Late last night I found myself in a remarkable argument with my partner - she, growing up in Idaho, had been taught that Native Americans, regardless of tribe, generally lived short, brutish, savage lives of hardship. I argued otherwise, that life was certainly not idyllic but perhaps it was simpler and satisfying in a way modern society isn't, citing my own bloodline and stories told to me by Cherokee elders as I was growing up in communities in Wisconsin (off-reservation). She acknowledged that probably her histories are skewed by colonial perspective, but that I also am not arguing from a strong position. How do I know what life was actually like for Cherokees, pre-colonization, given that no elders are alive from that time? Given that I never experienced it? What about other tribes?
I've done quite a bit of googling here, and my research is turning up abysmal results. From what appears to be undergrad webpages lousy with spelling errors to bite-sized BBC websites with almost no usable information (that just uses "Native Americans" without even mentioning tribe), I can't seem to find any authoritative sources on what life was actually like for the average Native American Cherokee, Kickapoo, Winebago, etc tribal member.
I have a meeting scheduled next week with a librarian at the San Francisco Public Library which should direct me, but in preparation, are there any books of primary-source, or primary-source interviews, that demonstrate life for the average Native American tribemember? Preferably pre-colonization (or very early colonization). Preferably Midwest area tribes (Cherokee, Kickapoo, Winebago). Ideally such a history would also compare across several tribes, but I'll take what I can get and collate on my own if need be.
So far the books I've found are clearly motivated by New Ageism or are relatively unsourced, dubious, yet colorfully illustrated children's books.