Please email or share this article!

Native American Agriculture & Food

Native Americans were hunter-gatherers. These people lived in groups called tribes and each tribe had their own language and way of life.

Each tribe would live where they were assured of a “good hunting ground”. If hunting or fishing became scarce in one area, they would move to a better place where they could find food more easily.

Buffalo Hunt


Native Americans usually found their food in a combination of ways: hunting, fishing, gathering fruit and vegetation that was growing wild, and farming.

Some tribes living in the southern regions of North America became farmers and they found ways of growing some things they could eat.

Quechua Woman And Child In The Sacred Valley

The Cherokee and the Navajo were expert farmers. They developed ways to irrigate their plots of land and used crop rotation to keep the land fertile.

If they had a good growing year and a ‘bumper’ crop, they had enough food to last all winter. They learned how to store the extra food so that it didn’t spoil so they had food all year round.

Maize, a type of corn, was their main crop.

TahChee A Cherokee Chief 1837

Over hundreds of years, the tribes began to wander less and began to stay in one general area where they felt comfortable and could find the food they needed easily.

Chimu Culture Feather Pectoral Feathers Reed Copper Silver Hide Cordage CA 1350 1450 CE

If the tribe lived near water, they relied on the oceans, the rivers, lakes, and the land for their food and clothing.

If the tribes lived inland, they followed the herds of bison, reindeer, elk and other animals that migrated and also fished the lakes and rivers.

In the Arctic, the tribes learned to hunt seal, walrus, bears, and they fished as well.

Zea Mays

Preserving their Food

The tribes also learned how to preserve the fish and meat so that it could be eaten during winter. They discovered that the fish and meat would not spoil if they smoked it over open fires.

Much of the time during spring, summer, and fall was spent smoking what they caught. Everyone in the tribe took part, even the children.

Granaries From An Iron Age Israelite Fortress In The Negev Reconstructed At Derech Hadorot Hecht Museum Haifa


Regardless of where the tribes lived, they used animal hides for clothing and for building shelters like teepees.

The women developed ways of turning rough furry hides into soft leather clothing. They became expert seamstresses and could sew outfits for every member of the tribe, including moccasins, hides for teepees, and headdresses.

More on Native American clothes and clothing.

Two Maya Women In The Highlands Of Chiapas


  1. What is a hunter-gatherer?
  2. Name two tribes that became expert farmers.
  3. What did the farming tribes do make their crops grow?
  4. What did the tribes learn to do to preserve their food?
  5. What did the women of the tribe learn to do with hides?



  1. A hunter-gatherer follows the herds and gathers fruit and vegetation for food.
  2. The Cherokee and the Navajo became expert farmers.
  3. The farming tribes used irrigation and crop rotation to grow their crops.
  4. The tribes learned how to smoke meat and fish to preserve it for winter.

Native Americans

Cherokee Confederates Reunion

Leave a Comment