Contributions | Ruth A. Myers Center for Indigenous Education
You are here
Required Profile of Learning
To achieve a diploma a student must show an appropriate level of achievement in each of the following elements:
Understand what they read, hear and see. Comprehending, interpreting, and evaluating information received through reading, listening, and viewing.
Write and speak effectively. Writing and speaking in English clearly for academic, technical, and personal purposes with a variety of audiences.
Gather and use information. Applying methods of inquiry needed to conduct research, draw conclusions, and communicate and apply findings.
Understand interactions between people, their world and their cultures. Understanding how principles of interaction and interdependence affect physical and social situations.
Make informed decisions. Applying informed decision–making processes to promote personal growth and the well–being of society.
Know how to manage a household or business. Understanding the effective management of resources in a household, business, community, and government.
Students will discover and categorize the many contributions American Indians have made to all aspects of modern society.
This outcome includes:
- knowing impact of resources, medicine, food, clothing, comprehending extent of ecology, technology.
- knowing contributions in mathematics/science astronomy.
- understanding importance of language, literature, oratory.
- realizing influence of people, spirituality, government.
- appreciating art, music, dance.
Student recognition of American Indian contributions is essential to understanding the roots of American and world culture. If students understand that all cultures contribute, students may be more likely to respect members of each cultural group.
American Indian cultures have profoundly influenced cultures of all immigrants and world civilization in general. Until recently, there has been little acknowledgment of the great debt owed to the American Indians who provided the immigrants with rich new ideas about food resources, technology, science, medicine and the democratic character of America´s social and political institutions. Many of these ideas have become so much a part of the fabric of American life that the sources of these ideas have been forgotten, dismissed or at best hidden from view.
Teacher Background Information
American Indian cultures have made contributions of monumental proportions both to immigrant cultures of the Americas and to world civilization. In the centuries that followed the initial encounter between American Indians and Europeans, recognition of these vast contributions have been denied or downplayed.
American Indian contributions include achievements in the fields of political and social ideology, language, medicine, mathematics, science, foods, agricultural processing techniques and technology, clothing materials and styles, art and architecture, transportation technology, sports and games.
American Indian ideas about government and other social and political institutions influenced the character of American democracy. Immigrants who came to the Americas did not envision a democratic society. The notion of class privilege was so deeply embedded in European thought that only property owners of the upper classes were allowed the benefits of citizenship.
Not all American Indian cultures operated as democracies, but the majority did and democratic methods of decision making continue in tribal governments today. American Indian democracies operated on the belief that government authority should serve all people equally. Leaders were not seen as rulers but as advisors and speakers, who echoed the collective will of their people. The American Indian government, which directly influenced the American Constitution, was that of the Iroquois Confederacy. At the time of the founding of the United States, the Iroquois Confederacy of upstate New York represented a union of six tribes. Benjamin Franklin and other founding fathers borrowed heavily from the Iroquois "federal system" of government when they planned the union which eventually became the United States of America.
American Indian ideas permeate the Constitution. These ideas include the concept that freedom is a natural right, that government should operate by a system of checks and balances, that the best government is the least government, that leaders are public servants who can be impeached, and that civil and military powers are best separated.
The rich variety of American Indian languages has contributed substantially to modern English and other languages around the world. Common English words such as moose, raccoon, moccasin and toboggan are of American Indian origin. Place names also reveal American Indian language influence. Twenty–four of fifty states have names derived from American Indian languages. In Minnesota, many towns and cities such as Winona, Chaska, Chanhassen, Biwabik, Washkish and Bemidji are American Indian names. Names of lakes such as Minnetonka, rivers such as the Mississippi, and regions such as the Mesabi Iron Range are originally from American Indian words. Plains Indian sign language became a part of the international sign language for the deaf. During World War II, American Indian languages made a unique contribution to the Allied war effort when American Indian soldiers began to use their native languages to send secret code messages. These messages were never decoded by the enemy.
Modern medicine owes a great debt to American Indians. Over 200 medicinal plants listed in the U.S. Pharmacopoeia are American Indian discoveries. Some of the products derived from these plants include petroleum jelly, Novocaine, syrup of ipecac, quinine, astringents and aspirin. In recent years, medical doctors have borrowed the American Indian idea of holistic healing. This approach emphasizes the important connection between spiritual, emotional and physical health. This connection has always been recognized and used in traditional American Indian healing practices.
American Indian ideas have contributed significantly to the sciences of astronomy, ecology, botany and oil chemistry. The science of ecology as well as the American Indian belief system teaches that all life is interrelated and interdependent. This relationship is expressed in American Indian oral traditions and conservation practices. One such practice included the periodic burning over of segments of forest land which allowed for the growth of open meadows. The meadows provided additional food for large animals who in turn provided additional food for humans. American Indian mathematic achievements include the development of highly accurate calendars and place value arithmetic. The Mayans of southern Mexico and Central America were the first people to use the concept of zero in mathematical calculations.
American Indian food products have played and continue to play a significant role in the world´s food supply. Approximately 60% of the food upon which the world´s population depends was developed centuries ago by American Indian agrarians who domesticated crops which include among others: six species of maize (150 varieties), five major species of beans, hundreds of varieties of potatoes, squash, pumpkins, tomatoes, peppers, peanuts, chocolate, vanilla, sunflowers and avocados. Natural foods such as wild rice, and maple syrup and sugar might also be added to this list.
American Indian foods created a culinary revolution around the world. The curries of India include American Indian peppers, peanuts, cashews and potatoes. The tomato sauce of Italian pizza, lasagna and spaghetti came originally from American Indian cooks.
American Indian food products were highly developed by the time of European contact. Centuries of experimentation had taken place whereby wild plant varieties became high yielding domesticated crops. In no other part of the world were farmers able to make the breakthroughs in plant genetics that American Indians achieved.
Popular snack foods derived from American Indian agriculture include potato chips, french fries, corn and tortilla chips, meat jerky, popcorn, peanuts, sunflower and pumpkin seeds, chocolate bars and the vanilla flavoring for ice cream.
American Indian products and inventions have also contributed to ideas about clothing and fashion in world society. The plant fiber, cotton, became a contribution of enormous magnitude. While cotton was grown in the Near East and India, it did not have the quality of American Indian cotton which grew in long strands and made cloth as fine as silk. It was American Indian cotton that became adopted worldwide. In fact, American Indian cotton became the staple of America´s booming cotton industry of the 19th century.
The popularity of beaver hats and other fur clothing items had a major impact on Minnesota and other areas rich in American fur–bearing animals. These fashions, popular in European countries, became a big part of the fur trade with America. This desire for only the beaver pelt was diametrically different from the belief system of the Anishinabeg who took only what they needed and used all of what they took. Consider the ramification of this cultural upheaval.
Ponchos, parkas and moccasins are among several American Indian derived clothing designs. The geometric patterns of American Indian art have found their way into everyday items such as sweaters, handbags, belts, dresses, shirts and pants. American Indian art products can be found in many American homes. These products include Navajo rugs, Indian paintings, carvings, pottery and basketry.
American Indian jewelry made of silver and turquoise or glass, porcelain and quillwork, and fabric designs have also greatly influenced ideas about clothing and fashion.
American Indian influences can be found in house designs and community designs throughout the world. The grid pattern for urban planning is an American Indian idea as are adobe homes, semi–subterranean structures, the sod house, Quonset huts, tipis, stockaded forts and aquaducts.
American Indian transportation technology has become commonplace. This includes canoes, kayaks, toboggans, travois and snowshoes.
Sports and Games
Popular American sports would look quite different had it not been for American Indian inventions such as the rubber ball and games such as lacrosse. At the elementary school level, activities rooted in American Indian culture include Blind Man´s Bluff, Prisoner´s Base, Crack the Whip, Hide and Seek, and Follow the Leader. Upper grade games such as field hockey, ice hockey, soccer, and football each has its place in American Indian history as well as Shinny and Ice Shinny, Foot Games, Kick Ball Races, archery and running.
From a study by Midwest Hospitality Advisor´s issued in February 1992: TSee Contemporary Issues, Senior High Lessons
Employment & Wages
- The 13 Indian gaming operations in Minnesota employ approximately 5,700 people.
- Current employment includes 1,350 American Indians or approximately 24 percent of total employees.
- Four casinos have become the largest employer for their nearest city.
- Four others are among the top five employers for their communities.
- One is in the top ten.
- In 1991, 20 percent of the gaming jobs were held by American Indians and 80 percent were held by non–Indians.
- The 13 existing Indian casinos in Minnesota are currently generating over $11,800,000 in Social Security and Medicare tax revenue annually. As in any business, the casinos pay half of the total.
- Casinos pay over $2,100,000 on an annual rate for combined state and federal unemployment compensation.
- Total identified federal and state payroll withholding from Indian casino employees equal approximately $4,700,000 and $1,780,000 respectively.
- Indian casinos make approximately $700,000 in additional annual payments to city or state governments by special agreements.
- The number of Indian AFDC (Aid to Families with Dependent Children) recipients in the 11 counties containing Indian casinos decreased 3.2 percent from January of 1990 to January of 1992.
- The number of Indian recipients in the counties without casinos increased 14.6 percent for the same period.
- The number of non–Indian recipients in counties with Indian casinos increased 1.2 percent.
- The number of non–Indian recipients in the counties without Indian casinos increased 14.3 percent.
- See Contemporary Issues, Senior High Lesson
Contributions of Minnesota´s Anishinabe and Dakota and other tribes of the Great Lakes and Eastern Woodlands, include, among many other things; maple sugar, wild rice, the toboggan, canoe, snowshoes, moccasins, beadwork, birch bark basketry, the cradleboard and dream catcher. American Indians continue to make contributions to modern society.
Locally, Minnesota´s Indians have created tribal enterprises, which contribute to a healthy state economy. Tribal government, casinos and other economic enterprises including tourism, wild ricing and fishing; in Minnesota, have provided employment opportunities for both American Indians and non–Indians.
There are few areas of modern life that have not been influenced by American Indian materials, resources and ideas.