I have a lot of respect for Native Americans — those who populated this land before the first European white man set foot on these shores.
History rarely mentions it, but countless thousands of those Indians were killed by disease and carried in the boats of those early traders. But before that, the American Indian had a thriving culture, in tune with nature and appreciative of the beauty around them.
Of all the cultures referred to as “primitive” by supposedly civilized society, this is the culture we know the most about. Yet at the same time, we know very little about them. Sadly, history and Hollywood has not treated the Native Americans fairly, portraying them as a barbaric culture, mostly responsible for attacking white settlers and committing atrocities on them.
There are probably countless things about survival that we can learn from the American Indians. Here are several:
1. Nature Has Everything You Need
The Indians had to get everything they needed from nature, and they did. Whether it was flint to start a fire or animal skins to make clothes, they found everything they needed in the world around them. Few of us would be able to survive if we were just dumped in the wilderness with nothing. But for the Indians, that was just everyday life.
It is important to note here that the Indians were satisfied with what nature provided. While many Indian cultures used gold and silver, they were not seeking to amass wealth to themselves. They were satisfied with the lives they had, and not wanting anything more.
2. Fathers, Teach Your Children
Survival was an all-encompassing task for the Indian. One of a father’s responsibilities was to teach his sons how to survive. There wasn’t a school to which they could send their children; they had to teach them on their own. If a father was negligent in teaching his son, the son would most likely die.
The number of skills the average American Indian needed to learn was actually rather extensive. Since they had no trade centers as we know the term (although they did have trade), they had to make everything they needed. An Indian who needed a canoe had to know how to build it himself. Same for his bow, his arrows and his knife.
If you and I don’t teach our children the survival skills we are learning, we are preparing them for failure. You won’t be there forever to protect them. At some point in time, they will have to make it on their own. That will be the test of whether you’ve trained them well or not.
3. Live in Harmony with Nature
If there were ever a people who lived in harmony with their surroundings, it was the American Indian. They took what they needed from nature, but did so without destroying nature. They learned the sounds and movements of the animals and could read their signs. More than anything, they studied everything around them.
There were always tribes which were friendly to the white man. We all know the Indians taught the Pilgrims how to plant and cultivate. Had it not been for the knowledge of the Indians, and their understanding of nature, the United States would have died aborning. Their knowledge of nature was unsurpassed and became the foundation of many learned works, written by scholars who learned from them.
4. Waste Not
When American Indians killed an animal, they used every bit of it they could. They were not wasteful. You never saw an Indian village with a garbage dump beside it. Everything had its use and the Indians were amazingly clever in finding those uses. Even internal organs from the animals could be used, making containers out of them to carry water or to store medical herbs.
The Indians also understood that what they had today may not be there tomorrow. When they had food to eat, they ate well, banking up extra for the time when they would not have food. Winters were hard on them, but they made do mostly by preserving food in the summer and fall.
We see this in the westward expansion as well. The early pioneers didn’t throw anything away. An old shirt which couldn’t be repaired anymore became a rag. A burlap sack became a towel. People brought their baskets to the General Store to go shopping and they used everything they had. The waste in our modern society, especially the ideas of disposable items and planned obsolescence, simply add to our ultimate downfall.
5. Make it Yourself
Probably one of the worst things that white men did to the Indian was to teach him to be dependent on manufactured goods. While those goods were in many ways superior to what the Indians had, that dependence played a part in their ultimate downfall.
Indians made what they needed; they didn’t buy it or trade for it. If a man needed a knife, he would make one. If he needed a teepee, he had to kill enough animals to have the skins. In a culture where everything is handmade out of materials gleaned from nature, one can survive alone, without the huge infrastructure that we depend on today. We would be better off at surviving if we were able to do more for ourselves, rather than depending on others.
6. Be Aware
The Indians may have been the inventors of situational awareness. They knew when enemies were about by the reactions of the birds and squirrels. They could tell when a storm was coming. Indians would see things in the world around them that you and I would pass over, without a moment’s notice.
Living in harmony with nature requires knowing her moods and truly seeing what is happening around you. Survival makes this a requirement. Often, the only difference between the living and the dead is who sees who first. This is true for animals and it is true for humans, too.
7. Blend In
The Apache Indians were masters of guerrilla warfare. Stories have been told of Apaches who crept up on a man dozing, holding the reigns of his horse, and stealing the horse, while leaving him sitting there sleeping. How could they do this? By blending in with their surroundings and moving slowly.
The whole idea of camouflage is one that came naturally to the Indian. Their skin color and attire lent itself to hiding in the environment. They knew how to move without attracting attention and had the patience to move slow enough so as not to catch the eye.
Blending in helps us to avoid attracting attention. In a survival situation, that can be invaluable. Just avoiding being seen by others can greatly increase chances for survival. That means learning how to look like the environment around you, as well as moving as part of that environment.
8. Learn the Medicinal Value of Plants
The only medicine that the Indians had was the plants around them. While they had their medicine men who were experts in using those plants, most Indians had at least some rudimentary knowledge of herbal medicine. After all, they would be observing everything the medicine man did.
Modern medicine is an evolution of herbal medicine. In the past, doctors gathered herbs and plants which they used as medicines. Many of today’s modern medicines are merely artificial copies of things found in nature. Many of the medicines we need are there waiting for us. We just need to learn which plants to use and how to prepare them for treating our needs.