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Topic – Indigenous Inventions

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Indigenous Inventions

Indigenous Peoples were the first to farm North America, to travel around it, and to build a civilization here. Like people everywhere, they created inventions to make their lives easier. Many of these inventions are still used today.

Getting Around

Inuit kayaks, UBC Museum of Anthropology, Vancouver

The Inuit needed a way to travel through the cold seas that surrounded them, so, about 4,000 years ago, they invented the kayak. The narrow, lightweight boat is pointed at both ends and easy to move, and the paddle that propels it through the water has a blade on each end. Inventors have to use the materials that are available to them, so Inuit builders stretched seal skins over wooden or whalebone frames to make the kayaks.

First Nations near rivers and lakes created canoes to get around. Some used birchbark to cover the wooden frame, while First Nations on the west coast created dugout canoes by hollowing out huge logs. Indigenous Peoples also invented the travois, and the snowshoes they created made winter travel faster and easier.

M-m-m-maple Syrup

Maple syrup candy

Hundreds of years ago, Indigenous Peoples learned how to boil sap from sugar maple trees to make sweet syrup. Today, people also make syrup from birch tree sap. Indigenous Peoples showed European settlers how to boil the syrup and pour it on snow to make maple syrup candy. 

More importantly, Indigenous Peoples taught settlers how to make tea from cedar bark and leaves. The drink was full of vitamin C and saved the lives of many explorers and pioneers. Indigenous Peoples also shared their secret of freezing and drying some foods to keep them from spoiling.

Those Pesky Bugs

North America’s forests are full of biting insects in the spring and summer, so it is no wonder that Indigenous Peoples invented ways to deal with them. They invented insect repellents using herbs, oils from cedar trees, a substance made from birch bark, and more. Using roots, leaves, and bark, they also created liquids and pastes to put on the skin to take away the itch after the bite.

What Else?

Inuit goggles

You may think of sunglasses as being especially useful in the summer, but the Inuit originally invented them to prevent snow blindness in winter. The goggles they created were made from bone, and had a narrow slit cut on each side to see through. These goggles reduced the amount of light that could enter the wearer’s eyes.

First Nations created many other inventions, ranging from the game of lacrosse (it was originally called baggattaway) to diapers (they used soft, absorbent moss), and even the Jolly Jumper to entertain babies! 


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