The West Virginia. Cyclopedia
Almost every West Virginia history book gives the impression that Native American didn't really live in West Virginia, e.g., "West Virginia was used only as hunting land by the Indians."
This misconception about "hunting lands", and what that term actually meant to the Native American, is apparently due to a lack of understanding about the Native America concept of land ownership, how Native American made use of land, as well as now the American Indians lived.
The Traditions of Cherokee
The nature of beliefs, traditions and "laws" of the American Indian groups, nations, and tribes vary greatly. Therefore, the following example center on those of the Cherokee.
The Cherokee used the land in two ways:
- During spring and summer, they grew food.
- During fall and winter, they hunted food.
The Cherokee had no concept of individual land ownership. But, in regards to the "right to hunt", the Cherokee were territorial, traditionally claiming certain hunting lands as their own. For example, the Cherokee claimed the lands south of the Kanawha and New Rivers in present-day West Virginia as being their "hunting lands".
If we could jump into a time machine and travel back in time to the 17th Century, and ask a Cherokee chieftain if we could buy his/her group's land, the chieftain would not have a clear concept of what we were asking. On the other hand, if we mentioned the "right to hunt" in a certain area, that request would have meaning the chieftain could understand.
Since "hunting lands" was a (somewhat) understandable term, the phrase was used on most treatries between the white governments and Indian tribes.