The first people to inhabit the part of the world we now call the United States of America never developed a written language. Instead, all knowledge, legend, and history has been transferred from one generation to the next by means of rich oral communications that include song, chanting, stories, and recitation.
As these first people spread across the land and developed their own lifestyles and customs, their languages diversified. This diversification of words made communictions difficult between the tribes. Native American symbols became a valuable tool in establishing identity, territory, and in inter-tribal communications.
The diversity of climates, cultures, and other environmental factors generated diversity in Native American symbols, too. The most revered symbols represent things, usually animals and plants, that inhabited the same area the people did. These same symbols also tell great stories about the tribe itself.
One of the most easily recognized of Native American symbols is the totem pole of the Pacific Northwest. Here, vast forests are filled with trees of tremendous size. Owls, eagles, and salmon are important elements of tribal survival and ceremony so these are the symbols painted on or carved into these story-telling trees of the rain forest.
In contrast, Native American symbols representing desert tribes feature elements of that environment, where there are few large trees and no salmon. Instead, snakes, lizards, cactus, and the ever-present sun are frequently depicted in tribal symbolism from this region.
Tribes situated in the Gulf Coast region employ the use of alligators, pelicans, and magnolia blossoms in the Native American symbols of the indigenous population here. These elements are unknown and therefore irrelevant as symbols that define the other cultures mentioned.
Although these localized elements are unknown to differing tribal cultures across the land, they aren’t actually irrelevant to them, however. They may not be understood for their significance and influence as a part of life to the local populations, but they do serve as a very effective means of defining territory and origin.
Even without a written language or a spoken one that was understood from coast to coast, traditional Native American symbols represent a highly effective, time-tested means of communication where common language was not available.