soldiers—specifically soldiers from Navajo tribes—were enlisted to serve during World War II. Dubbed the “code talkers” of the US military forces stationed in the Pacific, the Navajo Marines successfully relayed important messages to allies using their native language that the Axis powers couldn’t decode. The invaluable service that these Navajo soldiers did for the United States were recognized by the government in September 1992 at the Pentagon where a special permanent exhibit about them can be seen in guided tours.

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