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Totem Pole circa 1900
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Native American Inventions

From Mary Bellis,
Your Guide to Inventors.
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Native Americans invented the totem pole, toboggan, kayak and more.

Totem Pole

West Coast First Peoples consider that the first totem pole was a gift from Raven. It was named Kalakuyuwish, "the pole that holds up the sky." The totem poles were often used as family crests denoting the tribe's descent from an animal such as the bear, raven, wolf, salmon, or killer whale.

According to Encyclopedia Britannica, "There are seven principal kinds of totem pole: memorial, or heraldic, poles, erected when a house changes hands to commemorate the past owner and to identify the present one; grave markers, house posts, which support the roof; portal poles, which have a hole through which a person enters the house; welcoming poles, placed at the edge of a body of water to identify the owner of the waterfront; mortuary poles, in which the remains of the deceased are placed; and ridicule poles, on which an important individual who had failed in some way had his likeness carved upside down."

View Totem Pole Images

  • Resources - Totem Poles
  • Totem Pole - From the Royal British Columbia Museum, photos and short essays on different B.C. located totem poles.
  • Totem Poles and Native Sites - Totem poles in-depth. How to tell a fake from the real thing. How to read the stories they tell.


Toboggan comes from the Algonquian word odabaggan. The toboggan is an invention of the Eastern First Peoples. Indian hunters first built toboggans made of bark to carry game over the snow. The Inuit (sometimes called Eskimos) used to make toboggans of whalebone, otherwise a toboggan is made of strips of hickory, ash, or maple, with the front ends curved back.

Tipi and Other Housing

Tipis or tepees are adaptations of Wigwams that were invented by the Plains First Peoples. Seven main styles of Native American housing were invented the Wickiup, the Wigwam, the Longhouse, the Tipi, the Hogan, the Dugout, and the Pueblo.
  • Short History of the Tipi - The first nomadic peoples needed a sturdy dwelling that could stand up against the severe prairie winds and yet could be dismantled at a moment's notice to follow the drifting herds. They invented the tipi.


The kayak was invented by the Inuit Peoples.
  • A Short History of the Kayak - The skin-covered kayaks of the Arctic people are excellent examples of a technology developed over centuries of experimental refinement and everyday use.

Birch Bark Canoe

The birch bark canoe was invented by the Eastern First Peoples. The word 'canoe' originiated from the word 'kenu' - meaning dugout.


Snowshoes were invented by the Eastern First Peoples.


Lacrosse was invented by the Iroquois and Huron Peoples.
  • History of Lacrosse - The game of lacrosse was invented by the Native American tribes living around the St. Lawrence River in New York and Ontario, and was spread by the Huron and the Iroquois. They named the game after the ball, baggataway, (in the most common dialect).
  • Lacrosse : An Iroquois Tradition - Lacrosse is pleasing to the Creator but it is also a rite sacred to the Thunders, the seven honored elders (Grandfathers) who move across the sky from west to east cleansing the earth with winds and rains.
  • History of Lacrosse - The Cherokees called the sport "the little brother of war" because it was considered excellent military training. The Six Tribes of the Iroquois, in what is now southern Ontario and upstate New York, called their version of the game "baggataway" or "tewaraathon".


Moccasins originated with the Eastern North American tribes, traditionally referred to a shoe with a puckered u-shaped 'vamp' over the instep. The name of the Great Lakes Ojibway tribe means 'people of the puckered moccasin'. The southern New England Narragansett word for shoe is 'Mocussinass' or 'Mockussinchass'.

Bows and Arrows

Bows and arrows were not invented by Native Americans, however, they did use bows and arrows and this section includes the origins and uses of bows and arrows worldwide.
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