The prevalence of Native American stereotypes in popular culture has prevented a lot of people from really understanding Native American culture. There were many Native American tribes, and they all had vastly different traditions. Native American costumes, American Indian art, Native American tattoos, Native American music, Native American symbols, Native American names, and Native American dance all vary from one tribe to the next, and yet many people seem to treat these very diverse cultures as if they were all one unit.
The Native American images that people outside of their culture usually see tend to revolve around them being in harmony with nature. However, it is more accurate to say that Native American people understood nature very well and were able to control it. A lot of the Americas were actually cultivated and manipulated by the Native Americans, who made the land work for them and not the other way around. Native American homes were frequently built with survival in mind. Native American tribes knew how to survive in the wilderness. People who are outside of this culture should not simply generalize based on the Native American quotes that they can find.
One of the main ways that Native American tribes managed to survive so well under harsh conditions is the simple fact that they managed to maintain strong communal connections. Modern American culture is very individualistic. However, the level of individualism that people display today is largely a consequence of technology and culture. People in more traditional cultures did not have that luxury.
Many Native American images present them as being powerful lone wolf types. However, Native Americans were definitely highly communal people with an enormous support network full of individuals that had a diverse range of skills and tools. Individuals would have had a hard time surviving in the wilderness on their own. In fact, while pioneers on the American frontier are often regarded as self-sufficient and individualistic, they lived communal lives as well. Communal living is one of the most important parts of surviving in the wilderness.
Even when Native Americans went out hunting and organized similar expeditions, individuals would not go alone. Modern people who hunt alone are typically doing so for sport, and they are going to be armed with all sorts of weapons that severely decrease the challenge involved. This was not the case for the Native American hunting groups of old. In some cases, most of the tribe participated in hunting down certain animals for the sake of food or for protection. They certainly did not try to hunt alone and take huge risks for comparatively arbitrary reasons.
People who have actually had to hunt will have to learn stealth quickly. Animals rely on their senses. Humans have to be able to work around their senses in order to achieve any real progress when they are effectively competing with animals. Many Native American tribes were particularly gifted when it came to teaching and using stealth abilities, owing to the long history that the tribes had with hunting.
One of the techniques that Native Americans used when it came to stealth involved wearing soft shoes like moccasins, famously enough. They would also walk heel to toe, which has a tendency to soften the sound of people walking. Humans are large and don’t naturally have the stealth ability of animals. Most of these abilities have to be taught.
In fact, the white settlers in the New World were actually convinced at first that a lot of Native Americans were magical, because they had these fantastic stealth abilities that made it seem as if they appeared out of nowhere. However, the truth is that they were just very good at walking in such a way that they were less likely to be heard. European settlers did not emphasize stealth skills, particularly in natural environments. They were at a disadvantage in more ways than one when it came to surviving in the American wilderness.
Native Americans are often stereotyped as being heavily nomadic people who were always moving from place to place. This was often true of the plains Indians, but many of the other tribes throughout the United States were heavily nomadic. It should also be noted that the Native Americans of the nineteenth century were people who had already suffered from the effects of disease and genocide, so their populations were greatly reduced and their cultures were in tatters. Many of the settled tribes of the United States had survival shelters. Even a tepee can work as a survival shelter, but many Native American homes were more solid than that.
The Cherokee Indians had wattle and daub houses. These houses were designed to be permanent, and it certainly took a lot of effort to build them. The frames of these houses were actually coated with plaster, so they worked best in warmer climates. These were shelters where people could stay safe and weather terrible outdoor storms. They could also protect themselves from predators.
Other Native American tribes had platform dwellings. They were raised off of the Earth on long posts, which meant that there was a layer of protection between them and the shifting conditions of the ground below. The people inside the homes also had a defense against the animals that would try to get into their homes. The Seminole Indians specialized in creating platform dwellings.
The idea that the Native Americans slept out in the open is wrong. People who are trying to survive in the wilderness are going to need survival shelters. They will need protection from the elements. They are going to need protection from the animals. Humans have a tendency to crave security of all kinds, and living in a communal structure with other people provides that security in a way that cannot be achieved in other ways.
Tools and Weapons
An understanding of knives is as fundamental to early technology as an understanding of fire. Native American tribes did not have metal working, but they were able to fashion a wide range of different knives. They had specialized blades that allowed them to hunt, carve wood, climb trees, make other tools, and defend themselves. There were plenty of alliances among tribes back in the day, but these alliances were not universal. Conflicts between other tribes sometimes created more conflict than simple attempts at survival in a harsh terrain.
However, it should be noted that one of the reasons why the North American continent lacks a lot of large predators is the simple fact that Native Americans were able to hunt them to extinction and take the land into their own control. They were people who mastered nature. Nature did not master them.
Knowledge of the Landscape
Knowledge is power for everyone, particularly for the individuals who are trying to rely on their wits in the wilderness. The Native Americans typically lived in certain areas for generations upon generations, and they understood the terrain very well. They knew about the seasonal rhythms and weather patterns in a world before rapid global climate change. They would typically know about the geographic makeup of their local land areas, which would often house generations of Native American tribes. While some Native American tribes were nomadic, many of them had an almost spiritual connection to a particular land area, which made all the difference when it came to their knowledge of a given area.
Many of the people who get lost in the forest or the wilderness are in an unfamiliar area. They don’t know what to expect. As such, they won’t know how to prepare and they won’t know how to respond to whatever happens to them. The Native Americans who had lived in specific areas for generations had a great deal of expertise in everything that those areas had to offer.
It should be noted that this is one reason why many Native Americans were reluctant to leave certain areas of land. They understood full well what an advantage they had in familiar territory. Their spiritual beliefs made a difference, but the knowledge of a local area is very much a pragmatic need. Having the equivalent of a map and a compass is great, but it is nowhere near sufficient in many cases.
Native Americans did know many tricks for navigation, especially when it came to the stars and the direction of the sun. However, they were also less dependent on them because they were so familiar with the areas that they used.
Knowledge of Healing Herbs and Remedies
The medical knowledge that Native Americans had also made all the difference in terms of their long-term survival and short-term survival. When people go on camping trips today, they should always be careful to bring emergency medical first aid kits. The Native Americans had the equivalent for the day. They were skilled at knowing which herbs could be used to promote healing and how to treat the sort of injuries that people were likely to sustain when they were out in the wilderness.
While there were frequently appointed healers in tribes, many individual people in the tribes would still usually know enough to be able to help themselves when they were in a smaller group disconnected from the tribal healer. In some cases, the healer may have come with them.
People who are in the wilderness are going to succumb to animal bites at the best of times. They are frequently going to be forced to deal with all sorts of minor injuries that they will sustain throughout their journeys through wooded areas. Some people will even fall ill during their excursions in the woods. Many Native Americans were able to prepare for each and every one of these problems. They would be able to create remedies for these problems in almost any location.
It is true that many of them knew enough to avoid certain hazards in the first place, which is related to the fact that they had a tendency to know their areas very well. However, they also knew how to address a wide range of problems when they actually did occur.
All in all, a huge portion of the Native American survival skills come down to a particular mindset. A lot of the people who get lost or injured in the wilderness today do so because they put themselves in harm’s way to a certain extent. The historical Native Americans would probably be surprised at the thought that modern people were somehow acting more like them by ‘getting in touch with nature,’ which is what a lot of modern people say when they go camping.
Native American tribes, by and large, did not go on risky and daring adventures into unknown territories without the knowledge that they needed and without the group support and protection that they needed. It is true that in certain tribes, young men would go through various tests of strength to prove themselves. However, these tests usually had a pragmatic aspect involved, and the young men were not expected to do anything that would genuinely threaten the stability of the tribe. Risking one’s life in an individualistic manner was not considered masculine or cool.
Survival isn’t just about skills. It is also about an overall mindset. The people who survive under difficult conditions are the people who thoroughly plan ahead and the people who really have a sense of what they’re getting themselves into, even if there is an element of risk involved with everything. Many of the modern people who go into the wilderness are specifically doing so in order to feel less safe. They want to break free of their comfort zones and the factors that keep them safe in their everyday lives.
Native Americans lived their everyday lives closer to the land, and they sought structures and habits that kept them safe. Wilderness safety and living wasn’t escapism for them, which is one of many reasons why they were so good at it.