Native American Contributions
From pineapples and pumpkins to a model of government and the zero in math, discover some of the many contributions Native Americans have made to world cultures.
- Grades: 3–5, 6–8
As the first inhabitants of North America, Native Americans discovered how to live off the land. Many tribes domesticated edible plants, raised animals, and discovered natural medicines. Native American innovations in areas such as mathematics and government greatly influenced other cultures in Europe and Latin America.
|Foods||Edible plants domesticated by Indians have become major staples in the diets of peoples all around the world. Such foods include corn (maize), manioc, potatoes, sweet potatoes, peanuts, squashes and pumpkins, tomatoes, papayas, avocados, pineapples, guavas, chili peppers, chocolate (cacao), and many species of beans.|
|Animals||Indians were the first to raise turkeys, llamas, guinea pigs, and honeybees for food.|
|Non-edible plants||Other plants of great importance developed by Indians include cotton, rubber, and tobacco.|
|Medicines||Indians discovered the medicinal use for quinine. Also, Canadian Indians knew how to prevent scurvy by eating plants rich in vitamin C, and they passed this information along to the Europeans.|
|Mathematics||The Maya of Mexico appear to have been the first to use the zero in mathematics. Scholars believe that Asians traveled across the Pacific Ocean and learned about the zero from the Maya.|
|Government||Indian governments in eastern North America, particularly the League of the Iroquois, served as models of federated representative democracy to the Europeans and the American colonists. The United States government is based on such a system, whereby power is distributed between a central authority (the federal government) and smaller political units (the states).|
|Economy||Indian contributions to the modern world's economy have been enormous. In the 1500's, Indian labor produced the gold and other valuable metals that helped bring the Spanish Empire to the height of its power. In the following centuries, Indian labor in the North American fur trade contributed significantly to the wealth of England, France, the Netherlands, and Russia. In addition, for hundreds of years the agrarian economies of the Latin American nations have been based on Indian labor on plantations.|