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Encyclopedia of North American Indians Native American History, Culture, and Life from Paleo-Indians to the Present
Edited By Fredrick E. Hoxie

1 Who were the "code talkers" and what military force did they help defeat?
2 What were the "five civilized tribes"?
3 What tribe was named after an Old French term for boar's head...and why?

*Answers for the above questions at the bottom of the sample entries.

Even as interest in the powerful, often tragic history of Native America grows, many books continue to perpetuate long-standing misconceptions of the past as well as the romantic stereotypes often popularized today. Readers can now rely on the Encyclopedia of North American Indians for an authentic and often surprising portrait of the complexities of the Native American experience. Written by more than 260 contemporary authorities, the volume features many Native American contributors — including eminent writers, tribal elders, scholars and activists — with voices as distinct as their subjects, offering a deeper and more informed appreciation of American Indian life past and present. With more than 1,200 entries, this title has both depth and breadth.

Key Features:

• More than 1,200 entries cover individuals, tribes, and many aspects of Native American history, ranging from architecture to battles to such unique contributions as "code talkers."
• More than 260 contributors including leading scholars, and authorities.
• Scores of biographies of famous chiefs and warriors, as well as Native Americans who became famous in fields ranging from politics to basketball to literature.

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Encyclopedia of North American Indians

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Sample Entry:


The Massachusetts, indigenous residents of what are now the central and northern coastal regions of the state of Massachusetts, claimed territories extending as far south and east as present-day Marshfield, Massachusetts, and west to the boundaries marked by the Charles and Seekonk Rivers. At the time of first contact with French and English explorers in the late sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries, the Massachusetts were a populous, semi-sedentary people dependent on marine and estuarine resources, cultivated crops, and wild game. The Massachusetts were among the hardest hit of southern New England native peoples by the European-introduced epidemic of 1616-1619, which may have claimed up to 90 percent of their population.

Like most of their neighbors, the Massachusetts were organized into political units known as sachemships, each led by a hereditary ruler, usually male, known as a sachem or sagamore. A complex and hierarchical social order was characteristic of these sachemships, with the sachem occupying the position of highest prestige. The sachem's responsibilities included the allocation of land, diplomacy, trade, and decisions concerning warfare. The sachem's advisers, sometimes called "nobles" by English settlers, shared the burdens of leadership as well. Warriors who underwent rigorous training also occupied positions of status within Massachusett society.

Labor was divided by gender; women among the Massachusetts farmed, collected shellfish, and undertook most domestic chores. Men were hunters, deep-sea fishermen, traders, and warriors.

The Massachusett cosmos was populated by numerous beings and forces collectively and individually known as manitou, a term also used to describe anything strange, wonderful, or inexplicable. Manitou was sought through dreams, fasting and visions, and its possession was linked to power, health, and well-being. The principal religious practitioners among the Massachusetts, known as pawauog (and called "powwows" by English travelers), encountered manitou in dreams, and thereafter served their communities as curers, prophets and wonder workers.

Early relations between the Massachusetts and English settlers, with the exception of hostilities provoked by the Pilgrims at Wessagusset (now Weymouth, Massachusetts), were generally peaceful, but the attenuated native population was rapidly overwhelmed by the Great Migration of the 1630s. The rapid expansion of English settlement, and the subsequent isolation of the Massachusetts from more powerful native allies, may have motivated those Massachusett people who in 1646 agreed to receive John Eliot, who then held the office of teacher at the Roxbury, Massachusetts church, as a missionary. In keeping with the Puritan "text-based" theology, Eliot initiated efforts to establish vernacular literacy among the Massachusetts, an effort that had largely succeeded by the end of the seventeenth century.

Eliot's missionary program brought together Massachusett people with neighboring Nipmucks and Pokanokets into a number of villages that came to be known as "praying towns." These communities remained largely isolated and self-sufficient until the end of the eighteenth century. Increasingly confined to small acreages, and constrained by debt to sell much of their remaining land, the Massachusetts by the mid-nineteenth century had become largely invisible to outsiders, but continued to maintain a strong sense of ethnic identity into modern times.

Goddard, Ives, and Kathleen Bragdon, native Writings in Massachusett, American Philosophical Society Memoir no. 185 (Philadelphia, American Philosophical Society, 1988); Salwen, Bert, "Indians of southern New England and Long Island: Early Period," in Handbook of North American Indians, ed William C. Sturtevant, vol. 15, Northeast, ed. Bruce Trigger (Washington: Smithsonian Institution, 1978).

Kathleen Bragdon, College of William and Mary

* 1  During World War II and World War II, many Indian languages were used by the U.S. military as secret codes, and most of these codes were transmitted and received by Native Americans. The Choctaws offered their expertise in both world wars, and the Comanches, Creeks, Menominees, Ojibwas and Hopis all contributed to the effort as code talkers in World War II.

2  The term Five Civilized Tribes is the name commonly given to the five major tribes of the southeastern part of the United States: the Cherokees, Chickasaws, Choctaws, Muskogee Confederation (Creeks), and Seminoles. These tribes came into contact with Europeans early in American history and adapted quickly to new conditions.

Intermarriage between the tribes and whites produced a number of tribal leaders as well as established planters and prosperous businessmen within these communities. The tribes also developed their own constitutions, law codes, judicial systems, and other facts of "civilization," and by the early nineteenth century had come to be called "Civilized Tribes."

3  The Iroquoian peoples whom the seventeenth-century French labeled Hurons (from the Old French hure, meaning "boar's head," referring to the male Hurons' bristly coiffure) lived between Lake Simcoe and the southeastern corner of Georgian Bay in today's Canadian province of Ontario.