Contrary to popular belief, the societies of Native Americans were as diverse as their European counterparts. The inhabitants of America encountered a variety of environments, from the tropical lands in Central America, to the desert of southwestern North America, to the lush, farmable land of the eastern section of North America. As migrating Native Americans met with these different environments, they developed societies that differed from each other in such important respects as lifestyle, politics, and religion.
(The Lifestyle of Native Americans Depended on Their Environment)
The way of life for Native Americans was tightly related to the methods by which they acquired food. Hunting and gathering societies, for example, ranged over many miles hunting game and gathering food. Agricultural societies, on the other hand, could live in tightly packed cities. Native Americans societies exhibited both styles of life.
The Eskimos of the northwest, for example, could not grow crops in their frigid environment, so they traveled great distances to hunt seals and other animals for food and skins. The Sioux of the Great Plains also hunted for food, following the American buffalo across the prairie. The climate of eastern North America, however, allowed the Iroquois and other inhabitants of the Eastern Woodlands to supplement their hunting by raising corn, beans, and squash. As such, they were able to be only semi-nomadic, raising crops in the summer and hunting during the winter.
Other cultures developed higher levels of agriculture. The Mayans and Aztecs of Central America, for example, cultivated maize and other crops. With this "agricultural revolution" came the possibility of maintaining large populations in the same area for a length of time. The Mayans and Aztecs developed large and complex cities whose inhabitants depended on agriculture and trade for their livelihood. As the knowledge of maize cultivation spread north, southwestern societies (such as the Pueblo) also developed an agricultural society that supported large numbers of people living in close quarters.
(Native American Societies Could Be Either Egalitarian or Hierarchical)
In addition to their distinct lifestyles, Native Americans possessed a number of different political structures. In the northeast, the Iroquois possessed a society that was relatively egalitarian and democratic. The leader of the Iroquois, called the chief or sachem, was...