Native Americans (American Indians, Amerindians, or Red Indians) are indigenous peoples, who lived in the Americas prior to the European colonization; some of these ethnic groups still exist. The name "Indians" was bestowed by Christopher Columbus, who mistakenly believed that the places he found them were among the islands to the southeast of Asia known to Europeans as the Indies. (See further discussion below).

Canadians now generally use the term First Nations to refer to Native Americans. In Alaska, because of legal use in the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act (ANSCA) and because of the presence of the Inuit, Yupik, and Aleut peoples, the term Alaskan Native predominates. (See further discussion below.)

Native Americans officially make up the majority of the population in Bolivia, Peru and Guatemala and are significant in most other former Spanish colonies, with the exception of Costa Rica, Cuba, Argentina, Dominican Republic and Uruguay.

Table of contents
1 History
2 The Arrival of Europeans
3 Classification – United States
4 Classification – Central and South America
5 Languages
6 Culture and Arts
7 External Resources
8 Further Reading
9 What name best identifies this group of people?
10 See also
11 External links


The Native Americans are widely believed to have come to the Americas via the prehistoric Bering Land Bridge. However, this is not the only theory. Some archaeologists believe that the migration consisted of seafaring tribes that moved along the coast, avoiding mountainous inland terrain and highly variable terrestrial ecosystems. Other researchers have postulated an original settlement by skilled navigators from Oceania, though these American Aborigine people are believed to be nearly extinct. Yet another theory claims an early crossing of the Atlantic Ocean by people originating in Europe. Many native peoples do not believe the migration theory at all. The creation stories of many tribes place the people in North America from the beginning of time. Mormon tradition holds that some Native Americans are descendants of the lost tribes of Israel.

Based on anthropological evidence, at least three distinct migrations from Siberia occurred. The first wave of migration came into a land populated by the large mammals of the late Pleistocene epoch, including mammoths, horses, giant sloths, and wooly rhinoceroses. The Clovis culture provides one example of such immigrants. Later the Folsom culture developed, based on the hunting of bison.

The second immigration wave comprised the Athabascan people, including the ancestors of the Apachess and Navajos; the third wave consisted of the Inuits, the Yupiks, and the Aleuts, who may have come by sea over the Bering Strait. The Athabascan peoples generally lived in Alaska and western Canada but some Athabascans migrated south as far as California and the American Southwest, and became the ancestors of tribes now there.

The descendants of the third wave are so ethnically distinct from the remainder of the indigenous inhabitants of the Americas that they are not usually included in the terms "American Indian" or "First Nations".

In recent years, anthropological evidence of migration has been supplemented by studies based on molecular genetics. The provisional results from this field suggest that four distinct migrations from Asia occurred; and, most surprisingly, provide evidence of smaller-scale, contemporaneous human migration from Europe. This suggests that the migrant population, living in Europe at the time of the most recent ice age, adopted a life-style resembling that lived by Inuits and Yupiks in recent centuries.

In the Mississippi valley of the United States, in Mexico and Central America, and in the Andes of South America Native American civilizations arose with farming cultures and city-states.

See archeology of the Americas.

The Arrival of Europeans

The European colonization of the Americas forever changed the lives and cultures of the Native Americans. In the 15th to 19th centuries, their populations were decimated, by the privations of displacement, by disease, and in many cases by warfare with European groups and enslavement by them. The first Native American group encountered by Columbus, the 250,000 Arawaks of Haiti, were violently enslaved. Only 500 survived by the year 1550, and the group was totally extinct before 1650. Over the next 400 years, the experiences of other Native Americans with Europeans would not always amount to genocide, but they would typically be disastrous for the Native Americans.

In the 15th century Spaniardss and other Europeans brought horses to the Americas. Some of these animals escaped their owners and began to breed and increase their numbers in the wild. Ironically, the horse had originally evolved in the Americas, but the last American horses died out at the end of the last ice age. The re-introduction of the horse, however, had a profound impact on Native American cultures in the Great Plains of North America. This new mode of travel made it possible for some tribes to greatly expand their territories, exchange goods with neighboring tribes and to more easily capture game.

Europeans also brought diseases against which the Native Americans had no immunity. Sometimes they did this intentionally, but often it was unintentional. Ailments such as chicken pox and measles, though common and rarely fatal among Europeans, often proved fatal to Native Americans. More deadly diseases such as smallpox were especially deadly to Native American populations. It is difficult to estimate the percentage of the total Native American population killed by these diseases, since waves of disease oftentimes preceded White scouts and often destroyed entire villages. Some historians have argued that more than 80% of some Indian populations may have died due to European-derived diseases. [See Jeffrey Amherst]

The first reported case of white men scalping Native Americans took place in New Hampshire colony on February 20, 1725, though it is thought that Indians learned scalping from Americans who, at times, collected them for bounties.

Four Nations of the Iroquois Confederacy sided with the British and the Tories of the American Revolutionary War. The colonists were especially outraged at the Wyoming Massacre and the Cherry Valley Massacre, which occurred in 1788. In 1799 Congress sent Major General John Sullivan on what has become known as the Sullivan Expedition to neutralize the Iroquois threat to the American side. The two allied nations were rewarded, at least temporarily by keeping title to their lands after the Revolution. The title was later purchased very cheaply by Massachusetts and sold off in the Phelps and Gorham Purchase and the Holland Purchase, after which by treaty, it became a part of New York State. The tribes were moved to reservations or sent westward. Part of the Cayuga Nation was granted a reservation in British Canada See also History of New York.

In the 19th century the United States forced Native Americans onto marginal lands in areas farther and farther west as white settlement of the young nation expanded in that direction. Numerous Indian Wars broke out between US forces and many different tribes. Authorities drafted countless treaties during this period and then later nullified them for various reasons. Well-known battles include the untypical Native American victory at the Battle of Little Bighorn in 1876, and the massacre of Native Americans at Wounded Knee in 1890. On January 31, 1876 the United States government ordered all Native Americans to move into reservations or reserves. This spelled the end of the Prairie Culture that developed around the use of the horse for hunting, travel and trading.

American policy toward Native Americans has been an evolving process. In the late nineteenth century reformers in efforts to civilize Indians adapted the practice of educating native children in boarding schoolss. The experience in the boarding schools which existed from 1875 to 1928 was difficult for Indian children who were forbidden to speak their native languages and in numerous other ways forced to adopt white cultural practices.

Military defeat, cultural pressure, confinement on reservations, forced cultural assimilation, the outlawing of native languages and culture, forced sterilizations, termination policies of the 50's and 60's, and (especially) slavery have had deleterious effects on Native Americans' mental and ultimately physical health. Contemporary problems include poverty, alcoholism, heart disease, and diabetes: see New World Syndrome.

Classification – United States

Ethnographers commonly classify the native peoples of the United States into ten geographical regions with shared cultural traits. The following list groups peoples by their region of origin, followed by the current location. See the individual article on each tribe for a history of their movements. The regions are:




  • Achomawi
  • Atsugewi
  • Cahuilla
  • Chukchansi
  • Chumash
  • Cochimi Baja California
  • Costanoan
  • Cupeño
  • Diegueño
  • Esselen
  • Gabrieliño
  • Hupa
  • Ipai
  • Kamia
  • Karok
  • Kato
  • Kiliwa
  • Kitanemuk
  • Konkow
  • Kumeyaay
  • Luiseño
  • Maidu
  • Me-wuk
  • Mission Indians
  • Miwok
  • Monache
  • Nakipa
  • Nisenan
  • Nomlaki
  • Paipai
  • Patwin
  • Pequot
  • Pericu
  • Pit River Indians
  • Pomo
  • Salinan
  • Serrano
  • Shasta tribe
  • Tache
  • Tachi tribe
  • Tataviam
  • Tipai
  • Tolowa
  • Tongva
  • Tubatulabal
  • Wailaki
  • Wappo
  • Wintun
  • Wiyot
  • Yahi
  • Yana
  • Yocha Dehe
  • Yokuts
  • Yuki
  • Yurok

Eastern Woodlands

Great Basin

  • Bannock
  • Chemehuevi
  • Gosiute Utah
  • Kawaiisu
  • Mono
  • Owen's Valley
  • Paiute California, Nevada, Oregon [Burns-Paiute], Arizona [Kaibab]
  • Panamint
  • Paviotso
  • Shoshone (Shoshoni) Nevada, Wyoming, California
  • Southern Paiute
  • Ute Utah
  • Washo Nevada, California
  • Wind River Shoshone


  • Cayuse Oregon [Confederated Tribes: (Cayuse, Umatilla, Walla Walla) ]
  • Coeur d'Alene Idaho
  • Colville Washington
  • Flatbow
  • Flathead
  • Fountain
  • Kalispel Washington
  • Kittitas
  • Klamath
  • Klikitat Washington
  • Lakes
  • Lillooet
  • Modoc
  • Molala (Molale) Oregon
  • Kootenay(Kutenai) Idaho
  • Nez Perce Idaho
  • Nicola
  • Okanagan
  • Palouse (Palus
  • Pend'Oreille
  • Sanpoil
  • Shuswap
  • Spokane Washington
  • Tenino
  • Thompson
  • Umatilla Oregon [Confederated Tribes: (Cayuse, Umatilla, Walla Walla) ]
  • Walla Walla Oregon [Confederated Tribes: (Cayuse, Umatilla, Walla Walla) ]
  • Wasco Oregon
  • Yakama Washington

Northwest Coast


  • Arapaho Wyoming, Oklahoma
  • Arikara North Dakota
  • Assiniboine Montana [Ft. Peck Indian Reservation: Assiniboine and Lakota (Sioux) ]
  • Atsina
  • Blackfeet Montana
  • Brule
  • Cheyenne Montana, South Dakota; Oklahoma
  • Chickasaw Oklahoma
  • Comanche Oklahoma
  • Crow (Absaroka or Apsáalooke) Montana, South Dakota
  • Plains Cree Montana
  • Dakota
  • Drews Tribal Posse Wisconsin
  • Gros Ventre
  • Hidatsa North Dakota [Three Affiliated Tribes - Mandan, Hidatsa, Arikara]
  • Ho-Chunk (Winnebago) Wisconsin; Oklahoma
  • Iowa (Ioway) Kansas, Nebraska, Oklahoma
  • Karankawa Texas
  • Kaw (Kansa) Oklahoma
  • Kiowa Oklahoma
  • Kiowa Apache Oklahoma
  • Lakota (Sioux) South Dakota, North Dakota, Nebraska
  • Lipan
  • Mandan North Dakota [Three Affiliated Tribes - Mandan, Hidatsa, Arikara]
  • Missouri (Missouria) Missouri
  • Oglala
  • Plains Ojibwe
  • Omaha Nebraska
  • Mississaugas
  • Osage Oklahoma
  • Otoe (Oto) Oklahoma
  • Ottawa Michigan; Oklahoma
  • Pawnee Oklahoma
  • Piegan
  • Ponca Nebraska, Oklahoma
  • Quapaw (Arkansas) Arkansas, Oklahoma
  • Santee
  • Sarsi (Sarcee)
  • Sauk (Sac and Fox) originally Great Lakes now Kansas, Oklahoma, Iowa
  • Siksika
  • Sioux (Lakota, Dakota, Nakota) Minnesota, Nebraska, North Dakota, South Dakota)
  • Stoney
  • Teton
  • Tonkawa Oklahoma
  • Wichita Oklahoma [Affiliated Tribes - Wichita, Waco, Tawakoni, Keechi]
  • Wyandot Ontario, Michigan
  • Yankton
  • Yanktonai



Classification – Central and South America

Indians of Central and South America are generally classified by language, environment, and cultural similarities. The preferred term in Latin America is "Indigenous peoples."





  • Panoan
  • Jivaroan

Western Amazon

  • Tukanoan

Central Amazon

Eastern and Southern Amazon

Southern Cone

  • Araucanian (Mapuche)
  • Puelche
  • Tehuelche
  • Yamana
  • Kaweshkar
  • Selknam


For a general discussion, see
Language families and languages See also: Native American mythology

External reference: Linguistic Classification of American Indians

Culture and Arts

Native American music is almost entirely monophonic, but there are notable exceptions. Native american music often includes drumming but little other instrumentation, although flutes are played by individuals. The tuning of these flutes is not precise and depends on the length of the wood used and the hand span of the intended player, but the finger holes are most often around a whole step apart and, at least in Northern California, a flute was not used if it turned out to half a interval close to a half step.


A Cry from the Earth: Music of North American Indians by John Bierhorst, ISBN 094127053X.

External Resources

Further Reading

  • Discover Indian Reservations USA: A Visitors' Welcome Guide, Edited by Veronica E. Tiller, Forward by Ben Nighthorse Campbell, Council Publications, Denver, Colorado, 1992, Trade Paperback, 402 pages, ISBN 0-9632580-0-1
  • Arlene B. Hirschfelder, Mary Gloyne Byler, and Michael Dorris, Guide to research on North American Indians, American Library Association, 1983, (ISBN 0838903533)
  • Indians in the United States & Canada, A Comparative History, Roger L. Nicholes, University of Nebraska Press, 1998, Trade Paperback, 393 pages, ISBN 0-8032-8377-6
  • David Wallace Adams, Education for Extinction: American Indians and the Boarding School Experience 1875-1928, University Press of Kansas, 1975, hardcover, ISBN 0-7006-0735-8, trade paperback, ISBN 0-7006-0838-9
See European colonization of the Americas, Indian Territory, The Indian Trade, Indian Massacres, and Indian Removal.

What name best identifies this group of people?

The term "Native American" originated with anthropologists who preferred it to the former appelations of "Indian" or "American Indian", which they considered inaccurate, as these terms bear no relationship to the actual origins of Aboriginal Americans (or American Aborigines), and were born of the misapprehension on the part of Christopher Columbus, arriving at islands off the east coast of the North American continent, that he had reached the East Indies. The words "Indian" and "American Indian" continue in widespread use in North America, even amongst Native Americans themselves, many of whom do not feel offended by the terms.[1] But the appropriateness of this usage has become controversial since the late 20th century; many feel that the term "Indian" is undesirable as it is symbolic of the domination of these peoples by the European colonists. Others, in turn, resent criticism of their traditional way of speaking. "Red Indian" is a common British term, useful in differentiating this group from a distinct group of people referred to as East Indians. In the French language, the term Amérindien has been coined, and the English term Amerindian (sometimes abbreviated Amerind) is sometimes used in the social sciences in reference to all Native American peoples or cultures considered collectively.

One minority view has advocated the name "Asiatic Americans" as a more accurate term because of the popular theory that such peoples migrated to the Americas from Asia across an ice bridge covering the Bering Straits some 20,000 years ago. Competent fossil evidence supports the case for such a migration. However, this term is considered offensive by many American Indians because most native religions state that American Indians have been in the Western Hemisphere since the dawn of time. Furthermore, the strong tradition among archaeologists and anthropologists, is to indicate the geographic origins of a people as relating to the region where researchers first encountered them or their remains.

One difficulty with the term "Native American" as a substitute for "American Indian" lies in the fact that there exist several groups of people indisputably indigenous to the Americas, but who fall outside the classification of "American Indians", for example the Innu people of the Labrador/Quebec peninsula and the Inuit, Yupik, and Aleut peoples of the far north of the continent. Another argument is that any person born in America is native to it.

Another difficulty is that many Native American groups migrated (or were displaced) to their current locations after the start of European colonization, and therefore it can be argued that they have no more "native" ties to their current locations than do the Europeans. However, as they were moving within America, they remained native to the America.

Generally, peoples wish that others use the name they give themselves.

See also

External links

simple:Native American