From their earliest contact with traders and explorers, American Indians borrowed foreign words, often to describe things not previously encountered. In this way, Russian was the source of the Alaskan Yupik word for "cat" and an Athabaskan word for "bullets." Native Canadian groups adopted French terms still in use, and southwestern groups in what is now the U.S. borrowed numerous Spanish terms.

The language exchange went both ways. Today, thousands of place names across North America have Indian origins—as do hundreds of everyday English words.

Many of these "loan words" are nouns from the Algonquian languages that were once widespread along the Atlantic coast. English colonists, encountering unfamiliar plants and animals—among them moose, opossum, and skunk—borrowed Indian terms to name them. Pronunciations generally changed, and sometimes the newcomers shortened words they found difficult; for instance, "pocohiquara" became "hickory."

Some U.S. English Words with Indian Origins

anorak from the Greenlandic Inuit "annoraq"

bayou from the Choctaw "bayuk"

chipmunk from the Ojibwa "ajidamoon," red squirrel

hickory from the Virginia Algonquian "pocohiquara"

hominy from the Virginia Algonquian "uskatahomen"

igloo from the Canadian Inuit "iglu," house

kayak from the Alaskan Yupik "qayaq"

moccasin from the Virginia Algonquian

moose from the Eastern Abenaki "mos"

papoose from the Narragansett "papoos," child

pecan from the Illinois "pakani"

powwow from the Narragansett "powwaw," shaman

quahog from the Narragansett "poquauhock"

squash from the Narragansett "askutasquash"

succotash from the Narragansett "msickquatash," boiled corn

tepee from the Sioux "tipi," dwelling

toboggan from the Micmac "topaghan"

tomahawk from the Virginia Algonquian "tamahaac"

totem from the Ojibwa "nindoodem," my totem

wampum from the Massachusett "wampumpeag"

wigwam from the Eastern Abenaki "wik'wom"


What would  Italian cooking be without the tomato? How would Irish history have been different without the potato? What would the Swiss have done without chocolate? These and such products as tobacco, corn, cassava, and most species of bean were unknown in Europe before the voyages of Columbus. As the early explorers encountered these exotic items in the Americas, they brought them to Europe and Africa, where they eventually revolutionized eating habits.


Until Columbus, the only beans known in the Old World were soybeans and some uncommon species. Other types of bean widely used today — shell, string, kidney, lima, and pea beans—were cultivated by indigenous peoples of the Americas.


Also known as manioc, this starchy root is native to the Amazon region of South America, where Indians cultivated it. As trade between Africa, Europe, and the New World blossomed, cassava gradually became a staple in parts of Africa.


The Aztecs drank a chocolate drink, which intrigued the Spanish when they arrived in Mexico around 1500. The Spaniards introduced chocolate to Europe where it quickly became an exotic luxury. In 1657 a London store began selling chocolate and started a trend. As people gathered to drink chocolate and talk, conversation clubs arose. The Cocoa Tree was the most famous. Chocolate was first manufactured in the U.S. at Milton Lower Mills outside Boston, Mass. In the 1870s the Swiss began making milk chocolate, by adding condensed milk to the formula.


What is known in the U.S. today as corn is actually maize, or was sometimes called Indian corn. In England, "corn" meant wheat, while in Scotland and Ireland it referred to oats. Indians cultivated several varieties of corn& mash; white, yellow, red, blue, sweet corn, popcorn, and corn to make corn meal. Corn is a mixture of several types of wild grass.


From its origins among the Inca of the Andes Mountains, potato cultivation spread through wide areas of the Americas, where it was often a staple crop. The Spanish introduced it to Europe. The English first began to grow potatoes on a large scale. English settlers brought the potato with them to North America after 1600, thus reintroducing it to the New World. In Europe, the potato became a staple in many areas. Failure of the Irish potato crop in the mid-1800s prompted a massive migration to the Americas.


Early explorers reported seeing Indians smoking tobacco. By the mid-1500s, Spain and Portugal had introduced tobacco to Europe where it gradually became popular. The English began experimenting with the crop in Virginia, which remains a major tobacco producer. Tobacco use and production have circled the globe. The Middle East, Turkey, Pakistan, India, China, Russia, Indonesia, and the Philippines all produce tobacco. Cuba and Puerto Rico also grow tobacco and have become
important cigar manufacturers.


The Incas and the Aztecs raised tomatoes. Officially a fruit, the tomato, sometimes called the "love apple," did not catch on at once in Europe. Many people believed tomatoes were poisonous. Around 1800, the tomato was reintroduced to the Americas when Europeans brought it to the U.S., where it is the third most common vegetable crop today.


Imagine our world without chocolate or chewing gum, syringes, rubber balls, or copper tubing. Native peoples invented precursors to all these and made huge strides in medicine and agriculture.

They developed pain medicines, birth-control drugs, and treatment for scurvy. Their strains of domesticated corn, potatoes, and other foods helped reduce hunger and disease in Europe—though Indians also introduced the cultivation and use of tobacco.

As the National Museum of the American Indian (see photos) in Washington, D.C., readies for its grand opening Tuesday, bone up on Indian innovations in food and candy, outdoor gear, and health and exercise.


Chewing Gum
Quick! What was the first commercially available chewing gum in the U.S.? If you guessed Wrigley's Doublemint, guess again. The first over-the-counter gum was spruce sap, introduced to New England colonists by Native Americans. But even Wrigley's fortune traces its roots to Indian innovation, in the form of the key ingredient chicle. The Aztecs chewed this latex, found in the sapodilla tree.

The Inca of South America froze potatoes atop high mountains, which evaporated the moisture inside the tubers. Freeze-drying preserved the potatoes for years and helped Spanish colonists to ship "fresh" potatoes all the way back to Europe by boat.

Two thousand years ago the Maya cooked up Earth's first chocolate from cacao beans. The chocolate of the Maya, Toltec, and Aztec Indians generally took the form of a bitter drink. Sugar was added later to suit European palates.

Indians in what is now Mexico were the first to figure out how to turn the pods of the vanilla orchid into the flavor that launched a thousand soft-serve cones. In fact, Indians were so attached to the taste that they kept the recipe under wraps for hundreds of years after the Spanish arrived.

Having developed varieties of corn that exploded into a taste sensation, some Native Americans developed equally intriguing methods of cooking the snack. Some Indians shoved a stick through a dried cob and held it over the fire, weenie-roast style. And in South America the Moche made popcorn poppers out of pottery.

Potatoes, Peanuts, and Corn
Nearly half the world's leading food crops can be traced to plants first domesticated by Indians. Native farmers introduced Europeans to a cornucopia of nutritious plants, including potatoes, peanuts, manioc, beans, tomatoes, sunflowers, and yams. Maize, or corn, was by far the most significant contribution, now grown on every continent except Antarctica.


Today's ski jackets owe their origins in part to hooded coats Inuit [Eskimo] women fashioned from layers of skins that trapped air for greater insulation. Many parkas were made from caribou, a fur favored for its heat-holding properties.

Snow Goggles
Some 2,000 years before goggles became an Alpine fashion must, the Inuit [Eskimos] created their own versions. Some examples are carved from walrus tusks, with narrow slits that helped thwart glare from snow and the sea.

Duck Decoys
Constructed of feathers and reeds, 2,000-year-old duck decoys were found in Nevada in 1924. Archaeologists believe that early native hunters used them to lure waterfowl much as hunters use plastic decoys today.

Moccasin styles were once so distinctive that they could reveal a person's tribe. (Fringe may have helped erase footprints.) Now native-inspired shoe designs can be found worldwide, from lightweight cowhide moccasins to toasty mukluks, named for the original sealskin or reindeer-skin boots worn by Eskimos.

Throughout the Americas, Indians mastered the art of blending in as a tactic for both hunting and warfare. Many hunters would paint their faces and/or wear the skins of the animals they were stalking. And like many bird hunters today, some Native Americans concealed themselves behind blinds.


We're not sure how they said, "This won't hurt a bit." But we do know that some ancient North American native healers injected medicine beneath the skin. Making the most of the materials at hand, they fashioned hypodermic needles out of hollow bird bones and small animal bladders.

Dental Care
North American Indians scrubbed their teeth with the ragged ends of sticks, while the Aztec Indians applied salt and charcoal to their choppers.

Ball Games
Were the Maya and Aztec sports fanatics? Having found ancient rubber balls, ceremonial courts, and depictions of ballplayers in Mesoamerica—the parts of the Americas inhabited by advanced peoples before the arrival of Columbus—archaeologists think both cultures revered certain ball games. This also includes the Cherokee A-ne-jo-di or "stick ball" games.


Did you know?

When an Indian boy was born, it was customary for his father to hold him toward the sun and pray, “Oh, Sun, make this boy strong and brave.  May he die in battle rather than from old age or sickness.” 

It must have taken practice, but some Indians were expert horsemen.  They could somersault backwards over their horses tails and land on both feet, weapons in hand ready for hand to hand combat.

It was believed that only by taking the blood of the enemy could they wipe the paint of mourning off their face.

Face paint was worn during battles because the Indian felt it was wrong to kill.  By wearing face paint it was believed they could hide from the Great Spirit.



At the signing of the Treaty of Hopewell, the 'hatchet' was literally buried in a ceremony.

- Although comprising less than one percent of the country’s population in 2004, Native Americans controlled $48 billion in disposable income, which makes this diverse group economically attractive to businesses.

- It is projected that the nation's Native American buying power will rise to 65.6 billion in 2009.

Dartmouth College was originally established as a mission school, and monies were to be used for the education of Indians.  Today, Dartmouth  awards only one scholarship per year specifically for Native Americans.