Fast Facts for Teachers

From Gina Glazko, Heard Museum

Teachers: Recently I have been asked to compile some interesting "fast facts" concerning American Indians, and naturally thought that you might find these interesting! Some are from the newspaper "Indian Country Today", others are from various books and web sites. Here goes:

Currently, the Bureau of Indian Affairs manages 55,700,000 acres of land held in trust by American Indians, Indian tribes and Alaska Natives

The federal government recognizes 561 American Indian tribes; individual states recognize an additional 45 tribes

The Bureau of Indian Affairs provides educational services to 48,000 Indian students

Of the 6,912 indigenous languages still used in the world, 162 are American Indian languages spoken in the United States today

Native peoples of North, Central and South America have given the world 60% of all crops now under cultivation. And the indigenous peoples of the Andes have done more plant experiments than any other people anywhere in the world.

Maize or corn is the most productive food crop per acre known to man. Corn, beans and squash made up the staple diet of the farming peoples of North American and were often referred to as the “three sisters.”

Europeans adopted the idea of planting seeds, rather than sowing them, from Indians. This selection and planting process meant the Indian farmers were dramatically more successful than European farmers.

Corn, tomatoes, potatoes, peanuts, chili, sweet peppers, chocolate and vanilla are all foods first domesticated and used by American Indians.

Potato chips were first “invented” by American Indian chef George Crum who worked at Moon Lake Lodge in Sarasota Springs, New York in 1853. Frustrated when a customer sent fried potatoes back twice, saying they were undercooked and too thick, Crum created Saratoga Chips. These were so popular that Crum then opened his own restaurant.

Vanilla, the seed pod of a type of orchid, has been used by the Totonac Indians of Mexico for more than 1,000 years as a perfume, flavoring, medicine and insect repellent. When introduced into Europe, vanilla became a favorite Of Queen Elizabeth I who is said to have been a devotee of the flavoring, preferring it to the exclusion of all other spices.

Cacao beans, the basis for chocolate, were used by the Aztecs as currency, and the beans were introduced in England in 1657. Mrs. White’s Chocolate House, which opened in London in 1698, was Great Britain’s first private club.

Although American Indians of the New England area had long dipped popped corn and peanuts into maple syrup to make a snack, it wasn’t until the Chicago World’s Fair in 1893 that Cracker Jack snacks became popular.

Before 1849, control of Indian Affairs was under the Department of War. After that date, Congress shifted oversight to the Department of the Interior.

American Indians retain rights to their lands through three methods: Spanish Land Grants honored when the U.S. gained control of the Pueblos in New Mexico; treaties negotiated by Congress with Indian leaders; and, after 1871, Executive Orders signed by the president.

It wasn’t until 1878 that Congress required all physicians on Indian Reservations to be graduates of a medical college.

In 1924, Congress declared that Indians were citizens of the U.S., although it was not until 1948 that two Yavapai men, Frank Harrison and Harry Austin, from the Fort McDowell Reservation, won the right to vote in county and general elections for all Indians in Arizona.

The first 29 Navajo Code talkers were recruited by the Marines in 1942. By the end of the War, 420 Navajo had participated in the program. At the time 88% of Navajo men were considered illiterate by American standards. They are not acknowledged until 1992, when the code is finally declassified. Choctaw and Comanche Code Talkers served in Europe, but are not as yet honored by the U.S. They have, however, been recognized by the government of France who awarded the Choctaw Nation the Chevalier de l’Ordre National du Merite.

Emory Sekaquaptewa, Jr., from the Hopi village of Oraibi, is believed to be the first full-blooded Indian appointed to West Point. The year was 1949.

The Scottsdale School District refused to accept any Indian students in District schools until the mid-1970s, citing “too much paperwork” as the reason.

In 1963, President John F. Kennedy selects Navajo Anne Dodge Wauneka for the Medal of Freedom Award. It is actually President Lyndon Johnson who officiates at the ceremony.

By adopting the Indian Civil Rights Act of 1968, Congress extended to Indian people the guarantees given to other Americans in the Bill of Rights of the Constitution.

Since 1981, the Navajo Nation has had an office in Washington, D.C., for the purpose of lobbying Congress.

In 1984, the Ak-Chin Water Settlement Act has enabled that community to develop large-scale farming, making it possible for that reservation to be independent of federal funding.

Many Indian people are not generally known by the name they use for themselves and some have mandated a change. The Tohono O’odham, Desert People, were formerly known as Papago, meaning “eaters of beans.” The Apache, from a Zuni word meaning “enemy,” call themselves Nde’, meaning “people.” The Maricopa, probably from the Spanish term “mariposa” meaning butterfly, call themselves PeePosh. The Zuni name for themselves is A’shiwi, and the Navajo are really Dine’. The prehistoric Anasazi (a Navajo word meaning “ancient enemy”) are now known as the Ancestral Pueblo in accordance with the wishes of their present-day Pueblo descendants.

Mary Kim Titla, San Carlos Apache, was the first and only American Indian TV reporter in Arizona. She resigned her post with KTVK-News 12 to devote herself full time to Native Youth Magazine, a web journal she launched in 2005.

There are currently 53 American Indian charter schools across the country, 31 of which are located on non-tribal lands.

More than 80% of Indian youth between the ages of 5 to 17 years have access to computers in the classroom, about the same percentage as white children in classrooms, and a much higher rate than Asians, Hispanic or Black students. Only about 55% of those Indian children use a computer at home which is more than Hispanic or Black children but much less than White or Asian youth.

Louis Sockalexis, a Penobscot from Maine, was the first Indian player in the National Baseball League. At Holy Cross College his batting average was an astonishing .862 in 1895; he also held the amateur record for the longest baseball throw (393 feet) and once stole six bases in one game. He played for the Cleveland Spiders until the age of 27, when he broke his ankle. His batting average that year was .400, although it dropped to .338 for the last of the season as he continued to play on a broken ankle. Experts suggest that if he had continued to play another five years, he could have been better than Ty Cobb or Babe Ruth.

Maria Tallchief, Osage, is considered America’s first prima ballerina. She was the first lead dancer born, raised and trained in the United States. She was the principal dancer for the New York City Ballet Company under the direction of choreographer George Balanchine, who created ballets for her. She retired from dancing in 1965, but founded the Chicago Ballet in 1981 and served as its director until 1987, when she retired from public life.

Sequoyah, Cherokee, born between 1760 and 1776, was permanently crippled as a child from a hunting accident. Although he never learned to read or write English, he quickly observed how important the skill was for the white men he encountered. By 1809, he began to develop a writing system for the Cherokee language that was adopted by his nation in 1821. Within in a few years, thousands of Cherokee learned to read and write in their own language and the Tribal Council funded the first Indian newspaper in 1827. Until his death in 1843, Sequoyah was active in tribal politics and served as an envoy to Washington, D.C. to assist displaced Eastern Cherokees.

N. Scott Momaday, born in 1934 in Lawton Oklahoma, is a Kiowa writer. His novel House Made of Dawn led to the breakthrough of American Indian literature into the mainstream. He was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 1969. He was also featured in the Ken Burns and Stephen Ives' documentary, The West, for his masterful retelling of Kiowa history and legend.

Dr. Louis Ballard (1931-2007) was a composer of Cherokee and Quapaw descent whose works are performed regularly by major symphony orchestras, choral societies, chamber music ensembles and ballet companies. His credits include major premieres at Carnegie Hall, Smithsonian Institution, and Lincoln Center, to name just a few. Ballard also produced, directed and composed the music for the nation's first all-Indian halftime show at Robert F. Kennedy Stadium in Washington, DC. Ballard was honored as the first American composer to present a concert of his music in the new Beethoven-House Chamber Music Hall adjoining Beethoven's birthplace in Bonn, Germany. As well, Ballard has been honored with grants from the Rockefeller Foundation, Ford Foundation and National Endowment for the Arts. A Lifetime Musical Achievement Award was presented to Louis W. Ballard from the First Americans in the Arts, February 1997, in Beverly Hills, CA.

Naomi Lang, Karuk, is an ice dancer and the first American Indian athlete to participate in the Olympic Winter Games. Born in 1978, she studied ballet from the age of 3 years. She both danced and skated after the age of 8, and then concentrated on ice dancing exclusively from the age of 15. After winning titles with another partner in both 1995 and 1996, she began skating with Russian ice dancer Peter Tchernyshev in 1996. They won the U.S. Championships for five years, starting in 1999, and placed 11th at the 2003 Olympics. The team still skates in ice shows, but were forced to retire because of a repeated injury to Lang’s Achilles’ tendon.

Born in 1879 on a large ranch on the Cherokee Nation in Oklahoma, Will Rogers was taught by a freed slave how to use a lasso. His special skill – throwing three ropes at once – got him into the Guinness Book of World Records. While performing rope tricks with vaudeville and wild west shows, he started telling jokes. Soon his wise-cracks and folksy observations were this hits of the shows. Will Rogers was the star of 71 movies, as well as the author of 4,000 syndicated newspaper columns and six books. His son Will was a Congressman, his daughter Mary a Broadway actress and his son Jim a cattle rancher. Will Rogers was killed in a plane crash in 1935.

Jim Thorpe, (1887-1953), Potawatomi, was born in a one-room cabin in Oklahoma and earned the epithet “the greatest athlete in the world.” His career began at the Carlisle Industrial Indian School in Pennsylvania where he excelled in football and track. Thorpe is one of the two men in history who played for the New York Giants in two different sports: football and baseball. He played professionally until he retired, at the age of 41, in 1928. He was the first president of the National Football League. At the 1912 Olympic Games, Thorpe won gold medals in decathlon and pentathlon. Oklahoma state officials refused  him burial, so he was buried in Pennsylvania in the town that now bears his name.

Indian gaming facitities generated $17.12 billion in income in 2003; by 2005, gaming revenues grew to $22.64 billion. During the same period, non-gaming revenues grew from $1.8 billion to $2.2 billion.

George Blue Spruce, Laguna/Okay Owingeh, is the first American dentist. He started his own practice in 1958. Now retired, he is currently on the Board of Trustees of the Heard Museum.

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