Checked content

Native Americans in the United States

Related subjects: Peoples

About this schools Wikipedia selection

Arranging a Wikipedia selection for schools in the developing world without internet was an initiative by SOS Children. SOS Children has looked after children in Africa for forty years. Can you help their work in Africa?

Native Americans

Joseph Brant by Gilbert Stuart 1786.jpgSequoyah.jpgPushmataha high resolution.jpg
Tecumseh02.jpgTouch the Clouds 1877a.jpgSitting Bull.jpg
ChiefJoseph.jpegCharles eastman smithsonian gn 03462a.jpg Billy Bowlegs III.jpg
Jim Thorpe football.pngWilmaMankillerByPhilKonstantin.jpgJohnBHarrington.jpg

Native Americans of the United States
(from left to right by row):

Joseph Brant · Sequoyah · Pushmataha
Tecumseh · Touch the Clouds · Sitting Bull
Chief Joseph · Charles Eastman · Billy Bowlegs III
Jim Thorpe · Wilma Mankiller · John Herrington

Total population
American Indian and Alaska Native (2010 Census Bureau)
One race: 2,932,248 are registered.
In combination with one or more of the other races listed: 2,288,331.
Total: 5,220,579.
Regions with significant populations
Predominantly in the Western United States

American English, Native American languages, Spanish


Native American Church
Roman Catholic
Russian Orthodox
Traditional Ceremonial Ways
(Unique to Specific Tribe or Band)

Related ethnic groups

Indigenous peoples of the Americas

Native Americans in the United States are the indigenous peoples in North America within the boundaries of the present-day continental United States, Alaska, and the island state of Hawaii. They are composed of numerous, distinct Native American tribes and ethnic groups, many of which survive as intact political communities. The terms used to refer to Native Americans have been controversial. According to a 1995 U.S. Census Bureau set of home interviews, most of the respondents with an expressed preference refer to themselves as American Indians (or simply Indians), and this term has been adopted by major newspapers and some academic groups; however, this term does not typically include Native Hawaiians or certain Alaskan Natives, such as Aleut, Yup'ik, or Inuit peoples.

Since the end of the 15th century, the migration of Europeans to the Americas, and their importation of Africans as slaves, has led to centuries of conflict and adjustment between Old and New World societies. Europeans created most of the early written historical record about Native Americans after the colonists' immigration to the Americas. Many Native Americans lived as hunter-gatherer societies and told their histories by oral traditions. In many groups, women carried out sophisticated cultivation of numerous varieties of staple crops: maize, beans and squash. The indigenous cultures were quite different from those of the agrarian, proto-industrial, mostly Christian immigrants from western Eurasia. Many Native cultures were matrilineal; the people occupied lands for use of the entire community, for hunting or agriculture. Europeans at that time had patriarchal cultures and had developed concepts of individual property rights with respect to land that were extremely different.

The differences in cultures between the established Native Americans and immigrant Europeans, as well as shifting alliances among different nations of each culture through the centuries, caused extensive political tension, ethnic violence and social disruption. The Native Americans suffered high fatalities from the contact with infectious Eurasian diseases, to which they had no acquired immunity. Epidemics after European contact caused the greatest loss of life for indigenous populations. Estimates of the pre-Columbian population of what today constitutes the U.S. vary significantly, ranging from 1 million to 18 million.

After the colonies revolted against Great Britain and established the United States of America, President George Washington and Henry Knox conceived of the idea of "civilizing" Native Americans in preparation for assimilation as U.S. citizens. Assimilation (whether voluntary as with the Choctaw, or forced) became a consistent policy through American administrations. During the 19th century, the ideology of manifest destiny became integral to the American nationalist movement. Expansion of European-American populations to the west after the American Revolution resulted in increasing pressure on Native American lands, warfare between the groups, and rising tensions. In 1830, the U.S. Congress passed the Indian Removal Act, authorizing the government to relocate Native Americans from their homelands within established states to lands west of the Mississippi River, accommodating European-American expansion.

The first European Americans to encounter the western interior tribes were generally fur traders and trappers. There were also Jesuit missionaries active in the Northern Tier. As United States expansion reached into the American West, settler and miner migrants came into increasing conflict with the Great Basin, Great Plains, and other Western tribes. These were complex nomadic cultures based on horse culture and seasonal bison hunting. They carried out strong resistance to United States incursions in the decades after the American Civil War, in a series of Indian Wars, which were frequent up until the 1890s, but continued into the 20th century. The transcontinental railroad brought more non-Natives into tribal land in the west. Over time, the U.S. forced a series of treaties and land cessions by the tribes, and established reservations for them in many western states. U.S. agents encouraged Native Americans to adopt European-style farming and similar pursuits, but European-American agricultural technology of the time was inadequate for often dry reservation lands. In 1924, Native Americans who were not already U.S. citizens were granted citizenship by Congress.

Contemporary Native Americans have a unique relationship with the United States because they may be members of nations, tribes, or bands with sovereignty and treaty rights. Since the late 1960s, Native American activism has led to the building of cultural infrastructure and wider recognition: they have founded independent newspapers and online media; FNX, the first Native American television channel (2011), community schools, tribal colleges, and tribal museums and language programs; Native American studies programs in major universities; and national and state museums. Native American and Alaskan Native authors have been increasingly published; they work as academics, policymakers, doctors, and in a wide variety of occupations. Cultural activism has led to an expansion of efforts to teach and preserve indigenous languages for younger generations. Their societies and cultures flourish within a larger population of descendants of immigrants (both voluntary and involuntary): African, Asian, Middle Eastern, European, and other peoples.



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

Native American cultures are not normally included in characterizations of advanced stone age cultures as " Neolithic," which is a category that more often includes only the cultures in Eurasia, Africa, and other regions. The archaeological periods used are the classifications of archaeological periods and cultures established in Gordon Willey and Philip Phillips' 1958 book Method and Theory in American Archaeology. They divided the archaeological record in the Americas into five phases., see Archaeology of the Americas.

According to the most generally accepted theory of the settlement of the Americas, migrations of humans from Eurasia to the Americas took place via Beringia, a land bridge which connected the two continents across what is now the Bering Strait. The number and composition of the migrations is still being debated. Falling sea levels associated with an intensive period of Quaternary glaciation created the Bering land bridge that joined Siberia to Alaska about 60,000–25,000 years ago. The latest this migration could have taken place is 12,000 years ago; the earliest remains undetermined.

Three major migrations occurred, as traced by linguistic and genetic data; the early Paleoamericans soon spread throughout the Americas, diversifying into many hundreds of culturally distinct nations and tribes. By 8000 BCE the North American climate was very similar to today's. A study published in 2012 gives genetic backing to the 1986 theory put forward by linguist Joseph Greenberg that the Americas must have been populated in three waves, based on language differences.

The Clovis culture, a megafauna hunting culture, is primarily identified by use of fluted spear points. Artifacts from this culture were first excavated in 1932 near Clovis, New Mexico. 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 arrayed around 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. According to the oral histories of many of the indigenous peoples of the Americas, they have been living on this continent since their genesis, described by a wide range of traditional creation stories. Other tribes have stories that recount migrations across long tracts of land and a great river, believed to be the Mississippi. Genetic and linguistic data connect the indigenous people of this continent with ancient northeast Asians. Archeological and linguistic data has enabled scholars to discover some of the migrations within the Americas.

A Folsom point for a spear.

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.

Na-Dené-speaking peoples entered North America starting around 8000 BCE, reaching the Pacific Northwest by 5000 BCE, and from there migrating along the Pacific Coast and into the interior. Linguists, anthropologists and archeologists believe their ancestors comprised a separate migration into North America, later than the first Paleo-Indians. They migrated into Alaska and northern Canada, south along the Pacific Coast, into the interior of Canada, and south to the Great Plains and the American Southwest. They were the earliest ancestors of the Athabascan- speaking peoples, including the present-day and historical Navajo and Apache. They constructed large multi-family dwellings in their villages, which were 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. The Oshara Tradition people lived from 5500 BCE to 600 CE. They were part of the Southwestern Archaic Tradition centered in north-central New Mexico, the San Juan Basin, the Rio Grande Valley, southern Colorado, and southeastern Utah.

Since the 1990s, archeologists have explored and dated eleven Middle Archaic sites in present-day Louisiana and Florida at which early cultures built complexes with multiple earthwork mounds; they were societies of hunter-gatherers rather than the settled agriculturalists believed necessary according to the theory of Neolithic Revolution to sustain such large villages over long periods. The prime example is Watson Brake in northern Louisiana, whose 11-mound complex is dated to 3500 BCE, making it the oldest, dated site in the Americas for such complex construction. It is nearly 2,000 years older than the Poverty Point site. Construction of the mounds went on for 500 years until was abandoned about 2800 BCE, probably due to changing environmental conditions.

Poverty Point culture is a Late Archaic archaeological culture that inhabited the area of the lower Mississippi Valley and surrounding Gulf Coast. The culture thrived from 2200 BCE to 700 BCE, during the Late Archaic period. Evidence of this culture has been found at more than 100 sites, from the major complex at Poverty Point, Louisiana across a 100-mile (160 km) range to the Jaketown Site near Belzoni, Mississippi.

Poverty Point is a 1 square mile (2.6 km2) complex of six major earthwork concentric rings, with additional platform mounds at the site. Artifacts show the people traded with other Native Americans located from Georgia to the Great Lakes region. This is one among numerous mound sites of complex indigenous cultures throughout the Mississippi and Ohio valleys. They were one of several succeeding cultures often referred to as mound builders.

The Woodland period of North American pre-Columbian cultures refers to the time period from roughly 1000 BCE to 1,000 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 for the common aspects of the Native American culture that flourished along rivers in the northeastern and midwestern United States from 200 BCE to 500 CE.

Cultural areas of pre-Columbian North America, according to Alfred Kroeber.

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, 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; most activity was conducted along the waterways that served 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. 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. Wells, usually less than 10 feet (3 m) deep, were dug for domestic water supplies by 300 CE to 500 CE. Early Hohokam homes were constructed of branches bent in a semi-circular fashion and covered with twigs and reeds. The last layer was heavily applied mud and other materials at hand.

The Mississippian culture, which extended throughout the Ohio and Mississippi valleys and built sites throughout the Southeast, created the largest earthworks in North America north of Mexico, most notably at Cahokia, on a tributary of the Mississippi River in present-day Illinois. Its ten-story Monks Mound has a larger circumference than the Pyramid of the Sun at Teotihuacan or the Great Pyramid of Egypt. The 6 square miles (16 km2) city complex was based on the culture's cosmology; it included more than 100 mounds, positioned to support their sophisticated knowledge of astronomy, and built with knowledge of varying soil types.

It included a Woodhenge, whose sacred cedar poles were placed to mark the summer and winter solstices and fall and spring equinoxes. The society began building at this site about 950 CE, and reached its peak population in 1,250 CE of 20,000–30,000 people, which was not equalled by any city in the present-day United States until after 1800. Cahokia was a major regional chiefdom, with trade and tributary chiefdoms located in a range of areas from bordering the Great Lakes to the Gulf of Mexico. In the sixteenth century, the earliest Spanish explorers encountered Mississippian peoples in the interior of present-day North Carolina and the Southeast.

Balthazar, Inhabitant of Northern California, painting by Mikhail T. Tikhanov, 1818

Sophisticated pre-Columbian sedentary societies evolved in North America. The Mississippian culture developed the Southeastern Ceremonial Complex, the name which archeologists have given to the regional stylistic similarity of artifacts, iconography, ceremonies and mythology. The rise of the complex culture was based on the people's adoption of maize agriculture, development of greater population densities, and chiefdom-level complex social organization from 1200 CE to 1650 CE.

While Eastern Woodlands tribes developed their own agriculture, the introduction of maize from Mesoamerica allowed the accumulation of crop surpluses to support a higher density of population. This in turn led to the development of specialized skills among some of the peoples. The 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.

The Haudenosaunee ( Iroquois League of Nations or "People of the Long House"), then based in present-day upstate and western New York, had a confederacy model from the mid-15th century. Some historians have suggested that it contributed to the political thinking during the development of the later United States government. Their system of affiliation was a kind of federation, different from the strong, centralized European monarchies.

Leadership was restricted to a group of 50 sachem chiefs, each representing one clan within a tribe; the Oneida and Mohawk people had nine seats each; the Onondagas held fourteen; the Cayuga had ten seats; and the Seneca had eight. Representation was not based on population numbers, as the Seneca tribe greatly outnumbered the others. When a sachem chief died, his successor was chosen by the senior woman of his tribe in consultation with other female members of the clan; property and hereditary leadership were passed matrilineally. Decisions were not made through voting but through consensus decision making, with each sachem chief holding theoretical veto power. The Onondaga were the " firekeepers", responsible for raising topics to be discussed. They occupied one side of a three-sided fire (the Mohawk and Seneca sat on one side of the fire, the Oneida and Cayuga sat on the third side.)

Elizabeth Tooker, an anthropologist, has said that it was unlikely the US founding fathers were inspired by the confederacy, as it bears little resemblance to the system of governance adopted in the United States. For example, it is based on inherited rather than elected leadership, selected by female members of the tribes, consensus decision-making regardless of population size of the tribes, and a single group capable of bringing matters before the legislative body.

Long-distance trading did not prevent warfare and displacement among the indigenous peoples, and their oral histories tell of numerous migrations to the historic territories where Europeans encountered them. The Iroquois invaded and attacked tribes in the Ohio River area of present-day Kentucky and claimed the hunting grounds. Historians have placed these events as occurring as early as the 13th century, or in the 17th century Beaver Wars.

Through warfare, the Iroquois drove several tribes to migrate west to what became known as 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 people. By the mid-17th century, they had resettled in their historical lands in present-day Kansas, Nebraska, Arkansas and Oklahoma. The Osage warred with Caddo-speaking Native Americans, displacing them in turn by the mid-18th century and dominating their new historical territories.

European exploration and colonization

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.

After 1492 European exploration and colonization 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 the conquistador Juan Ponce de León landed in La Florida in April 1513. Ponce de León was later followed by other Spanish explorers, such as Pánfilo de Narváez in 1528 and Hernando de Soto in 1539. The subsequent European colonists in North America often rationalized their expansion of empire with the assumption that they were saving a barbaric, pagan world by spreading Christian civilization.

In the Spanish colonization of the Americas, the policy of Indian Reductions resulted in the forced conversions to Catholicism of the indigenous people in northern Nueva España. They had long-established spiritual and religious traditions and theological beliefs. What developed during the colonial years and since has been a syncretic Catholicism that absorbed and reflected indigenous beliefs; the religion changed in New Spain.

Impact on native populations

From the 16th through the 19th centuries, the population of Indians declined in the following ways: epidemic diseases brought from Europe; genocide and warfare at the hands of European explorers and colonists, as well as between tribes; displacement from their lands; internal warfare, enslavement; and a high rate of intermarriage. 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. With the rapid declines of some populations and continuing rivalries among their nations, Native Americans sometimes re-organized to form new cultural groups, such as the Seminoles of Florida in the 19th century and the Mission Indians of Alta California.

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 has been the subject of much debate. While it is difficult to determine exactly how many Natives lived in North America before Columbus, estimates range from a low of 2.1 million ( Ubelaker 1976) to 7 million people (Russell Thornton) to a high of 18 million (Dobyns 1983). A low estimate of around 1 million was first posited by the anthropologist James Mooney in the 1890s, by calculating population density of each culture area based on its carrying capacity. In 1965, the American anthropologist Henry Dobyns published studies estimating the original population to have been 10 to 12 million. By 1983, he increased his estimates to 18 million.

He took into account the mortality rates caused by infectious diseases of European explorers and settlers, against which Native Americans had no 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. By 1800, the Native population of the present-day United States had declined to approximately 600,000, and only 250,000 Native Americans remained in the 1890s.

A conference of French and Indian leaders around a ceremonial fire.

Chicken pox and measles, endemic but rarely fatal among Europeans (long after being introduced from Asia), often proved deadly to Native Americans. Smallpox epidemics often immediately followed European exploration and sometimes destroyed entire village populations. While precise figures are difficult to determine, some historians estimate that at least 30% (and sometimes 50% to 70%) of some Native populations died after first contact due to Eurasian smallpox. One element of the Columbian exchange suggests explorers from the Christopher Columbus expedition contracted syphilis from indigenous peoples and carried it back to Europe, where it spread widely. 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.

In 1618–1619, smallpox killed 90% of the Native Americans in the area of the Massachusetts Bay. Historians believe many Mohawk in present-day New York became infected after contact with children of Dutch traders in Albany in 1634. The disease swept through Mohawk villages, reaching the Onondaga at Lake Ontario by 1636, and the lands of the western Iroquois by 1679, as it was carried by Mohawk and other Native Americans who traveled the trading routes. The high rate of fatalities caused breakdowns in Native American societies and disrupted generational exchange of culture.

Between 1754 and 1763, many Native American tribes were involved in the French and Indian War/ Seven Years War. Those involved in the fur trade in the northern areas tended to ally with French forces against British colonial militias. Native Americans fought on both sides of the conflict. The greater number of tribes fought with the French in the hopes of checking British expansion. The British had made fewer allies, but it was joined by some tribes that wanted to prove assimilation and loyalty in support of treaties to preserve their territories. They were often disappointed when such treaties were later overturned. The tribes had their own purposes, using their alliances with the European powers to battle traditional Native enemies.

Native California Population, according to Cook 1978. The 2010 U.S. Census reported 723,225 Native Americans in California.

After European explorers reached the West Coast 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. Puget Sound area populations, once estimated as high as 37,000 people, were reduced to only 9,000 survivors by the time settlers arrived en masse in the mid-19th century. The Spanish missions in California did not significantly affect the population of Native Americans, but the numbers of the latter decreased rapidly after California ceased to be a Spanish colony, especially during the second half of the 19th century and the beginning of the 20th (see chart on the right).

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

Animal introductions

With the meeting of two worlds, animals, insects, and plants were carried from one to the other, both deliberately and by chance, in what is called the Columbian Exchange. Sheep, pigs, horses, and cattle were all Old World animals that were introduced to contemporary Native Americans who never knew such animals.

In the 16th century, Spaniards and other Europeans brought horses to Mexico. Some of the horses escaped and began to breed and increase their numbers in the wild. The early American horse had been game for the earliest humans on the continent. It was hunted to extinction about 7000 BCE, just after the end of the last glacial period. Native Americans benefited by reintroduction of horses. As they adopted use of the animals, they began to change their cultures in substantial ways, especially by extending their nomadic ranges for hunting.

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. The people fully incorporated the use of horses into their societies and expanded their territories. They used horses to carry goods for exchange with neighboring tribes, to hunt game, especially bison, and to conduct wars and horse raids.

King Philip's War

King Philip's War, also 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 to 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 90 towns were assaulted by Native American warriors. One in ten soldiers on both sides were wounded or killed.

The war is named after the main leader of the Native American side, Metacomet (also known as Metacom or Pometacom) who was known to the English as King Philip. He was the last Massasoit (Great Leader) of the Pokanoket Tribe/Pokanoket Federation and 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.

Foundations for freedom

The Treaty of Penn with the Indians by Benjamin West painted in 1771.

Some Europeans considered Native American societies to be representative of a golden age known to them only in folk history. 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."

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.

In the 20th century, some writers have credited the Iroquois nations' political confederacy and democratic government as being influences for the development of the Articles of Confederation and the United States Constitution. In October 1988, the U.S. Congress passed Concurrent Resolution 331 to recognize the influence of the Iroquois Constitution upon the U.S. Constitution and Bill of Rights.

But, leading historians of the period note that historic evidence is lacking to support such an interpretation. Gordon Wood wrote, "The English colonists did not need the Indians to tell them about federalism or self-government. The New England Confederation was organized as early as 1643." The historian Jack Rakove, a specialist in early American history, in 2005 noted that the voluminous documentation of the Constitutional proceedings "contain no significant reference to Iroquois." Secondly, he notes: "All the key political concepts that were the stuff of American political discourse before the Revolution and after, had obvious European antecedents and referents: bicameralism, separation of powers, confederations, and the like."

American Revolution

Yamacraw Creek Native Americans meet with the Trustee of the colony of Georgia in England, July 1734. The painting shows a 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, based both on their trading relationships and hopes that colonial defeat would result in a halt to further colonial expansion onto Native American land. Many native communities were divided over which side to support in the war and others wanted to remain neutral. The first native community to sign a treaty with the new United States Government was the Lenape. For the Iroquois Confederacy, based in New York, the American Revolution resulted in civil war. The only Iroquois tribes to ally with the colonials were the Oneida and Tuscarora.

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 by both sides in the Mohawk Valley and western New York. 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 20th 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.
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.
Bronze medals struck at behest of Virginia governor Thomas Jefferson and carried by Joseph Martin to give to Cherokee allies of colonial forces. Notice peace pipe atop the medal

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 or consulting with the Native Americans. The Northwest Indian War was led by Native American tribes trying to repulse American settlers. The United States initially treated the Native Americans who had fought as allies with the British as a conquered people who had lost their lands. Although most members of the Iroquois tribes went to Canada with the Loyalists, others tried to stay in New York and western territories to maintain their lands. The state of New York made a separate treaty with Iroquois nations and put up for sale 5,000,000 acres (20,000 km2) of land that had previously been their territories. The state established small reservations in western New York for the remnant peoples.

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

18th century United States

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.

George Washington advocated the advancement of Native American society and he "harbored some measure of goodwill towards the Indians."

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.

Whereas it hath at this time become peculiarly necessary to warn the citizens of the United States against a violation of the treaties.... I do by these presents require, all officers of the United States, as well civil as military, and all other citizens and inhabitants thereof, to govern themselves according to the treaties and act aforesaid, as they will answer the contrary at their peril.
—George Washington, Proclamation Regarding Treaties, 1790.

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. 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.

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." The United States appointed agents, like Benjamin Hawkins, to live among the Native Americans and to teach them how to live like whites.

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

In the late 18th century, reformers starting with Washington and Knox, supported educating native children and adults, 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.

I rejoice, brothers, to hear you propose to become cultivators of the earth for the maintenance of your families. Be assured you will support them better and with less labor, by raising stock and bread, and by spinning and weaving clothes, than by hunting. A little land cultivated, and a little labor, will procure more provisions than the most successful hunt; and a woman will clothe more by spinning and weaving, than a man by hunting. Compared with you, we are but as of yesterday in this land. Yet see how much more we have multiplied by industry, and the exercise of that reason which you possess in common with us. Follow then our example, brethren, and we will aid you with great pleasure...
—President Thomas Jefferson, Brothers of the Choctaw Nation, December 17, 1803

19th century


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

As American expansion continued, Native Americans resisted settlers' encroachment in several regions of the new nation (and in unorganized territories), from the Northwest to the Southeast, and then in the West, as settlers encountered the tribes of the Great Plains.

East of the Mississippi River, an intertribal army led by Tecumseh, a Shawnee chief, fought a number of engagements in the Northwest 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. Conflicts in the Southeast include the Creek War and Seminole Wars, both before and after the Indian Removals of most members of the Five Civilized Tribes beginning in the 1830s under President Andrew Jackson's policies.

Native American nations on the plains in the west continued armed conflicts with the United States throughout the 19th century, through what were called generally " Indian Wars." The Battle of Little Bighorn (1876) was one of the greatest Native American victories. Defeats included the Sioux Uprising of 1862, the Sand Creek Massacre (1864) and Wounded Knee in 1890. Indian Wars continued into the early 20th century.

According to the U.S. Bureau of the Census (1894),

"The Indian wars under the government of the United States have been more than 40 in number. They have cost the lives of about 19,000 white men, women and children, including those killed in individual combats, and the lives of about 30,000 Indians."

American expansion

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," as the "design of Providence" supporting the territorial expansion of the United States. Manifest Destiny had serious consequences for Native Americans, since continental expansion for the United States took place at the cost of their occupied land. Manifest Destiny was a justification for expansion and westward movement, or, in some interpretations, an ideology or doctrine that 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.

The age of Manifest Destiny, which came to be associated with extinguishing American Indian territorial claims and removing them to reservations, gained ground as the United States population explored and settled west of the Mississippi River. Although Indian Removal from the Southeast had been proposed by some as a humanitarian measure to ensure their survival away from Americans, conflicts of the 19th century led some European-Americans to regard the natives as "savages".

Civil War

Ely Parker was a Union Civil War General who wrote the terms of surrender between the United States and the Confederate States of America. 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, the vast majority of whom siding with the Union. By fighting with the whites, Native Americans hoped to gain favour with the prevailing government by supporting the war effort. They also believed war service might mean an end to discrimination and relocation from ancestral lands to western territories. 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.

Cherokee confederates reunion in New Orleans, 1903.

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." General Stand Watie, a leader of the Cherokee Nation and Confederate Indian cavalry commander, was the last Confederate General to surrender his troops.

Removals and reservations

In the 19th 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 principal chief. The following year, the Cherokee conceded to removal, but Georgia included their land in a lottery for European-American settlement before that. President Jackson used the military to gather and transport the Cherokee to the west, whose timing and lack of adequate supplies led to 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 taken by force migration to Indian Territory.

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.

Native Americans and U.S. Citizenship

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

In 1817, the Cherokee became the first Native Americans recognized as U.S. citizens. Under Article 8 of the 1817 Cherokee treaty, "Upwards of 300 Cherokees (Heads of Families) in the honest simplicity of their souls, made an election to become American citizens." The next earliest recorded date of Native Americans' becoming U.S. citizens was in 1831, when some Mississippi Choctaw became citizens after the United States Congress ratified the Treaty of Dancing Rabbit Creek.

Article 22 sought to put a Choctaw representative in the U.S. House of Representatives. 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 U.S. citizens by:

1. Treaty provision (as with the Cherokee)
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 U.S. citizen
9. Special Act of Congress.

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

[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, 1857, What was Taney thinking? American Indian Citizenship in the era of Dred Scott, Frederick E. Hoxie, April 2007.

After the American Civil War, the Civil Rights Act of 1866 states, "that all persons born in the United States, and not subject to any foreign power, excluding Indians not taxed, are hereby declared to be citizens of the United States". This was affirmed by the ratification of the Fourteenth Amendment. The concept of Native Americans as U.S. citizens fell out of favour among politicians at the time. Senator Jacob Howard of Michigan commented, “I am not yet prepared to pass a sweeping act of naturalization by which all the Indian savages, wild or tame, belonging to a tribal relation, are to become my fellow-citizens and go to the polls and vote with me". (Congressional Globe, 1866, 2895) In a Senate floor debate regarding the Fourteenth Amendment, James Rood Doolittle of Wisconsin stated, " ... all those wild Indians to be citizens of the United States, the Great Republic of the world, whose citizenship should be a title as proud as that of king, and whose danger is that you may degrade that citizenship (Congressional Globe, 1866, 2892)."

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

Education and Indian boarding schools

After the Indian wars in the late 19th century, the United States established Native American boarding schools, initially run primarily by or affiliated with Christian missionaries. 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 and adopt European-American culture. Since the 20th century, investigations documented cases of sexual, physical and mental abuse occurring at such schools.

While problems were documented as early as the 1920s, some of the schools continued into the 1960s. Since the rise of self-determination for Native Americans, they have generally emphasized education of their children at schools near where they live. In addition, many federally recognized tribes have taken over operations of such schools and added programs of language retention and revival to strengthen their cultures. Beginning in the 1970s, tribes have also founded colleges at their reservations, controlled and operated by Native Americans, to educate their young for jobs as well as to pass on their cultures.

20th century

Charles Curtis, of Kaw, Osage, Potawatomi, French and British ancestry, was 31st Vice President of the United States, 1929-1933.

On August 29, 1911 Ishi, generally considered to have been the last Native American to live most of his life without contact with European-American culture, was discovered near Oroville, California after a forest fire drove him from nearby mountains. He was the last of his tribe, the rest having been massacred by a party of White "Indian fighters" in 1865 when he was a boy. After being jailed in protective custody, he was released to anthropologists led by Alfred L. Kroeber at the University of California who studied his language and culture, and provided him a home until his death from tuberculosis five years later.

On June 2, 1924 U.S.  Republican President Calvin Coolidge signed the Indian Citizenship Act, which made citizens of the United States of all Native Americans, who were not already citizens, born in the United States and its territories. Prior to passage of the act, nearly two-thirds of Native Americans were already U.S. citizens.

American Indians today in the U.S. have all the rights guaranteed in the U.S. Constitution, can vote in elections, and run for political office. There has been controversy over how much the federal government has jurisdiction over tribal affairs, sovereignty, and cultural practices.

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

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: at the time, one-third of all able-bodied Indian men from 18 to 50 years of age. Described as the first large-scale exodus of indigenous peoples from the reservations since the removals of the 19th century, the men's service with the US military in the international conflict was a turning point in Native American history. The overwhelming majority of Native Americans welcomed the opportunity to serve; they had a voluntary enlistment rate that was 40% higher than those drafted. War Department officials said that if the entire population had enlisted in the same proportion as the Native Americans, the response would have rendered the draft unnecessary.

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. The most significant of these changes was the opportunity—as a result of wartime labor shortages—to find well-paying work in cities, and many people relocated to urban areas, particularly on the West Coast with the buildup of the defense industry.

There were also losses as a result of the war. For instance, a total of 1,200  Pueblo men 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, although cryptologically very simple, was never cracked by the Japanese.


Military service and urban residency contributed to the rise of American Indian activism, particularly after the 1960s and the occupation of Alcatraz Island (1969–1971) by a student Indian group from San Francisco. In the same period, the American Indian Movement (AIM) was founded in Minneapolis, and chapters were established throughout the country, where American Indians combined spiritual and political activism. Political protests gained national media attention and the sympathy of the American public.

Through the mid-1970s, conflicts between governments and Native Americans occasionally erupted into violence. A notable late 20th-century event was the Wounded Knee incident on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation. Upset with tribal government and the failures of the federal government to enforce treaty rights, about 300  Oglala Lakota and American Indian Movement (AIM) activists took control of Wounded Knee on February 27, 1973.

Indian activists from around the country joined them at Pine Ridge, and the occupation became a symbol of rising American Indian identity and power. Federal law enforcement officials and the national guard cordoned off the town, and the two sides had a standoff for 71 days. During much gunfire, one United States Marshal was wounded and paralyzed. In late April a Cherokee and local Lakota man were killed by gunfire; the Lakota elders ended the occupation to ensure no more lives were lost.

In June 1975, two FBI agents seeking to make an armed robbery arrest at Pine Ridge Reservation were wounded in a firefight, and killed at close range. The AIM activist Leonard Peltier was sentenced in 1976 to two consecutive terms of life in prison in the FBI deaths.

In 1968 the government enacted the Indian Civil Rights Act. This gave tribal members most of the protections against abuses by tribal governments that the Bill of Rights accords to all U.S. citizens with respect to the federal government. In 1975 the U.S. government passed the Indian Self-Determination and Education Assistance Act, marking the culmination of 15 years of policy changes. It resulted from American Indian activism, the Civil Rights Movement, and community development aspects of President Lyndon Johnson's social programs of the 1960s. The Act recognized the right and need of Native Americans for self-determination. It marked the U.S. government's turn away from the 1950s policy of termination of the relationship between tribes and the government. The U.S. government encouraged Native Americans' efforts at self-government and determining their futures. Tribes have developed organizations to administer their own social, welfare and housing programs, for instance. Tribal self-determination has created tension with respect to the federal government's historic trust obligation to care for Indians, however, the Bureau of Indian Affairs has never lived up to that responsibility.

By this time, tribes had already started to establish community schools to replace the BIA boarding schools. Led by the Navajo Nation in 1968, tribes started tribal colleges and universities, to build their own models of education on reservations, preserve and revive their cultures, and develop educated workforces. In 1994 the U.S. Congress passed legislation recognizing the tribal colleges as land-grant colleges, which provided opportunities for funding. Thirty-two tribal colleges in the United States belong to the American Indian Higher Education Consortium. By the early 21st century, tribal nations had also established numerous language revival programs in their schools.

In addition, Native American activism has led major universities across the country to establish Native American studies programs and departments, increasing awareness of the strengths of Indian cultures, providing opportunities for academics, and deepening research on history and cultures in the United States. Native Americans have entered academia; journalism and media; politics at local, state and federal levels; and public service, for instance, influencing medical research and policy to identify issues related to American Indians.

In 1981, Tim Giago founded the Lakota Times, an independent Native American newspaper, located at the Pine Ridge Reservation but not controlled by tribal government. He later founded the Native American Journalists Association. Other independent newspapers and media corporations have been developed, so that Native American journalists are contributing perspective on their own affairs and other policies and events.

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 U.S. government regarding Indian Tribes. President Barack Obama signed the historic apology into law in 2009, as section Section 8113 of the 2010 defense appropriations bill.

After years of investigation and independent work by Native American journalists, in 2003 the U.S. government indicted suspects in the December 1975 murder of Anna Mae Aquash at the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation. A Mi'kmaq, Aquash was the highest-ranking woman activist in the American Indian Movement (AIM) at the time. She was killed several months after two FBI agents had been killed at the reservation. Many Lakota believe that she was killed by AIM on suspicion of having been an FBI informant, but she never worked for the FBI. Arlo Looking Cloud was convicted in federal court in 2004. In 2007 the United States extradited AIM activist John Graham from Canada to stand trial for her murder. He was also convicted and sentenced to life.


Population and distribution

The 2010 census permitted respondents to self-identify as being of one or more races. Self-identification dates from the census of 1960; prior to that the race of the respondent was determined by opinion of the census taker. The option to select more than one race was introduced in 2000. If American Indian or Alaska Native was selected, the form requested the individual provide the name of the "enrolled or principal tribe". The 2010 Census showed that the U.S. population on April 1, 2010, was 308.7 million.

Out of the total U.S. population, 2.9 million people, or 0.9 percent, reported American Indian and Alaska Native alone. In addition, 2.3 million people, or another 0.7 percent, reported American Indian and Alaska Native in combination with one or more other races. Together, these two groups totaled 5.2 million people. Thus, 1.7 percent of all people in the United States identified as American Indian and Alaska Native, either alone or in combination with one or more other races.

The definition of American Indian or Alaska Native used in the 2010 census:

According to Office of Management and Budget, “American Indian or Alaska Native” refers to a person having origins in any of the original peoples of North and South America (including Central America) and who maintains tribal affiliation or community attachment.

78% of Native Americans live outside a reservation. Full-blood individuals are more likely to live on a reservation than mixed-blood individuals. The Navajo, with 286,000 full-blood individuals, is the largest tribe if only full-blood individuals are counted; the Navajo are the tribe with the highest proportion of full-blood individuals, 86.3%. The Cherokee have a different history; it is the largest tribe with 819,000 individuals, and it has 284,000 full-blood individuals.

Distribution by US States

This Census Bureau map depicts the locations of differing Native American groups, including Indian reservations, as of 2000. Note the concentration (blue) in modern-day Oklahoma in the South West, which was once designated as an Indian Territory before statehood in 1907.

In 2006, the U.S. Census Bureau estimated that about 0.8% of the U.S. population was of American Indian or Alaska Native descent. This population is unevenly distributed across the country. 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% 101,352
New Mexico – 9.7% 165,944
South Dakota – 8.6% 60,358
Oklahoma – 6.8% 262,581
Montana – 6.3% 57,225
North Dakota – 5.2% 30,552
Arizona – 4.5% 261,168
Wyoming – 2.2% 10,867
Oregon – 1.8% 45,633
Washington – 1.5% 104,819
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% of the U.S. population was of Native Hawaiian or Pacific Islander descent. This population is unevenly distributed across 26 states. 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

Population by tribal grouping

Below are numbers for US citizens self-identifying to selected tribal grouping, according to the 2000 US census.

Tribal grouping American and Alaska Native alone American and Alaska Native alone American Indian and Alaska Native in combination with one or more races American Indian and Alaska Native in combination with one or more races American Indian and Alaska Native tribal grouping alone or in any combination
Tribal grouping One tribal grouping reported More than one tribal grouping reported One tribal grouping reported More than one tribal grouping reported
Total 2,423,531 52,425 1,585,396 57,949 4,119,301
Apache 57,060 7,917 24,947 6,909 96,833
Blackfeet 27,104 4,358 41,389 12,899 85,750
Cherokee 281,069 18,793 390,902 38,769 729,533
Cheyenne 11,191 1,365 4,655 993 18,204
Chickasaw 20,887 3,014 12,025 2,425 38,351
Chippewa 105,907 2,730 38,635 2,397 149,669
Choctaw 87,349 9,552 50,123 11,750 158,774
Colville 7,833 193 1,308 59 9,393
Comanche 10,120 1,568 6,120 1,568 19,376
Cree 2,488 724 3,577 945 7,734
Creek 40,223 5,495 21,652 3,940 71,310
Crow 9,117 574 2,812 891 13,394
Delaware 8,304 602 6,866 569 16,341
Houma 6,798 79 1,794 42 8,713
Iroquois 45,212 2,318 29,763 3,529 80,822
Kiowa 8,559 1,130 2,119 434 12,242
Latin American Indian 104,354 1,850 73,042 1,694 180,940
Lumbee 51,913 642 4,934 379 57,868
Menominee 7,883 258 1,551 148 9,840
Navajo 269,202 6,789 19,491 2,715 298,197
Osage 7,658 1,354 5,491 1,394 15,897
Ottawa 6,432 623 3,174 448 10,677
Paiute 9,705 1,163 2,315 349 13,532
Pima 8,519 999 1,741 234 11,493
Potawatomi 15,817 592 8,602 584 25,595
Pueblo 59,533 3,527 9,943 1,082 74,085
Puget Sound Salish 11,034 226 3,212 159 14,631
Seminole 12,431 2,982 9,505 2,513 27,431
Shoshone 7,739 714 3,039 534 12,026
Sioux 108,272 4,794 35,179 5,115 153,360
Tohono O’odham 17,466 714 1,748 159 20,087
Ute 7,309 715 1,944 417 10,385
Yakama 8,481 561 1,619 190 10,851
Yaqui 15,224 1,245 5,184 759 22,412
Yuman 7,295 526 1,051 104 8,976
Other specified American Indian tribes 240,521 9,468 100,346 7,323 357,658
American Indian tribe, not specified2 109,644 57 86,173 28 195,902
Alaska Athabascan 14,520 815 3,218 285 18,838
Aleut 11,941 832 3,850 355 16,978
Eskimo 45,919 1,418 6,919 505 54,761
Tlingit-Haida 14,825 1,059 6,047 434 22,365
Other specified Alaska Native tribes 2,552 435 841 145 3,973
Alaska Native tribe, not specified 6,161 370 2,053 118 8,702
American Indian or Alaska Native tribes, not specified3 511,960 (X) 544,497 (X) 1,056,457

Current legal status

There are 562  federally recognized tribal governments in the United States. These tribes possess the right to form their own governments, to enforce laws (both civil and criminal) within their lands, 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).

Many Native Americans and advocates of Native American rights point out that the U.S. federal government's claim to recognize the "sovereignty" of Native American peoples falls short, given that the United States wishes to govern Native American peoples and treat them as subject to U.S. law. Such advocates contend that full respect for Native American sovereignty would require the U.S. 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". 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 other than their own tribes, whether the U.S. or Canadian governments, or any other non-Native American authority.

As of year 2000, the largest groups in the United States 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 ancestry. It is estimated that by 2100 that figure will rise to nine out of ten.

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 groups have been unable to document the cultural continuity required for federal recognition. The Muwekma Ohlone of the San Francisco bay area are pursuing litigation in the federal court system to establish recognition. Many of the smaller eastern tribes, long considered remnants of extinct peoples, have been trying to gain official recognition of their tribal status. Several in Virginia and North Carolina have gained state recognition. Federal 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 federal recognition as a tribe is extremely difficult; to be established as a tribal group, members have to submit extensive genealogical proof of tribal descent and continuity of the tribe as a culture.

Native peoples are concerned about the effects of abandoned uranium mines on or near their lands.

In July 2000 the Washington Republican Party adopted a resolution recommending that the federal and legislative branches of the U.S. government terminate tribal governments. 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. This was related to their voting to exclude Cherokee Freedmen as members of the tribe unless they had a Cherokee ancestor on the Dawes Rolls, although all Cherokee Freedmen and their descendants had been members since 1866.

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.

In the state of Virginia, Native Americans face a unique problem. Virginia has no federally recognized tribes but the state has recognized eight. This is related historically to the greater impact of disease and warfare on the Virginia Indian populations, as well as their intermarriage with Europeans and Africans. Some people confused the ancestry with culture, but groups of Virginia Indians maintained their cultural continuity. Most of their early reservations were ended under the pressure of early European settlement.

Some historians also note the problems of Virginia Indians in establishing documented continuity of identity, due to the work of Walter Ashby Plecker (1912–1946). As registrar of the state's Bureau of Vital Statistics, he applied his own interpretation of the one-drop rule, enacted in law in 1924 as the state's Racial Integrity Act. It recognized only two races: "white" and "colored".

Plecker, a segregationist, believed that the state's Native Americans had been "mongrelized" by intermarriage with African Americans; to him, ancestry determined identity, rather than culture. He thought that some people of partial black ancestry were trying to " pass" as Native Americans. Plecker thought that anyone with any African heritage had to be classified as colored, regardless of appearance, amount of European or Native American ancestry, and cultural/community 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 families and communities who identified as Native American (as in church records and daily life). By his actions, sometimes different members of the same family were split by being classified as "white" or "colored". He did not allow people to enter their primary identification as Native American in state records. In 2009, the Senate Indian Affairs Committee endorsed a bill that would grant federal recognition to tribes in Virginia.

To achieve federal recognition and its benefits, tribes must prove 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.

Contemporary issues

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.

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 vulnerability to and disproportionately high rate of alcoholism.

Numerous tribal governments have long prohibited the sale of alcohol on reservations, but generally it is readily for sale in nearby border towns, and off-reservation businesses and states gain income from the business. As an example, in 2010, beer sales at off-reservation outlets in Whiteclay, Nebraska generated $413,932 that year in federal and sales taxes. Their customers are overwhelmingly Lakota from the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota.

Acknowledging that prohibition has not worked, in a major change in strategy since the late 20th century, as of 2007, 63 percent of the federally recognized tribes in the lower 48 states had legalized alcohol sales on their reservations. Among these, all the other tribes in South Dakota have legalized sales, as have many in Nebraska. The tribes decided to retain the revenues that previously would go to the states through retail sales taxes on this commodity. Legalizing the sales enables the tribes to keep more money within their reservation economies and support new businesses and services, as well as to directly regulate, police and control alcohol sales. The retained revenues enable them to provide health care and build facilities to better treat individuals and families suffering from alcohol abuse. In some cases, legalization of alcohol sales also supported the development of resorts and casinos, to generate revenues for other economic enterprises.

"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

In addition to increasing numbers of American Indians entering the fields of community health and medicine, agencies working with Native American communities have sought partnerships, representatives of policy and program boards, and other ways to learn and respect their traditions, and to integrate the benefits of Western medicine within their own cultural practices.

In the early 21st century, Native American communities have exhibited continuing growth and revival, playing a larger role in the American economy, and in the lives of Native Americans. Communities have consistently formed governments that administer services such as firefighting, natural resource management, social programs and health care, housing and law enforcement. Numerous tribes have founded tribal colleges. Most Native American communities have established court systems to adjudicate matters related to local ordinances. Most also look to various forms of moral and social authority, such as forms of restorative justice, vested in the traditional culture of the tribal nation. Native American professionals have founded associations in journalism, law, medicine and other fields to encourage students in these fields, provide professional training and networking opportunities, and entree into mainstream institutions.

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 built by the BIA, and other 1937 Housing Act programs directed towards Indian Housing Authorities, with a block-grant program. It provides funds to be administered by the Tribes to develop their own housing.

Societal discrimination and racism

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

Universities have conducted relatively little public opinion research on attitudes toward Native Americans 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.

Journalists have covered issues of discrimination.

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"

Affirmative action issues

Federal contractors and subcontractors such as businesses and educational institutions are legally required to adopt equal opportunity employment and affirmative action measures intended to prevent discrimination against employees or applicants for employment, on the basis of "colour, religion, sex, or national origin". For this purpose, an American Indian or Alaska Native is defined as "A person having origins in any of the original peoples of North and South America (including Central America), and who maintains a tribal affiliation or community attachment." However, self-reporting is permitted, "Educational Institutions and Other Recipients Should Allow Students and Staff To Self-Identify Their Race and Ethnicity Unless Self-Identification Is Not Practicable or Feasible."

Self-reporting opens the door to "box checking" by people, who, despite not having a substantial relationship to Native American culture innocently or fraudulently, "check the box" for Native American. On August 15, 2011 the American Bar Association passed a resolution recommending to law schools that supporting information such as evidence of tribal enrollment or connection with Native American culture be required.

Native American mascots in sports

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

American Indian activists in the United States and Canada have criticized the use of Native American mascots in sports, as perpetuating stereotypes. European Americans have had a history of "playing Indian" that dates back to at least the 18th century. While supporters of the mascots say they embody the heroism of Native American warriors, AIM particularly has criticized the use of mascots as offensive and demeaning.

While many universities and professional sports teams (for example, the Cleveland Indians, who had a Chief Wahoo) no longer use such images without consultation and approval by the respective nation, some lower-level schools continue to do so. On the other hand, in the Bay Area of California, Tomales Bay High and Sequoia High have retired their Indian mascots.

(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"

In August 2005, the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) banned the use of "hostile and abusive" Native American mascots in postseason tournaments. An exception was made to allow the use of tribal names if approved by that tribe (such as the Seminole Tribe of Florida's approving use of their name for the team of Florida State University.)

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

Historical depictions in art

Secotan Indians' dance in North Carolina, watercolor by John White, 1585
American Indian on five-dollar Silver Certificate, 1899
1892 sculpture by Alexander Milne Calder, installed on the Philadelphia City Hall.

Native Americans have been depicted by American artists in various ways at different historical periods. During the 16th 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.

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 native American cultures. Their curiosity created demand for a book like de Bry’s.

A number of 19th and 20th-century United States and Canadian painters, often motivated by a desire to document and preserve Native culture, specialized in Native American subjects. Among the most prominent of these were Elbridge Ayer Burbank, George Catlin, Seth Eastman, Paul Kane, W. Langdon Kihn, Charles Bird King, Joseph Henry Sharp, and John Mix Stanley.

During the construction of the Capitol building in the early 19th 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 19th 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 by European sculptors present 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, wrote about how Native Americans might think of the reliefs: "We give you corn, you cheat us of our lands: we save your life, you take ours." While many 19th-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, some fiction writers were informed about and sympathetic to Native American culture. Marah Ellis Ryan conveyed the culture with sympathy.

In the 20th century, early portrayals of Native Americans in movies and television roles were first performed 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. By the 1970s some Native American film roles began to show more complexity, such as those in Little Big Man (1970), Billy Jack (1971), and The Outlaw Josey Wales (1976), which depicted Native Americans in minor supporting roles.

For years, Native people on U.S. television were 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 continued in such series 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 Lakota story as told through a Euro-American voice, for wider impact among a general audience. 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 an effort to portray Indigenous languages.

In the same period, the TNT Network presented a television movie on Geronimo, as well as two others on Native American historical figures, and a six-part documentary series on Native history, all within a 14-month period.

In 2004 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.

Wanting to make the film historically accurate and unbiased, the producers 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, which included not only the Pequot, but a number of other Native American tribes, most of which allied with the English. It presents facts and seeks to help viewers better understand the several peoples 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." The five episodes explore the impact of King Philip's War on the northeastern tribes, the "Native American confederacy" of Tecumseh's War, the US-forced relocation of Southeastern tribes known as the Trail of Tears, the pursuit and capture of Geronimo and the Apache Wars, and concludes with the Wounded Knee incident, participation by the American Indian Movement, and the increasing resurgence of modern Native cultures since.

Terminology differences

Common usage in the United States

Native Americans are more commonly known as Indians or American Indians, and have been known as Aboriginal Americans, Amerindians, Amerinds, Colored, First Americans, Native Indians, Indigenous, Original Americans, Red Indians, Redskins or Red Men. The term Native American was introduced in the United States by academics 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 the term Indian. Some academics believe that the term Indian should be considered outdated or offensive. Many indigenous Americans, however, prefer the term American Indian. Others point out that anyone born in the United States is, technically, native to America. In this sense, "native" was substituted for "indigenous". Today, people from India (and their descendants) who are citizens of the United States are called Indian Americans or Asian Indians.

Criticism of the neologism Native American comes from diverse sources. 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 the use of the word Indian derives not from a confusion with India but from a Spanish expression En Dio, meaning "in God".

Furthermore, some American Indians 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. Still others (both Indians and non-Indians) argue that Native American is problematic because "native of" literally means "born in," so any person born in the Americas could be considered "native". The compound "Native American" is generally capitalized to differentiate the reference to the indigenous peoples.

A 1995 U.S. Census Bureau survey found that more Native Americans in the United States preferred American Indian to Native American. Most American Indians are comfortable with Indian, American Indian, and Native American, and the terms are often used interchangeably. 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 for descendants of people from India.

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. These casinos have brought an influx of money to the tribes; according to tribal accounting firm Joseph Eve, CPAs, the average net profit of Indian casinos is 38.85%.

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 gaming 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.

Crime on reservations

Prosecution of serious crime, historically endemic on reservations, was required by the 1885 Major Crimes Act, 18 U.S.C. §§1153, 3242, and court decisions to be investigated by the federal government, usually the Federal Bureau of Investigation, and prosecuted by United States Attorneys of the United States federal judicial district in which the reservation lies. An investigation by The Denver Post in 2007 found that crimes in Indian Country have been a low priority both with the FBI and most federal prosecutors. As of November 2012 federal resources were being reduced while high rates of crime continued to rise in Indian Country.

Often serious crimes have been either poorly investigated or prosecution has been declined. Tribal courts were limited to sentences of one year or less, until on July 29, 2010 the Tribal Law and Order Act was enacted which in some measure reforms the system permitting tribal courts to impose sentences of up to three years provided proceedings are recorded and additional rights are extended to defendants. The Justice Department on January 11, 2010 initiated the Indian Country Law Enforcement Initiative which recognizes problems with law enforcement on reservations and assigns top priority to solving existing problems.

The Department of Justice recognizes the unique legal relationship that the United States has with federally recognized tribes. As one aspect of this relationship, in much of Indian Country, the Justice Department alone has the authority to seek a conviction that carries an appropriate potential sentence when a serious crime has been committed. Our role as the primary prosecutor of serious crimes makes our responsibility to citizens in Indian Country unique and mandatory. Accordingly, public safety in tribal communities is a top priority for the Department of Justice.

Emphasis was placed on improving prosecution of crimes involving domestic violence and sexual assault.

Passed in 1953, Public Law 280 (PL 280) gave jurisdiction over criminal offenses involving Indians in Indian Country to certain States and allowed other States to assume jurisdiction. Subsequent legislation allowed States to retrocede jurisdiction, which has occurred in some areas. Some PL 280 reservations have experienced jurisdictional confusion, tribal discontent, and litigation, compounded by the lack of data on crime rates and law enforcement response.

As of 2012, a high incidence of rape continued to impact Native American women and Alaskan native women. According to the Justice Department 1 in 3 women have suffered rape or attempted rape, more than twice the national rate. 80% of Native American sexual assault victims report that their attacker was "non-Indian". As of 2013 inclusion of offenses by non-native men against native women in the Violence Against Women Act continued to present difficulties over the question of whether defendants who are not tribal members would be treated fairly by tribal courts or afforded constitutional guarantees. On June 6, 2012 the Justice Department announced a pilot plan to establish joint federal-tribal response teams on 6 Montana reservations to combat rape and sexual assault.

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 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.
  • Alaska Natives
    • Arctic: Eskimo–Aleut
    • Subarctic: Northern Athabaskan
  • Western United States
    • Californian tribes (Northern): Yok-Utian, Pacific Coast Athabaskan, Coast Miwok, Yurok, Palaihnihan, Chumashan, Uto-Aztecan
    • Plateau tribes: Interior Salish, Plateau Penutian
    • Great Basin tribes: Uto-Aztecan
    • Pacific Northwest Coast: Pacific Coast Athabaskan, Coast Salish
    • Southwestern tribes: Uto-Aztecan, Yuman, Southern Athabaskan
  • Central United States
    • Plains Indians: Siouan, Plains Algonquian, Southern Athabaskan
  • Eastern United States
    • Northeastern Woodlands tribes: Iroquoian, Central Algonquian, Eastern Algonquian
    • Southeastern tribes: Muskogean, Siouan, Catawban, Iroquoian

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.
Sheep remain an important aspect in Navajo Tradition and Culture.

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 and prepare 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 8000 BCE. 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, California.) In addition, horses became such a valuable, central element of Native lives that they were counted as a measure of wealth.


Even in modern culture, Native American philosophy seems under-represented in terms of the broader study of American Philosophy. Some of this may be due to general discouragement from remaining racism towards the culture. Some of the fault, however, may lie in the culture’s own hands; according to Jennifer Vest, a half-Seminole approaching her Ph.D. in Native American philosophy at Berkley, “’while many established scholars refused to’ accept Native American beliefs as philosophy … many Native Americans also lacked the ambition to analyze the traditional beliefs that constituted their heritage.” Despite this obstacle, there is still a variety of information available if one went looking for it.

There appear to be some distinctions at the basic level which set Native American philosophy apart from the rest of American ideas. As Yankton Dakota scholar Vine Deloria Jr. pointed out in the essay “Philosophy and the Tribal Peoples”, whereas the traditional Westerner might reason, ‘ Man is mortal; Socrates is a man; therefore, Socrates is mortal,’ aboriginal thinking might read, ‘Socrates is mortal, because I once met Socrates and he is a man like me, and I am mortal.’ Deloria explains that both of the statements assume that all men are mortal, and that these statements are not verifiable on these grounds. The line of Indian thinking, however uses empirical evidence through memory to verify that Socrates was in fact a man like the person originally making the statement, and enhances the validity of the thinking. Deloria made the distinction, “whereas the Western syllogism simply introduces a doctrine using general concepts and depends on faith in the chain of reasoning for its verification, the Indian statement would stand by itself without faith and belief.” Deloria also comments that Native American thinking is very specific (in the way described above) compared to the broadness of traditional Western thinking, which leads to different interpretations of basic principles. American thinkers have previously denounced Native ideas because of this narrower approach, as it leads to ‘blurry’ distinctions between the ‘real’ and the ‘internal.’

Despite this basic variance, what Americans classify as “classical American pragmatism,” may actually have been heavily influenced by the ways of Native American thinking. In fact, in Carlin Romano’s view, the best resource on Native American Philosophy (even entries in various philosophy encyclopedias are shy on the subject) is Scott Pratt’s, Native Pragmatism: Rethinking the Roots of American Philosophy, which relates the ideas of many ‘American’ philosophers like Pierce, James, and Dewey to important concepts in early Native thought. Pratt’s publication takes his readers on a journey through American philosophical history from the colonial time period, and via detailed analysis, connects the experimental nature of early American pragmatism to the empirical habit of indigenous Americans. Though Pratt makes these alliances very comprehensible, he also makes clear that the lines between the ideas of Native Americans and American philosophers are complex and historically difficult to trace.


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.

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, Navajo 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.

Society and 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.

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.


Maize grown 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 CE 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.

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.


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

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. 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 prototypical sense familiar in the industrialized Western world.

Traditional practices of some tribes include the use of sacred herbs such as 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. 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).

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. 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.

Gender roles were differentiated in most Native American tribes.Both sexes had power in decisionmaking within the tribe. Many tribes, such as the Haudenosaunee Five Nations and the Southeast Muskogean tribes, had matrilineal systems, in which property and hereditary leadership were controlled by and passed through the maternal lines. The children were considered to belong to the mother's clan and achieved status within it.

When the tribe adopted war captives, the children became part of their mother's clan and accepted in the tribe. In Cherokee and other matrilineal cultures, wives owned the family property. When young women married, their husbands joined them in their mother's household.

This enabled the young women to have assistance for childbirth and rearing; it also protected her in case of conflicts between the couple. If they separated or the man was killed at war, the woman had her family to assist her. In addition, in matrilineal culture, the mother's brother was the leading male figure in a male child's life, as he mentored the child within the mother's clan.

The husband had no standing in his wife's and children's clan, as he belonged to his own mother's clan. Hereditary clan chief positions passed through the mother's line. Chiefs were selected on recommendation of women elders, who also could disapprove of a chief. There were sometimes hereditary roles for men called peace chiefs, but war chiefs were selected based on proven prowess in battle. Men usually had the roles of hunting, waging war, and negotiating with other tribes, including the Europeans after their arrival.

Others were patriarchal, although several different systems were in use. In the patrilineal tribes, such as the Omaha, Osage and Ponca, hereditary leadership passed through the male line, and children were considered to belong to the father and his clan. For this reason, when Europeans or American men took wives from such tribes, their children were considered "white" like their fathers, or " half-breeds". Generally such children could have no official place in the tribe because their fathers did not belong to it, unless they were adopted by a male and made part of his family.

Men hunted, traded and made war. The women had primary responsibility for the survival and welfare of the families (and future of the tribe); they gathered and cultivated plants, used plants and herbs to treat illnesses, cared for the young and the elderly, made all the clothing and instruments, and processed and cured meat and skins from the game. They tanned hides to make clothing as well as bags, saddle cloths, and tepee covers. Mothers used cradleboards to carry an infant while working or traveling.

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

Apart from making homes, women had many additional tasks that were also 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. In some of the Plains Indian tribes, medicine women gathered herbs and cured the ill.

The Lakota, Dakota, and Nakota girls were encouraged to learn to ride, hunt and fight. Though fighting was mostly left to the boys and men, occasionally women fought with them, especially if the tribe was severely threatened.


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

Native American leisure time led to competitive individual and team sports. Jim Thorpe, Joe Hipp, Notah Begay III, Jacoby Ellsbury, and Billy Mills are well known professional athletes.

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

Team based

Native American ball sports, sometimes referred to as lacrosse, stickball, or baggataway, was often used to settle disputes, rather than going to war, as a civil way to settle potential conflict. The Choctaw called it isitoboli ("Little Brother of War"); the Onondaga name was dehuntshigwa'es ("men hit a rounded object"). There are three basic versions, classified as Great Lakes, Iroquoian, and Southern.

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 to prevent the opposing team from scoring on your goal. The game involves as few as 20 or as many as 300 players with no height or weight restrictions and no protective gear. The goals could be from around 200 feet (61 m) apart to about 2 miles (3.2 km); in Lacrosse the field is 110 yards (100 m). A Jesuit priest referenced stickball in 1729, and George Catlin painted the subject.

Individual based

Chunkey was a game that consisted of a stone shaped disk that was about 1–2 inches in diameter. 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.

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

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."

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. He could long jump 23 ft 6 in and high-jump 6 ft 5 in. He could pole vault 11 feet (3.4 m), put the shot 47 ft 9 in (14.55 m), throw the javelin 163 feet (50 m), and throw the discus 136 feet (41 m). 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, Mills finished second in the U.S. Olympic trials.

Billy Kidd, part Abenaki from Vermont, became the first American male to medal in alpine skiing in the Olympics, taking silver at age 20 in the slalom in the 1964 Winter Olympics at Innsbruck, Austria.
Six years later at the 1970 World Championships, Kidd won the gold medal in the combined event and took the bronze medal in the slalom.

Music and art

Jake Fragua, Jemez Pueblo from New Mexico

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 modern flutes is typically pentatonic.

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 honour 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.

Native American art comprises a major category in the world art collection. Native American contributions include pottery, paintings, jewellery, weavings, sculpture, 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 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.

Traditional economy

The Inuit, or Eskimo, prepared and buried large amounts of dried meat and fish. Pacific Northwest tribes crafted seafaring dugouts 40–50 feet (12–15 m) 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.

Contemporary barriers to economic development

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

Today, other than tribes successfully running casinos, many tribes struggle, as they are often located on reservations isolated from the main economic centers of the country. The estimated 2.1 million Native Americans 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. According to a 2007 survey by the U.S. Small Business Administration, only 1% of Native Americans own and operate a business.

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%. Many Native Americans have become urbanized to survive, moving to urban centers in the states where their reservations are, or out of state. Others have entered academic and political fields that take them away from the reservations.

The barriers to economic development on Native American reservations have been identified by Joseph Kalt and Stephen Cornell of the Harvard Project on American Indian Economic Development at Harvard University, in their report: What Can Tribes Do? Strategies and Institutions in American Indian Economic Development (2008), are summarized as follows:

  • 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.
    Teacher with picture cards giving English instruction to Navajo day school students
  • 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. (Many tribes adopted constitutions by the 1934 Indian Reorganization Act model, with two-year terms for elected positions of chief and council members deemed too short by the authors for getting things done)
  • Entrepreneurial skills and experience are scarce.
  • Tribal cultures get in the way.

A major barrier to development is the lack of entrepreneurial knowledge and experience within Indian reservations. "A general lack of education and experience about business is a significant challenge to prospective entrepreneurs," was the 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.". Rez Biz magazine addresses these issues.

Lillian Gross, described as a "Mixed Blood" by the Smithsonian source, was of Cherokee and European-American heritage. Raised within Cherokee culture, she identified with that.

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". Some of the first documented cases of European/Native American intermarriage and contact were recorded in Post-Columbian Mexico. One case is that of Gonzalo Guerrero, a European from Spain, who was shipwrecked along the Yucatan Peninsula, and fathered three Mestizo children with a Mayan noblewoman. Another is the case of Hernán Cortés and his mistress La Malinche, who gave birth to another of the first multi-racial people in the Americas.


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."

Early contact was often charged with tension and emotion, but also had moments of friendship, cooperation, and intimacy. Marriages took place in English, Spanish, and French colonies between Native Americans and Europeans. Given the preponderance of men among the colonists in the early years, generally European men married American Indian women.

In 1528, Isabel de Moctezuma, an heir of Moctezuma II, was married to Alonso de Grado, a Spanish Conquistador. After his death, the widow married Juan Cano de Saavedra. Together they had five children. Many heirs of Emperor Moctezuma II were acknowledged by the Spanish crown, who granted them titles including Duke of Moctezuma de Tultengo.

On April 5, 1614, Pocahontas married the Englishman John Rolfe. 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 the French-Canadian trapper Toussaint Charbonneau. They had a son named Jean Baptiste Charbonneau. This was the most typical pattern among the traders and trappers.

Five Indians and a Captive, painted by Carl Wimar, 1855

There was fear on both sides, as the different peoples realized how different their societies were. The whites regarded the Indians as "savage" because they were not Christian. They were suspicious of cultures which they did not understand. The Native American author, Andrew J. Blackbird, wrote in his History of the Ottawa and Chippewa Indians of Michigan, (1897), that white settlers introduced some immoralities into Native American tribes. Many Indians suffered because the Europeans introduced alcohol and the whiskey trade resulted in alcoholism among the people, who were alcohol-intolerant.

Blackbird wrote:

"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."

The U. S. government had two purposes when making land agreements with Native Americans: to open it up more land for white settlement, and to ease tensions between whites and Native Americans by forcing Natives to use the land in the same way as did the whites - for subsistence farms. The government used a variety of strategies to achieve these goals; many treaties required Native Americans to become farmers in order to keep their land. Government officials often did not translate the documents which Native Americans were forced to sign, and native chiefs often had little or no idea what they were signing.

Charles Eastman was one of the first Native Americans to become certified as a medical doctor, after he graduated from Boston University.

For a Native American man to marry a white woman, he had to get consent of her parents, as long as "he can prove to support her as a white woman in a good home". In the early 19th century, the Shawnee Tecumseh and blonde hair & blued eyed Rebbecca Galloway had an inter-racial affair. In the late 19th century, three European-American middle-class women teachers at Hampton Institute married Native American men whom they had met as students.

As European-American women started working independently at missions and Indian schools in the western states, there were more opportunities for their meeting and developing relationships with Native American men. For instance, Charles Eastman, a man of European and Lakota descent whose father sent both his sons to Dartmouth College, got his medical degree at Boston University and returned to the West to practice. He married Elaine Goodale, whom he met in South Dakota. He was the grandson of Seth Eastman, a military officer from Maine, and a chief's daughter. Goodale was a young European-American teacher from Massachusetts and a reformer, who was appointed as the US superintendent of Native American education for the reservations in the Dakota Territory. They had six children together.

European enslavement

When Europeans arrived as colonists in North America, Native Americans changed their practice of slavery dramatically. Native Americans began selling war captives to whites rather than integrating them into their own societies as they had done before. As the demand for labor in the West Indies grew with the cultivation of sugar cane, Europeans enslaved Native Americans for the Thirteen Colonies, and some were exported to the "sugar islands." The British settlers, especially those in the southern colonies, purchased or captured Native Americans to use as forced labor in cultivating tobacco, rice, and indigo. Accurate records of the numbers enslaved do not exist. Scholars estimate tens of thousands of Native Americans may have been enslaved by the Europeans, being sold by Native Americans themselves.

Slavery became a caste of people who were foreign to the English (Native Americans, Africans and their descendants) and non-Christians. The Virginia General Assembly defined some terms of slavery in 1705:

All servants imported and brought into the Country... who were not Christians in their native Country... shall be accounted and be slaves. All Negro, mulatto and Indian slaves within this dominion ... shall be held to be real estate. If any slave resists his master ... correcting such slave, and shall happen to be killed in such correction ... the master shall be free of all punishment ... as if such accident never happened.
—Virginia General Assembly declaration, 1705

The slave trade of Native Americans lasted only until around 1730. It gave rise to a series of devastating wars among the tribes, including the Yamasee War. 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. Colonists found that Native American slaves could easily escape, as they knew the country. The wars cost the lives of numerous colonial slave traders and disrupted their early societies. The remaining Native American groups banded together to face the Europeans from a position of strength. Many surviving Native American peoples of the southeast strengthened their loose coalitions of language groups and joined confederacies such as the Choctaw, the Creek, and the Catawba for protection.

Native American women were at risk for rape whether they were enslaved or not; during the early colonial years, settlers were disproportionately male. They turned to Native women for sexual relationships. Both Native American and African enslaved women suffered rape and sexual harassment by male slaveholders and other white men.

Native American slavery

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. 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.

The conditions of enslaved Native Americans varied among the tribes. In many cases, young enslaved captives were adopted into the tribes to replace warriors killed during warfare or by disease. 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.

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

Native American and African relations

African and Native Americans have interacted for centuries. The earliest record of Native American and African contact occurred in April 1502, when Spanish colonists transported the first Africans to Hispaniola to serve as slaves.

Buffalo Soldiers, 1890. The nickname was given to the "Black Cavalry" by the Native American tribes they fought.

Sometimes Native Americans resented the presence of African Americans. The "Catawaba tribe in 1752 showed great anger and bitter resentment when an African American came among them as a trader." To gain favor with Europeans, the Cherokee exhibited the strongest colour prejudice of all Native Americans. He contends that because of European fears of a unified revolt of Native Americans and African Americans, the colonists encouraged hostility between the ethnic groups: "Whites sought to convince Native Americans that African Americans worked against their best interests." 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."

In addition, in 1758 the governor of South Carolina James Glen wrote:

it has always been the policy of this government to create an aversion in them Indians to Negroes.

Europeans considered both races inferior and made efforts to make both Native Americans and Africans enemies. Native Americans were rewarded if they returned escaped slaves, and African Americans were rewarded for fighting in the late 19th-century Indian Wars.

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

"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." Because of a shortage of men due to warfare, many tribes encouraged marriage between the two groups, to create stronger, healthier children from the unions.

In the 18th century, many Native American women married freed or runaway African men due to a decrease in the population of men in Native American villages. Records show that many Native American women bought African men but, unknown to the European sellers, the women freed and married the men into their tribe. When African men married or had children by a Native American woman, their children were born free, because the mother was free (according to the principle of partus sequitur ventrum, which the colonists incorporated into law.)

European colonists often required the return of runaway slaves to be included as a provision in treaties with American Indians. 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. In the mid-1760s, the government requested the Huron and Delaware to return runaway slaves, but there was no record of slaves having been returned. Colonists placed ads about runaway slaves.

While numerous tribes used captive enemies as servants and slaves, they also often adopted younger captives into their tribes to replace members who had died. In the Southeast, a few Native American tribes began to adopt a slavery system similar to that of the American colonists, buying African American slaves, especially the Cherokee, Choctaw, and Creek. Though less than 3% of Native Americans owned slaves, divisions grew among the Native Americans over slavery. Among the Cherokee, records show that slave holders in the tribe were largely the children of European men that had shown their children the economics of slavery. As European colonists took slaves into frontier areas, there were more opportunities for relationships between African and Native American peoples.

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. According to the PBS series, the most common "non-black" mix is English and Scots-Irish. 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.)

Another study suggests that relatively few Native Americans have African-American heritage. 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." A few writers persist in the myth that most African Americans have Native American heritage.

DNA testing has limitations and should not be depended on by individuals to answer all their questions about heritage. So far, such testing cannot distinguish among the many distinct Native American tribes. No tribes accept DNA testing to satisfy their differing qualifications for membership, usually based on documented blood quantum or descent from ancestor(s) listed on the Dawes Rolls.

Native American adoption of African slavery

Native Americans interacted with enslaved Africans and African Americans on many levels. Over time all the cultures interacted. Native Americans began slowly to adopt white culture. Native Americans in the South shared some experiences with Africans, especially during the period, primarily in the 17th century, when both were enslaved. The colonists along the Atlantic Coast had begun enslaving Native Americans to ensure a source of labor. At one time the slave trade was so extensive that it caused increasing tensions with the various Algonquian tribes, as well as the Iroquois. Based in New York and Pennsylvania, they had threatened to attack colonists on behalf of the related Iroquoian Tuscarora before they migrated out of the South in the early 1700s.

In the 1790s, Benjamin Hawkins was assigned as the US agent to the southeastern tribes, who became known as the Five Civilized Tribes for their adoption of numerous Anglo-European practices. He advised the tribes to take up slaveholding to aid them in European-style farming and plantations. He thought their traditional form of slavery, which had looser conditions, was less efficient than chattel slavery. In the 19th century, some members of these tribes who were more closely associated with settlers, began to purchase African-American slaves for workers. They adopted some European-American ways to benefit their people.

The writer William Loren Katz contends that Native Americans treated their slaves better than did the typical European American in the Deep South. Though less than 3% of Native Americans owned slaves, bondage created destructive cleavages among those who were slaveholders.

Among the Five Civilized Tribes, mixed-race slaveholders were generally part of an elite hierarchy, often based on their mothers' clan status, as the societies had matrilineal systems. As did Benjamin Hawkins, European fur traders and colonial officials tended to marry high-status women, in strategic alliances seen to benefit both sides. The Choctaw, Creek and Cherokee believed they benefited from stronger alliances with the traders and their societies. The women's sons gained their status from their mother's families; they were part of hereditary leadership lines who exercised power and accumulated personal wealth in their changing Native American societies. The historian Greg O'Brien calls them the Creole generation to show that they were part of a changing society. The chiefs of the tribes believed that some of the new generation of mixed-race, bilingual chiefs would lead their people into the future and be better able to adapt to new conditions influenced by European Americans.

Proposals for Indian Removal heightened the tensions of cultural changes, due to the increase in the number of mixed-race Native Americans in the South. Full bloods, who tended to live in areas less affected by colonial encroachment, generally worked to maintain traditional ways, including control of communal lands. While the traditional members often resented the sale of tribal lands to Anglo-Americans, by the 1830s they agreed it was not possible to go to war with the colonists on this issue.

Who are Native Americans?

Admixture and genetics

Members of the Creek (Muscogee) Nation in Oklahoma around 1877; they include men with some European and African ancestry.

Intertribal mixing was common among Native American tribes, so individuals often had ancestry from more than one tribe, particularly after tribes lost so many members from disease. Bands or entire tribes occasionally split or merged to form more viable groups in reaction to the pressures of climate, disease and warfare. A number of tribes traditionally adopted captives into their group to replace members who had been captured or killed in battle. These captives were from rival tribes and later from European settlements. Some tribes also sheltered or adopted white traders and runaway slaves, and others owned slaves of their own. 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. A number of paths to genetic and ethnic diversity among Native Americans existed.

In recent years, genetic genealogists have been able to determine the proportion of Native American ancestry carried by the African-American population. The literary and history scholar Henry Louis Gates, Jr. had experts on his TV programs who discussed African-American ancestry. They stated that 5% of African Americans have at least 12.5% Native American ancestry. A greater percentage could have a smaller proportion of Indian ancestry, but their conclusions show that popular estimates of admixture may have been too high.

DNA testing is not sufficient to qualify a person for specific tribal membership, as it cannot distinguish among Native American groups.

Native American identity has historically been based on culture, not just biology, as many American Indian peoples adopted captives from their enemies and assimilated them into their tribes. 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.

Geneticists 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.

Tribal classifications

To receive tribal services, a Native American must be a certified member of a recognized tribal organization. Each tribal government makes its own rules for eligibility of 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 to by a Certificate of Degree of Indian Blood (CDIB) card. Among tribes, qualification may be based upon a required percentage of Native American "blood" (or the " blood quantum") of an individual seeking recognition, or documented descent from an ancestor on the Dawes Rolls or other registers.

Some tribes have begun requiring genealogical DNA testing, but this is usually related to an individual's proving parentage or direct descent from a certified member. Requirements for tribal membership vary widely by tribe. The Cherokee require documented genealogical descent from a Native American listed on the early 1906 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 legal disputes, court cases, and the formation of activist groups. One example of this are the Cherokee Freedmen. Today, they include descendants of African Americans once enslaved by the Cherokees, who were granted, by federal treaty, citizenship in the historic Cherokee Nation as freedmen after the Civil War. The modern Cherokee Nation, in the early 1980s, excluded them from citizenship, unless individuals can prove descent from a Cherokee Native American (not Cherokee Freedmen) listed on the Dawes Rolls.

Increased self-identification

Since the census of 2000, people who have, or believe they have, Native American ancestry may designate themselves, for census purposes, as being of more than one race. Since the 1960s, the number of people claiming Native American ancestry has grown significantly and by the 2000 census, the number had more than doubled. Sociologists attribute this dramatic change to "ethnic shifting" or "ethnic shopping"; they believe that it reflects a willingness of people to question their birth identities and adopt new ethnicities which they find more compatible. The author Jack Hitt writes:

The reaction from lifelong Indians runs the gamut. It is easy to find Native Americans who denounce many of these new Indians as members of the wannabe tribe. But it is also easy to find Indians like Clem Iron Wing, an elder among the Lakota, who sees this flood of new ethnic claims as magnificent, a surge of Indians trying to come home. Those Indians who ridicule Iron Wing's lax sense of tribal membership have retrofitted the old genocidal system of blood quantum—measuring racial purity by blood—into the new standard for real Indianness, a choice rich with paradox.

The journalist Mary Annette Pember notes that identifying with Native American culture may be a result of a person's increased interest in genealogy, the romanticization of the lifestyle, and a family tradition of distant Native American ancestors. Problems in classification are compounded by different qualifications for tribal membership by different tribes, a fear of registering with a tribe because it is seen as a method of control initiated by the federal government, and the problem of individuals who are of 100% Native American background who, because of their mixed tribal heritage, do not qualify to belong to any individual tribe. Pember concludes:

"The subjects of genuine American Indian blood, cultural connection and recognition by the community are extremely contentious issues, hotly debated throughout Indian country and beyond. The whole situation, some say, is ripe for misinterpretation, confusion and, ultimately, exploitation."


Genetic history of indigenous peoples of the Americas primarily focus on Human Y-chromosome DNA haplogroups and Human mitochondrial DNA haplogroups. "Y-DNA" is passed solely along the patrilineal line, from father to son, while "mtDNA" is passed down the matrilineal line, from mother to offspring of both sexes. Neither recombines, and thus Y-DNA and mtDNA change only by chance mutation at each generation with no intermixture between parents' genetic material. Autosomal "atDNA" markers are also used, but differ from mtDNA or Y-DNA in that they overlap significantly. Autosomal DNA is generally used to measure the average continent-of-ancestry genetic admixture in the entire human genome and related isolated populations.

The genetic pattern indicates Indigenous Americans experienced two very distinctive genetic episodes; first with the initial-peopling of the Americas, and secondly with European colonization of the Americas. The former is the determinant factor for the number of gene lineages, zygosity mutations and founding haplotypes present in today's Indigenous Amerindian populations.

Human settlement of the New World occurred in stages from the Bering sea coast line, with an initial 15, 000 to 20,000-year layover on Beringia for the small founding population. The micro-satellite diversity and distributions of the Y lineage specific to South America indicates that certain Amerindian populations have been isolated since the initial colonization of the region. The Na-Dené, Inuit and Indigenous Alaskan populations exhibit haplogroup Q-M242 (Y-DNA) mutations, however, that are distinct from other indigenous Amerindians, and that have various mtDNA and atDNA mutations. This suggests that the paleo-Indian migrants into the northern extremes of North America and Greenland were descended from a later, independent migrant population.

Retrieved from ""