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Native Americans

Agriculture and Food

History >> Native Americans for Kids

How did Native Americans get their food?

Depending on the tribe and the area they lived in, Native Americans got their food by different methods including farming, hunting, fishing, and gathering. Most tribes used a combination of these four ways to get their food, but many specialized in one area such as farming or hunting.


Many American Indian tribes grew crops for food, but the experts in farming tended to come from the southern states like the Southeast and the Southwest. Tribes like the Navajo and the Cherokee grew large crops and employed advanced farming procedures such as irrigation to bring water to dry areas and crop rotation to keep the ground fertile over many years. They would grow enough extra food so they could store it and survive the winter.

Maize by Anga Bottione-Rossi.
The main crop that the Native Americans grew was corn, which they called maize. Maize was eaten by many of the American Indian tribes because it could be stored for the winter and ground into flour. Maize was eaten nearly daily by many tribes and was a major part of much of American Indian culture. All of the maize plant was used including the husks for crafts and the cob for fuel in fires. Although maize was the primary crop, many other crops were cultivated by the tribes including squash, beans, pumpkins, cotton, and potatoes.

Hunting and Fishing

Many tribes got most of their food from hunting. Hunting was a big part of Native American culture.

The Buffalo or Bison

Native Americans in the Great Plains area of the country relied heavily on the buffalo, also called the bison. Not only did they eat the buffalo as food, but they also used much of the buffalo for other areas of their lives. They used the bones for tools. They used the hide for blankets, clothes, and to make the covers of their tepees. They even made rope from bison hair and used the tendons as thread when sewing. Almost every part of the buffalo was used.

Bison hunt
A Lucky Shot by Henry Farney.

The bison is a big and powerful animal that traveled in large herds. In order to hunt them the American Indians had to be clever and work together. They would often get the buffalo to stampede off a cliff or into a pit.

Other Animals

In other areas of the country the American Indians hunted using weapons such as the bow and arrow or using snares and traps. They hunted deer, ducks, rabbits and other animals.


In the coastal areas or near large lakes, tribes would specialize in fishing. They often used spears or nets to catch fish. Fish could be smoked or dried to be stored for the winter. In the north, some Native Americans would ice fish. This is where they would cut a hole in the ice and fish using spears.


Gathering is when people get their food from the environment around them. Native Americans would gather food such as berries, nuts, or other fruit from naturally growing trees and berry bushes. Most Native Americans used gathering to get some portion of their food.

Activities For more Native American history:

Culture and Overview
Agriculture and Food
Native American Art
American Indian homes and Dwellings
Homes: The Teepee, Longhouse, and Pueblo
Native American Clothing
Roles of Women and Men
Social Structure
Life as a Child
Mythology and Legends
Glossary and Terms

History and Events
Timeline of Native American History
King Philips War
French and Indian War
Battle of Little Bighorn
Trail of Tears
Wounded Knee Massacre
Indian Reservations
Civil Rights

Tribes and Regions
Apache Tribe
Cherokee Tribe
Cheyenne Tribe
Iroquois Indians
Navajo Nation
Nez Perce
Osage Nation
Sioux Nation

Famous Native Americans
Crazy Horse
Chief Joseph
Sitting Bull
Maria Tallchief
Jim Thorpe
Works Cited

History >> Native Americans for Kids

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