Teaching Students About The Native American Currency
The history of Native American currency offers an insightful perspective into the values, culture, and economy of Indigenous peoples that inhabited North America for thousands of years. By teaching students about Native American currency, educators can provide a deeper understanding of the complex relationships between tribes and their ecosystems, as well as the contributions these tribes made to trade and commerce in early America.
Currency Across Tribes and Time
Native American currency was not standard across all tribes. Instead, different forms of currency were utilized in diverse regions based on local availability, cultural beliefs, and utility value. Some of the well-known forms of currency included shells (particularly wampum), obsidian blades, dentalium shells (tooth-shaped shells), and animal furs.
In the Eastern Woodlands region, wampum beads made from quahog clamshells were highly prized due to their rarity. These beads served not only as a medium of exchange but also as a unit for recording transactions, sending messages, or marking ceremonies.
Meanwhile, on the Pacific Northwest coast, dentalium shells were popular because they were abundant under nearby ocean waters. The Haudenosaunee (Iroquois) Confederacy used beaded belts called wampum belts for documenting history and cementing political agreements.
In the Plains region, animal furs were often traded, with buffalo hide being particularly significant due to its various uses for clothing, tools, and shelter. In addition to furs in other regions such as the Southwest and California areas, obsidian blades were also commonly used for trade.
Copper played an essential role in currency for the Great Lakes tribes. Copper nuggets mined from Isle Royale in Lake Superior held cultural significance and strong associations with power and prestige.
Incorporating Native American Currency into the Curriculum
Educators interested in teaching students about Indigenous currencies have several options for incorporating this subject matter into various areas of their curriculum.
1. History classes: Understanding Native American currencies offers a unique perspective on inter-tribal relationships and their connections to early European explorers and settlers. By integrating this topic into history lessons, teachers can paint a more nuanced picture of early American trade, economy, and cultural exchanges.
2. Economics classes: Native American currencies are an opportunity to discuss the barter system and the importance of sustainable resource use in pre-colonial economies. This may lead to broader conversations about modern economic systems, value determination, and approaches to preserving natural resources.
3. Art classes: Creating replica tokens such as wampum beads or designing decorative belts can be an engaging art project for students, allowing them to appreciate the craftsmanship involved in these cultural artifacts.
4. Anthropology or sociology classes: By exploring the role that currency played in Native American societies, students will gain insight into cultural values, beliefs, and social hierarchies within these communities.
Teaching students about Native American currency is not only an essential way of recognizing Indigenous histories but also a means of fostering an understanding of the complex economic systems that thrived before European influence. By delving into different types of currencies utilized by tribes across North America, students will enrich their appreciation for diverse cultures and perspectives that have played a crucial role in shaping our continent’s history.