Historical Facts About Native Americans That Aren’t Taught In School

Native Americans are those who are indigenous to the United States and there are still 574 federally recognized tribes. They have been around for centuries and continue to cherish their many sacred practices and traditions. From their clothing, language, and more, here are some unique things to know about Native Americans.

They Didn’t Just Live In Teepees

While teepees are usually considered a symbol of Native American life, they may not be the most accurate. Some did live in teepees, but there were many other types of housing.

encampment on the Great Plaines with a teepee and man on horseback
Bettmann/Getty Images
Bettmann/Getty Images

For example, the Native Americans of the Iroquois nation lived in longhouses, those in Mesa Verde lived in cliffs, and the Taos tribes lived in pueblos.

The U.S. Constitution Was Modeled After This

According to Good Housekeeping, historians believe that the United States Constitution was modeled after The Great Law of Peace.

Six Chiefs of the Iroquois Confederacy's Six Nations, each dressed in tribal robes
European/FPG/Archive Photos/Hulton Archive/Getty Images
European/FPG/Archive Photos/Hulton Archive/Getty Images

This was the constitution of the Iroquois Confederacy that established a democracy between the tribes. It was made with the purpose of ending the major battles between the Iroquois nations. Benjamin Franklin studied it profusely before contributing to the U.S. Constitution.

Some Native Americans Worked With Buffalo Bill Cody

Buffalo Bill Cody was a soldier, hunter, and showman who created his own Wild West show. His shows would have themes of cowboys, the frontier, and Native Americans.

buffalo bill cody with performers from his wild west show
Bettmann/Getty Images
Bettmann/Getty Images

He partnered with several Native Americans and had them perform in his shows wearing feathered headdresses and riding painted horses. Acts in the show included sideshows, staged races, and feats of skill.

Many English Words Have Native American Origins

Those familiar with American history may remember that early English explorers interacted quite a lot with Native Americans. As a result, this caused them to pick up some new words.

John Eliot preaching to the Algonquian Indians
Bettmann/Getty Images
Bettmann/Getty Images

Words such as chipmunk, pecan, skunk, chocolate, potato, and poncho are all derived from the Algonquian tribe. Algonquians are one of the most populous and widespread tribes in North America.

Inventions With Native American Inspiration

Since Native Americans were the first people to inhabit the United States, it makes sense that they would contribute to several useful inventions.

Top-hatted Chiricahua Apache chief Geronimo driving a motor car in Oklahoma
H H Clarke/Getty Images
H H Clarke/Getty Images

Things such as rubber, corn, kayaks, farming, and mouth wash all have Native American roots. Spinning top toys were observed as far back as the Lewis and Clark expedition.

Hundreds Of Navajo Members Served During World War II

The Navajo tribe is currently the largest tribe in North America with most members located in Arizona, Utah, and New Mexico. Over 400 of them helped to serve the U.S. during World War II.

A two-man team of Navajo code talkers relay orders over the field radio using their native language
Corbis via Getty Images
Corbis via Getty Images

The Navajo men worked as code talkers and would relay important war messages in their native language. This was so the Japanese wouldn’t understand.

Indigenous People Didn’t Become Citizens Until The 1920s

One of the most historic moments for Indigenous people was the passing of the Indian Citizenship Act of 1924. This granted citizenship to all of the Indigenous people in the United States.

indigenous people at the white house in 1924
Herbert French/Buyenlarge/Getty Images
Herbert French/Buyenlarge/Getty Images

The main reason it was passed was to recognize the thousands of Native Americans who risked their lives serving in World War I.

Maria Tallchief Made History

Maria Tallchief came from the Osage Nation and had a dream of becoming a great ballerina. By the time she was 17, she moved to New York City to train professionally.

maria tallchief posing in her ballerina outfit
Bettmann Archive/Getty Images
Bettmann Archive/Getty Images

Tallchief was often told to change her last name, but refused. She ended up becoming the first American to join the Paris Opera Ballet and the Bolshaoi Theater in Moscow.

They Cooked Food Using Earthen Ovens

Native Americans had to come up with clever ways of cooking their traditional dishes. One of their most prominent inventions was earthen, or hornos ovens.

old woman baking in mud oven
Bettmann/Getty Images
Bettmann/Getty Images

These were made from sun-dried mud bricks covered in a layer of mud. These ovens had the capacity to steam, bake, and roast any kind of food.

Pocahontas Had A Life-Changing Wedding

It’s often easy to forget that Pocahontas was actually kidnapped during the Anglo-Powhatan war. She was converted to Christianity and imprisoned.

GettyImages-2637227
Hulton Archive/Getty Images
Hulton Archive/Getty Images

During this time she was introduced to John Rolfe and agreed to marry him to ease the tensions between the British and the Powhatan tribe. This ended up being the first recorded interracial marriage in history.

What Totem Poles Actually Represent

Totem poles are one of the most important pieces of art made by Native Americans, but not everyone knows their purpose.

totem poles with an eagle and grizzly bear
Historical Picture Archive/Corbis via Getty Images
Historical Picture Archive/Corbis via Getty Images

Christian missionaries thought they were symbols of Native gods, but they actually represent family status. Animals that are special to the family, such as a grizzly bear or eagle, are usually carved in totem poles to memorialize their ancestors.

Women Showed Their Strength In Many Ways

Several Native American tribes, including Apache, would often have women carry woven water baskets on their heads. These baskets are called “ollas” and are usually elaborately decorated.

native american woman holding an olla while standing on a ladder
H. Armstrong Roberts/ClassicStock/Getty Images
H. Armstrong Roberts/ClassicStock/Getty Images

While they aren’t used much anymore, they are one of the most sought after pieces of Native American art and can be auctioned for thousands of dollars.

Many Places Across The U.S. Are Named After Native Americans

Several cities and states across America have names rooted in Native American languages. The state of Alabama is derived from the Choctaw words Alba and Amo, which mean vegetation and gatherer.

chiefs who counseled with General Miles and settled the Indian War
John C. Grabill/Buyenlarge/Getty Images
John C. Grabill/Buyenlarge/Getty Images

Arkansas was named after the Quapaw Native Americans who lived downstream from the Algonquian people. The Algonquian used the word “Arkansas” for “south wind.”

Horses Were Fairly New To Native Americans

When Native Americans are shown in film or television, they are oftentimes riding a horse. In reality, they lived without horses for over 10,000 years.

Kiowa warrior Elk Tongue on horseback, wearing a war bonnet, and carrying a shield and bow
HP Robinson/Interim Archives/Getty Images
HP Robinson/Interim Archives/Getty Images

Horses were first introduced to Native Americans in the 17th century by the Spanish. Also, when they would ride, it would often be done bareback.

The Huge Significance Of Feathers

Oftentimes, Native Americans wear feathered headdresses as part of their clothing. Not only do these headdresses look beautiful, but they also have a deeper meaning behind them.

Chief Bigtree performs a traditional ceremony of well wishing on Dorothy Janis
Clarence Sinclair Bull/Hulton Archive/Getty Images
Clarence Sinclair Bull/Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Native Americans consider feathers as part of their culture because they symbolize strength, freedom, power, and wisdom. Many of their feathers come from golden and bald eagles because they “soar close to heaven.”

How The Sequoia Tree Got Its Name

Sequoia trees are some of the most majestic in the United States, but some may wonder how they got their name.

Color illustration of Sequoyah wearing European dress, a turban, and a silver medal
Smith Collection/Gado/Getty Images
Smith Collection/Gado/Getty Images

These large trees were named after the Cherokee leader Sequoyah (pictured). He is best known for creating a new alphabet for his people to use. This made reading and writing in the Cherokee language possible.

Native To America Since 12,000 B.C.

Historians found that Native Americans have lived in the United States since 12,000 B.C. after traveling a path from Asia to Alaska.

Representatives from various Native American tribes
Hulton Archive/Getty Images
Hulton Archive/Getty Images

There is not one single nation, but instead groups of people with different cultures, languages, and more. There is also some evidence that Indigenous people have lived in South America as far back as 30,000 years ago.

Where The Mohawk Hairstyle Comes From

The Mohawk hairstyle can still be seen today, but some may not know the origins of this unique hairdo.

portrait of Thayendanega or Joseph Brant a Mohawk chief
Stock Montage/Getty Images
Stock Montage/Getty Images

It is modeled after the Mohawk tribe where the men would keep one part of their head cleanly shaven and paint the other side a bright color. The name “Mohawk” translates to “man-eaters.”

Many Native American Warriors Were Women

While the media often depicted only Native American men going to battle, that wasn’t really the case. Many Native American warriors were actually women.

Half-length portrait of young native american woman
La Roche/Buyenlarge/Getty Images
La Roche/Buyenlarge/Getty Images

One of the most famous female warriors was Buffalo Calf Road Woman from the Northern Cheyenne tribe. She fought in both the Battle of Rosebud and the Battle of Little Bighorn.

Princess Leia’s Hair Was Inspired By Hopi Women

Princess Leia from the Star Wars franchise is one of the most iconic characters in film history. Some may not know the inspiration behind her famous hairdo.

Two young Hopi women 'all dressed up in their best'
Oklahoma Historical Society/Getty Images
Oklahoma Historical Society/Getty Images

The women of the Hopi tribe often wore their hair in the “squash blossom” style. It became more popular during the 1920s after photos were taken of the women and shown around America.