The history of North America begins thousands of years ago when Asiatic hunter-gatherers crossed the Bering strait into Alaska and settled the vast and empty region that is known as the “New World.” Thus began the cultivation of the New World and the gradual flourishing of one of the greatest empires at the time, the vast Native American tribes.
A Brief History
Thousands of years ago, the Beringia land bridge had formed between northeastern Siberia and western Alaska due to lowering sea level during the Last Glacial Maximum. At the time the Beringia land bridge formed the Mammoth steppe, the Earth’s most extensive biome which spanned from Spain to the Atlantic coast of Canada and from the northern arctic island southwards to the china sea, going as far as Indonesia. The Mammoth steppe was covered with vegetation and provided the large herbivores with plenty of fuel to roam the steppe. Dominated by mammoth, horses, and bison, it was a hotbed for hunter-gatherers and was sufficient for population growth.
Scientists argue that diversity of the ecosystem thrived for approximately 100,000 years without major changes, but suddenly became all but extinct about 12,000 years ago. While this theory has proven to be the most resilient, it is important to mention that an opposing theory posits that sea-faring Pacific islanders managed to cross the pacific ocean and land in California.
Native American Cultures
Whether the Native American population came by way of land or sea is rather insignificant. The fact is that they managed to create complex web tribal system across an equally diverse landmass that included: dry arid deserts; vast grass plains; marshes and wetlands; warm and humid coasts; mountainous ranges; and a host of other smaller ecosystems. Accordingly, each tribe would develop a distinct “dialect” of cultures that meshed into a greater identity. For example, the northwest culture area, comprising of British Columbia, Washington, and the northern tip of California, shared common traits such as salmon fishing, woodworking, large villages or towns and a hierarchical social structure. Meanwhile the tribes of the Plains, including the Crow, Blackfeet, Cheyenne, and Comanche shared a nomadic lifestyle and used horses to pursue and hunt great herds of buffalo across the prairie. Thus, indigenous cultures shaped, and were shaped by, the geography of North America. They followed favourable weather patterns, natural agricultural cycles, and animal migration, and were, thus, in every way aware of nature and entangled within in it.
The environment greatly impacted the traditional beliefs and social structure of Native American societies. For instance, the Inuit, native to the Arctic, were deeply influenced by, and revered, the Aurora Borealis. They believed the amazing light displays were images of their family and friends in the afterlife. The Inuit, as well as most other tribes, also believed that all things have souls, and that spirits existed to protect those souls. By respecting the ecosystem (living and non-living ), indigenous communities aimed to maintain a balanced existence.
Crazy Horse, Sitting Bull, Squanto, Geronimo, Sacajawea and Pocahontas… these are the names of a few famous Native Americans who played a very important part in the history of the United States. Since the first settlers in the US were Native Americans it is not uncommon to also see indigenous names of geographical locations such as Alabama, Illinois, Mississippi, Utah, and Wyoming, not to mention the various landmarks across the US. In fact, twenty-six US states were named by Native Americans.
Native American naming traditions vary depending on each particular tribe as each develops its own distinct cultural identity within a larger framework of cultures. Typically they are derived from nature, represented to symbolize desirable characteristics or a certain trait. A Native American name can reflect your personality, what you accomplish, or what happens to you, but they are also fluid. Some people are like lakes; they change very little during their lifetimes. Others are like rivers that may change dramatically from their small beginnings to become mighty rivers that travel all the way to the sea. Children are given names that suit their personalities, but, if a name proves to be a bad fit, the child’s name is changed.
As they progress in life, names are often changed and family and society award the new names, which provide the individual with a strong social bond to community as well as family. For example, the name Dancing Wind sounds beautiful to the contemporary ear, but Native Americans know that the dancing wind is symbolism for a tornado. It serves as a warning to others as well as an incentive to Dancing Wind to earn a new name. If an individual accomplishes great things, a new name like “Eagle Eye” may be given to recognize and signify that the individual’s clear-sighted perception as well as a special connection between heaven and earth.
The Native American naming tradition inspires the individual to strive to be better, to heal, and to evolve. The bond between society and the individual is very personal. It provides insight into the individual, a strong bond social bond, inspiration, and a link to the natural world from which they are drawn. Additionally, the peculiarity and complexity of the naming tradition is embedded with psychological, social, environmental, and spiritual dimensions inherent in every given name. Because they have the concept of an evolving name that can be earned, their naming tradition inspires them to continue to grow throughout their lives and incorporates all dimensions of their lives into it.
Famous Native American Names and Meanings
Crazy Horse (Tȟašúŋke Witk): Lakota: “His-Horse-Is-Crazy”
Sitting Bull (nicknamed Húŋkešni): Lakota Sioux Plains: “Slow”
Squanto (also known as Tisquantum): Patuxet Tribe: “divine rage”
Geronimo: Chiricahua Apache Tribe: “the one who yawns”
Sacajawea: Shoshone: “Bird-woman”
Pocahontas (Born Matoaka, known as Amonute) : Powhatan Tribe: “playful one”
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