Indigenous Peoples’ Day: 5 Ways Native American Culture Changed the World

October 11th is Indigenous Peoples’ Day, a wonderful event to celebrate the many ways native culture continues to impact our lives every day. Read on to learn how Native American culture changed the world!

1. Language. You may be surprised to learn that you probably hear Native American words on a daily basis, and much of our English vocabulary is directly based on indigenous vocabulary! Here are just a few words that originate from Native Americans:

  • Barbecue
  • Hurricane
  • Skunk
  • Mahogany
  • Toboggan (for all you winter sledders out there!)

In addition, a massive number of American cities and states are derived from Native American words. Here are some examples, along with their original meanings!

  • Arizona – Based on a word from the Papago language, Airzonac, which likely translates to “small springs.”
  • Iowa – The name of the tribe which inhabited this area, meaning “sleepy ones.”
  • Massachusetts – The name of an Algonquian tribe which translates to “at the great hill.”
  • Nebraska – From the Oto language, meaning “broad water.”
  • Ohio – A word from the Iroquois peoples which means “beautiful river.”

2. Food. It’s absolutely astounding just how many foods we eat that originated from indigenous peoples. In fact, it’s likely that you eat at least one of these foods every single day! The introduction of foods like corn and potatoes changed the entire world, and many are surprised to learn that these foods did not exist outside of America before the age of exploration. Even foods often associated with other regions – like Irish potatoes – came from indigenous peoples! Here are some other indigenous foods people enjoy around the world every day:

  • Tomato
  • Avocado
  • Chocolate
  • Maple syrup
  • Vanilla
  • Pineapple
  • Turkey
  • Chewing gum

3. Modern society. Many of the Native Americans’ practices found their way into modern society – from architectural designs to clothing fashions. Raw materials like cotton and rubber were originally utilized by indigenous peoples, but are now a staple of modern products – from printer paper to car tires!

4. Music. Native Americans placed an emphasis on drums and vocalizations in their music – the hallmarks of modern popular music. Europeans primarily used drums for classical compositions and military marches, whereas the natives’ unique approach of featuring drums as a foundational beat to accompany vocals has proven to be a timeless combination. Scholars have even pointed out that vocables – otherwise known as “nonsense syllables” – were often used by Native Americans and are now common in popular music. Think Lady Gaga – “rah, rah, ah-ah-ah, roma, roma-ma”!

5. Conservation. Indigenous people had a deep-rooted respect for nature, the land, and wildlife. Many of their ancient views on conservation and sustainability are only now becoming standard practices in today’s society. Many experts refer to Native Americans as the original ecologists with their efforts to avoid wastefulness, cruelty, and destruction of the environment. Native Americans lived in harmony with nature and believed in respecting the land – lessons that are perhaps more important today than ever before.