Indigenous People: Southwest Cultivators and Foragers
In studying indigenous people, the American Indians of the Southwest culture area traditionally lived in what are now the southwestern United States and northern Mexico. Today more than one fifth of Native Americans in the United States continue to live in this region, mostly in the states of Arizona and New Mexico.
The north is dominated by the Colorado Plateau, a cool, high plain cut by canyons. Mesas, or flat-topped hills, rise up from the plain. South of the plateau, a series of isolated mountain ranges alternate with several broad, barren basins.
The climate is very dry, with some areas averaging less than 4 inches (10 centimeters) of precipitation each year. Droughts are common, and the major ecosystem is desert. In most places, however, the soil is fertile.
Southwest Cultivators and Foragers’ Language
Southwest peoples spoke languages from several different families. The Hokan-speaking Yuman peoples were the westernmost residents of the region. The so-called River Yumans, including the Yuma (Quechan), Mojave, Cocopa, and Maricopa, lived on the Colorado and Gila rivers. Their cultures combined some traditions of the Southwest culture area with others of the California Indians. The Upland Yumans lived on smaller and seasonal streams in what is now western Arizona south of the Grand Canyon. They included the Havasupai, Hualapai, and Yavapai.
The Tohono O’odham (or Papago) and the closely related Pima spoke Uto-Aztecan languages. They lived in the southwestern part of the culture area, near the border between the present-day states of Arizona (U.S.) and Sonora (Mexico). Scholars believe that these peoples descended from the ancient Hohokam culture.
The Pueblo Indians lived in what are now northeastern Arizona and northwestern New Mexico. They spoke Tanoan, Keresan, Kiowa-Tanoan, and Penutian languages. They are thought to be descendants of the prehistoric Ancestral Pueblo culture. Among the best known Pueblo peoples are the Hopi and the Zuni.
The Navajo and the closely related Apache spoke Athabaskan languages. These peoples were relative latecomers to the region. They migrated from Canada to the Southwest, arriving before ad 1500. The Navajo lived on the Colorado Plateau near the Hopi villages. The Apache traditionally resided in the basin and range systems south of the plateau. The major Apache tribes included the:
- Western Apache
- Kiowa Apache.
European Contact and Culture Change of the Southwest Cultivators and Foragers
Legendary stories of “golden cities” filled with great riches spurred Spanish exploration of the Southwest during the 1500s. In 1540, Francisco Coronado led an expedition to search for the cities, but he found only Indian settlements. He demanded food and supplies from the Pueblo Indians and answered any resistance with force, executing some 200 Pueblo. Permanent Spanish settlement of the region began in the 1590s under Juan de Oñate, who also treated the Indians brutally.
The upheaval of the Pueblo continued in the 1600s. The Indians were forced to pay tribute to the conquerors in the form of food and labor. Missionaries spread Roman Catholicism and tried to stamp out traditional religious activities, such as kachina dances. They destroyed traditional regalia and punished religious leaders severely, often using torture.
In addition, many Pueblo died during epidemics of smallpox and other diseases brought by the Europeans. Further, the Navajo and the Apache had begun to raid Pueblo settlements freely. The raids, combined with a series of droughts and the tribute system, caused mass starvation among the Pueblo. In 1680, the Pueblo revolted against the Spanish, killing nearly all the Catholic priests and forcing the conquerors to flee to Mexico.
The Pueblo were free from foreign rule until 1692, when soldiers and missionaries returned. By 1696 Spanish rule again prevailed in the Southwest. Thereafter the Pueblo, especially the eastern Pueblo, took on at least some aspects of Spanish culture. They did not, however, abandon their religious and cultural traditions. Instead, they continued to practice them in secret.
Navajo and Apache
The experiences of the Navajo and the Apache during the colonial period differed from those of the Pueblo. From the 1500s through the 1700s these tribes fought Spanish rule and tried to gain territory surrounding the Pueblo communities. At the same time they adopted some parts of both Pueblo and Spanish culture, such as horses, sheep, cattle, woven goods, and agricultural methods.
In the 1800s, a period of relative peace for the Pueblo, the Navajo and the Apache struggled. After the Southwest became part of the United States in 1848, the tribes’ raids against settlers caused great public outcry. In 1863, Kit Carson led U.S. forces in destroying Navajo fields and livestock. Some 8,000 Navajo were captured and imprisoned in New Mexico from 1864 to 1868. After their release, the Navajo returned to their communities and began the rebuilding process.
The Apache were more difficult to conquer. Military pressure did cause some Apache bands to move to reservations following the American Civil War (1861–65). Many Apache, however, refused to give up their nomadic lifestyle and resisted confinement. Although most were captured and placed on reservations by 1875, others, under such leaders as Geronimo, continued to fight until their final capture in 1886.
The pace of change in the Southwest accelerated at the end of the 1800s and the beginning of the 1900s. Like Native Americans throughout the country, Southwest peoples were affected by government policies that tried to assimilate, or integrate, them into the dominant culture. Still, in the first half of the 20th century, tribes developed governments to handle their own affairs. A variety of rural development projects also took place, including electrification and the building of schools, hospitals, irrigation systems, highways, and telephone lines.
Beginning in the 1950s, under a government policy called termination, many tribes lost their status as independent nations. By the late 20th century some Southwestern peoples had filed petitions to regain federal status.
Despite rural development projects, reservation life in the Southwest remained generally difficult, especially among the Tohono O’odham, Hopi, Fort Apache, and some of the highland Yuman tribes. Farming and sheep operations remained economic mainstays in much of the region.
By the early 21st century the tribes of the Southwest had formed a variety of business development units, tribally owned businesses, and other economic ventures. Many had developed tourism programs, which provided jobs and a venue for the sale of native arts such as jewelry, pottery, and textiles. Some tribes allowed the development of their rich mineral resources, mainly coal and uranium.
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