Photo courtesy of Civilization

Learn | 11.12.2021

Five Things Native Americans Invented

But you probably didn't know.

In honor of November, Native American Heritage Month, it’s about time society sheds light and recognizes the significant contributions Native Americans and Indigenous People made in the United States. 

It’s a crying shame that modern society doesn’t acknowledge the many useful and life-changing inventions that Indigenous People have granted us. In fact, you probably weren’t aware that Native Americans were the first to create many inventions that the world uses day in and day out.

Whether it’s an issue with the educational system, the government, or society as a whole, it’s clear that Native Americans do not get the credit they deserve for creating some of the most valuable conceptions known to humanity. Here are five inventions that Indigenous People brought to the world. 

Birth Control

Photo by crankyT / Getty Images

Long before the pharmaceutical industry created birth control pills and didn’t give any credit to Indigenous People, the Shoshone and Navajo tribes used stoneseed, a.k.a Columbia Puccoon, as an oral contraceptive to avoid unwanted pregnancies.

Mouthwash

Photo courtesy of Adirondacks

You can thank Indigenous People for your fresh breath. Many tribes in Northeastern North America were said to use the wildflower goldthread (Coptis trifolia) as a mouthwash and treatment for oral pain and issues. Although it wasn’t a minty taste, its refreshing flavor helped decrease bacteria buildup. 

Syringe

Photo courtesy of Scooper News

According to Technology in America: A Brief History, Native Americans first created syringes from animal bladders and hollow bird bones to inject their medicine. However, it wasn’t until the 1850s when Scottish physician Alexander Wood started using needles to inject his patients with morphine. Interestingly, when searching the internet for “who invented syringes,” a list of names including Alexander Wood appears, but nowhere does it mention Native Americans.

Cable Suspension Bridges

Photo by Rafael Varón / Ralph Rinzler Folklife Archives

How would Native Americans get to and fro? The Inca of South America realized they could weave various mountain grasses and other vegetation to create thick and sturdy cables to build robust suspension bridges across canyons. At the time, Native American-built suspension bridges were far longer than anything European engineers could construct. You can visit the last-standing suspension bridge made by the ancient Inca of South America in Peru’s Canas Province.

Kayak

Photo by APIC / Getty Images

Next time you hit the lake with your beloved and balanced Kayak, take time to appreciate where these transportation models originated. According to Canadian technology historians, David Johnston and Tom Jenkins, the Inuit in the Arctic designed the concept of a small narrow boat with a closed cockpit to avoid the passenger from sinking if the craft were capsized. These crafted transportation boats were created with wood or whalebone frames and covered with stitched sealskin or other animal pelts.

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