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.