Native Americans treasured the land, its inhabitants and its goods. The Arapaho cautioned, "Take only what you need and leave the land as you found it."
Obviously, waste was not tolerated. For example, wild animals were hunted for nourishment and not for sport. The buffalo’s rough tongue became a hairbrush and its tail a fly swatter.
The 13 sections of the turtle’s back outlined a calendar of the 13 moons. Bone splinters became fishhooks. Deer sinew provided fishnets. Beaver castor oil waterproofed moccasins and teepees.
Survival depended on skills such as carpentry. Rectangular longhouses were made of wood and enclosed in bark to shelter multiple families. Hollowed-out logs transformed into canoes; some canoes were constructed with birch bark and caulked together with spruce gum.
Hunting and defense tools included bows made of wood (or bone) and arrows made of wooden shoots (or reeds).
Indispensable was their knowledge of natural plants for food, substantially fruit and nuts, and for medicinal purposes. Tea from the black cherry tree’s inner bark alleviated fever or labor pains. The little bluestem’s ashes were applied to open sores. In fact, some botanicals derived from Native Americans still are used for medications.
For additional nourishment, expert gardening yielded crops such as potatoes, corn (a daily staple), beans and squash. Though clearing land was arduous, planting areas were only utilized from five to 10 years to avoid depletion of soil — true conservationists.
Fertile soil also required irrigation. It is remarkable that sophisticated canal systems were constructed in the arid areas of Arizona by the Hohokam as early as between 600 to 700 A.D.
Moreover, Native Americans were humanitarians who shared their land, skills and goods with the flow of settlers. In the first permanent English settlement in Jamestown (1607), the Powhatan offered food and hospitality. However, the newcomers did not pursue self-sufficiency — neglecting to plant corn. When negotiations for food from the natives periodically failed, Capt. John Smith claimed the food by force.
In Plymouth (1620), the Wampanoag saved the Pilgrims from starvation. Fortunately, Squanto, a tribal member, was invaluable as an interpreter and guide. The settlers were advised on climate, land, crops, hunting and fishing.
Another example of Native American altruism includes the Choctaw. In 1847, although they had recently been relocated to Oklahoma (Trail of Tears) and were impoverished, they donated $170 ($5,000 today) to the people of Ireland during the potato famine.
Native Americans also held their own people in high esteem. Commendable were the Iroquois Confederacy’s political system. Ben Franklin championed their fair government. It is claimed that the government of the United States was influenced by the Iroquois.
"Being Indian is an attitude, a state of mind, a way of being in harmony with all things and all beings." said a Brooke Medicine Eagle.