Posted by: "HENCHMAN OF JUSTICE" | January 21, 2010

An Ancestral perspective of North America

Native Americans in the United States

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This article is about the indigenous people of the United States. For other indigenous people see indigenous peoples (disambiguation)
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Native Americans
and Alaska Natives

Joseph Brant by Gilbert Stuart 1786.jpgSequoyah.jpgPushmataha high resolution.jpg
Tecumseh02.jpgTouch the Clouds 1877a.gifSitting Bull.jpg
ChiefJoseph.jpegFile-Charles eastman smithsonian gn 03462a-cropped.jpgColbert.jpg
Jim Thorpe football.pngJohnBHarrington.jpg

Native Americans of the United States (from top left):
Joseph Brant · Sequoyah · Pushmataha
Tecumseh · Touch the Clouds · Sitting Bull
Chief Joseph · Charles Eastman  · Holmes Colbert
Jim Thorpe · John Herrington
Total population
American Indian and Alaska Native
One race: 2.5 million are registered [1]
In combination with one or more other races: 1.6 million are registered [2]
1.37% of the US population
Regions with significant populations
 United States
(predominantly the West and South)
English language
Native American Church
Roman Catholic
Russian Orthodox
Traditional Ceremonial Ways
(Unique to Specific Tribe or Band)
Related ethnic groups
Indigenous peoples of the Americas

Corey Yazzie, Diné from New Mexico

Elsie Gale Stewart-Burton, Haida from Alaska

Native Americans in the United States are the indigenous peoples from North America now encompassed by the continental United States, including parts of Alaska and the island state of Hawaii. They comprise a large number of distinct tribes, states, and ethnic groups, many of which survive as intact political communities. The terminology used to refer to Native Americans is controversial.

European colonization of the Americas led to centuries of conflict and adjustment between Old and New World societies. Most of the written historical record about Native Americans was made by Europeans after initial contact. Native Americans lived in hunter/farmer subsistence societies with significantly different value systems than those of the European colonists. The differences in culture between the Native Americans and Europeans, and the shifting alliances among different nations of each culture, led to great misunderstandings and long lasting cultural conflicts.

Estimates of the pre-Columbian population of what today constitutes the United States of America vary significantly, ranging from 1 million to 18 million.[3][4]

After the colonies revolted against Great Britain and established the United States of America, the ideology of Manifest destiny became integral to the American nationalist movement. In the late 18th century, George Washington and Henry Knox conceived of the idea of “civilizing” Native Americans in preparation of American citizenship.[5][6][7][8][9] Assimilation (whether voluntary as with the Choctaw,[10][11] or forced) became a consistent policy through American administrations. In the early 19th century, most Native Americans of the American Deep South were removed from their homelands to accommodate American expansion with some groups presently residing in Alabama, Florida, Lousianna, Mississippi, North Carolina, and Tennessee. By the American Civil War, many Native American nations had been relocated west of the Mississippi River. Major Native American resistance took place in the form of “Indian Wars,” which were frequent up until the 1890s.

Native Americans today have a unique relationship with the United States of America because they can be found as members of nations, tribes, or bands of Native Americans who have sovereignty or independence from the government of the United States. Their societies and cultures still flourish amidst a larger immigrated American populace of African, Asian, Middle Eastern, and European peoples. Native Americans who were not already U.S. citizens were granted citizenship in 1924 by the Congress of the United States.






Further information: Models of migration to the New World, Paleo-Indians, Lithic period in Canada and Pre-Columbian

Map showing the approximate location of the ice-free corridor and specific Paleoindian sites (Clovis theory).

According to the still-debated New World migration model, a migration of humans from Eurasia to the Americas took place via Beringia, a land bridge which formerly connected the two continents across what is now the Bering Strait.[12] Falling sea levels created the Bering land bridge that joined Siberia to Alaska, which began about 60,000 – 25,000 years ago.[12] The minimum time depth by which this migration had taken place is confirmed at 12,000 years ago, with the upper bound (or earliest period) remaining a matter of some unresolved contention.[13] These early Paleoamericans soon spread throughout the Americas, diversifying into many hundreds of culturally distinct nations and tribes.[14] The North American climate finally stabilized by 8000 BCE; climatic conditions were very similar to today’s.[15] This led to widespread migration, cultivation of crops, and subsequently a dramatic rise in population all over the Americas.

The big-game hunting culture labeled as the Clovis culture is primarily identified with its production of fluted projectile points. The culture received its name from artifacts found near Clovis, New Mexico; the first evidence of this tool complex was excavated in 1932. The Clovis culture ranged over much of North America and also appeared in South America. The culture is identified by the distinctive Clovis point, a flaked flint spear-point with a notched flute, by which it was inserted into a shaft. Dating of Clovis materials has been by association with animal bones and by the use of carbon dating methods. Recent reexaminations of Clovis materials using improved carbon-dating methods produced results of 11,050 and 10,800 radiocarbon years B.P. (roughly 9100 to 8850 BCE).

Numerous Paleoindian cultures occupied North America, with some restricted to the Great Plains and Great Lakes of the modern United States of America and Canada, as well as adjacent areas to the west and southwest. The Folsom Tradition was characterized by use of Folsom points as projectile tips, and activities known from kill sites where slaughter and butchering of bison took place. Folsom tools were left behind between 9000 BCE and 8000 BCE.[16] Poverty Point culture is an archaeological culture whose people inhabited the area of the lower Mississippi Valley and surrounding Gulf Coast. The culture thrived from 2200 BCE- 700 BCE, during the late Archaic period.[17] Evidence of this culture has been found at more than 100 sites, from Poverty Point, Louisiana across a 100-mile range to the Jaketown Site near Belzoni, Mississippi.

A Folsom point for a spear.

According to the oral histories of many of the indigenous peoples of the Americas, they have been living there since their genesis, described by a wide range of traditional creation accounts.[18] The Na-Dene people occupied much of northwest and central North America starting around 8000 BCE. They were the earliest ancestors of the Athabascan- speaking peoples, including the present-day and historical Navajo and Apache. Their villages were constructed with large multi-family dwellings, used seasonally. People did not live there year round, but for the summer to hunt and fish, and to gather food supplies for the winter.[19] The Oshara Tradition people lived from 5500 BCE to 600 CE. The Southwestern Archaic Tradition was centered in north-central New Mexico, the San Juan Basin, the Rio Grande Valley, southern Colorado, and southeastern Utah.

The Woodland period of North American pre-Columbian cultures refers to the time period from roughly 1000 BCE to 1000 CE in the eastern part of North America. The term “Woodland” was coined in the 1930s and refers to prehistoric sites dated between the Archaic period and the Mississippian cultures. The Hopewell tradition is the term used to describe common aspects of the Native American culture that flourished along rivers in the northeastern and midwestern United States from 200 BCE to 500 CE.[20]

Cultural areas of pre-Columbian North America, according to Alfred Kroeber.[citation needed]

The Hopewell tradition was not a single culture or society, but a widely dispersed set of related populations, who were connected by a common network of trade routes,[21] known as the Hopewell Exchange System. At its greatest extent, the Hopewell exchange system ran from the Southeastern United States into the southeastern Canadian shores of Lake Ontario. Within this area, societies participated in a high degree of exchange with the highest amount of activity along the waterways serving as their major transportation routes. The Hopewell exchange system traded materials from all over the United States.

Coles Creek culture is an archaeological culture from the Lower Mississippi valley in the southern present-day United States. The period marked a significant change in the cultural history of the area. Population increased dramatically. There is strong evidence of a growing cultural and political complexity, especially by the end of the Coles Creek sequence. Although many of the classic traits of chiefdom societies were not yet manifested, by 1000 CE the formation of simple elite polities had begun. Coles Creek sites are found in Arkansas, Louisiana, Oklahoma, Mississippi, and Texas. It is considered ancestral to the Plaquemine culture.

Hohokam is one of the four major prehistoric archaeological traditions of the present-day American Southwest.[22] Living as simple farmers, they raised corn and beans. The early Hohokam founded a series of small villages along the middle Gila River. The communities were located near good arable land, with dry farming common in the earlier years of this period.[22] Wells, usually less than 10 feet (3 m) deep, were dug for domestic water supplies by 300 CE to 500 CE.[22] Early Hohokam homes were constructed of branches bent in a semi-circular fashion and then covered with twigs, reeds and heavily applied mud and other materials at hand.[22]

Although not as technologically advanced as the Mesoamerican civilizations further south, sophisticated pre-Columbian sedentary societies evolved in North America. The Iroquois League of Nations or “People of the Long House” was a politically advanced and unique social structure whose confederacy model contributed to political thinking during the later development of the democratic United States government. Their system of affiliation was a kind of federation, a departure from the strong monarchies from which the Europeans came.[23] Long-distance trading did not prevent warfare among the indigenous peoples. For instance, archaeology and the tribes’ oral histories have contributed to an understanding that the Iroquois’ conducted invasions and warfare about 1200 CE against tribes in the Ohio River area of present-day Kentucky. Finally they drove many to migrate west to their historically traditional lands west of the Mississippi River. Tribes’ originating in the Ohio Valley who moved west included the Osage, Kaw, Ponca and Omaha. By the mid-17th century, they had resettled in their historical lands in present-day Kansas, Nebraska, Arkansas and Oklahoma. The Osage warred with native Caddo-speaking Native Americans, displacing them in turn by the mid-18th century and dominating their new historical territories.[24]

The Southeastern Ceremonial Complex is the name archeologists have given to the regional stylistic similarity of artifacts, iconography, ceremonies and mythology of the Mississippian culture, which coincided with the people’s adoption of maize agriculture and chiefdom-level complex social organization from 1200 CE to 1650 CE.[25][26] Contrary to popular belief, this development appears to have no direct links to Mesoamerica. It developed independently, with sophistication based on the accumulation of maize surpluses, more dense population and specialization of skills.[dubiousdiscuss] This Ceremonial Complex represents a major component of the religion of the Mississippian peoples, and is one of the primary means by which their religion is understood.[27]

The Mississippian culture created the largest earthworks in North America north of Mexico, most notably at Cahokia, based on a tributary of the Mississippi River in present-day Illinois. Its 10-story Monks Mound has a larger circumference than the Pyramid of the Sun at Teotihuacan or the Great Pyramid of Egypt. The six-square mile city complex was based on the people’s cosmology and had more than 100 mounds, oriented to their sophisticated knowledge of astronomy. It included a Woodhenge, whose sacred cedar poles were placed to mark the summer and winter solstices and fall and spring equinoxes. Its peak population in 1250 CE of 30,000-40,000 people was not equalled by any city in the present-day United States until after 1800. In addition, Cahokia was a major regional chiefdom, with trade and tributary chiefdoms ranging from the Great Lakes to the Gulf of Mexico.

European explorations

Further information: European colonization of the Americas

After 1492 European exploration of the Americas revolutionized how the Old and New Worlds perceived themselves. One of the first major contacts, in what would be called the American Deep South, occurred when conquistador Juan Ponce de León landed in La Florida in April of 1513. Ponce de León was later followed by other Spanish explorers, such as Pánfilo de Narváez in 1528 and Hernando de Soto in 1539.

Discovery of the Mississippi by William Henry Powell (1823–1879) is a Romantic depiction of de Soto’s seeing the Mississippi River for the first time. It hangs in the United States Capitol rotunda.

From the 16th through the 19th centuries, the population of Native Americans declined in the following ways: epidemic diseases brought from Europe; genocide and warfare [28] at the hands of European explorers and colonists; displacement from their lands; internal warfare,[29] enslavement; and a high rate of intermarriage.[30][31] Most mainstream scholars believe that, among the various contributing factors, epidemic disease was the overwhelming cause of the population decline of the American natives because of their lack of immunity to new diseases brought from Europe.[32][33][34] With the rapid declines of some populations and continuing rivalries among their own nations, Native Americans sometimes re-organized to form new cultural groups, such as the Seminoles of Florida.

Impact on Native Populations

The lack of hard evidence or written records has made estimating the number of Native Americans living in what is today the United States of America before the arrival of the European explorers and settlers the subject of much debate. A low estimate arriving at around 1 million was first posited by anthropologist James Mooney in the 1890s, computing population density of each culture area based on its carrying capacity.

In 1965, American anthropologist Henry Dobyns published studies estimating the original population at 10 to 12 million. By 1983, however, he increased his estimates to 18 million.[35] He took into account the mortality rates caused by infectious diseases of European explorers and settlers, against which Native Americans had no natural immunity. Dobyns combined the known mortality rates of these diseases among native people with reliable population records of the 19th century, to calculate the probable size of the original populations.[3][4]

Chicken pox and measles, though common and rarely fatal among Europeans, often proved deadly to Native Americans. Smallpox proved particularly fatal to Native American populations.[36] Epidemics often immediately followed European exploration and sometimes destroyed entire village populations. While precise figures are difficult to determine, some historians estimate that up to 80% of some Native populations died due to European diseases after first contact.[37] One theory of Columbian exchange suggests explorers from the Christopher Columbus expedition contracted syphilis from indigenous peoples and carried it back to Europe, where it spread widely.[38] Other researchers believe that the disease existed in Europe and Asia before Columbus and his men returned from exposure to indigenous peoples of the Americas, but that they brought back a more virulent form. (See Syphilis.)

In 1618–1619, smallpox wiped out 90% of the Massachusetts Bay Native Americans.[39] Historians believe Mohawk Native Americans were infected after contact with children of Dutch traders in Albany in 1634. The disease swept through Mohawk villages, reaching Native Americans at Lake Ontario in 1636, and the lands of the Iroquois by 1679, as it was carried by Mohawks and other Native Americans who traveled the trading routes.[40] The high rate of fatalities caused breakdowns in Native American societies and disrupted generational exchanges of culture.

Between 1754 and 1763 many Native American tribes were involved in the French and Indian War/Seven Years War with French forces against British Colonial militias. Native Americans fought on both sides of the conflict over Western US Territories; the greater number of tribes, unwilling to be subjugated, fought with the French, while fewer tribes fought with the British to prove assimilation and loyalty in support of treaties, many of which were later dishonored. Though there is some evidence of biological warfare with pox infected blankets at Pontiac’s Rebellion, the contact of trade and combat provided much greater exposure to disease.

Similarly, after initial direct contact with European explorers in the 1770s, smallpox rapidly killed at least 30% of Northwest Coast Native Americans. For the next 80 to 100 years, smallpox and other diseases devastated native populations in the region.[41] Puget Sound area populations once as high as 37,000 were reduced to only 9,000 survivors by the time settlers arrived en masse in the mid-19th century.[42]

Smallpox epidemics in 1780–1782 and 1837–1838 brought devastation and drastic depopulation among the Plains Indians.[43][44] By 1832, the federal government finally established a smallpox vaccination program for Native Americans (The Indian Vaccination Act of 1832). It was the first program created to address a health problem of Native Americans.[45][46]

Animal introductions

With the meeting of two worlds, animals, insects, and plants were exchanged between two. The horse, pig, and cow were all old world animals that were introduced to Native Americans who never knew such animals.

In the sixteenth century, Spaniards and other Europeans brought horses to the Americas. The early American horse was game for the earliest humans and was hunted to extinction about 7,000 BC, just after the end of the last glacial period. The reintroduction of horses resulted in benefits to Native Americans. As they adopted the animals, they began to change their cultures in substantial ways, especially by extending their ranges. Some of the horses escaped and began to breed and increase their numbers in the wild.

The reintroduction of the horse to North America had a profound impact on Native American culture of the Great Plains. The tribes trained and used horses to ride and to carry packs or pull travois. They fully incorporated the use of horses into their societies, including expanding their territories, exchanging goods with neighboring tribes, hunting game (especially bison) and conducting warring raids.

Foundations for freedom

Further information: Great Law of Peace

Treaty of Penn with Indians by Benjamin West painted in 1827.

For some Europeans, Native American societies reminded them of a conception of a golden age known to them only in folk history.[47] The political theorist Jean Jacques Rousseau wrote that the idea of freedom and democratic ideals was born in the Americas because “it was only in America” that Europeans from 1500 to 1776 knew of societies that were “truly free.”[47]

Natural freedom is the only object of the policy of the [Native Americans]; with this freedom do nature and climate rule alone amongst them … [Native Americans] maintain their freedom and find abundant nourishment . . . [and are] people who live without laws, without police, without religion.
—- Jean Jacques Rousseau, Jesuit and Savage in New France[47]

The Iroquois nations‘ political confederacy and democratic government have been credited as influences on the Articles of Confederation and the United States Constitution.[48][49] Historians debate how much the colonists borrowed from existing Native American governmental models. Several founding fathers had contact with Native American leaders and had learned about their style of government. Prominent figures such as Thomas Jefferson and Benjamin Franklin were more involved with their stronger and larger native neighbor—the Iroquois. John Rutledge of South Carolina in particular is said to have read lengthy tracts of Iroquoian law to the other framers, beginning with the words “We, the people, to form a union, to establish peace, equity, and order…”[50]

As powerful, dense [Mound Builder] populations were reduced to weakened, scattered remnants, political readjustments were necessary. New confederacies were formed. One such was to become a pattern called up by Benjamin Franklin when the thirteen colonies struggled to confederate: “If the Iroquois can do it so can we,” he said in substance.
—- Bob Ferguson, Choctaw Government to 1830[51]

Colonials revolt

Yamacraw Creek Native Americans meet with the Trustee of the colony of Georgia in England, July 1734, Notice the Native American boy (in a blue coat) and woman (in a red dress) in European clothing.

During the American Revolution, the newly proclaimed United States competed with the British for the allegiance of Native American nations east of the Mississippi River. Most Native Americans who joined the struggle sided with the British, hoping to use the American Revolutionary War to halt further colonial expansion onto Native American land. Many native communities were divided over which side to support in the war. The first native community to sign a treaty with the new United States Government was the Lenape. For the Iroquois Confederacy, the American Revolution resulted in civil war. The only Iroquois tribe to ally with the colonials were the Onondaga.

Frontier warfare during the American Revolution was particularly brutal, and numerous atrocities were committed by settlers and native tribes alike. Noncombatants suffered greatly during the war. Military expeditions on each side destroyed villages and food supplies to reduce the ability of people to fight, as in frequent raids in the Mohawk Valley and western New York.[52] The largest of these expeditions was the Sullivan Expedition of 1779, in which American colonial troops destroyed more than 40 Iroquois villages to neutralize Iroquois raids in upstate New York. The expedition failed to have the desired effect: Native American activity became even more determined.

American Indians have played a central role in shaping the history of the nation, and they are deeply woven into the social fabric of much of American life … During the last three decades of the twentieth century, scholars of ethnohistory, of the “new Indian history,” and of Native American studies forcefully demonstrated that to understand American history and the American experience, one must include American Indians.
—- Robbie Ethridge, Creek Country.[53]

The British made peace with the Americans in the Treaty of Paris (1783), through which they ceded vast Native American territories to the United States without informing the Native Americans, leading immediately to the Northwest Indian War. The United States initially treated the Native Americans who had fought with the British as a conquered people who had lost their lands. Although many of the Iroquois tribes went to Canada with the Loyalists, others tried to stay in New York and western territories and tried to maintain their lands. Nonetheless, the state of New York made a separate treaty with Iroquois and put up for sale 5,000,000 acres (20,000 km2) of land that had previously been their territory. The state established a reservation near Syracuse for the Onondagas who had been allies of the colonists.

The Indians presented a reverse image of European civilization which helped America establish a national identity that was neither savage nor civilized.
—- Charles Sanford, The Quest for Paradise[51]

The United States was eager to expand, to develop farming and settlements in new areas, and to satisfy land hunger of settlers from New England and new immigrants. The national government initially sought to purchase Native American land by treaties. The states and settlers were frequently at odds with this policy.[54]

Transmuted Native America

Benjamin Hawkins, seen here on his plantation, teaches Creek Native Americans how to use European technology. Painted in 1805.

European nations sent Native Americans (sometimes against their will) to the Old World as objects of curiosity. They often entertained royalty and were sometimes prey to commercial purposes. Christianization of Native Americans was a charted purpose for some European colonies.

United States policy toward Native Americans had continued to evolve after the American Revolution. George Washington and Henry Knox believed that Native Americans were equals but that their society was inferior. Washington formulated a policy to encourage the “civilizing” process.[6] Washington had a six-point plan for civilization which included,

1. impartial justice toward Native Americans
2. regulated buying of Native American lands
3. promotion of commerce
4. promotion of experiments to civilize or improve Native American society
5. presidential authority to give presents
6. punishing those who violated Native American rights.[8]

Robert Remini, a historian, wrote that “once the Indians adopted the practice of private property, built homes, farmed, educated their children, and embraced Christianity, these Native Americans would win acceptance from white Americans.”[7] The United States appointed agents, like Benjamin Hawkins, to live among the Native Americans and to teach them how to live like whites.[5]

How different would be the sensation of a philosophic mind to reflect that instead of exterminating a part of the human race by our modes of population that we had persevered through all difficulties and at last had imparted our Knowledge of cultivating and the arts, to the Aboriginals of the Country by which the source of future life and happiness had been preserved and extended. But it has been conceived to be impracticable to civilize the Indians of North America — This opinion is probably more convenient than just.
—-Henry Knox to George Washington, 1790s.[55]


For more details on this topic, see Native American boarding schools .

Portrait of Native Americans from the Cherokee, Cheyenne, Choctaw, Comanche, Iroquois, and Muscogee tribes in American attire. Photos date from 1868 to 1924.

In the late eighteenth century, reformers starting with Washington and Knox,[56] supported educating native children, in efforts to “civilize” or otherwise assimilate Native Americans to the larger society (as opposed to relegating them to reservations). The Civilization Fund Act of 1819 promoted this civilization policy by providing funding to societies (mostly religious) who worked on Native American improvement.

After the American Civil War and Indian wars in the late 19th century, Native American boarding schools were established, which were often run primarily by or affiliated with Christian missionaries.[57] At this time American society thought that Native American children needed to be acculturated to the general society. The boarding school experience often proved traumatic to Native American children, who were forbidden to speak their native languages, taught Christianity and denied the right to practice their native religions, and in numerous other ways forced to abandon their Native American identities[58] and adopt European-American culture. There were documented cases of sexual, physical and mental abuse occurring at these schools.[59][60]

Native Americans as American citizens

In 1857, Chief Justice Roger B. Taney expressed that since Native Americans were “free and independent people” that they could become U.S. citizens.[61] Taney asserted that Native Americans could be naturalized and join the “political community” of the United States.[61]

[Native Americans], without doubt, like the subjects of any other foreign Government, be naturalized by the authority of Congress, and become citizens of a State, and of the United States; and if an individual should leave his nation or tribe, and take up his abode among the white population, he would be entitled to all the rights and privileges which would belong to an emigrant from any other foreign people.
—- Chief Justice Roger B. Taney, What was Taney thinking? American Indian Citizenship in the era of Dred Scott, Frederick e. Hoxie, April 2007.[61]

The Indian Citizenship Act of 1924 granted U.S. citizenship to all Native Americans. Prior to the passage of the act, nearly two-thirds of Native Americans were already U.S. citizens.[62] The earliest recorded date of Native Americans’ becoming U.S. citizens was in 1831 when the Mississippi Choctaw became citizens after the United States Legislature ratified the Treaty of Dancing Rabbit Creek. Under article XIV of that treaty, any Choctaw who elected not to move with the Choctaw Nation could become an American citizen when he registered and if he stayed on designated lands for five years after treaty ratification.

Through the years, Native Americans became US citizens by:

1. Treaty provision (as with the Mississippi Choctaw)
2. Registration and land allotment under the Dawes Act of February 8, 1887
3. Issuance of Patent in Fee Simple
4. Adopting Habits of Civilized Life
5. Minor Children
6. Citizenship by Birth
7. Becoming Soldiers and Sailors in the U.S. Armed Forces
8. Marriage to a US citizen
9. Special Act of Congress.

Be it enacted by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America in Congress assembled, That all noncitizen Native Americans born within the territorial limits of the United States be, and they are hereby, declared to be citizens of the United States: Provided, That the granting of such citizenship shall not in any manner impair or otherwise affect the right of any Native American to tribal or other property.
—-Indian Citizenship Act of 1924

American expansion justification

Native Americans flee from the allegorical representation of Manifest Destiny, Columbia, painted in 1872 by John Gast

In July 1845, the New York newspaper editor John L. O’Sullivan coined the phrase “Manifest Destiny,” to explain how the “design of Providence” supported the territorial expansion of the United States.[63] Manifest Destiny had serious consequences for Native Americans since continental expansion implicitly meant the occupation of Native American land. Manifest Destiny was an explanation or justification for expansion and westward movement, or, in some interpretations, an ideology or doctrine which helped to promote the process of civilization. Advocates of Manifest Destiny believed that expansion was not only good, but that it was obvious and certain. The term was first used primarily by Jacksonian Democrats in the 1840s to promote the annexation of much of what is now the Western United States (the Oregon Territory, the Texas Annexation, and the Mexican Cession).

What a prodigious growth this English race, especially the American branch of it, is having! How soon will it subdue and occupy all the wild parts of this continent and of the islands adjacent. No prophecy, however seemingly extravagant, as to future achievements in this way [is] likely to equal the reality.
—-Rutherford Birchard Hayes, U.S. President, January 1, 1857, Personal Diary.[64]

The age of Manifest Destiny, which came to be known as “Indian Removal”, gained ground. Although some humanitarian advocates of removal believed that Native Americans would be better off moving away from whites, an increasing number of Americans regarded the natives as nothing more than “savages” who stood in the way of American expansion. Thomas Jefferson believed that while Native Americans were the intellectual equals of whites, they had to live like the whites or inevitably be pushed aside by them. Jefferson’s belief, rooted in Enlightenment thinking, that whites and Native Americans would merge to create a single nation did not last, and he began to believe that the natives should emigrate across the Mississippi River and maintain a separate society.

Indian Appropriations Act of 1871

In 1871 Congress added a rider to the Indian Appropriations Act ending United States recognition of additional Native American tribes or independent nations, and prohibiting additional treaties.

That hereafter no Indian nation or tribe within the territory of the United States shall be acknowledged or recognized as an independent nation, tribe, or power with whom the United States may contract by treaty: Provided, further, that nothing herein contained shall be construed to invalidate or impair the obligation of any treaty heretofore lawfully made and ratified with any such Indian nation or tribe.
—-Indian Appropriations Act of 1871[65]


Tecumseh was the Shawnee leader of Tecumseh’s War who attempted to organize an alliance of Native American tribes throughout North America.[66]

U.S. government authorities entered into numerous treaties during this period but later violated many for various reasons. Other treaties were considered “living” documents whose terms could be altered. Major conflicts east of the Mississippi River include the Pequot War, Creek War, and Seminole Wars. Notably, a multi-tribal army led by Tecumseh, a Shawnee chief, fought a number of engagements during the period 1811-12, known as Tecumseh’s War. In the latter stages, Tecumseh’s group allied with the British forces in the War of 1812 and was instrumental in the conquest of Detroit. St. Clair’s Defeat (1791) was the worst U.S. Army defeat by Native Americans in U.S. history.

Native American Nations west of the Mississippi were numerous and were the last to submit to U.S. authority. Conflicts generally known as “Indian Wars” broke out between American government and Native American societies. The Battle of Little Bighorn (1876) was one of the greatest Native American victories. Defeats included the Creek War of 1813-14, the Sioux Uprising of 1862, the Sand Creek Massacre (1864) and Wounded Knee in 1890.[67] These conflicts were catalysts to the decline of dominant Native American culture. By 1872, the U.S. Army pursued a policy to exterminate all Native Americans unless or until they agreed to surrender and live on reservations “where they could be taught Christianity and agriculture.”[68]

The Indian [was thought] as less than human and worthy only of extermination. We did shoot down defenseless men, and women and children at places like Camp Grant, Sand Creek, and Wounded Knee. We did feed strychnine to red warriors. We did set whole villages of people out naked to freeze in the iron cold of Montana winters. And we did confine thousands in what amounted to concentration camps.
— Wellman- The Indian Wars of the West, 1934[69]

Removals and reservations

Further information: List of Native American reservations in the United States

In the nineteenth century, the incessant westward expansion of the United States incrementally compelled large numbers of Native Americans to resettle further west, often by force, almost always reluctantly. Native Americans believed this forced relocation illegal, given the Hopewell Treaty of 1785. Under President Andrew Jackson, United States Congress passed the Indian Removal Act of 1830, which authorized the President to conduct treaties to exchange Native American land east of the Mississippi River for lands west of the river. As many as 100,000 Native Americans relocated to the West as a result of this Indian Removal policy. In theory, relocation was supposed to be voluntary and many Native Americans did remain in the East. In practice, great pressure was put on Native American leaders to sign removal treaties.

The most egregious violation of the stated intention of the removal policy took place under the Treaty of New Echota, which was signed by a dissident faction of Cherokees but not the elected leadership. President Jackson rigidly enforced the treaty, which resulted in the deaths of an estimated 4,000 Cherokees on the Trail of Tears. About 17,000 Cherokees, along with approximately 2,000 enslaved blacks held by Cherokees, were removed from their homes.[70]

Native American Removal forced or coerced the relocation of major Native American groups in the Eastern United States, resulting directly and indirectly in the deaths of tens of thousands.[citation needed] Tribes were generally located to reservations where they could more easily be separated from traditional life and pushed into European-American society. Some southern states additionally enacted laws in the 19th century forbidding non-Native American settlement on Native American lands, with the intention to prevent sympathetic white missionaries from aiding the scattered Native American resistance.[71]

Native American Slavery

For more details on this topic, see Slavery among Native Americans in the United States.

Traditions of Native American Slavery

The majority of Native American tribes did practice some form of slavery before the European introduction of African slavery into North America; but none exploited slave labor on a large scale.[72] In addition, Native Americans did not buy and sell captives in the pre-colonial era, although they sometimes exchanged enslaved individuals with other tribes in peace gestures or in exchange for their own members.[72] In fact, the word “slave” may not even accurately apply to these captive people.[72]

The situation of enslaved Native Americans varied among the tribes. In many cases, enslaved captives were adopted into the tribes to replace warriors killed during a raid.[72] Other tribes practiced debt slavery or imposed slavery on tribal members who had committed crimes; but this status was only temporary as the enslaved worked off their obligations to the tribal society.[72]

Among some Pacific Northwest tribes, about a quarter of the population were slaves.[73] Other slave-owning tribes of North America were, for example, Comanche of Texas, Creek of Georgia, the Pawnee, and Klamath.[74]

European enslavement

When Europeans arrived as colonists in North America, Native Americans changed their practice of slavery dramatically.[72] They found that British settlers, especially those in the southern colonies, purchased or captured Native Americans to use as forced labor in cultivating tobacco, rice, and indigo.[72] Native Americans began selling war captives to whites rather than integrating them into their own societies.[72] As the demand for labor in the West Indies grew with the cultivation of sugar cane, Europeans enslaved Native Americans for export to the “sugar islands.”[72] Accurate records of the numbers enslaved do not exist. Scholars estimate tens of thousands of Native Americans may have been enslaved by the Europeans.[72]

The slave trade of Native Americans lasted only until around 1730, and it gave rise to a series of devastating wars among the tribes.[72] The Indian wars of the early 18th century, combined with the increasing importation of African slaves, effectively ended the Native American slave trade by 1750.[72] Colonists found it too easy for Native American slaves to escape, and the wars took the lives of numerous colonial slave traders. The remaining Native American groups banned together to face the Europeans from a position of strength.[72] Many surviving Native American peoples of the southeast joined confederacies such as the Choctaw, the Creek, and the Catawba for protection.[72]

Native American women were at risk for rape whether they were enslaved or not, as in many southern communities, there were a disproportionate number of men in the early colonial years.[75] Both Native American and African enslaved women suffered rape and sexual harassment by slaveholders.[75][76]

Native American adoption of African slavery

Native Americans resisted Anglo-American encroachment on their lands and maintained cultural ways.[72] Native Americans interacted with enslaved Africans and African Americans on many levels.[72] Over time all the cultures interracted. Native Americans began to slowly absorb white culture [72][77] Native Americans shared some experiences with Africans, especially during the period when both were enslaved.[78]

The five civilized tribes tried to gain power by owning slaves, as they assimilated some other European-American ways.[72] Among the slave-owning families of the Cherokee, 78 percent claimed some white ancestry.[72] The nature of the interactions among the peoples depended upon the historical character of the Native American groups, the enslaved people, and the European slaveholders.[72] Native Americans often assisted runaway slaves.[72] However, they also sold Africans to whites, trading them like so many blankets or horses.[72]

While Native Americans might treat enslaved people as brutally as Europeans did, most Native American masters rejected the worst features of southern white bondage (Chattel Slavery).[79] Though less than 3% of Native Americans owned slaves, bondage created destructive cleavages among Native Americans. It added to a class hierarchy that seemed related to European ancestry, but was based on the transfer of social capital as a result of such heritage.[79] Proposals for Indian Removal heightened tensions of cultural changes due to the increase in the number of mixed-race Native Americans. Full bloods sometimes tried harder to maintain traditional ways, including control of land.[72] The more traditional members who did not hold slaves often resented the sale of lands to Anglo-Americans.[72]


King Philip’s War

King Philip’s War sometimes called Metacom’s War or Metacom’s Rebellion, was an armed conflict between Native American inhabitants of present-day southern New England and English colonists and their Native American allies from 1675–1676. It continued in northern New England (primarily on the Maine frontier) even after King Philip was killed, until a treaty was signed at Casco Bay in April 1678. According to a combined estimate of loss of life in Schultz and Tougias’ “King Philip’s War, The History and Legacy of America’s Forgotten Conflict” (based on sources from the Department of Defense, the Bureau of Census, and the work of Colonial historian Francis Jennings), 800 out of 52,000 English colonists of New England (1 out of every 65) and 3,000 out of 20,000 natives (3 out of every 20) lost their lives due to the war, which makes it proportionately one of the bloodiest and costliest in the history of America. More than half of New England’s ninety towns were assaulted by Native American warriors. One in ten soldiers on both sides were wounded or killed.[80]

The war is named after the main leader of the Native American side, Metacomet, Metacom, or Pometacom, known to the English as “King Philip.” He was the last Massasoit (Great Leader) of the Pokanoket Tribe/Pokanoket Federation & Wampanoag Nation. Upon their loss to the Colonists and the attempted genocide of the Pokanoket Tribe and Royal Line, many managed to flee to the North to continue their fight against the British (Massachusetts Bay Colony) by joining with the Abanaki Tribes and Wabanaki Federation.

Civil War

For more details on this topic, see Native Americans in the American Civil War.

Ely S. Parker was a Union Civil War General who wrote the terms of surrender between the United States and the Confederate States of America.[81] Parker was one of two Native Americans to reach the rank of Brigadier General during the Civil War.

Many Native Americans served in the military during the Civil War.[82], the vast majority of whom siding with the confederates. By fighting with the European-Americans, Native Americans hoped to gain favor with the prevailing government by supporting the war effort.[82][83] They also believed war service might mean an end to discrimination and relocation from ancestral lands to western territories.[82] While the war raged and African Americans were proclaimed free, the U.S. government continued its policies of assimilation, submission, removal, or extermination of Native Americans.[82]

General Ely S. Parker, a member of the Seneca tribe, created the articles of surrender which General Robert E. Lee signed at Appomattox Court House on April 9, 1865. Gen. Parker, who served as Gen. Ulysses S. Grant’s military secretary and was a trained attorney, was once rejected for Union military service because of his race. At Appomattox, Lee is said to have remarked to Parker, “I am glad to see one real American here,” to which Parker replied, “We are all Americans.”[82]

Spanish–American War

The Spanish–American War was an armed military conflict between Spain and the United States that took place between April and August 1898, over the issues of the liberation of Cuba, Philippines and Puerto Rico. Theodore Roosevelt actively encouraged intervention in Cuba. Roosevelt worked with Leonard Wood in convincing the Army to raise an all-volunteer regiment, the 1st U.S. Volunteer Cavalry. The “Rough Riders” was the name bestowed on the 1st United States Volunteer Cavalry and the only regiment to see action. Recruiters gathered a diverse bunch of men consisting of cowboys, gold or mining prospectors, hunters, gamblers, and Native Americans. There were sixty Native Americans who served as “Rough Riders.”[84]

World War II

For more details on this topic, see Native Americans and World War II.

General Douglas MacArthur meeting Navajo, Pima, Pawnee and other Native American troops.

Some 44,000 Native Americans served in the United States military during World War II.[85] Described as the first large-scale exodus of indigenous peoples from the reservations since the removals of the 1800s, the international conflict was a turning point in Native American history. Men of native descent were drafted into the military like other American males. Their fellow soldiers often held them in high esteem, in part since the legend of the tough Native American warrior had become a part of the fabric of American historical legend. White servicemen sometimes showed a lighthearted respect toward Native American comrades by calling them “chief.”

The resulting increase in contact with the world outside of the reservation system brought profound changes to Native American culture. “The war,” said the U.S. Indian commissioner in 1945, “caused the greatest disruption of Native life since the beginning of the reservation era”, affecting the habits, views, and economic well-being of tribal members.[86] The most significant of these changes was the opportunity—as a result of wartime labor shortages—to find well-paying work. Yet there were losses to contend with as well. Altogether, 1,200 Pueblo people served in World War II; only about half came home alive. In addition many more Navajo served as code talkers for the military in the Pacific. The code they made was never cracked by the Japanese.

Native Americans today

Portrait of Native Americans from various bands, tribes, and nations from across “Indian country.”

In 1975 the Indian Self-Determination and Education Assistance Act was passed, marking the culmination of 15 years of policy changes. Related to Indian activism, the Civil Rights Movement and community development aspects of social programs of the 1960s, the Act recognized the need of Native Americans for self-determination. It marked the U.S. government’s turn away from the policy of termination; the U.S. government encouraged Native Americans’ efforts at self government and determining their futures.

There are 562 federally recognized tribal governments in the United States. These tribes possess the right to form their own government, to enforce laws (both civil and criminal), to tax, to establish requirements for membership, to license and regulate activities, to zone and to exclude persons from tribal territories. Limitations on tribal powers of self-government include the same limitations applicable to states; for example, neither tribes nor states have the power to make war, engage in foreign relations, or coin money (this includes paper currency).[87]

Many Native Americans and advocates of Native American rights point out that the US Federal government’s claim to recognize the “sovereignty” of Native American peoples falls short, given that the US still wishes to govern Native American peoples and treat them as subject to US law. True respect for Native American sovereignty, according to such advocates, would require the United States federal government to deal with Native American peoples in the same manner as any other sovereign nation, handling matters related to relations with Native Americans through the Secretary of State, rather than the Bureau of Indian Affairs. The Bureau of Indian Affairs reports on its website that its “responsibility is the administration and management of 55,700,000 acres (225,000 km2) of land held in trust by the United States for American Indians, Indian tribes, and Alaska Natives.”[88] Many Native Americans and advocates of Native American rights believe that it is condescending for such lands to be considered “held in trust” and regulated in any fashion by a foreign power, whether the US Federal Government, Canada, or any other non-Native American authority.

Forced termination is wrong, in my judgment, for a number of reasons. First, the premises on which it rests are wrong … The second reason for rejecting forced termination is that the practical results have been clearly harmful in the few instances in which termination actually has been tried … The third argument I would make against forced termination concerns the effect it has had upon the overwhelming majority of tribes which still enjoy a special relationship with the Federal government … The recommendations of this administration represent an historic step forward in Indian policy. We are proposing to break sharply with past approaches to Indian problems.
—- President Richard Nixon, Special Message on Indian Affairs, July 8, 1970.[89]

Poldine Carlo, Koyukon author from Alaska

According to 2003 United States Census Bureau estimates, a little over one third of the 2,786,652 Native Americans in the United States live in three states: California at 413,382, Arizona at 294,137 and Oklahoma at 279,559.[90]

As of 2000, the largest tribes in the U.S. by population were Navajo, Cherokee, Choctaw, Sioux, Chippewa, Apache, Blackfeet, Iroquois, and Pueblo. In 2000, eight of ten Americans with Native American ancestry were of mixed blood. It is estimated that by 2100 that figure will rise to nine out of ten.[91] In addition, there are a number of tribes that are recognized by individual states, but not by the federal government. The rights and benefits associated with state recognition vary from state to state.

Some tribal nations have been unable to establish their heritage and obtain federal recognition. The Muwekma Ohlone of the San Francisco bay area are pursuing litigation in the federal court system to establish recognition.[92] Many of the smaller eastern tribes have been trying to gain official recognition of their tribal status. The recognition confers some benefits, including the right to label arts and crafts as Native American and permission to apply for grants that are specifically reserved for Native Americans. But gaining recognition as a tribe is extremely difficult; to be established as a tribal group, members have to submit extensive genealogical proof of tribal descent.

Native American struggles amid poverty to maintain life on the reservation or in larger society have resulted in a variety of health issues, some related to nutrition and health practices. The community suffers a disproportionately high rate of alcoholism.[93]. In addition, some studies have found high rates of heart disease, diabetes, drug addiction, mental illness and suicide.[citation needed] Agencies working with Native American communities are trying better to respect their traditions and integrate benefits of Western medicine within their own cultural practices.

“It has long been recognized that Native Americans are dying of diabetes, alcoholism, tuberculosis, suicide, and other health conditions at shocking rates. Beyond disturbingly high mortality rates, Native Americans also suffer a significantly lower health status and disproportionate rates of disease compared with all other Americans.”
The U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, September 2004 [94]

This Census Bureau map depicts the locations of Native Americans in the United States as of 2000.

In July 2000 the Washington state Republican Party adopted a resolution recommending that the federal and legislative branches of the U.S. government terminate tribal governments [95]. In 2007 a group of Democratic Party congressmen and congresswomen introduced a bill in the U.S. House of Representatives to “terminate” the Cherokee Nation.[96] As of 2004, various Native Americans are wary of attempts by others to gain control of their reservation lands for natural resources, such as coal and uranium in the West.[97][98][99]

In the state of Virginia, Native Americans face a unique problem. Virginia has no federally recognized tribes. Some analysts attribute this to work by Walter Ashby Plecker, who as registrar of the state’s Bureau of Vital Statistics vigorously applied his own interpretation of the one-drop rule. He served from 1912-1946. In 1920 the state’s General Assembly passed a law recognizing only two races: “white” and “colored”. Plecker believed that the state’s Native Americans had been “mongrelized” by intermarriage with African Americans and, further, that some people with partial black heritage were trying to pass as Native Americans. To Plecker, anyone with any African heritage had to be classified as colored, regardless of appearance and cultural identification. Plecker pressured local governments into reclassifying all Native Americans in the state as “colored”, and gave them lists of family surnames to examine for reclassification based on his interpretation of data and the law. This led to the state’s destruction of accurate records related to Native American communities and families. Sometimes different members of the same family were split by classification as “white” or “colored”. There was no place for primary identification as Native American.[100] However, in 2009, the Senate Indian Affairs Committee endorsed a bill that would grant federal recognition to tribes in Virginia.[101]

To achieve federal recognition and its benefits, tribes must prove their continuous existence since 1900. The federal government has maintained this requirement, in part because through participation on councils and committees, federally recognized tribes have been adamant about groups’ satisfying the same requirements as they did.[100]

In the early 21st century, Native American communities remain an enduring fixture on the United States landscape, in the American economy, and in the lives of Native Americans. Communities have consistently formed governments that administer services like firefighting, natural resource management, and law enforcement. Most Native American communities have established court systems to adjudicate matters related to local ordinances, and most also look to various forms of moral and social authority vested in traditional affiliations within the community. To address the housing needs of Native Americans, Congress passed the Native American Housing and Self Determination Act (NAHASDA) in 1996. This legislation replaced public housing, and other 1937 Housing Act programs directed towards Indian Housing Authorities, with a block grant program directed towards Tribes.

Societal discrimination, racism and conflicts

A discriminatory sign posted above a bar. Birney, Montana, 1941.

He is ignoble—base and treacherous, and hateful in every way. Not even imminent death can startle him into a spasm of virtue. The ruling trait of all savages is a greedy and consuming selfishness, and in our Noble Red Man it is found in its amplest development. His heart is a cesspool of falsehood, of treachery, and of low and devilish instincts … The scum of the earth!
Mark Twain, 1870, The Noble Red Man (a satire on James Fenimore Cooper’s portrayals) [102]

Perhaps because the most well-known Native Americans live on reservations relatively isolated from major population centers, universities have conducted relatively little public opinion research on attitudes toward them among the general public. In 2007 the non-partisan Public Agenda organization conducted a focus group study. Most non-Native Americans admitted they rarely encountered Native Americans in their daily lives. While sympathetic toward Native Americans and expressing regret over the past, most people had only a vague understanding of the problems facing Native Americans today. For their part, Native Americans told researchers that they believed they continued to face prejudice and mistreatment in the broader society.[103]

LeCompte also endured taunting on the battlefield. “They ridiculed him and called him a ‘drunken Indian.’ They said, ‘Hey, dude, you look just like a haji–you’d better run.’ They call the Arabs ‘haji.’ I mean, it’s one thing to worry for your life, but then to have to worry about friendly fire because you don’t know who in the hell will shoot you?
— Tammie LeCompte, May 25, 2007, “Soldier highlights problems in U.S. Army”[104]

Conflicts between the federal government and Native Americans occasionally erupt into violence. Perhaps the more notable late 20th century event was the Wounded Knee incident in small town South Dakota. During the period of expanding civil rights protests, activist members of the American Indian Movement (AIM) had taken control of Wounded Knee. They were protesting issues related to Native American rights and the nearby Pine Ridge Reservation. On February 27, 1973, federal law enforcement officials and the United States military surrounded the town. In the ensuing confrontation, two members of AIM were killed and one United States Marshal was wounded and paralyzed. Leonard Peltier, an AIM activist and leader of the event, was arrested and charged, and at trial convicted of causing the uprising that resulted in the attack on the US marshal. He was sentenced to life in prison.

In 2004, Senator Sam Brownback (Republican of Kansas) introduced a joint resolution (Senate Joint Resolution 37) to “offer an apology to all Native Peoples on behalf of the United States” for past “ill-conceived policies” by the United States Government regarding Indian Tribes. The United States Senate has yet to take action on the measure.[105]

In 2007, AIM activist John Graham was extradited from Canada to the US to stand trial for killing N.S. Mimaq in 1975. The Native American woman activist was killed years after the Wounded Knee standoff, allegedly for having been an FBI informant at the time.[106][107]

Native American mascots in sports

A student acting as Chief Osceola, the Florida State University mascot

The use of Native American mascots in sports has become a contentious issue in the United States and Canada. Americans have had a history of “playing Indian” that dates back to at least the 1700s.[108] Many individuals[who?] admire the heroism and romanticism evoked by the classic Native American warrior image, but numerous Native Americans[specify] think use of items associated with them as mascots is both offensive and demeaning. While many universities (for example, North Dakota Fighting Sioux of University of North Dakota) and professional sports teams (for example, Chief Wahoo of Cleveland Indians) no longer use such images without consultation with Native American nations, some lower level schools[which?] and sports teams[which?] continue to do so.

(Trudie Lamb Richmond doesn’t) know what to say when kids argue, ‘I don’t care what you say, we are honoring you. We are keeping our Indian.’ … What if it were ‘our black’ or ‘our Hispanic’?
—- Amy D’orio quoting Trudie Lamb Richmond, March 1996, “Indian Chief Is Mascot No More”[109]

In August 2005, the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) banned the use of “hostile and abusive” Native American mascots in postseason tournaments.[110] An exception was made to allow the use of tribal names as long as approved by that tribe (such as the Seminole Tribe of Florida’s approving use of their name for the team of Florida State University.)[111][112] The use of Native American-themed team names in U.S. professional sports is widespread. Examples are mascot Chief Wahoo and teams such as the Cleveland Indians and Washington Redskins, considered controversial by some.

“Could you imagine people mocking African Americans in black face at a game?” he said. “Yet go to a game where there is a team with an Indian name and you will see fans with war paint on their faces. Is this not the equivalent to black face?”
—- “Native American Mascots Big Issue in College Sports”,Teaching Tolerance, May 9, 2001[113]

Depictions by Europeans and Americans

Sketch by John White of Roanoke Indians

American Indian on five-dollar Silver Certificate, 1899

Native Americans have been depicted by American artists in various ways at different historical periods. During the sixteenth century, the artist John White made watercolors and engravings of the people native to the southeastern states. John White’s images were, for the most part, faithful likenesses of the people he observed.

Later the artist Theodore de Bry used White’s original watercolors to make a book of engravings entitled, A briefe and true report of the new found land of Virginia. In his book, de Bry often altered the poses and features of White’s figures to make them appear more European. During the period when White and de Bry were working, when Europeans were first coming into contact with native Americans, Europeans were greatly interested in in native American cultures. Their curiosity created demand for a book like de Bry’s.

Three centuries later, during the construction of the Capitol building in the early nineteenth century, the U.S. government commissioned a series of four relief panels to crown the doorway of the Rotunda. The reliefs encapsulate a vision of European—Native American relations that had assumed mythic historical proportions by the nineteenth century. The four panels depict: The Preservation of Captain Smith by Pocahontas (1825) by Antonio Capellano, The Landing of the Pilgrims (1825) and The Conflict of Daniel Boone and the Indians (1826–27) by Enrico Causici, and William Penn’s Treaty with the Indians (1827) by Nicholas Gevelot. The reliefs present idealized versions of the Europeans and the native Americans, in which the Europeans appear refined and the natives appear ferocious. The Whig representative of Virginia, Henry A. Wise, voiced a particularly astute summary of how Native Americans would read the messages contained in all four reliefs: “We give you corn, you cheat us of our lands: we save your life, you take ours.” While many nineteenth-century images of native Americans conveyed similarly negative messages, artists such as Charles Bird King sought to express a more balanced image of Native Americans.

During this time there were writers of fiction who were informed about Native American culture and wrote about it with sympathy. One such writer was Marah Ellis Ryan.

In the 20th century, early portrayals of Native Americans in movies and television roles were first depicted by European-Americans dressed in mock traditional attire. Examples included The Last of the Mohicans (1920), Hawkeye and the Last of the Mohicans (1957), and F Troop (1965-67). In later decades, Native American actors such as Jay Silverheels in The Lone Ranger television series (1949-57) came to prominence. Roles of Native Americans were limited and not reflective of Native American culture. In the 1970s some Native Americans roles were improved in movies: Little Big Man (1970), Billy Jack (1971), and The Outlaw Josey Wales (1976) depicted Native Americans in minor supporting roles.

In addition to overtly negative depictions, Native people on US television have also been relegated to secondary, subordinate roles. During the years of the series Bonanza (1959-1973), no major or secondary Native characters appeared on a consistent basis. The series The Lone Ranger (1949-1957), Cheyenne (1957-1963), and Law of the Plainsman (1959-1963) had Native characters who were essentially aides to the central White characters. This characterization was also a feature of later television pilots and shows such as How the West Was Won. These programs resembled the “sympathetic” yet contradictory film Dances With Wolves of 1990, in which, according to Ella Shohat and Robert Stam, the narrative choice was to relate the Lakotas story as told through a Euro-American voice, for wide impact among a general audience.[114] Like the 1992 remake of The Last of the Mohicans and Geronimo: An American Legend (1993), Dances with Wolves employed a number of Native American actors, and made some effort to portray Indigenous languages. However, all of these films still focus a great deal of screen time on the non-Indian characters.[citation needed]

In 2004, Co-Producer Guy Perrotta presented the film Mystic Voices: The Story of the Pequot War (2004), a television documentary on the first major war between colonists and Native peoples in the Americas. Perrotta and Charles Clemmons intended to increase public understanding of the significance of this early event. They believed it had significance not only for northeastern Native Peoples and descendants of English and Dutch colonists, but for all Americans today. The producers wanted to make the documentary as historically accurate and as unbiased as possible. They invited a broadly based Advisory Board, and used scholars, Native Americans, and descendants of the colonists to help tell the story. They elicited personal and often passionate viewpoints from contemporary Americans. The production portrayed the conflict as a struggle between different value systems that included not only the Pequots, but a number of Native American tribes, most of which allied with the English. It not only presents facts, but also seeks to help the viewer better understand the people who fought the War.

In 2009, We Shall Remain (2009), a television documentary by Ric Burns and part of the American Experience series, presented a five-episode series “from a Native American perspective”: it represented “an unprecedented collaboration between Native and non-Native filmmakers and involves Native advisors and scholars at all levels of the project.”[115] The five episodes explore the impact of King Philip’s War on the northeastern tribes, the “Native American confederacy” involved in Tecumseh’s War, the forced relocation known as Trail of Tears, the pursuit and capture of Geronimo and the Apache Wars, and concludes with the American Indian Movement‘s involvement at the Wounded Knee incident and the resurgence in modern Native cultures afterward.

Terminology differences

Common usage in the United States

Martha Gradolf, Hochunk weaver from Indiana

Native Americans are also commonly known as Indians or American Indians, and have been known as Aboriginal Americans, Amerindians, Amerinds, Colored[82][116], First Americans, Native Indians, Indigenous, Original Americans, Red Indians, Redskins or Red Men. The term Native American was originally introduced in the United States in preference to the older term Indian to distinguish the indigenous peoples of the Americas from the people of India, and to avoid negative stereotypes associated with Indian. Because of the widespread acceptance of this newer term in academic circles, some academics believe that Indians should be considered as outdated or offensive. People from India (and their descendants) who are citizens of the United States are known as Indian Americans or Asian Indians.

Criticism of the neologism Native American, however, comes from diverse sources. Many American Indians have misgivings about the term Native American. Russell Means, an American Indian activist, opposes the term Native American because he believes it was imposed by the government without the consent of American Indians. He has also argued that this use of the word Indian derives not from a confusion with India but from a Spanish expression En Dio, meaning “in God”.[117] Furthermore, some American Indians[who?] question the term Native American because, they argue, it serves to ease the conscience of “white America” with regard to past injustices done to American Indians by effectively eliminating “Indians” from the present.[118] Still others (both Indians and non-Indians)[who?] argue that Native American is problematic because “native of” literally means “born in,” so any person born in the Americas could be considered “native”. However, very often the compound “Native American” will be capitalized in order to differentiate this intended meaning from others. Likewise, “native” (small ‘n’) can be further qualified by formulations such as “native-born” when the intended meaning is only to indicate place of birth or origin.

A 1995 US Census Bureau survey found that more Native Americans in the United States preferred American Indian to Native American.[119] Nonetheless, most American Indians are comfortable with Indian, American Indian, and Native American, and the terms are often used interchangeably.[120] The traditional term is reflected in the name chosen for the National Museum of the American Indian, which opened in 2004 on the Mall in Washington, D.C..

Recently, the U.S. Census Bureau has introduced the “Asian-Indian” category to avoid ambiguity.

Gambling industry

Sandia Casino, owned by the Sandia Pueblo of New Mexico

Gambling has become a leading industry. Casinos operated by many Native American governments in the United States are creating a stream of gambling revenue that some communities are beginning to use as leverage to build diversified economies. Native American communities have waged and prevailed in legal battles to assure recognition of rights to self-determination and to use of natural resources. Some of those rights, known as treaty rights, are enumerated in early treaties signed with the young United States government. Tribal sovereignty has become a cornerstone of American jurisprudence, and at least on the surface, in national legislative policies. Although many Native American tribes have casinos, the Impact of Native American gambling is widely debated. Some tribes, such as the Winnemem Wintu of Redding, California, feel that casinos and their proceeds destroy culture from the inside out. These tribes refuse to participate in the gambling industry.

Society, language, and culture

Ethno-linguistic classification

Far from forming a single ethnic group, Native Americans were divided into several hundred ethno-linguistic groups, most of them grouped into the Na-Dené (Athabaskan), Algic (including Algonquian), Uto-Aztecan, Iroquoian, Siouan-Catawban, Yok-Utian, Salishan and Yuman-Cochimí phyla, besides many smaller groups and several language isolates. Demonstrating genetic relationships has proved difficult due to the great linguistic diversity present in North America.

The indigenous peoples of North America can be classified as belonging to a number of large cultural areas:

Early Indian languages in the US

Of the surviving languages, Uto-Aztecan has the most speakers (1.95 million) if the languages in Mexico are considered (mostly due to 1.5 million speakers of Nahuatl); Nadene comes in second with approximately 180,200 speakers (148,500 of these are speakers of Navajo). Na-Dené and Algic have the widest geographic distributions: Algic currently spans from northeastern Canada across much of the continent down to northeastern Mexico (due to later migrations of the Kickapoo) with two outliers in California (Yurok and Wiyot); Na-Dené spans from Alaska and western Canada through Washington, Oregon, and California to the U.S. Southwest and northern Mexico (with one outlier in the Plains). Another area of considerable diversity appears to have been the Southeast; however, many of these languages became extinct from European contact and as a result they are, for the most part, absent from the historical record.

Cultural aspects

Hopi woman dressing hair of unmarried girl from 1900.

Though cultural features, language, clothing, and customs vary enormously from one tribe to another, there are certain elements which are encountered frequently and shared by many tribes.

Early hunter-gatherer tribes made stone weapons from around 10,000 years ago; as the age of metallurgy dawned, newer technologies were used and more efficient weapons produced. Prior to contact with Europeans, most tribes used similar weaponry. The most common implements were the bow and arrow, the war club, and the spear. Quality, material, and design varied widely. Native American use of fire both helped provide insects for food and altered the landscape of the continent to help the human population flourish.

Large mammals like mammoths and mastodons were largely extinct by around 8,000 B.C. Native Americans switched to hunting other large game, such as bison. The Great Plains tribes were still hunting the bison when they first encountered the Europeans. The Spanish reintroduction of the horse to North America in the 17th century and Native Americans’ learning to use them greatly altered the natives’ culture, including changing the way in which they hunted large game. (Evidence of pre-historic horses prior to the arrival of the Spanish has been found in the La Brea Tar Pits in Los Angeles, CA.)[citation needed] In addition, horses became such a valuable, central element of Native lives that they were counted as a measure of wealth.


Zuni girl with pottery jar on her head in 1909

Gens structure

Early European American scholars described the Native Americans as having a society dominated by clans or gentes (in the Roman model) before tribes were formed. There were some common characteristics:

  • The right to elect its sachem and chiefs.
  • The right to depose its sachem and chiefs.
  • The obligation not to marry in the gens.
  • Mutual rights of inheritance of the property of deceased members.
  • Reciprocal obligations of help, defense, and redress of injuries.
  • The right to bestow names on its members.
  • The right to adopt strangers into the gens.
  • Common religious rights, query.
  • A common burial place.
  • A council of the gens.[121]

Tribal structure

Subdivision and differentiation took place between various groups. Upwards of forty stock languages developed in North America, with each independent tribe speaking a dialect of one of those languages. Some functions and attributes of tribes are:

Shonto Begay, Diné painter from Arizona

  • The possession of the gentes.
  • The right to depose these sachems and chiefs.
  • The possession of a religious faith and worship.
  • A supreme government consisting of a council of chiefs.
  • A head-chief of the tribe in some instances.[121]

Society and art

Further information: petroglyphpictogrampetroform, and Native American art

The Iroquois, living around the Great Lakes and extending east and north, used strings or belts called wampum that served a dual function: the knots and beaded designs mnemonically chronicled tribal stories and legends, and further served as a medium of exchange and a unit of measure. The keepers of the articles were seen as tribal dignitaries.[122]

Pueblo peoples crafted impressive items associated with their religious ceremonies. Kachina dancers wore elaborately painted and decorated masks as they ritually impersonated various ancestral spirits. Sculpture was not highly developed, but carved stone and wood fetishes were made for religious use. Superior weaving, embroidered decorations, and rich dyes characterized the textile arts. Both turquoise and shell jewelry were created, as were high-quality pottery and formalized pictorial arts.

Navajo spirituality focused on the maintenance of a harmonious relationship with the spirit world, often achieved by ceremonial acts, usually incorporating sandpainting. The colors—made from sand, charcoal, cornmeal, and pollen—depicted specific spirits. These vivid, intricate, and colorful sand creations were erased at the end of the ceremony.


Further information: Native American cuisine

Maize raised by Native Americans

Chippewa baby waits on a cradleboard while parents tend rice crops (Minnesota, 1940).

An early crop the Native Americans grew was squash. Others early crops included cotton, sunflower, pumpkins, tobacco, goosefoot, knotgrass, and sump weed.

Agriculture in the southwest started around 4,000 years ago when traders brought cultigens from Mexico. Due to the varying climate, some ingenuity was needed for agriculture to be successful. The climate in the southwest ranged from cool, moist mountains regions, to dry, sandy soil in the desert. Some innovations of the time included irrigation to bring water into the dry regions and the selection of seed based on the traits of the growing plants that bore them. In the southwest, they grew beans that were self-supported, much like the way they are grown today.

In the east, however, they were planted right by corn in order for the vines to be able to “climb” the cornstalks. The most important crop the Native Americans raised was maize. It was first started in Mesoamerica and spread north. About 2,000 years ago it reached eastern America. This crop was important to the Native Americans because it was part of their everyday diet; it could be stored in underground pits during the winter, and no part of it was wasted. The husk was made into art crafts, and the cob was used as fuel for fires. By 800 A.D. the Native Americans had established three main crops — beans, squash, and corn — called the three sisters.

The agriculture gender roles of the Native Americans varied from region to region. In the southwest area, men prepared the soil with hoes. The women were in charge of planting, weeding, and harvesting the crops. In most other regions, the women were in charge of doing everything, including clearing the land. Clearing the land was an immense chore since the Native Americans rotated fields frequently. There is a tradition that Squanto showed the Pilgrims in New England how to put fish in fields to act like a fertilizer, but the truth of this story is debated. Native Americans did plant beans next to corn; the beans would replace the nitrogen which the corn took from the ground, as well as using corn stalks for support for climbing. Native Americans used controlled fires to burn weeds and clear fields; this would put nutrients back into the ground. If this did not work, they would simply abandon the field to let it be fallow, and find a new spot for cultivation.

Europeans in the eastern part of the continent observed that Natives cleared large areas for cropland. Their fields in New England sometimes covered hundreds of acres. Colonists in Virginia noted thousands of acres under cultivation by Native Americans.[123]

Native Americans commonly used tools such as the hoe, maul, and dibber. The hoe was the main tool used to till the land and prepare it for planting; then it was used for weeding. The first versions were made out of wood and stone. When the settlers brought iron, Native Americans switched to iron hoes and hatchets. The dibber was a digging stick, used to plant the seed. Once the plants were harvested, women prepared the produce for eating. They used the maul to grind the corn into mash. It was cooked and eaten that way or baked as corn bread.[124]


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Baptism of Pocahontas was painted in 1840. John Gadsby Chapman depicts Pocahontas, wearing white, being baptized Rebecca by Anglican minister Alexander Whiteaker in Jamestown, Virginia; this event is believed to have taken place in 1613 or 1614.

No particular religion or religious tradition is hegemonic among Native Americans in the United States.[citation needed] Most self-identifying and federally recognized Native Americans claim adherence to some form of Christianity,[citation needed] some of these being cultural and religious syntheses unique to the particular tribe such as the various forms of the Native American Church. Traditional Native American ceremonies are still practiced by many tribes and bands, and the older theological belief systems are still held by many of the “traditional” people.[specify] These spiritualities may accompany adherence to another faith, or can represent a person’s primary religious identity. While much Native American spiritualism exists in a tribal-cultural continuum, and as such cannot be easily separated from tribal identity itself, certain other more clearly-defined movements have arisen among “traditional” Native American practitioners, these being identifiable as “religions” in the clinical sense. Traditional practices of some tribes include the use of sacred herbs such tobacco, sweetgrass or sage. Many Plains tribes have sweatlodge ceremonies, though the specifics of the ceremony vary among tribes. Fasting, singing and prayer in the ancient languages of their people, and sometimes drumming are also common.

The Midewiwin Lodge is a traditional medicine society inspired by the oral traditions and prophesies of the Ojibwa (Chippewa) and related tribes.

Another significant religious body among Native peoples is known as the Native American Church. It is a syncretistic church incorporating elements of Native spiritual practice from a number of different tribes as well as symbolic elements from Christianity. Its main rite is the peyote ceremony. Prior to 1890, traditional religious beliefs included Wakan Tanka. In the American Southwest, especially New Mexico, a syncretism between the Catholicism brought by Spanish missionaries and the native religion is common; the religious drums, chants, and dances of the Pueblo people are regularly part of Masses at Santa Fe‘s Saint Francis Cathedral.[125] Native American-Catholic syncretism is also found elsewhere in the United States. (e.g., the National Kateri Tekakwitha Shrine in Fonda, New York and the National Shrine of the North American Martyrs in Auriesville, New York).

Native Americans are the only known ethnic group in the United States requiring a federal permit to practice their religion.[citation needed] The eagle feather law (Title 50 Part 22 of the Code of Federal Regulations) stipulates that only individuals of certifiable Native American ancestry enrolled in a federally recognized tribe are legally authorized to obtain eagle feathers for religious or spiritual use. Native Americans[specify] and non-Native Americans[specify] frequently contest the value and validity of the eagle feather law, charging that the law is laden with discriminatory racial preferences and infringes on tribal sovereignty.[citation needed] The law does not allow Native Americans to give eagle feathers to non-Native Americans.

Gender roles

Dr. Susan La Flesche Picotte was the first Native American woman to become a physician in the United States.

Most Native American tribes had traditional gender roles. In some tribes, such as the Iroquois nation, social and clan relationships were matrilineal and/or matriarchal, although several different systems were in use. One example is the Cherokee custom of wives owning the family property. Men hunted, traded and made war, while women gathered plants, cared for the young and the elderly, fashioned clothing and instruments and cured meat. The cradleboard was used by mothers to carry their baby while working or traveling.[126] However, in some (but not all) tribes a kind of transgender was permitted; see Two-Spirit.

At least several dozen tribes allowed polygyny to sisters, with procedural and economic limits.[121]

Apart from making home, women had many tasks that were essential for the survival of the tribes. They made weapons and tools, took care of the roofs of their homes and often helped their men hunt bison.[127] In some of the Plains Indian tribes there reportedly were medicine women who gathered herbs and cured the ill.[128]

In some of these tribes such as the Sioux girls were also encouraged to learn to ride, hunt and fight.[129] Though fighting was mostly left to the boys and men, there had been cases of women fighting alongside them, especially when the existence of the tribe was threatened.[130]


Native American leisure time led to competitive individual and team sports. Early accounts include team games played between tribes with hundreds of players on the field at once[citation needed].. Jim Thorpe, Notah Begay III, Jacoby Ellsbury, and Billy Mills are well known professional athletes.

Team based

Ball players from the Choctaw and Lakota tribe as painted by George Catlin in the 1830s

Native American ball sports, sometimes referred to as lacrosse, stickball, or baggataway, was often used to settle disputes rather than going to war which was a civil way to settle potential conflict. The Choctaw called it ISITOBOLI (“Little Brother of War”);[131] the Onondaga name was DEHUNTSHIGWA’ES (“men hit a rounded object”). There are three basic versions classifed as Great Lakes, Iroquoian, and Southern.[132] The game is played with one or two rackets/sticks and one ball. The object of the game is to land the ball on the opposing team’s goal (either a single post or net) to score and prevent the opposing team from scoring on your goal. The game involves as few as twenty or as many as 300 players with no height or weight restrictions and no protective gear. The goals could be from a few hundred feet apart to a few miles; in Lacrosse the field is 110 yards. A Jesuit priest[who?] referenced stickball in 1729, and George Catlin painted the subject.

Individual based

Jim Thorpe was called the “greatest athlete in the world” by king Gustaf V of Sweden

Billy Mills crosses the finish line for the 10,000 meter race at the 1964 Tokyo Olympics

Chunke was a game that consisted of a stone shaped disk that was about 1–2 inches in length. The disk was thrown down a 200-foot (61 m) corridor so that it could roll past the players at great speed. The disk would roll down the corridor, and players would throw wooden shafts at the moving disk. The object of the game was to strike the disk or prevent your opponents from hitting it.

U.S. Olympics

Jim Thorpe, a Sauk and Fox Native American, was an all-round athlete playing football and baseball in the early 20th century. Future President Dwight Eisenhower injured his knee while trying to tackle the young Thorpe. In a 1961 speech, Eisenhower recalled Thorpe: “Here and there, there are some people who are supremely endowed. My memory goes back to Jim Thorpe. He never practiced in his life, and he could do anything better than any other football player I ever saw.”[133]

In the 1912 Olympics, Thorpe could run the 100-yard dash in 10 seconds flat, the 220 in 21.8 seconds, the 440 in 51.8 seconds, the 880 in 1:57, the mile in 4:35, the 120-yard high hurdles in 15 seconds, and the 220-yard low hurdles in 24 seconds.[134] He could long jump 23 ft 6 in and high-jump 6 ft 5 in.[134] He could pole vault 11 feet, put the shot 47 ft 9 in, throw the javelin 163 feet, and throw the discus 136 feet.[134] Thorpe entered the U.S. Olympic trials for both the pentathlon and the decathlon.

Billy Mills, a Lakota and USMC officer, won the Gold medal in the 10,000 meter run at the 1964 Tokyo Olympics. He was the only American ever to win the Olympic gold in this event. An unknown prior to the Olympics, he had finished second in the U.S. Olympic trials.

Music and art

Jake Fragua, Jemez Pueblo from New Mexico

Yatika Fields, Osage artist from New York

Main article: Native American music

Traditional Native American music is almost entirely monophonic, but there are notable exceptions. Native American music often includes drumming and/or the playing of rattles or other percussion instruments but little other instrumentation. Flutes and whistles made of wood, cane, or bone are also played, generally by individuals, but in former times also by large ensembles (as noted by Spanish conquistador de Soto). 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 have an interval close to a half step.

Performers with Native American parentage have occasionally appeared in American popular music, such as Robbie Robertson (The Band), Rita Coolidge, Wayne Newton, Gene Clark, Buffy Sainte-Marie, Blackfoot, Tori Amos, Redbone, and CocoRosie. Some, such as John Trudell, have used music to comment on life in Native America, and others, such as R. Carlos Nakai integrate traditional sounds with modern sounds in instrumental recordings. A variety of small and medium-sized recording companies offer an abundance of recent music by Native American performers young and old, ranging from pow-wow drum music to hard-driving rock-and-roll and rap.

The most widely practiced public musical form among Native Americans in the United States is that of the pow-wow. At pow-wows, such as the annual Gathering of Nations in Albuquerque, New Mexico, members of drum groups sit in a circle around a large drum. Drum groups play in unison while they sing in a native language and dancers in colorful regalia dance clockwise around the drum groups in the center. Familiar pow-wow songs include honor songs, intertribal songs, crow-hops, sneak-up songs, grass-dances, two-steps, welcome songs, going-home songs, and war songs. Most indigenous communities in the United States also maintain traditional songs and ceremonies, some of which are shared and practiced exclusively within the community.[135]

Native American art comprises a major category in the world art collection. Native American contributions include pottery(Native American pottery), paintings, jewellery, weavings, sculptures, basketry, and carvings. Franklin Gritts, was a Cherokee artist, who taught students from many tribes at Haskell Institute (now Haskell Indian Nations University) in the 1940s, the Golden Age of Native American painters.

The integrity of certain Native American artworks is now protected by an act of Congress that prohibits representation of art as Native American when it is not the product of an enrolled Native American artist.


“The King of the Seas in the Hands of the Makahs,” photograph taken in 1910 of Makah Native Americans

The Inuit, or Eskimo, prepared and buried large amounts of dried meat and fish. Pacific Northwest tribes crafted seafaring dugouts 40–50 feet long for fishing. Farmers in the Eastern Woodlands tended fields of maize with hoes and digging sticks, while their neighbors in the Southeast grew tobacco as well as food crops. On the Plains, some tribes engaged in agriculture but also planned buffalo hunts in which herds were driven over bluffs. Dwellers of the Southwest deserts hunted small animals and gathered acorns to grind into flour with which they baked wafer-thin bread on top of heated stones. Some groups on the region’s mesas developed irrigation techniques, and filled storehouses with grain as protection against the area’s frequent droughts.

In the early years, as these native peoples encountered European explorers and settlers and engaged in trade, they exchanged food, crafts, and furs for blankets, iron and steel implements, horses, trinkets, firearms, and alcoholic beverages.

Barriers to economic development

Today, other than tribes successfully running casinos, many tribes struggle. There are an estimated 2.1 million Native Americans, and they are the most impoverished of all ethnic groups. According to the 2000 Census, an estimated 400,000 Native Americans reside on reservation land. While some tribes have had success with gaming, only 40% of the 562 federally recognized tribes operate casinos.[136] According to a 2007 survey by the U.S. Small Business Administration, only 1 percent of Native Americans own and operate a business.[137] Native Americans rank at the bottom of nearly every social statistic: highest teen suicide rate of all minorities at 18.5 per 100,000, highest rate of teen pregnancy, highest high school drop out rate at 54%, lowest per capita income, and unemployment rates between 50% to 90%.

The barriers to economic development on Native American reservations often cited by others and two experts Joseph Kalt[138] and Stephen Cornell[139] of the Harvard Project on American Indian Economic Development at Harvard University, in their classic report: What Can Tribes Do? Strategies and Institutions in American Indian Economic Development,[140] are as follows (incomplete list, see full Kalt & Cornell report):

  • Lack of access to capital.
  • Lack of human capital (education, skills, technical expertise) and the means to develop it.
  • Reservations lack effective planning.
  • Reservations are poor in natural resources.
  • Reservations have natural resources, but lack sufficient control over them.
  • Reservations are disadvantaged by their distance from markets and the high costs of transportation.
  • Tribes cannot persuade investors to locate on reservations because of intense competition from non-Native American communities.
  • The Bureau of Indian Affairs is inept, corrupt, and/or uninterested in reservation development.
  • Tribal politicians and bureaucrats are inept or corrupt.
  • On-reservation factionalism destroys stability in tribal decisions.
  • The instability of tribal government keeps outsiders from investing.
  • Entrepreneurial skills and experience are scarce.
  • Tribal cultures get in the way.

One of the major barriers for overcoming the economic strife is the lack of entrepreneurial knowledge and experience across Indian reservations. “A general lack of education and experience about business is a significant challenge to prospective entrepreneurs,” also says another report on Native American entrepreneurship by the Northwest Area Foundation in 2004. “Native American communities that lack entrepreneurial traditions and recent experiences typically do not provide the support that entrepreneurs need to thrive. Consequently, experiential entrepreneurship education needs to be embedded into school curricula and after-school and other community activities. This would allow students to learn the essential elements of entrepreneurship from a young age and encourage them to apply these elements throughout life.”[141]. One publication devoted to addressing these issues is Rez Biz magazine.

Native Americans, Europeans, and Africans

Interracial relations between Native Americans, Europeans, and Africans is a complex issue that has been mostly neglected with “few in-depth studies on interracial relationships”.[142][143] Europeans relational impact was wide spread and marriages was immediate.[citation needed] One of the first documented cases was recorded in Post-Columbian Mexico where a Spanish man (Hernán Cortés) and a Native American woman (Rebecca/Malinal/Malinche) birthed the first multi-racial Native American.[144]

Native American and African relations

Ras K’Dee, Pomo-Kenyan singer and editor from California

Further information: Black Indians

African and Native Americans have interacted for centuries. The earliest record of African and Native American contact occurred in April 1502, when the first Africans were brought to Hispanola to serve as slaves.[145]

Sometimes Native Americans resented the presence of African Americans.[146] In one description the “Catawaba tribe in 1752 showed great anger and bitter resentment when an African American came among them as a trader.”[146] The Cherokee had the strongest color prejudice of all Native Americans to gain favor with Europeans.[147] The hostility has been attributed to European fears of a unified revolt of Native Americans and African Americans: “Whites sought to convince Native Americans that African Americans worked against their best interests.” [148] In 1751, South Carolina law stated:

“The carrying of Negroes among the Indians has all along been thought detrimental, as an intimacy ought to be avoided.”[149]

Europeans considered both races inferior and made efforts to make both Native Americans and Africans enemies.[77] Native Americans were rewarded if they returned escaped slaves, and African Americans were rewarded for fighting in “Indian Wars”.[77][150][151]

“Native Americans, during the transitional period of Africans becoming the primary race enslaved, were enslaved at the same time and shared a common experience of enslavement. They worked together, lived together in communal quarters, produced collective recipes for food, shared herbal remedies, myths and legends, and in the end they intermarried.”[78] Because of this many tribes encouraged marriage between the two groups, to create stronger, healthier children from the unions.[152] In the eighteenth century, many Native American women did marry freed or runaway African men due to a large decrease in the population of men in Native American villages.[77] In addition, records also show that many Native American women actually bought African men, but unknown to European sellers the women freed and married the men into their tribe.[77] It was also beneficial for African men to marry or have children by a Native American woman because children born to a mother who was not a slave were free.[77] European colonists often requested the return of any runaway slaves in treaties. In 1726, the British Governor of New York exacted a promise from the Iroquois to return all runaway slaves who had joined up with them.[153] In the mid 1760s, Huron and Delaware Native Americans were also requested to return runaway slaves however no record of slaves being returned occurred.[154] Ads were used to request the return of slaves.

Slave ownership was prevalent among a few Native American tribes, especially in the southeast where the Cherokee, Choctaw, and Creek lived. Though less than 3% of Native Americans owned slaves, bondage practices created destructive divisions among Native Americans.[79] Among the Cherokee, records show that slave holders in the tribe were largely the children of European men that had showed their children the economics of slavery.[150] As European expansion increased more African and Native American marriages became more prominent.[77]

L to R: Mrs. Amos Chapman, her daughter, sister (all Cheyenne, and an unidentified African-American girl. 1886[155]

A few historians suggest that most African Americans have Native American heritage[156] Based on the work of geneticists, a PBS series on African Americans explained that while most African Americans are racially mixed, it is relatively rare that they have Native American ancestry.[157][158] According to the PBS series, the most common “non-black” mix is English and Scots-Irish.[157][158] However, the Y-chromosome and mtDNA (mitochondrial DNA) testing processes for direct-line male and female ancestors can fail to pick up the heritage of many ancestors. (Some critics thought the PBS series did not sufficiently explain the limitations of DNA testing for assessment of heritage.)[159] Another study suggests that relatively few Native Americans have African-American heritage.[160] A study reported in The American Journal of Human Genetics stated, “We analyzed the European genetic contribution to 10 populations of African descent in the United States (Maywood, Illinois; Detroit; New York; Philadelphia; Pittsburgh; Baltimore; Charleston, South Carolina; New Orleans; and Houston) … mtDNA haplogroups analysis shows no evidence of a significant maternal Amerindian contribution to any of the 10 populations.”[161]

Researchers caution that genetic ancestry DNA testing has limitations and should not be depended on by individuals to answer all their questions about heritage.[159][162] Testing cannot distinguish among separate Native American tribes. Nor can it be used alone to assert membership in a tribe.[163]

Native Americans and assimilation acceptance with Europeans

The 1725 return of an Osage bride from a trip to Paris, France. The Osage woman was married to a French soldier.

European impact was immediate, widespread, and profound—more than any other race that had contact with Native Americans during the early years of colonization and nationhood. Europeans living among Native Americans were often called “white indians”. They “lived in native communities for years, learned native languages fluently, attended native councils, and often fought alongside their native companions.”[164]

Early contact was often charged with tension and emotion, but also had moments of friendship, cooperation, and intimacy.[165] Marriages took place in both English and French colonies between European men and Native women. On April 5, 1614, Pocahontas married Englishman John Rolfe, and they had a child called Thomas Rolfe.

Intimate relations among Native American and Europeans were widespread, beginning with the French and Spanish explorers and trappers. For instance, in the early 19th century, the Native American woman Sacagawea, who would help translate for the Lewis and Clark Expedition, was married to French trapper Toussaint Charbonneau. They had a son named Jean Baptiste Charbonneau. This was the most typical pattern among the traders and trappers.

Many settlers feared Native Americans because they were different.[165] Their ways seemed savage to whites, and they were suspicious of a culture they did not understand.[165]

A Native American author Andrew J. Blackbird in 1897, found that white settlers introduced some immoralities into Native American tribes.[165]

He wrote in his book, History of the Ottawa and Chippewa Indians of Michigan,

“The Ottawas and Chippewas were quite virtuous in their primitive state, as there were no illegitimate children reported in our old traditions. But very lately this evil came to exist among the Ottawas-so lately that the second case among the Ottawas of Arbor Croche is yet living in 1897. And from that time this evil came to be quite frequent, for immorality has been introduced among these people by evil white persons who bring their vices into the tribes.”[165]

The U. S. government had two purposes in mind when making land agreements with Native Americans. First, they wanted to open it up more land for white settlement.[166] Second, they wanted to ease tensions between whites and Native Americans by forcing Natives to use the land like whites did.[166] The government had a variety of strategies to accomplish these aims; many treaties required Native Americans to become farmers in order to keep their land.[166] Government officials often did not translate the documents Native Americans were forced to sign, and native chiefs often had little or no idea what they were signing.[166]

For a Native American man to marry a white woman he had to get consent of the parents as long as “he can prove to support her as a white woman in a good home”.[167] In the early 1800s, Shawnee Native American Tecumseh and blonde hair & blued eyed Rebbecca Galloway had a inter-racial affair. In the late 19th century, three European-American middle-class female staff married Native American men met during the years when Hampton Institute ran its Native American program.[168] Charles Eastman married his European-American wife Elaine Goodale whom he had met in Dakota Territory when Goodale was social worker and the superintendent of Native American education for the reservations. They had six children together.

Blood Quantum

Main article: Blood quantum laws
Further information: Cherokee Freedmen Controversy

Lillian Gross, described as a “Mixed Blood” by the Smithsonian source, was of Native American and European/American heritage. She identified with her Cherokee culture.

Intertribal mixing was common among Native American tribes, so individuals could be said to be descended from more than one tribe.[30][31] Bands or entire tribes occasionally split or merged to form more viable groups in reaction to the pressures of climate, disease and warfare.[169] A number of tribes traditionally adopted captives into their group to replace members who had been captured or killed in battle. These captives came from rival tribes and later from European settlers. Some tribes also sheltered or adopted white traders and runaway slaves and Native American-owned slaves. Tribes with long trading histories with Europeans show a higher rate of European admixture, reflecting years of intermarriage between European men and Native American women.[169] A number of paths to genetic diversity among Native Americans thus existed.

While in recent years some commentators have suggested high rates of admixture between Native Americans and African Americans, genetic genealogists have found lesser frequency. Literary critic and author Henry Louis Gates, Jr. cites experts who argue that only 5 percent of African Americans have at least 12.5 percent Native American ancestry (equivalent to one great-grandparent). Of course this means that a greater percentage could have a very small percentage of ancestry, but it also suggests that past estimates of admixture may have been too high.[170] As some genetic tests assess only direct male or female ancestors, individuals may not discover Native American ancestry from other ancestors. Among an individual’s 64 4xgreat-grandparents, direct testing yields DNA evidence of only two.[159][162][171]

In addition to limitations if only direct male and female lines are tested, DNA testing cannot be used for determining tribal membership because it can not distinguish among Native American groups. Native American identity has historically been based on culture, not just biology. The Indigenous Peoples Council on Biocolonialism (IPCB) notes that:

“Native American markers” are not found solely among Native Americans. While they occur more frequently among Native Americans they are also found in people in other parts of the world.[171]

Geneticists also state:

not all Native Americans have been tested especially with the large number of deaths due to disease such as small pox, it is unlikely that Native Americans only have the genetic markers they have identified, even when their maternal or paternal bloodline does not include a non-Native American.[159][162]

Members of the Creek (Muscogee) Nation in Oklahoma around 1877, including those with some European and African ancestry.[172]

To receive tribal services, a Native American must belong to and be certified by a recognized tribal organization. Each tribal government makes its own rules for citizens or tribal members. The federal government has standards related to services available to certified Native Americans. For instance, Federal scholarships for Native Americans require the student to be enrolled in a federally recognized tribe and have at least one-quarter Native American descent (equivalent to one grandparent), attested by a Certificate of Degree of Indian Blood card. Among tribes, qualification may be based upon a required percentage of Native American “blood”, or the “blood quantum” of an individual seeking recognition.

To attain certainty, some tribes have begun requiring genealogical DNA testing, but this is usually related to proving parentage or direct descent from a certified member.[173] Requirements for tribal membership vary widely by tribe. The Cherokee require documented genealogical descent from a Native American listed on the early 20th century Dawes Rolls. Tribal rules regarding recognition of members who have heritage from multiple tribes are equally diverse and complex.

Tribal membership conflicts have led to a number of activist groups, legal disputes and court cases. One example are the Cherokee freedmen, descendants of enslaved African Americans once held by the Cherokees, who were granted citizenship in the Cherokee nation as freedmen after the Civil War, by federal treaty. The Cherokee nation has recently excluded them from the roles unless individuals can prove descent from a Cherokee Native American (not just freedman) on the Dawes Rolls.

In the 20th century, an increasing number of Caucasian-Americans have seemed more interested in claiming descent from Native Americans. Many people have claimed descent from the Cherokee.[174]

Notable Native Americans of the United States


Kateri Tekakwitha, the patron of ecologists, exiles, and orphans, was beatified by the Roman Catholic Church.

Mishikinakwa (“Little Turtle”)‘s forces defeated an American force of nearly 1000 U.S Army soldiers and other casualties at the Battle of the Wabash in 1791.

Charles Eastman was one of the first Native Americans to become a Western Medical Doctor.[175][176]

Chief Seattle was a Suquamish chief who made “one of the most beautiful and profound environmental statements ever made,” photo taken in the 1860s

Geronimo was a prominent Native American leader of the Chiricahua Apache who defended his people against the encroachment of the United States on their lands for over 25 years

Swimmer was a noted Cherokee cultural preservationist

In 2006, the U.S. Census Bureau estimated that about 1.0 percent of the U.S. population was of American Indian or Alaska Native descent. This population is unevenly distributed across the country.[177] Below, all 50 states, as well as the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico, are listed by the proportion of residents citing American Indian or Alaska Native ancestry, based on 2006 estimates:

Alaska – 13.1%
New Mexico – 9.7%
South Dakota – 8.6%
Oklahoma – 6.8%
Montana – 6.3%
North Dakota – 5.2%
Arizona – 4.5%
Wyoming – 2.2%
Oregon – 1.8%
Washington – 1.5%
Nevada – 1.2%
Idaho – 1.1%
North Carolina – 1.1%
Utah – 1.1%
Minnesota – 1.0%
Colorado – 0.9%
Kansas – 0.9%
Nebraska – 0.9%
Wisconsin – 0.9%
Arkansas – 0.8%
California – 0.7%
Louisiana – 0.6%
Maine – 0.5%
Michigan – 0.5%
Texas – 0.5%
Alabama – 0.4%
Mississippi – 0.4%
Missouri – 0.4%
Rhode Island – 0.4%
Vermont – 0.4%
Florida – 0.3%
Delaware – 0.3%
Hawaii – 0.3%
Iowa – 0.3%
New York – 0.3%
South Carolina – 0.3%
Tennessee – 0.3%
Georgia – 0.2%
Virginia – 0.2%
Connecticut – 0.2%
Illinois – 0.2%
Indiana – 0.2%
Kentucky – 0.2%
Maryland – 0.2%
Massachusetts – 0.2%
New Hampshire – 0.2%
New Jersey – 0.2%
Ohio – 0.2%
West Virginia – 0.2%
Pennsylvania – 0.1%
District of Columbia – 0.3%
Puerto Rico – 0.2%

In 2006, the U.S. Census Bureau estimated that about less than 1.0 percent of the U.S. population was of Native Hawaiian or Pacific Islander descent. This population is unevenly distributed across 26 states.[177] Below, are the 26 states that had at least 0.1%. They are listed by the proportion of residents citing Native Hawaiian or Pacific Islander ancestry, based on 2006 estimates:

Hawaii – 8.7
Utah – 0.7
Alaska – 0.6
California – 0.4
Nevada – 0.4
Washington – 0.4
Arizona – 0.2
Oregon – 0.2
Alabama – 0.1
Arkansas – 0.1
Colorado – 0.1
Florida – 0.1
Idaho – 0.1
Kentucky – 0.1
Maryland – 0.1
Massachusetts – 0.1
Missouri – 0.1
Montana – 0.1
New Mexico – 0.1
North Carolina – 0.1
Oklahoma – 0.1
South Carolina – 0.1
Texas – 0.1
Virginia – 0.1
West Virginia – 0.1
Wyoming – 0.1


For more details on this topic, see Indigenous Amerindian genetics.

Molecular genetics study suggests that founding Amerindian populations derived from a theoretical single founding population, possibly from only 50 to 70 genetic contributors[178] Preliminary research, restricted to only 9 genomic regions (or loci) have shown a genetic link between original Americas and Asia populations. The study does not address the question of separate migrations for these groups, and excludes other DNA data-sets.[179]

The American Journal of Human Genetics released an article in 2007 stating “Here we show, by using 86 complete mitochondrial genomes, that all Indigenous American haplogroups, including Haplogroup X (mtDNA), were part of a single founding population.”[180] Amerindian groups in the Bering Strait region exhibit perhaps the strongest DNA or mitochondrial DNA relations to Siberian peoples. The genetic diversity of Amerindian indigenous groups increase with distance from the assumed entry point into the Americas.[181][182] Certain genetic diversity patterns from West to East suggest at least some coastal migration events.[183] Geneticists have variously estimated that peoples of Asia and the Americas were part of the same population from 42,000 to 21,000 years ago.[184]


Jeffrey Lytle – Humboldt County 5th District Supervisor candidate


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