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

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.

  • Part of Collection:
  • Subjects:
    Native American History, Early Exploration and Settlements, Communities and Ways of Life, Indigenous Peoples, Native American, Native American Heritage Month
  • Skills:
    Social Studies

Grolier Online

Discover the content connection—the definitive, fully integrated database collection and online research portal. It includes seven encyclopedia databases: Encyclopedia America, Grolier Multimedia Encyclopedia, The New Book of Knowledge, La Nueva Enciclopedia Cumbre, America the Beautiful, Lands and Peoples, and The New Book of Popular Science.