Researching Native American Culture
Historical information on Native Americans began when the Spanish explorers of the 16th century documented their encounters with the indigenous peoples. Written in the form of letters to their supporters back home, they were primarily in search of gold and treasure.
Later, the Europeans added to the available information, but their motivating force was the desire for the land that the "Indians" occupied. Both benefited in the beginning through trading – furs and food for “White Man’s Goods”. But the lust for the land soon took over.
Neither the Spanish nor the Europeans were very interested in recording the culture, lifestyle or history of the native population. Instead, the ones who had any interest at all tried to convert the “Heathens” to Christianity, and the first order of business was to ERASE the memories and existing religion from the face of the earth.
In the mission schools, the Indian children were forbidden to speak their native languages. These practices left those of us who want to know the history and understand the religions of these people are left with limited knowledge of an age past.
Piecing together archaeological evidence, making assumptions through the use of carbon-dating, and more recently, DNA studies of the human remains, we try to form an image of a culture and lifestyle of a people who lived in harmony with the natural world—not in spite of it, as we “modern, civilized” people attempt to do.