Native Communication

Image Source: Wikimedia Commons

If a time machine dropped you into the Americas in 1491, what would you find? A vast, empty continent roamed by small bands of people, fighting to survive? No way!  Both North and South America before the arrival of Columbus played host to very large urban civilizations, powerful militaries, huge agricultural economies, and an impressive diversity of religions, languages and art styles.  Amazing feats of engineering were the norm in this world as people from Tierra Del Fuego to Baffin Bay carved out their lifestyles in wildly different ecological regions.  You might have seen evidence of this ingenuity in things like the Igloo, or the Tipi, but have you ever heard of the Inka Roads, or the floating city of Tenochtitlan?  Whether they were living in a huge empire or a small tribal nation, Native American people had to be creative in the ways they stored, spread, and communicated the information that each group needed to survive.  Let’s examine some Native American communication techniques that go WAY beyond the stereotypical “smoke signals!”

Inca Road
Image Source: Wikimedia Commons

Despite 770,000 square miles of terrain that encompassed the
highest, snowy Andes, the Amazon rainforest, Pacific Ocean beaches and several
fierce deserts, the massive 12 million strong Inca Empire innovated one of the
most rapid and efficient messaging systems in the premodern world! It relied on
a specially trained team of expert marathon runners to relay the messages that
were vital to the management of the huge empire.  Chaskis were elite endurance athletes
trained from childhood to run fast on some of the toughest high-altitude
terrain on earth.  Chaskis passed
messages anywhere along 25,000 miles of 
specially designed Inca Roads. 
They ran several miles at a sprint until they reached the next Chaski
station.  There they would pass the
message and the next runner would be off like the wind.  Chaskis took their job very seriously and
knew that if they were found to pass an incorrect message, they would be thrown
off a cliff.  Running their non-stop,
high speed relay race, they could pass a message from Ecuador to Chile in one
week, an amazingly fast result for the world before electronic

Learn more about the Chaskis – Inka Teachers Guide
Learn more about the Chaski Runners

The Winter Count
Image Source: Wikimedia Commons

Large-scale empires like the Inca needed to know exactly
what was happening in every corner of their massive territory and had the
resources to train and support thousands of Chaskis for all their communication
needs.  But what about smaller scale
societies, especially nomadic ones that moved around a lot?  Sometimes there is a stereotype that small
scale groups like the Natives of the North American Plains were in such a
struggle for survival that they did not have time for things like technology,
history, and philosophy, but this is not true. 
The Sioux had a system of recording and communicating their history that
suited their needs perfectly: The Winter Count. 

In the Sioux world, years were not counted from Dec.-Jan.
but measured from first snowfall to the next year’s first snowfall.  At the end of the year, elders met to decide
what was the most important event of the year past; that event would forever
name and define the year.  A special
member of the group would design a pictograph representing the event and add it
to a special hide that showed each year’s pictographs in succession.  Some of these Winter Count hides ran over 100
years and could be constantly renewed by painting on fresh hide when the old
one decayed.  The keeper of the Winter
Count also served as the group’s historian, using the winter count to tell
stories of what happened each year, keeping the group connected to their past
and able to learn more about themselves for the future.  The Winter Count hide itself was easily
portable and made of simple materials, making it a perfect technological fit
for the highly mobile the Plains Natives. 

Get up close to a Winter Count Calendar

Horse Cavalry
Image Source: Wikimedia Commons

Because of their speed, agility, strategy and the general ability to rain down death from any angle while on the back of a speeding horse, North American Plains Natives are considered some of the finest horse cavalry fighters in world history, second only to the Mongols.  We may be familiar with Plains Natives’ incredible fighting style from movies, but movies do not capture the deep and respectful relationship with horses that marks Plains Native life to this day.  You may have seen Native horses in movies covered in paint and symbols, but did you know these symbols function like a language, communicating messages about both horse and rider at the speed of a gallop?  Different Plains Native groups have different interpretations, but to the Lakota Sioux, things like horseshoe shapes or a drawing of a buffalo indicated the riders’ success in previous battles, horse raids, and hunts, and things like a patch of color with dots or a handprint indicated the horse itself was experienced in battles, raids and hunts, all at a glance for friends and enemies alike to see.  In a world where mobility in the grass sea was key to survival, and horses were as dear as human relatives, the visual language of horse paint was an important expression of identity and status. Plains Native Tribes are frequently misunderstood as primitive, when in fact their way of life was often a finely calibrated and highly considered relationship with nature and each other that had evolved to fit the challenging ecological niche they occupied.

Lakota paint symbols used in “Dances With Wolves” explanation

Buffalo hunting scene from Dances with Wolves

People of the Horse, Native American Horse Culture Today

Celebrating Pollution Prevention Week: September 21 – 27, 2020

Pollution is one of the largest threats against our planet,
poisoning our water systems, contaminating our atmosphere, and suffocating
wildlife. Pollution is defined as a process in which land, air, water, and the
remainder of the environment are made dirty, unsafe, and unsuitable for use. By
making yourself aware of the sources creating pollution, we can prevent
pollution and the violation of our planet. The theme for 2020’s pollution
prevention week is Common Sense Solutions for Business & The Environment.

Working to eliminate and reduce pollution sources prevents
further damage to our environment, reducing the need for expensive cleanup. In
1992, the Environmental Protection Agency passed the Pollution Prevention Act
which states the EPA must establish a source reduction program to collect and
disseminate information about pollution and provide financial assistance to
States to reduce pollution.  This act
found the United States spends tens of billions of dollars each year
controlling and cleaning the millions of tons of pollution being created.

The Pollution Prevention Act of 1990 found the first step to
prevention pollution was reducing the source. If a source of pollution cannot
be reduced or prevented, it must be recycled or treated in a green, environmentally
safe manner. Many industries can reduce and prevent the pollution they are
creating by making cost-effective changes in their manufacturing process by
simply reevaluating their priority from pollution treatment to reduction!

While industries are the greatest creators of pollution, each
citizen can help the pollution problem! Develop Environmental Management
Systems in your school or workplace that work to reduce your energy and water
use, understand resource usage, choose Energy Star rated products, use EPEAT-
registered products made with fewer toxins, and donate used electrical products
to e-Cycler’s. Your family can make green choices by looking for home products
on the EPA’s Safer Choice List, buying Energy Star products, and calculating
your household’s emissions! We can all do our part in lowering pollution to
save our planet!

Another way your family can reduce the pollution you create is by composting. Recycle your food scraps the natural way, and create an environmentally friendly, compost pile in a cup!

Triangles: The Strongest Shape

One shape is a favorite among architects, the triangle. The
triangle is the strongest shape, capable of holding its shape, having a strong
base, and providing immense support. 
Some of the world’s most famous architectural marvels like the Eiffel
Tower, Great Pyramids of Giza, and the Louvre Pyramid use the support of
triangles to make beautiful, durable structures. Two of the most used triangles
in architecture are the 30⁰-60⁰-90⁰ triangle, and the 45⁰-45⁰-90⁰ triangle.

There are a few types of triangle: the equilateral triangle which
has 3 sides of equal length, an isosceles triangle with two equal sides, and a
scalene triangle which has no sides of equal length. Aside from all the differences
in triangles, they have some similarities, they all have three sides and are extremely
stable. Comparing how other shapes stand up to pressure proves the triangles
resilience. If pressure is applied to one side of a square, it will eventually shift
into a rhombus. No matter the amount of pressure applied to a triangle, it will
absorb the pressure and remain rigid. A polygon is a shape made from straight
lines, and the triangle is the only polygon that will not shift under pressure.

Due to triangles ability to withstand tremendous pressure, this
shape is often found in architecture to provide stability. Geometry and architecture
are linked fundamentally, and by understanding the form of the triangle,
architects provide the support they need to a developing structure. A-frame
homes, truss bridges, and geodesic domes rely on triangles to create a durable

The smallest polygon is the strongest polygon, and the number of structures
relying on the strength of the triangle prove that. As an amateur architect,
you can create vast structures using triangles. Triangular support beams can be
found in large sporting arenas, bridges, and your home’s foundation! Triangles
are one amazing shape!

You can test the strength of a triangle today by building your own
truss bridge!

The World’s Most Famous Math Game: Sudoku

Sudoku is a
single person, mathematics crossword, and it is the most popular puzzle in the
world. A sudoku puzzle is a grid composed of individual boxes called cells, arranged
in a 9 cell by 9 cell square. These 81 cells come partially filled, and the
goal of the puzzle is to complete the cells will no repeating numbers in each row
or column. While sudoku seems to be easy, each cell has exactly one correct answer.
There are 6,670,903,752,021,072,936,906 possible sudoku puzzle solutions,
making seemingly simple sudoku puzzles an endless game.  

Swiss mathematician,
Leonhard Euler, had the idea to arrange numbers in a pattern so that a symbol
or number would only occur once in a row or column, he called this a Latin square.
Latin squares vary from the game we know today; sudoku has a restriction in
which a number can only occur once in each 3-cell by 3-cell region. Howard
Garns, an architect from Connersville, Indiana created the first modern sudoku
puzzle. The puzzle was published in the Dell Pencil Puzzles and Word Games
magazine in 1979. Originally the puzzle was called “Number Place,” since
solving it required placing individual numbers into empty spots.

How is it that
sudoku, an American invention, was given a name that creates the misconception
the game was a Japanese creation? First appearing in Japan in 1984, the game was
called “Sūji wa dokushin ni kagiru,” meaning “the digits are limited to one
occurrence.This extensive name was then shortened to Sudoku, and suddenly
became highly popular in Japan. To this day, there are more than 600,000 sudoku
magazines purchased each month in Japan! There are a few reasons for sudoku’s success
in Japan: the Japanese language won’t work well with crossword puzzles, though
the country love puzzles, and the infrastructure of the country is dominated by
trains and busses, giving the Japanese plenty of downtime to solve sudoku

Sudoku is satisfying
our need to gain a sense of control and order. The rules of sudoku are easy to
learn, making them fun for everyone at any age! There are lots of sudoku apps
on your device’s app store, so take a crack at the world’s favorite math game