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Algonquian (language group), wigwam, longhouse, slash and burn agriculture
Early U.S. Colonial Life Unit
Let's hit rewind on the United States, shall we? Let's un-build the buildings, roll up all the roads, and take the gray out of the air. Let's send all of the people who followed Columbus back across the sea in their boats, sending all of the guns and pigs and cows and ideas about people owning land with them. And pause! There. Now we can see what life was like for the Native Americans before we came.You're in the northeastern part of what will be the United States six hundred years from now . . . but you would never know it to look at it. It's very quiet for a place that will one day be New York City. You can only hear birds and wind through leaves and . . . someone talking. Algonquian was a group of languages spoken by many different groups of Native North Americans, from the Atlantic Ocean to the Great Lakes and Plains. Oh, you can't understand it? That's because it's barely used in our country today. We should follow that voice anyway. We can always fast forward back to our time if things get dangerous.
You come to what looks like a town. These aren't like any houses you've ever seen though. A wigwam is the home of these Native Americans, a hut or tent with a dome-shaped roof made from animal skins or tree bark and held up by wooden poles. Besides the obvious reasons, how are these homes different from the houses you see back in your own time? Because these houses are so simple, the Native Americans can just pick them up and go. This was important so they could follow herds of buffalo or birds as they moved through the seasons. A woman exits a buckskin door on one of the tents and sees you. While she isn't wearing very many clothes, she seems very nice. She offers you beans and rice with fish and waves you to follow her.
You follow her to a building where many other Native Americans are coming together. A longhouse is just what it sounds like and was used for people to live or meet, eat, tell stories, or plan war. Many clans can come together here. Inside, someone is smoking tobacco. It's summer, so they're serving berries on a long table. Wait, wouldn't moving all of this around get tiring? Building and breaking down and then rebuilding wigwams and longhouses every season to keep up with moving animals? Well, they do try to keep some things in one place . . . at least for a short time.
Let's go back outside to get away from the pipe smoke. One part of the village kind of looks the same as it did before we rewound all of the cities. You might have thought that when we took away the roads and the buildings from the Northeast, there would be trees as far as the eyes can see. But all around the wigwams you can see fields. The Native Americans used something called slash and burn agriculture, which means they chopped down trees and then burned them, leaving behind fields ready for planting. These fields lasted about two years before the dirt became used up and they had to move somewhere new. With no trees, the dirt would become no good for planting. It's a good thing there weren't many Native Americans because this way of making fields was not great for the forest.The Northeast looked much different before Europeans came. The Algonquian speaking people moved around a lot, and their houses and fields were built in a way that let them stay on the move. Instead of houses, there were wigwams, huts made of animal skin held up by wooden poles. Instead of buildings, there were longhouses, stretched out meeting spaces where many clans could meet and eat and smoke. They also used slash and burn agriculture, chopping down and burning forests, which forced them to keep changing places for better dirt. I hate to say it, but we have to fast forward back to our time now, rebuilding everything and unrolling the roads. A look at early Native American life sure makes you want to press pause for a while though, doesn't it?
US History. "Algonkian Tribes" ushistory.org, 2012. history.com. "Native American Cultures. history.com, 2011.