Other Regions; Oklahoma, Plains, Great Basin, Woodlands, California
Peoples of Other Regions
Oklahoma is the reservation homeland for 38 Federally recognized Native American tribes, almost all of them having been relocated there from other areas of the United States. The stories of the Peoples who were forced to live in the Oklahoma Territory, during the 1800’s, represent some of the greatest tragedies that the United States perpetuated. The Peoples back then were, and in a certain sense their descendants always will be, refugees.
People survive, however, then they adapt, and sometimes they come back and even thrive. Such is the case with many of the people who now identify Oklahoma as their homeland. This resilience is a testament to them, not the Federal or State Governments. Today, Oklahoma offers a base for Native American culture, spiritual practices, and art. No longer ‘Indian Territory,’ it most certainly is American Indian Country, and the People here take real pride in that.
Stretching from the Mississippi River to the Atlantic Coast and from the Gulf of Mexico to Newfoundland, Eastern Woodland Peoples are generally separated into the Northeastern and Southeastern Woodlands groups. There is clear evidence that in some regions, during pre-Columbian times, large thriving cultures existed due to rich natural resources, somewhat similar to those of the Northwest Coast or even Central America. The climate differences between these two areas—Northeast and Southeast—was, of course, a great determining factor towards the how the People lived so as to be able to survive and flourish.
Few of the Original Peoples have any significant amounts of their traditional homelands left, and some of the Peoples who were here 500 years ago no longer exist at all. First devastated by diseases brought by the earliest explorers of Europe, they then bore the brunt of the initial waves of Western World settlers and resulting warfare. Today, the remaining Peoples of the ‘Eastern Woodlands’ truly live in two worlds, as did their most recent ancestors; and yet, as the human spirit sometimes shows itself to be capable of overcoming, they still identify, respect, and even practice the ways of their culture as traditionally as they can.
Almost all Peoples of the Plains cultures, a vast area from Texas to Southern Canada & the Mississippi River to the Rocky Mountain Divide, shared a few things in common— a traditionally nomadic existence and then a major cultural shift when horses were introduced from Europe, which began the iconic Horse Culture era. Some of the last Peoples to let go of their traditional ways and rightful claims to long held homelands, the Peoples of the Plains are often stylized, even romanticized by the Western World into either heroic or anti-heroic stereotypes representing all Native Americans. This is unfair— to them, to other Native American Peoples, and to Westerners who might benefit from learning a more accurate portrayal of all Peoples.
The Peoples of the Plains way of life depended upon the availability of the local animals, particularly the American Bison. Inter-tribal alliances and warfare were somewhat common. The shoulder seasons offered respite from the occasionally harsh summers and winters. Mobility as both an individual and as an entire group was one of the necessities, along with food, clothing, and shelter. The eventual sedentary life on the reservations, where the staples of life were acquired impersonally, rather through an individual’s skilled endeavors and cleverness, brought a pall over the societies. The banning of their spiritual practices for many decades left the people especially resentful towards the Federal Government. In this atmosphere, The American Indian Movement (AIM) was founded in the early 1970’s to revive and fight for the Peoples rights, hopes, and sense of self-worth.
Today, Peoples on the reservations in the Plains regions, with the possible exception of Oklahoma, are still struggling with ‘being Indian’ in a Western Society nation. Individuals have had great accomplishments, however, whether it is in their own lands & traditions or as individuals who have gone into the mainstream U.S. Society and succeeded there. This new way of living— within clearly defined and restrictive boundaries and with a somewhat new identity—is something that is still being worked out.
Great Basin (including Snake River Plain and Upper Colorado River basin)
Traditionally, the Peoples of this region were one of the hunter-gatherer groups. Unlike the Peoples of the Plains to the east, the occupation of these lands goes back a great deal longer, perhaps as much as 15,000 years. The Peoples of this area learned to adapt, or were supplanted by those who did adapt, as the environmental conditions gradually shifted from a fairly moist, somewhat fauna-rich environment to the arid and more sparse one that it is today. Some of the oldest known petroglyphs in North American exist in this area and describe varying cultures and conditions through the millenniums.
Many peoples of the Great Basin region also strongly embraced the horse, upon its return to North America in the 1600’s, which aided them in seasonal movements and warfare. With the exception of the Nez Perce War in the 1870’s, their fierce wars with the encroaching United States were not as well publicized or documented as those of other tribes. The reservations that were set up for them were sometimes consolidations of tribes onto a single land grant that still exist to this today. Now, their homelands often seem remote, the people a bit more distant to the considerations of Westerners. But like most Native American Peoples, they concern themselves little with regard to our considerations about them … as they focus on living meaningfully and being successful … in their traditional understanding of those concepts, in the way that it speaks to them to do so.
Peoples of California Region
The situation for the original Peoples of California is actually somewhat similar to what occurred to the Peoples of the Eastern Woodlands, only it came 200 years later and it happened more swiftly. These Peoples were plentiful, but they existed in many culturally distinct tribes, though lifestyle similarities might have existed within either a Coastal or Inland context. It was a life with fully sufficient resources and fairly reasonable climate conditions, with the possible exception of the dry and hot Central California Valley.
This initially began to change with the contact and then settlements of the Spanish along the Pacific Coast in the late 1700’s. The War with Mexico then opened up California to the United States, and, in a few swift years, the Peoples were devastated due to the huge influx of outsiders caused by the Gold Rush. The term pogrom would not be too out of place to describe what occurred. Tribes did not join together in a united resistance movement and, by this time, due to more modern weaponry and newly understood strategies about about fighting Native American tribes, the People were quickly overwhelmed. The rich resources of California were not offered up in treaties of large land reservations to the survivors. In all cases, the people had to accept a severely small land grant for their new homelands or they were simply assimilated or annihilated altogether. Ishi, the last Yahi, serves as a dramatic symbol for the cataclysmic loss of these Peoples as the stewards of California in less than 25 years, after 10,000 years of occupying and caretaking the land.
The Peoples of California today are more likely to live off reservation lands than they are to remain on it. They have at least one foot in the Western World, as well as sometimes maintaining one in their traditional world. English is the primary language for every young person. The maintenance of tradition is fairly tenuous, as a result. Whether or not they continue on as they do now or let go of their ways & Native American identities, slipping into the heterogeneous soup of U.S. humanity, the People stood great, and they did so for a great period of time.