Native American Cultural Impact on Today’s USA

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It may appear counterintuitive, but history is littered with examples of oppressed people influencing oppressors. Whenever, in history, two cultures interact, they share language, culture, and customs, regardless of the circumstances that brought them together. The Native American influence on US culture is visible in all of these areas, regardless of the turbulent circumstances that resulted in the cultural mingling.

Leif Erikson, a Viking explorer, is thought to have accidentally landed in North America around the year 1000, where he discovered magnificent forests with excellent wines and grapes. Nearly 500 years later, Christopher Columbus set foot in the Caribbean and South America. He and his crew did not arrive on the shores of an uninhabited continent; there, many Native American tribes had thriving civilizations with developed languages and traditions.

The exchange of culture, foods, and agricultural practices began with the arrival of the first European settlers in 1492. In addition to food, Native Americans shared their knowledge of the land and survival skills with the newcomers. They taught the settlers various agricultural techniques, hunting techniques, and how to navigate and thrive in the Americas’ diverse environments. Native Americans introduced European settlers to crops such as maize, beans, potatoes, tomatoes, chili pepper, cacao, and squash, which became the settlers’ means and methods of survival in this “New World,” providing a balanced and nutritious diet.

The indigenous peoples’ intimate knowledge of the natural world, including medicinal plants and sustainable farming practices, was critical to the early settlers’ survival in an unfamiliar environment.

European settlers, on the other hand, brought their own cultural elements, technologies, and agricultural practices to the Americas. This exchange of ideas, traditions, and resources had both positive and negative consequences, resulting in cultural assimilation, conflict, and societal transformation.

Languages Borrow from One Another

The interaction between European colonizers and indigenous peoples in the Americas has had a significant impact on language. When the first Europeans arrived in the Americas, they encountered a wide range of indigenous languages spoken by Native American tribes.

This encounter resulted in linguistic exchange and borrowing between European and indigenous languages.

  • Cultural Exchange: European settlers learned from indigenous people, and the other way around. This exchange may have an impact on the grammar, pronunciation, and vocabulary of both languages.
  • Loanwords: Europeans frequently borrowed words from indigenous languages to describe new and unfamiliar concepts, such as plant and animal names and geographical features.
  • Creole Languages: In some cases, a pidgin or creole language developed as a means of communication between different linguistic groups, such as in colonial settings where people from different language backgrounds needed to communicate. 
  • Bilingualism and Code-Switching: In areas where Europeans and indigenous peoples coexisted, bilingualism and code-switching may occur, as in the case of Canada, where Canadians speak English and French, but not the French language spoken in France; rather, the French language known as French Canadian.

Many of the names of states, cities, lakes, and mountains in the United States have European origins because they were frequently named by European explorers, settlers, or monarchs. For example, the United States of America was named after the Italian explorer Amerigo Vespucci, but Native American linguistic contributions do not end there. The Native American practice of using compound nouns, for example, was not native to English-speaking settlers, but they adapted it to form words such as firewater, catfish, rattlesnake, and countless others.

While there was linguistic exchange, European languages frequently exerted a dominant influence, causing many indigenous languages to decline or become extinct. This complex linguistic history is intertwined with the larger story of colonization in the Americas.

There were over 300 indigenous languages at the time of first European contact. In the early twenty-first century, 150 indigenous languages are still spoken in North America.  Actually, North American Indian languages have been classified into 57 language families, which include 14 larger language families, 18 smaller language families, and 25 language isolates.

Today, there are numerous programs and initiatives aimed at preserving Native American languages. For example, in 2010, Stony Brook University launched a joint project with two Indian nations to revive Shinnecock and Unkechaug, two lost languages of Long Island’s Indian tribes that had not been spoken in nearly 200 years. Among their tools was a vocabulary extracted from a list written by Thomas Jefferson during a visit in 1791. 

It is also worth noting that English was first introduced to North America by English colonists in Virginia in the early 17th century, before spreading across the continent during subsequent waves of colonization.

Native American Cultural Influence

Hundreds of years of history cannot be summarized here, but it is important to note that various Native American tribes formed alliances with settlers from England, France, Spain, and other countries. These tribes played an important role in the settlers’ eventual success in the Americas. This cultural exchange had a significant impact on both groups and helped shape the history and development of the New World.

The interaction between Native American cultures and European settlers was complex and multifaceted, marked by a dynamic exchange of goods, knowledge, and traditions. Over time, this blending of cultures contributed to the formation of a distinct and diverse cultural landscape in the New World. However, it is important to note that this exchange had significant negative consequences, including the displacement and mistreatment of indigenous peoples, the loss of cultural practices, and the introduction of diseases that had devastating consequences for Native American populations.

Other areas of Native American influence in US culture include literature, government, food, and medicine. As previously stated, settler survival was greatly increased by their reliance on what they were taught by their native hosts.

The rich cultures of the native American populations made significant contributions in a variety of areas that are frequently disregarded when viewing the past through the prism of history. This is odd considering that Thanksgiving, the country’s most popular holiday, is observed in practically every American home every year.

Influence of Native Americans on US governance 

The framework of government in the Iroquois Confederacy, a historical and political alliance of indigenous peoples and First Nations peoples in North America and Upstate New York, is said to have inspired Thomas Jefferson, George Washington, Benjamin Franklin, and the other Founding Fathers, who used the bald eagle as the new nation’s symbol.