Native American Tools & Weapons

Native American Tools & Weapons

Native American tribes used tools and weapons they fashioned out of materials from the environment, including wood, stone, and animal bone or sinew. Tribes from different regions had varied surroundings to work with, necessitating different types of tools and weapons. The tribes made whatever they needed to survive their particular climate and lifestyle.

1 The Arctic

The Inuits, or First Nation People, live in the Arctic, including Alaska, Russia, Greenland and Canada. The extreme cold and icy surroundings make tools for skinning animals and hunting necessary, as opposed to tools for planting. Most tools are made of stone, or animal bones and teeth. First Nation People use sealskin floats when harpooning animals to keep the prey from diving deeply after being speared. They also use fishing nets, lines and spears. They have a special stone knife called an ulu, which they use for butchering and skinning animals. Their weapons include stone clubs, ivory harpoons, spears and wooden bows and arrows. They travel in dog sleds and kayaks.

2 Great Plains

Native Americans who inhabited the Great Plains area of North America included the Pawnee, Cheyenne, Arapaho, Sioux, Blackfeet and Comanche. Their tools and weapons were made of wood and buffalo parts. The Plains Indians were nomadic; they followed the migration of the buffalo. They carried their belongings on a sled structure called a travois. Weapons included the bow and arrow, and the spear. Traditionally, their bowls and utensils were made of buffalo hide and bone. When settlers introduced firearms and metal tools in the 19th century, traditional crafts declined. The decimation of the buffalo population by white settlers completely disrupted the way of life of the Plains Indians.

3 The Southwest

The Pueblo Indians originally lived in the Southwest and included tribes such as the Zuni, Rio Grande Pueblo and Hopi. These people made baskets out of yucca, willow and other plant fibers, lining some baskets with pitch for transporting water or for cooking. Drills made of flaked stone were used to make beads. Pueblo peoples also used grinding stones for food preparation and stone receptacles to hold paint pigment. For weapons, they used spears, spear throwers -- called atlatls -- and the bow and arrow. To hunt, they used nets, snares, throwing sticks and spears. The Pueblos also had pottery and looms for weaving.

4 The Northeast

The Iroquois people originated in the region of the United States that is currently New York, and spread across the Northeast. Also known as Five Nations, the Iroquois League includes the Mohawk, Oneida, Onondaga, Cayuga and Seneca tribes. They used a variety of tools made of stone, wood and animal parts. They carved spoons and other dishware from wood, often with decorative embellishments. They wove baskets of plant fibers. Antlers became hole punching tools and spear tips, or were carved out to make pipes. They used the bow and arrow. Another weapon was the polished stone ax, also used as a tool for woodworking. They also made pots out of clay and snowshoes out of wood and animal fiber.

Based in Richmond, Va., Dawn Gibbs writes about topics such as history, fashion, literature, crafts, alternative medicine and healthy living. Her work has appeared on and several style websites. Gibbs holds a Bachelor of Arts in history from Virginia Commonwealth University.