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: America and Indian race

America and Indian race


Traditionally, the very beginning of the United States history is considered from the time of European exploration and settlement, starting in the 16th century, to the present. But people had been living in America for over 30,000 years before the first European colonists arrived.

When Columbus landed on the island of San Salvador in 1492 he was welcomed by a brown-skinned people whose physical appearance confirmed him in his opinion that he had at last reached India, and whom, therefore, he called Indios, Indians, a name which, however mistaken in its first application continued to hold its own, and has long since won general acceptance, except in strictly scientific writing, where the more exact term American is commonly used. As exploration was extended north and south it was found that the same race was spread over the whole continent, from the Arctic shores to Cape Horn, everywhere alike in the main physical characteristics, with the exception of the Eskimo in the extreme North (whose features suggest the Mongolian).


Origin and Antiquity

Various origins have been assigned to the Indian race. The more or less beleivable explanation is following. At the height of the Ice Age, between 34,000 and 30,000 B.C., much of the world's water was contained in vast continental ice sheets. As a result, the Bering Sea was hundreds of meters below its current level, and a land bridge, known as Beringia, emerged between Asia and North America. At its peak, Beringia is thought to have been some 1,500 kilometers wide. A moist and treeless tundra, it was covered with grasses and plant life, attracting the large animals that early humans hunted for their survival. The first people to reach North America almost certainly did so without knowing they had crossed into a new continent. They would have been following game, as their ancestors had for thousands of years, along the Siberian coast and then across the land bridge.

Race Type

The most marked physical characteristics of the Indian race type are brown skin, dark brown eyes, prominent cheek bones, straight black hair, and scantiness of beard. The color is not red, as is popularly supposed, but varies from very light in some tribes, as the Cheyenne, to almost black in others, as the Caddo and Tarimari. In a few tribes, as the Flatheads, the skin has a distinct yellowish cast. The hair is brown in childhood, but always black in the adult until it turns grey with age. Baldness is almost unknown. The eye is not held so open as in the Caucasian and seems better adapted to distance than to close work. The nose is usually straight and well shaped, and in some tribes strongly aquiline. Their hands and feet are comparatively small. Height and weight vary as among Europeans, the Pueblos averaging but little more than five feet, while the Cheyenne and Arapaho are exceptionally tall, and the Tehuelche of Patagonia almost massive in build. As a rule, the desert Indians, as the Apache, are spare and muscular in build, while those of the timbered regions are heavier, although not proportionately stronger. The beard is always scanty, but increases with the admixture of white blood. The mistaken idea that the Indian has naturally no beard is due to the fact that in most tribes it is plucked out as fast as it grows, the eyebrows being treated in the same way. There is no tribe of "white Indians", but albinos with blond skin, weak pink eyes and almost white hair are occasionally found, especially among the Pueblos.

Major Cultural Areas

From prehistoric times until recent historic times there were roughly six major cultural areas, excluding that of the Arctic (see Eskimo), i.e., Northwest Coast, Plains, Plateau, Eastern Woodlands, Northern, and Southwest.

The Northwest Coast Area

The Northwest Coast area extended along the Pacific coast from South Alaska to North California. The main language families in this area were the Nadene in the north and the Wakashan (a subdivision of the Algonquian-Wakashan linguistic stock) and the Tsimshian (a subdivision of the Penutian linguistic stock) in the central area. Typical tribes were the Kwakiutl, the Haida, the Tsimshian, and the Nootka. Thickly wooded, with a temperate climate and heavy rainfall, the area had long supported a large Native American population. Salmon was the staple food, supplemented by sea mammals (seals and sea lions) and land mammals (deer, elk, and bears) as well as berries and other wild fruit. The Native Americans of this area used wood to build their houses and had cedar-planked canoes and carved dugouts. In their permanent winter villages some of the groups had totem poles, which were elaborately carved and covered with symbolic animal decoration. Their art work, for which they are famed, also included the making of ceremonial items, such as rattles and masks; weaving; and basketry. They had a highly stratified society with chiefs, nobles, commoners, and slaves. Public display and disposal of wealth were basic features of the society. They had woven robes, furs, and basket hats as well as wooden armor and helmets for battle. This distinctive culture, which included cannibalistic rituals, was not greatly affected by European influences until after the late 18th cent., when the white fur traders and hunters came to the area.

TRIBES: Abenaki , Algonkin , Beothuk , Delaware , Erie , Fox , Huron , Illinois , Iroquois , Kickapoo , Mahican , Mascouten , Massachuset , Mattabesic , Menominee , Metoac , Miami , Micmac , Mohegan , Montagnais , Narragansett , Nauset , Neutrals , Niantic , Nipissing , Nipmuc , Ojibwe , Ottawa , Pennacook , Pequot , Pocumtuck , Potawatomi , Sauk , Shawnee , Susquehannock , Tionontati , Wampanoag , Wappinger , Wenro , Winnebago .

The Plains Area

The Plains area extended from just North of the Canadian border, South to Texas and included the grasslands area between the Mississippi River and the foothills of the Rocky Mts. The main language families in this area were the Algonquian-Wakashan, the Aztec-Tanoan, and the Hokan-Siouan. In pre-Columbian times there were two distinct types of Native Americans there: sedentary and nomadic. The sedentary tribes, who had migrated from neighbor ing regions and had initally settled along the great river valleys, were farmers and lived in permanent villages of dome-shaped earth lodges surrounded by earthen walls. They raised corn, squash, and beans. The foot nomads, on the other hand, moved about with their goods on dog-drawn travois and eked out a precarious existence by hunting the vast herds of buffalo (bison) - usually by driving them into enclosures or rounding them up by setting grass fires. They supplemented their diet by exchanging meat and hides for the corn of the agricultural Native Americans.

The horse, first introduced by the Spanish of the Southwest, appeared in the Plains about the beginning of the 18th cent. and revolutionized the life of the Plains Indians. Many Native Americans left their villages and joined the nomads. Mounted and armed with bow and arrow, they ranged the grasslands hunting buffalo. The other Native Americans remained farmers (e.g., the Arikara, the Hidatsa, and the Mandan). Native Americans from surrounding areas came into the Plains (e.g., the Sioux from the Great Lakes, the Comanche and the Kiowa from the west and northwest, and the Navajo and the Apache from the southwest). A universal sign language developed among the perpetually wandering and often warring Native Americans. Living on horseback and in the portable tepee, they preserved food by pounding and drying lean meat and made their clothes from buffalo hides and deerskins. The system of coup was a characteristic feature of their society. Other features were rites of fasting in quest of a vision, warrior clans, bead and feather art work, and decorated hides. These Plains Indians were among the last to engage in a serious struggle with the white settlers in the United States.

TRIBES: Arapaho, Arikara, Assiniboine, Bidai, Blackfoot, Caddo, Cheyenne, Comanche , Cree, Crow, Dakota (Sioux), Gros Ventre, Hidatsa, Iowa, Kansa, Kiowa, Kiowa-Apache, Kitsai, Lakota (Sioux), Mandan, Metis, Missouri, Nakota (Sioux), Omaha, Osage, Otoe, Pawnee, Ponca, Sarsi, Sutai, Tonkawa, Wichita.

The Plateau Area

The Plateau area extended from above the Canadian border through the plateau and mountain area of the Rocky Mts. to the Southwest and included much of California. Typical tribes were the Spokan, the Paiute, the Nez Perce, and the Shoshone. This was an area of great linguistic diversity. Because of the inhospitable environment the cultural development was generally low. The Native Americans in the Central Valley of California and on the California coast, notably the Pomo, were sedentary peoples who gathered edible plants, roots, and fruit and also hunted small game. Their acorn bread, made by pounding acorns into meal and then leaching it with hot water, was distinctive, and they cooked in baskets filled with water and heated by hot stones. Living in brush shelters or more substantial lean-tos, they had partly buried earth lodges for ceremonies and ritual sweat baths. Basketry, coiled and twined, was highly developed. To the north, between the Cascade Range and the Rocky Mts., the social, political, and religious systems were simple, and art was nonexistent. The Native Americans there underwent (since 1730) a great cultural change when they obtained from the Plains Indians the horse, the tepee, a form of the sun dance, and deerskin clothes. They continued, however, to fish for salmon with nets and spears and to gather camas bulbs. They also gathered ants and other insects and hunted small game and, in later times, buffalo. Their permanent winter villages on waterways had semisubterranean lodges with conical roofs; a few Native Americans lived in bark-covered long houses.

TRIBES: Carrier, Cayuse, Coeur D'Alene, Colville, Dock-Spus, Eneeshur, Flathead, Kalispel, Kawachkin, Kittitas, Klamath, Klickitat, Kosith, Kutenai, Lakes, Lillooet, Methow, Modac, Nez Perce, Okanogan, Palouse, Sanpoil, Shushwap, Sinkiuse, Spokane, Tenino, Thompson, Tyigh, Umatilla, Wallawalla, Wasco, Wauyukma, Wenatchee, Wishram, Wyampum, Yakima. Californian: Achomawi, Atsugewi, Cahuilla, Chimariko, Chumash, Costanoan, Esselen, Hupa, Karuk, Kawaiisu, Maidu, Mission Indians, Miwok, Mono, Patwin, Pomo, Serrano, Shasta, Tolowa, Tubatulabal, Wailaki, Wintu, Wiyot, Yaha, Yokuts, Yuki, Yuman (California).

The Eastern Woodlands Area

The Eastern Woodlands area covered the eastern part of the United States, roughly from the Atlantic Ocean to the Mississippi River, and included the Great Lakes. The Natchez, the Choctaw, the Cherokee, and the Creek were typical inhabitants. The northeastern part of this area extended from Canada to Kentucky and Virginia. The people of the area (speaking languages of the Algonquian-Wakashan stock) were largely deer hunters and farmers; the women tended small plots of corn, squash, and beans. The birchbark canoe gained wide usage in this area. The general pattern of existence of these Algonquian peoples and their neighbors, who spoke languages belonging to the Iroquoian branch of the Hokan-Siouan stock (enemies who had probably invaded from the south), was quite complex. Their diet of deer meat was supplemented by other game (e.g., bear), fish (caught with hook, spear, and net), and shellfish. Cooking was done in vessels of wood and bark or simple black pottery. The dome-shaped wigwam and the longhouse of the Iroquois characterized their housing. The deerskin clothing, the painting of the face and (in the case of the men) body, and the scalp lock of the men (left when hair was shaved on both sides of the head), were typical. The myths of Manitou (often called Manibozho or Manabaus), the hero who remade the world from mud after a deluge, are also widely known.

The region from the Ohio River South to the Gulf of Mexico, with its forests and fertile soil, was the heart of the southeastern part of the Eastern Woodlands cultural area. There before c.500 the inhabitants were seminomads who hunted, fished, and gathered roots and seeds. Between 500 and 900 they adopted agriculture, tobacco smoking, pottery making, and burial mounds. By c.1300 the agricultural economy was well established, and artifacts found in the mounds show that trade was widespread. Long before the Europeans arrived, the peoples of the Natchez and Muskogean branches of the Hokan-Siouan linguistic family were farmers who used hoes with stone, bone, or shell blades. They hunted with bow and arrow and blowgun, caught fish by poisoning streams, and gathered berries, fruit, and shellfish. They had excellent pottery, sometimes decorated with abstract figures of animals or humans. Since warfare was frequent and intense, the villages were enclosed by wooden palisades reinforced with earth. Some of the large villages, usually ceremonial centers, dominated the smaller settlements of the surrounding countryside. There were temples for sun worship; rites were elaborate and featured an altar with perpetual fire, extinguished and rekindled each year in a new fire ceremony. The society was commonly divided into classes, with a chief, his children, nobles, and commoners making up the hierarchy. For a discussion of the earliest Woodland groups, see the separate article Eastern Woodlands culture.

TRIBES: Acolapissa , Asis, Alibamu, Apalachee, Atakapa, Bayougoula , Biloxi, Calusa, Catawba , Chakchiuma, Cherokee , Chesapeake Algonquin, Chickasaw , Chitamacha , Choctaw, Coushatta, Creek, Cusabo, Gaucata, Guale, Hitchiti, Houma , Jeags, Karankawa, Lumbee, Miccosukee, Mobile, Napochi, Nappissa, Natchez, Ofo, Powhatan, Quapaw, Seminole, Southeastern Siouan, Tekesta, Tidewater Algonquin, Timucua, Tunica, Tuscarora, Yamasee, Yuchi. Bannock, Paiute (Northern), Paiute (Southern), Sheepeater, Shoshone (Northern), Shoshone (Western), Ute, Washo.

The Northern Area

The Northern area covered most of Canada, also known as the Subarctic, in the belt of semiarctic land from the Rocky Mts. to Hudson Bay. The main languages in this area were those of the Algonquian-Wakashan and the Nadene stocks. Typical of the people there were the Chipewyan. Limiting environmental conditions prevented farming, but hunting, gathering, and activities such as trapping and fishing were carried on. Nomadic hunters moved with the season from forest to tundra, killing the caribou in semiannual drives. Other food was provided by small game, berries, and edible roots. Not only food but clothing and even some shelter (caribou-skin tents) came from the caribou, and with caribou leather thongs the Indians laced their snowshoes and made nets and bags. The snowshoe was one of the most important items of material culture. The shaman featured in the religion of many of these people.

TRIBES: Calapuya, Cathlamet, Chehalis, Chemakum, Chetco, Chilluckkittequaw, Chinook, Clackamas, Clatskani, Clatsop, Cowich, Cowlitz, Haida, Hoh, Klallam, Kwalhioqua, Lushootseed, Makah, Molala, Multomah, Oynut, Ozette, Queets, Quileute, Quinault, Rogue River, Siletz, Taidhapam, Tillamook, Tutuni, Yakonan.

The Southwest Area

The Southwest area generally extended over Arizona, New Mexico, and parts of Colorado and Utah. The Uto-Aztecan branch of the Aztec-Tanoan linguistic stock was the main language group of the area. Here a seminomadic people called the Basket Makers, who hunted with a spear thrower, or atlatl, acquired (c.1000 B.C.) the art of cultivating beans and squash, probably from their southern neighbors. They also learned to make unfired pottery. They wove baskets, sandals, and bags. By c.700 B.C. they had initiated intensive agriculture, made true pottery, and hunted with bow and arrow. They lived in pit dwellings, which were partly underground and were lined with slabs of stone - the so-called slab houses. A new people came into the area some two centuries later; these were the ancestors of the Pueblo Indians. They lived in large, terraced community houses set on ledges of cliffs or canyons for protection and developed a ceremonial chamber (the kiva) out of what had been the living room of the pit dwellings. This period of development ended c.1300, after a severe drought and the beginnings of the invasions from the north by the Athabascan-speaking Navajo and Apache. The known historic Pueblo cultures of such sedentary farming peoples as the Hopi and the Zuni then came into being. They cultivated corn, beans, squash, cotton, and tobacco, killed rabbits with a wooden throwing stick, and traded cotton textiles and corn for buffalo meat from nomadic tribes. The men wove cotton textiles and cultivated the fields, while women made fine polychrome pottery. The mythology and religious ceremonies were complex.

TRIBES: Apache (Eastern), Apache (Western), Chemehuevi, Coahuiltec, Hopi, Jano, Manso, Maricopa, Mohave, Navaho, Pai, Papago, Pima, Pueblo (breaking into: Acoma, Cochiti, Isleta, Jemez, Laguna, Nambe, Picuris, Pojoaque, Sandia, San Felipe, San Ildefonso, San Juan, Santa Ana, Santa Clara, Santo Domingo, Taos, Tesuque, Zia), Yaqui, Yavapai, Yuman, Zuni. Am strongly thinking about


Social Organization

Among most of the tribes east of the Mississippi, among the Pueblos, Navahos, and others of the South-West, and among the Tlingit and Haida of the north-west coast, society was based upon the clan system, under which the tribe was divided into a number of large family groups, the members of which were considered as closely related and prohibited from intermarrying. The children usually followed the clan of the mother. The clans themselves were sometimes grouped into larger bodies of related kindred, to which the name of phratries has been applied. The clans were usually, but not always, named from animals, and each clan paid special reverence to its tutelary animal. Thus the Cherokee had seven clans, Wolf, Deer, Bird, Paint, and three others with names not readily translated. A Wolf man could not marry a Wolf woman, but might marry a Deer woman, or one of any of the other clans, and his children were of the Deer clan or other clan accordingly. In some tribes the name of the individual indicated the clan, as "Round Foot" in the wolf clan and "Crawler" in the Turtle clan. Certain functions of war, peace, or ceremonial were usually hereditary in special clans, and revenge for injuries with the tribe devolved upon the clan relatives of the person injured. The tribal council was made up of the hereditary or elected chiefs, and any alien taken into the tribe had to be specifically adopted into a family and clan. The clan system was by no means universal but is now known to have been limited to particular regions and seems to have been originally an artificial contrivance to protect land and other tribal descent. It was absent almost everywhere west of the Missouri, excepting in the South-West, and appears to have been unknown throughout the geater portion of British America, the interior of Alaska, and probably among the Eskimos. Among the plains tribes, the unit was the band, whose members camped together under their own chief, in an appointed place in the tribal camp circle, and were subject to no marriage prohibition, but usually married among themselves.

With a few notable exceptions, there was very little idea of tribal solidarity or supreme authority, and where a chief appears in history as tribal dictator, as in the case of Powhatan in Virginia, it was usually due to his own strong personality. The real authority was with the council as interpreters of ancient tribal customs. Even such well-known tribes as the Creeks and Cherokee were really only aggregations of closely cognate villages, each acting independently or in cooperation with the others as suited its immediate convenience. Even in the smaller and more compact tribes there was seldom any provision for coercing the individual to secure common action, but those of the same clan or band usually acted together. In this lack of solidarity is the secret of Indian military weakness. In no Indian war in the history of the United States has a single large tribe ever united in solid resistance, while on the other hand other tribes have always been found to join against the hostiles. Among the Natchez, Tinucua, and some other southern tribes, there is more indication of a central authority, resting probably with a dominant clan.

The Iroquois of New York had progressed beyond any other native people north of Mexico in the elaboration of a state and empire. Through a carefully planned system of confederations, originating about 1570, the five allied tribes had secured internal peace and unity, by which they had been able to acquire dominant control over most of the tribes from Hudson Bay to Carolina, and if not prematurely checked by the advent of the whites, might in time have founded a northern empire to rival that of the Aztec.

Land was usually held in common, except among the Pueblos, where it was apportioned among the clans, and in some tribes in northern California, where individual right is said to have existed. Timber and other natural products were free, and hospitality was carried to such a degree that no man kept what his neighbour wanted. While this prevented extremes of poverty, on the other hand it paralyzed individual industry and economy, and was an effectual barrier to progress. The accumulation of property was further discouraged by the fact that in most tribes it was customary to destroy all the belongings of the owner at his death. The word for "brave" and "generous" was frequently the same, and along the north-west coast there existed the curious custom known as potlatch, under which a man saved for half a lifetime in order to acquire the rank of chief by finally giving away his entire hoard at a grand public feast.

Enslavement of captives was more or less common throughout the country, especially in the southern states, where the captives were sometimes crippled to prevent their escape. Along the north-west coast and as far south as California, not only the captives but their children and later descendants were slaves and might be abused or slaughtered at the will of the master, being frequently burned alive with their deceased owner, or butchered to provide a ceremonial cannibal feast. In the Southern slave states, before the Civil War, the Indians were frequent owners of negro slaves.

Men and women, and sometimes even the older children, were organized into societies for military, religious, working, and social purposes, many of these being secret, especially those concerned with medicine and women's work. In some tribes there was also a custom by which two young men became "brothers" through a public exchange of names.

The erroneous opinion that the Indian man was an idler, and that the Indian woman was a drudge and slave, is founded upon a misconception of the native system of division of labour, under which it was the man's business to defend the home and to provide food by hunting and fishing, assuming all the risks and hardships of battle and the wilderness, while the woman attended to the domestic duties including the bringing of wood and water, and, with the nomad tribes, the setting up of the tipis. The children, however, required little care after they were able to run about, and the housekeeping was of the simplest, and, as the women usually worked in groups, with songs and gossip, while the children played about, the work had much of pleasure mixed with it. In all that chiefly concerned the home, the woman was the mistress, and in many tribes the women's council gave the final decision upon important matters of public policy. Among the more agricultural tribes, as the Pueblos, men and women worked the fields together. In the far north, on the other hand, the harsh environment seems to have brought all the savagery of the man's nature, and the woman was in fact a slave, subject to every whim of cruelty, excepting among the Kutchin of the Upper Yukon, noted for their kind treatment of their women. Polygamy existed in nearly all tribes excepting the Pueblos.


In and north of the United States there were some twenty well-defined types of native dwellings, varying from the mere brush shelter to the five-storied pueblo.

In the Northwest, Native American cultures lived in a shelter known as the plank house. The plank house varied in shape and design according to the tribe who was building it. It varied from a simple shed-like building to a partly underground shelter like the Mogollon shelter. The plank house was made primarily from wood pieces found along the wooded areas near the sea or water body. Each house was built by placing the wood on poles imbedded in the ground. Eventually the roof was placed on top in a upside-down V shape. These houses were considered very durable to the environment, especially dampness and rain. The villages of the Northwest revolved around the environment which enveloped them. Large structures of enormous logs notched and fitted together became the primary housing for most of the peoples of this region. Each of these houses had a central living area and distinct, private sections for sleeping areas for the many families which lived there. Other wo oden structures were used for ceremonial purposes as well as for birthing mothers and burial sites.

In the eastern United States and adjacent parts of Canada the prevailing type was that commonly known under the Algonkian name of wigwam. The wigwam was a round shelter used by many different Native American cultures in the east and the southeast. It is considered one of the best shelters made. It was as safe and warm as the best houses of early colonists. The wigwam has a curved surface which can hold up against the worst weather in any region.

The Native Americans of the Plains lived in one of the most well known shelters, the tepee ( also Tipi or Teepee). The tipi (the Sioux name for house) or conical tent-dwelling of the upper lake and plains region was of poles set lightly in the ground, bound together near the top, and covered with bark or mats in the lake country, and with dressed buffalo skins on the plains. These skins were often painted in bright colors to show the personalities of the people dwelling there. It was easily portable, and two women could set it up or take in down within an hour. On ceremonial occasions the tipi camp was arranged in a great circle, with the ceremonial "medicine lodge" in the centre.

The Native Americans of the Southwest such as the Anasazi and the Pueblo, lived in pueblos constructed by stacking large adobe blocks, sun-dried and made from clay and water, usually measuring 8 by 16 inches (20 by 40 centimetres) and 4 to 6 in. (10 to 15 cm) thick. These blocks form the walls of the building, up to five stories tall, and were built around a central courtyard. Usually each floor is set back from the floor below, so that the whole building resembles a zigzag pyramid. The method also provides terraces on those levels made from the roof tops of the level below. These unique and amazing apartment-like structures were often built along cliff faces; the most famous, the "cliff palace" of Mesa Verde, Colorado, had over 200 rooms. Another site, the Pueblo Bonito ruins along New Mexico's Chaco River, once contained more than 800 rooms. Each pueblo had at least two, and often more kivas, or ceremonial rooms.

The semi-sedentary Pawnee Mandan, and other tribes along the Missouri built solid circular structures of logs, covered with earth, capable sometimes of housing a dozen families.

The Wichita and other tribes of the Texas border built large circular houses of grass thatch laid over a framework of poles.

The living shelters of the Northeast Native Americans are called Long Houses. The long house was favored more in the winter months than in the summer ones. The long house was a one story apartment house, with many people of the tribe sharing the warmth and space. In an average long house, there would be three or four fireplaces, usually lined with small fieldstones. With this many fireplaces, smoke would fill up the house, so the house would be built with smoke holes in the roof. The typical long house was estimated to be about 50 feet long.

The Navaho hogan, was a smaller counterpart of the Pawnee "earth lodge". The communal pueblo structure of the Rio Grande region consisted of a numbersometimes hundreds - of square-built rooms of various sizes, of stone or adobe laid in clay mortar, with flat roof, court-yards, and intricate passage ways, suggestive of oriental things.

The Piute wikiup of Nevada was only one degree above the brush shelter of the Apache. California, with its long stretch from north to south, and its extremes from warm plain to snowclad sierra, had a variety of types, including the semi-subterranean.

Along the whole north-west coast, from the Columbia to the Eskimo border, the prevailing type was the rectangular board structure, painted with symbolic designs, and with the great totem pole carved with the heraldic crests of the owner, towering above the doorway.

Not even pueblo architecture had evolved a chimney.

Food and its Procurement

In the timbered regions of the eastern and southern states and the adjacent portions of Canada, along the Missouri and among the Pueblos, Pima, and other tribes of the south-west, the chief dependence was upon agriculture, the principal crops being corn, beans, and squashes, besides a native tobacco. The New England tribes understood the principal of manuring, while those of the arid south-west built canals and practiced irrigation. Along the whole ocean-coast, in the lake region and on the Columbia, fishing was an important source of subsistence. On the south Atlantic seaboard elaborate weirs were in use, but elsewhere the hook and line, the seine or the harpoon, were more common. Clams and oysters were consumed in such quantities along the Atlantic coast that in some favourable gathering-places empty shells were piled into mounds ten feet high. From central California northward along the whole west coast, the salmon was the principle, and on the Columbia, almost the entire, food dependence. The northwest-coast tribes, as well as the Eskimo, were fearless whalers. Everywhere the wild game, of course, was an important factor in the food supply, particularly the deer in the timber region and the buffalo on the plains. The nomad tribes of the plains, in fact, lived by the buffalo, which, in one way or another, furnished them with food, clothing, shelter, household equipment, and fuel.

In this connection there were many curious tribal and personal taboos founded upon clan traditions, dreams, or other religious reasons. Thus the Navajo and the Apache, so far from eating the meat of a bear, refuse even to touch the skin of one, believing the bear to be of human kinship. For a somewhat similar reason some tribes of the plains and the arid South-West avoid a fish, while considering the dog a delicacy.

Besides the cultivated staples, nuts, roots, and wild fruits were in use wherever procurable. The Indians of the Sierras lived largely upon acorns and piñons. Those of Oregon and the Columbia region gathered large stores of camass and other roots, in addition to other species of berries. The Apache and other south-western tribes gathered the cactus fruit and toasted the root of the maguey. The tribes of the upper lake region made great use of wild rice, while those of the Ohio Valley made sugar from the sap of the maple, and those of the southern states extracted a nourishing oil from the hickory nut. Pemmican and hominy are Indian names as well as Indian inventions, and maple sugar is also an aboriginal discovery. Salt was used by many tribes, especially on the plains and in the South-West, but in the Gulf states lye was used instead. Cannibalism simply for the sake of food could hardly be said to exist, but, as a war ceremony or sacrifice following a savage triumph, the custom was very general, particularly on the Texas coast and among the Iroquoian and Algonquian tribes of the east. The Tonkawa of Texas were know to all their neighbours as the "Man-Eaters". Apparently the only native intoxicant was tiswin, a sort of mild beer fermented from corn by the Apache and neighbouring tribes.

Domesticated Animals

The dog was practically the only domesticated animal before the advent of the whites and was found in nearly all tribes, being used as a beast of burden by day and as a constant sentinel by night, while with some tribes the flesh was also a favourite dish. He was seldom, if ever, trained to hunting. There were no wild horses, cows, pigs, or chickens. Therefore, the Indians knew nothing about these animals. In Massachusetts, they began to domesticate the turkey. Eagles and other birds were occasionally kept for their feathers, and the children sometimes had other pets than puppies. The horse, believed to have been introduced by the Spaniards, speedily became as important a factor in the life of the plains tribes as the buffalo itself. In the same way the sheep and goats, introduced by the early Franciscans, have become the chief source of wealth to the Navajo, numbering now half a million animals from which they derive an annual income of over a million dollars.

Industries and Arts

In the fabrication of domestic instruments, weapons, ornaments, ceremonial objects, boats, seines, and traps, in house-building and in the making of pottery and baskets, the Indian showed considerable ingenuity in design and infinite patience of execution. In the division of labour, the making of weapons, hunting and fishing requirements, boats, pipes, and most ceremonial objects fell to the men, while the domestic arts of pottery and basket-making, weaving and dressing of skins, the fashioning of clothing and the preparation and preservation of food commonly devolved upon the women.

Among the sedentary or semi-sedentary tribes house-building belonged usually to the men, although the women sometimes assisted. On the plains the entire making and keeping of the tipi were appointed to the women. In many tribes the man cut, sewed, and decorated his own buckskin suit, and in some of the Pueblo villages the men were the basket-weavers.

While the house, in certain tribes, evinced considerable architecture skill, its prime purpo se was always utilitarian, and there was usually but little attempt at decorative effect, excepting the Haida, Tlingit, and others of the north-west coast, where the great carved and painted totem poles, sometimes sixty feet in height, set up in front of every dwelling, were a striking feature of the village picture. The same tribes were notable for their great sea-going canoes, hollowed out from a single cedar trunk, elaborately carved and painted, and sometimes large enough to accommodate forty men. The skin boat or kaiak of the Eskimo was a marvel of lightness and buoyancy, being practically unsinkable. The birch-bark canoe of the eastern tribes was especially well-adapted to its purposes of inland navigation. In the southern states we find the smaller "dug-out" log canoe. On the plains the boat was virtually unknown, except for the tub-shaped skin boat of the Mandan and associated tribes of the upper Missouri.

The Eskimo were noted for their artistic carvings of bones and walrus ivory; the Pueblo for their turquoise-inlaid work and their wood carving, especially mythologic figurines, and the Atlantic and California coast tribes for their work in shell. The wampum, or shell beads, made chiefly from the shells of various clams found along the Atlantic coast have become historic, having been extensively used not only for dress ornamentation, but also on treaty belts, as tribal tribute, and as a standard of value answering the purpose of money. The ordinary stone hammer or club, found in nearly every tribe, represented much patient labour, while the whole skill of the artist was frequently expended upon the stone-carved pipe. The black stone pipes of the Cherokee were famous in the southern states, and the red stone pipe of catlinite from a single quarry in Minnesota was reputed sacred and was smoked at the ratification of all solemn tribal engagements throughout the plains and the lake-region. Knives, lance-blades, and arrow-heads were also usually of stone, preferably flint or obsidian. Along the Gulf Coast, keen-edged knives fashioned from split canes were in use. Corn mortars and bowls were usually of wood in the timber region and of stone in the arid country. Hide-scrapers were of bone, and spoons of wood or horn. Metal-work was limited chiefly to the fashioning of gorgets and other ornaments hammered out from native copper, found in the southern Alleghenies, about Lake Superior, and about Copper River in Alaska. The art of smelting was apparently unknown. Under Franciscan and later Mexican teaching the Navahos have developed a silver-working art which compares in importance with their celebrated basket-weaving, the material used being silver coins melted down in stone molds of their own carving. Mica was mined in the Carolina mountains by the local tribes and fashioned into gorgets and mirrors, which found their way by trade as far as the western prairies, All of these arts belonged to the men.

Basket-weaving in wood splits, cane, rushes, yucca- or bark-fibre, and various grasses was practiced by the same tribes which made pottery, and excepting in a few tribes, was likewise a women's work. The basket was stained in various designs with vegetable dyes. The Cherokee made a double-walled basket. Those of the Choctaw, Pueblo tribes, Jicarillo, and Piute were noted for beauty of design and execution, but the Pomo and other tribes of California excelled in all closeness and delicacy of weaving and richness of decoration, many of their grass baskets being water-tight and almost hidden under an inter-weaving of bright-coloured plumage, and further decorated around the top with pendants of shining mother-of-pearl. The weaving of grass or rush mats for covering beds or wigwams may be considered as a variant of the basket-weaving process, as likewise the delicate porcupine quill appliqué work of the northern plains and upper-Mississippi tribes.

Silver jewelry is probably the best known form of Native American art. It is not an ancient art. Southwest Native Americans began working in silver around 1850. Jewelry was the way many Native Americans showed their wealth. Coins were used for silver in the early days. Navajo silverwork can be made many ways. One way is to carve a stone with a knife and pour the silver into the shape. This is called sandcasting. Another way is to cut the shape out of silver and use a stamp to make a design. Stamps were made from any bit of scrap iron, including spikes, old chisels and broken files.

Turquoise is used in jewelry. This didn't start happening until 1880's. Turquoise is found in Colorado, Nevada, Arizona and New Mexico.The color of turquoise is from a pale chalky blue -almost white- to a very deep green.

The making of pottery belonged to the women and was practiced in nearly all tribes, excepting those in the plains and interior basin, and the cold north. The Eastern pottery is usually decorated with stamped patterns. That of the Pueblo and other south-western tribes was smooth and painted over with symbolic designs. A few specimens of glazed ware have been found in the same region, but it is doubtful if the process is of native origin. The Catawba and some other tribes produced a beautiful black ware by burning the vessel under cover, so that the smoke permeated the pores of the clay. The simple hand process by coiling was universally used.

The useful art of skin-dressing also belonged exclusively to the women, excepting along the Arctic coasts, where furs, instead of denuded skins, were worn by the Eskimo, while the entrails of the larger sea animals were also utilized for waterproof garments. The skins in most general use were those of the buffalo, elk, and deer, which were prepared by scraping, stretching, and anointing with various softening or preservative mixtures, of which the liver or brains of the animal were commonly a part. The timber tribes generally smoked the skins, a process unknown on the plains. A limited use was made of bird skins with the feathers intact.

The weaving art proper was also almost exclusively in the hands of the women. In the east, aside from basket- and mat-making it was confined almost entirely to the twisting of ropes or bowstrings, and the making of belts, the skin fabric taking the place of the textile. In the South-West the Pueblo tribes wove native cotton upon looms of their own device, and, since the introduction of sheep by the Franciscan missionaries in the sixteenth century, the Navaho, enlarging upon their Pueblo teaching have developed a weaving art which has made the Navaho blanket famous throughout the country, the stripping, spinning, weaving, and dyeing of the wool all being their own. The Piute of Nevada and others of that region wore blankets woven from strips of rabbit-fur. Some early writers mention feather-woven cloaks among the gulf tribes, but it is possible that the feathers were simply overlaid upon the skin garment.

It is notable that the Indian worker, man or woman, used no pattern, carrying the design in the head. Certain designs, however, were standardized and hereditary in particular tribes and societies.

According to Navajo beliefs, the Universe is a balanced place. Illness and other disasters happen if the balance is upset. It is believed only Humans can upset this balance, not animals or plants! To make the person healthly again a ceremony is performed. The sandpaintings, called ikaah, used in these ceremonies are made between sunrise and sunset of the same day.

Games and Amusements

Naturally careless of the future, the Indian gave himself up to pleasure when not under immediate necessity or danger, and his leisure time at home was filled with a constant round of feasting, dancing, story-telling, athletic contests, and gambling games.

The principal athletic game everywhere east of the Missouri, as well as with some tribes of the Pacific coast, was the ballplay adopted by the French of Canada under the name lacrosse and in Louisiana as racquette. In this game the ball was caught, not with the hand, but with a netted ball-stick somewhat resembling a tennis racket.

A special dance and secret ceremonial preceded the contest. Next in tribal favour in the eastern region was the game known to the early traders under the corrupted Creek name of chunkee, in which one player rolled a stone wheel along the ground, while his competitor slid after it a stick curved at one end like an umbrella handle with the design of having the spent wheel fall within the curve at the end of its course. This game, which necessitated much hard running, was sometimes kept up for hours. A somewhat similar game played with a netted wheel and a straight stick was found upon the plains, the object being to dart the stick through the certain netted holes in the wheel, known as the buffalo, bull, calf, etc.(remember to catch the bulls eye).

Foot races were very popular with certain tribes, as the Pueblo, Apache. Wichita and Crows, being frequently a part of great ceremonial functions. On the plains horse-racing furnished exciting amusement. There were numerous gambling games, somewhat of the dice order, played with marked sticks, plum stones, carved bones, etc., these being in special favour with the women. Target shooting with bow and arrow, and various forms of dart shooting were also popular.

Among distinctly women's games were football and shinny, the former, however, being merely the bouncing of the ball from the toes with the purpose of keeping in the air as long as possible. Hand games, in which a number of players arranged themselves in two opposing lines and alternately endeavoured to guess the whereabouts of a small object shifted rapidly from hand to hand, were a favourite tipi pastime with both sexes in the winter evenings, to the accompaniment of songs fitted to the rapid movement of the hands.

Story-telling and songs, usually to the accompaniment of the rattle or small hand-drum, filled in the evening. The Indian was essentially musical, his instruments being the drum, rattle, flute, or flageolet, eagle-bone whistle and other more crude devices. Each had its special religious significance and ceremonial purposes, particularly the rattle, of which there were many varieties. Besides the athletic and gambling games, there were games of diversion played only on rare occasions of tribal necessity with sacred paraphernalia in keeping of sacred guardians. The Indian was fond also of singing and had songs for every occasion love, war, hunting, gaming, medicine, satire, children's songs, and lullabies.

The children played with tops, whips, dolls, and other toys, or imitated their elders in shooting, riding, and "playing house".


As war is the normal condition of savagery, so to the Indian warlike glory was the goal of his ambition, the theme of his oratory, and the purpose of his most elaborate ceremonial. His weapons were the knife, bow, club, lance, and tomahawk, or stone axe, which last was very soon superseded by the light steel hatchet supplied by the trader. To these, certain tribes added defensive armour, as the body-armour of rawhides or wooden rods in use along the northwest coast and some other sections, and the shield more particularly used by the equestrian tribes of the plains. As a rule, the lance and shield were more common in the open country, and the tomahawk in the woods. The bow was usually of some tough and flexible wood with twisted sinew cord, but was sometimes of bone or horn backed with sinew rapping. It is extremely doubtful if poisoned arrows were found north of Mexico, notwithstanding many assertions to the contrary.

Where the clan system prevailed the general conduct of war matters was often in the keeping of special clans, and in some tribes, such as the Creeks, war and peace negotiations and ceremonials belonged to certain towns designated as "red" or "white". With the Iroquois and probably with other tribes, the final decision on war or peace rested with a council of the married women. On the plains the warriors of the tribes were organized into military societies of differing degrees of rank, from the boys in training to the old men who had passed their active period. Military service was entirely voluntary with the individual who, among the eastern tribes, signified his acceptance in some public manner, as by striking the red-painted war-post, or, on the plains, by smoking the pipe sent round by the organizers of the expeditions. Contrary to European practice, the command usually rested with several leaders of equal rank, who were not necessarily recognized as chiefs on other occasions. The departure and the return were made according to the fixed ceremonial forms, with solemn chants of defiance, victory, or grief at defeat. In some tribes there were small societies of chosen warriors pledged never to turn or flee from an enemy except by express permission of their fellows, but in general the Indian warrior chose not to take large risks, although brave enough in desperate circumstance.

To the savage every member of a hostile tribe was equally an enemy, and he gloried as much in the death of an infant as in that of the warrior father. Victory meant indiscriminate massacre, with most revolting mutilation of the dead, followed in the early period in nearly every portion of the East and South by a cannibal feast. The custom of scalping the dead, so general in later Indian wars, has been shown by Frederici to have been confined originally to a limited area east of the Mississippi, gradually superseding the earlier custom of beheading. In many western tribes, the warrior's prowess was measured not by the number of his scalp trophies, but by the number of his coups (French term), or strokes upon the enemy, for which there was a regular scale according to kind, the highest honour being accorded not to one one who secured the scalp, but to the warrior who struck the first blow upon the enemy, even though with no more than a willow rod. The scalp dance was performed, not by the warriors, but by the women, who thus rejoiced over the success of their husbands and brothers. There was no distinctive "war dance".

Captives among the eastern tribes were either condemned to death with every horrible form of torture or ceremonially adopted into the tribe, the decision usually resting with the women. If adopted, he at once became a member of a family, usually as representative of a deceased member, and at once acquired full tribal rights. In the Huron wars whole towns of the defeated nation voluntarily submitted and were adopted into the Iroquois tribes. On the plains torture was not common. Adults were seldom spared, but children were frequently spared and either regularly adopted or brought up in a mild sort of slavery. Along the north-west coast, and as far south as California slavery prevailed in its harshest form and was the usual fate of the captive.


One of the remarkable facts in American ethnology is the great diversity of languages. Nearly two hundred major languages, besides minor dialects, were spoken north of Mexico, classified in fifty-one distinct linguistic stocks, as given below, of which nearly one-half were represented in California. Those marked with an asterisk are extinct, while several others are now reduced to less than a dozen individuals keeping the language: Algonquian, Athapascan (Déné), Attacapan, *Beothukan, Caddoan, Chimakuan, *Chimarikan, Chimmesyan, Chinookan, Chitimachan, *Chumashan, *Coahuiltecan (Pakawá), Copehan (Wintun), Costanoan, Eskimauan, *Esselenian, Iroquoian, Kalapooian, *Karankawan, Keresan, Kiowan, Kitunahan, Kaluschan (Tlingit), Kulanapan (Pomo), *Kusan, Mariposan (Yokuts), Moquelumnan (Miwok), Muskogean, Pujunan (Maidu), Quoratean (Karok), *Salinan, Salishan, Shahaptian, Shoshonean, Siouan, Skittagetan (Haida), Takilman, *Timucuan, *Tonikan, Tonkawan, Uchean, *Waiilatpuan (Cayuse), Wakashan (Nootka), Washoan, Weitspekan (Yurok), Wishoskan, Yakonan, *Yanan (Nosi), Yukian, Yuman, Zuñian.

The number of languages and well-marked dialects may well have reached one thousand, constituting some 150 separate linguistic stocks, each stock as distinct from all the others as the Aryan languages are distinct from the Turanian or the Bantu. Of these stocks, approximately seventy were in the northern, and eighty in the southern continent. They were all in nearly the same primitive stage of development, characterized by minute exactness of description with almost entire absence of broad classification. Thus the Cherokee, living in a country abounding in wild fruits, had no word for grape, but had instead a distinct descriptive term for each of the three varieties with which he was acquainted. In the same way, he could not simply say "I am here", but must qualify the condition as standing, sitting, etc.

The earliest attempt at a classification of the Indian languages of the United States and British America was made by Albert Gallatin in 1836. The beginning of systematic investigation dates from the establishment of the Bureau of American Ethnology under Major J.W. Powell in 1879. For the languages of Mexico and Central America, the basis is the "Geografía" of Orozco y Berra, of 1864, supplemented by the later work of Brinton, in his "American Race" (1891), and corrected and brought up to the latest results in the linguistic map by Thomas and Swanton now in preparation by the Bureau of Ethnology. For South America, we have the "Catálogo" of Hervas (1784), which covers also the whole field of languages throughout the world; Brinton's work just noted, containing the summary of all known up to that time, and Chamberlain's comprehensive summary, published in 1907.

To facilitate intertribal communication, we frequently find the languages of the more important tribes utilized by smaller tribes throughout the same region, as Comanche in the southern plains and Navajo (Apache) in the South-West. From the same necessity have developed certain notable trade jargons, based upon some dominant language, with incorporations from many others, including European, all smoothed down and assimilated to a common standard. Chief among these were the "Mobilian" of the Gulf states based upon Choctaw; the "Chinook jargon" of the Columbia and adjacent territories of the Pacific coast, a remarkable conglomerate based upon the extinct Chinook language; and the lingoa geral of Brazil and the Paraná region, based upon Tupí-Guaraní. To these must be added the noted "sign language" of the plains, a gesture code, which answered every purpose of ordinary intertribal intercourse from Canada to the Rio Grande.

Religion and Mythology

The Indian was an animist, to whom every animal, plant, and object in nature contained a spirit to be propitiated or feared. Some of these, such as the sun, the buffalo, and the peyote plant, the eagle and the rattlesnake, were more powerful or more frequently helpful than others, but there was no overruling "Great Spirit" as so frequently represented.

Certain numbers, particularly four and seven, were held sacred. Colours were symbolic and had abiding place, and sometimes sex. Thus with the Cherokee the red spirits of power and victory live in the Sun Land, or the East, while the black spirits of death dwell in the Twilight Land of the West. Certain tribes had palladiums around which centered their most elaborate ritual. Each man had also his secret personal "medicine". The priest was likewise the doctor, and medicine and religious ritual were closely interwoven. Secret societies were in every tribe, claiming powers of prophecy, hypnotism, and clairvoyance. Dreams were in great repute, and implicitly trusted and obeyed, while witches, fairies, and supernatural monsters were as common as in medieval Europe. Human sacrifices, either of infants or adults, were found among the Timucua of Florida, the Natchez of Mississippi, the Pawnee of the plains, and some tribes of California and the north-west coast, the sacrifice in the last-mentioned region being frequently followed by a cannibal feast. From time to time, as among more civilized nations, prophets arose to purify the old religion or to preach a new ritual. Each tribe had its genesis, tradition, and mythical hero, with a whole body of mythologic belief and folklore, and one or more great tribal ceremonials. Among the latter may be noted the Green-Corn Dance thanksgiving festival of the eastern and southern tribes, the Sun-Dance of the plains, the celebrated snake dance of the Hopi and the Salmon Dance of the Columbia tribes.

The method of disposing of the dead varied according to the tribe and the environment, inhumation being probably the most widespread. The Hurons and the Iroquois allowed the bodies to decay upon scaffolds, after which the bones were gathered up and deposited with much ceremony in the common tribal sepulchre. The Nanticoke and Choctaw scraped the flesh from the bones, which were then wrapped in a bundle, and kept in a box within the dwelling. Tree, scaffold, and cave burial were common on the plains and in the mountains, while cremation was the rule in the arid regions father to the west and south-west. Northward from the Columbia the body was deposited in a canoe raised upon posts, while cave burial reappeared among the Aleut of Alaska, and earth burial among the Eskimo. The dread of mentioning the name of the dead was as universal as destroying the property of the deceased, even to the killing of his horse or dog, while the custom of placing food near the grave for the spirit during the journey to the other world was almost as common, Laceration of the body, cutting off of the hair, general neglect of the person, and ceremonial wailing, morning and evening, sometimes for weeks, were also parts of their funeral customs.

Beyond the directly inherited traditional Native American religions, a wide body of modified sects abounds.The Native American Church claims a membership of 250,000, which would constitute the largest of the Native America religious organizations. Though the church traces the sacramental use ofthe peyote cactus back ten thousand years, the Native American hurch was only founded in 1918. Well into the reservation era, this organization was achieved with the help of a Smithsonian Institute anthropologist. The church incorporates generic Native American religious rites, Christianity, and the use of the peyote plant. The modern peyote ritual is comprised of four parts: praying, singing, eating peyote, and quietly contemplating.

The Native American Church, or Peyote Church illustrates a trend of modifying and manipulating traditional Native American spirituality. The Native American Church incorporates Christianity, as well as moving away from tribal specific religion. Christianity has routinely penetrated Native American spirituality in the last century. And in the last few decades, New Age spirituality has continued the trend.


All of the American Native cultures had in common a deep spiritual relationship with the land and the life forms it supported. According to First Nations spiritual beliefs, human beings are participants in a world of interrelated spiritual forms. First Nations maintain great respect for all living things. With the arrival of European newcomers, this delicate balance of life forms was disrupted. In the 18th and 19th centuries, contact with Europeans began to change traditional ways of life forever.

Native americans and the newcomers

The formulation of public policy toward the Indians was of concern to the major European colonizing powers.


The Spanish tried assiduously to Christianize the natives and to remake their living patterns. Orders were issued to congregate scattered Indian villages in orderly, well-placed centers, assuring the Indians at the same time that by moving to such centers they would not lose their outlying lands. This was the first attempt to create Indian reservations. The promise failed to protect Indian land, according to the Franciscan monk and historian of Mexico, Juan Torquemada, who reported about 1599 that there was hardly "a palm of land" that the Spaniards had not taken. Many Indians who did not join the congregations for fear of losing what they owned fled to mountain places and lost their lands anyway.

The Russians never seriously undertook colonization in the New World. When Peter I the Great sent Vitus Jonassen Bering into the northern sea that bears his name, interest was in scientific discovery, not overseas territory. Later, when the problem of protecting and perhaps expanding Russian occupation was placed before Catherine II the Great, she declared (1769): It is for traders to traffic where they please. I will furnish neither men, nor ships, nor money, and I renounce forever all lands and possessions in the East Indies and in America.

The Swedish and Dutch attempts at colonization were so brief that neither left a strong imprint on New World practices. The Dutch government, however, was probably the first (1645) of the European powers to enter into a formal treaty with an Indian tribe, the Mohawk. Thus began a relationship, inherited by the British, that contributed to the ascendancy of the English over the French in North America.

France handicapped its colonial venture by transporting to the New World a modified feudal system of land tenure that discouraged permanent settlement. Throughout the period of French occupation, emphasis was on trade rather than on land acquisition and development, and thus French administrators, in dealing with the various tribes, tried primarily only to establish trade relations with them. The French instituted the custom of inviting the headmen of all tribes with which they carried on trade to come once a year to Montreal, where the governor of Canada gave out presents and talked of friendship. The governor of Louisiana met southern Indians at Mobile.

The English, reluctantly, found themselves competing on the same basis with annual gifts. Still later, United States peace commissioners were to offer permanent annuities in exchange for tribal concessions of land or other interests. In contrast to the French, the English were primarily interested in land and permanent settlements; beginning quite early in their occupation, they felt an obligation to bargain with the Indians and to conclude formal agreements with compensation to presumed Indian landowners. The Plymouth settlers, coming without royal sanction, thought it incumbent upon them to make terms with the Massachuset Indians. Cecilius Calvert (the 2nd Baron Baltimore) and William Penn, while possessing royal grants in Maryland and Pennsylvania respectively, nevertheless took pains to purchase occupancy rights from the Indians. It became the practice of most of the colonies to prohibit indiscriminate and unauthorized appropriation of Indian land. The usual requirement was that purchases could be consummated only by agreement with the tribal headman, followed by approval of the governor or other official of the colony. At an early date also, specific areas were set aside for exclusive Indian use. Virginia in 1656 and commissioners for the United Colonies of New England in 1658 agreed to the creation of such reserved areas. Plymouth Colony in 1685 designated for individual Indians separate tracts that could not be alienated without their consent.

In spite of these official efforts to protect Indian lands, unauthorized entry and use caused constant friction through the colonial period. Rivalry with the French, who lost no opportunity to point out to the Indians how their lands were being encroached upon by the English; the activity of land speculators, who succeeded in obtaining large grants beyond the settled frontiers; and, finally, the startling success of the Ottawa chief Pontiac in capturing English strongholds in the old Northwest (the Great Lakes region) as a protest against this westward movement, together prompted King George III's ministers to issue a proclamation (1763) that formalized the concept of Indian land titles for the first time in the history of European colonization in the New World. The document prohibited issuance of patents to any lands claimed by a tribe unless the Indian title had first been extinguished by purchase or treaty. The proclamation reserved for the use of the tribes "all the Lands and Territories lying to the Westward of the sources of the Rivers which fall into the Sea from the West and Northwest. Land west of the Appalachians might not be purchased or entered upon by private persons, but purchases might be made in the name of the king or one of the colonies at a council meeting of the Indians.

This policy continued up to the termination of British rule and was adopted by the United States. The Appalachian barrier was soon passed - thousands of settlers crossed the mountains during the American Revolution - but both the Articles of Confederation and the federal Constitution reserved either to the president or to Congress sole authority in Indian affairs, including authority to extinguish Indian title by treaty. When French dominion in Canada capitulated in 1760, the English announced that "the Savages or Indian Allies of his most Christian Majesty, shall be maintained in the lands they inhabit, if they choose to remain there." Thereafter, the proclamation of 1763 applied in Canada and was embodied in the practices of the dominion government. (The British North America Act of 1867, which created modern Canada, provided that the parliament of Canada should have exclusive legislative authority with respect to "Indians, and lands reserved for the Indians." Thus, both North American countries made control over Indian matters a national concern.)

United States policy: the late 18th and 19th centuries

The first full declaration of U.S. policy was embodied in the Northwest Ordinance (1787): The utmost good faith shall always be observed toward the Indians, their lands and property shall never be taken from them without their consent; and in their property, rights, and liberty, they shall never be invaded or disturbed, unless in just and lawful wars authorized by congress; but laws founded in justice and humanity shall from time to time be made, for preventing wrongs being done to them, and for preserving peace and friendship with them.This doctrine was embodied in the act of August 7, 1789, as one of the first declarations of the U.S. Congress under the Constitution.The final shaping of the legal and political rights of the Indian tribes is found in the opinions of Chief Justice John Marshall, notably in decision in the case of Worcester v. Georgia: The Indian nations had always been considered as distinct, independent, political communities, retaining their original natural rights, as the undisputed possessors of the land, from time immemorial. . . . The settled doctrine of the law of nations is, that a weaker power does not surrender its independence - its right to self-government - by associating with a stronger, and taking its protection. A weak state, in order to provide for its safety, may place itself under the protection of one more powerful, without stripping itself of the right of government, and ceasing to be a state.The first major departure from the policy of respecting Indian rights came with the Indian Removal Act of 1830. For the first time the United States resorted to coercion, particularly in the cases of the Cherokee and Seminole tribes, as a means of securing compliance. The Removal Act was not in itself coercive, since it authorized the president only to negotiate with tribes east of the Mississippi on a basis of payment for their lands; it called for improvements in the east and a grant of land west of the river, to which perpetual title would be attached. In carrying out the law, however, resistance was met with military force. In the decade following, almost the entire population of perhaps 100,000 Indians was moved westward. The episode moved Alexis de Tocqueville to remark in 1831: The Europeans continued to surround [the Indians] on every side, and to confine them within narrower limits . . . and the Indians have been ruined by a competition which they had not the means of sustaining. They were isolated in their own country, and their race only constituted a little colony of troublesome strangers in the midst of a numerous and dominant people.

The territory west of the Mississippi, it turned out, was not so remote as had been supposed. The discovery of gold in California (1848) started a new sequence of treaties, designed to extinguish Indian title to lands lying in the path of the overland routes to the Pacific. The sudden surge of thousands of wagon trains through the last of the Indian country and the consequent slaughtering of prairie and mountain game that provided subsistence for the Indians brought on the most serious Indian wars the country had experienced. For three decades, beginning in the 1850s, raids and sporadic pitched fighting took place up and down the western Plains, highlighted by such incidents as the Custer massacre by Sioux and Cheyenne Indians (1876), the Nez Perce chief Joseph's running battle in 1877 against superior U.S. army forces, and the Chiricahua Geronimo's long duel with authorities in the Southwest, resulting in his capture and imprisonment in 1886. Toward the close of that period, the Ghost Dance religion, arising out of the dream revelations of a young Paiute Indian, Wovoka, promised the Indians a return to the old life and reunion with their departed kinsmen. The songs and ceremonies born of this revelation swept across the northern Plains. The movement came to an abrupt end December 29, 1890, at Wounded Knee Creek, South Dakota. Believing that the Ghost Dance was disturbing an uneasy peace, government agents moved to arrest ringleaders. Sitting Bull was killed (December 15) while being taken into custody, and two weeks later units of the U.S. 7th Cavalry at Wounded Knee massacred more than 200 men, women, and children who had already agreed to return to their homes. A further major shift of policy had occurred in 1871 after congressional discussions lasting several years. U.S. presidents, with the advice and consent of the Senate, had continued to make treaties with the Indian tribes and commit the United States to the payment of sums of money. The House of Representatives protested, since a number of congressmen had come to the view that treaties with Indian tribes were an absurdity (a view earlier held by Andrew Jackson). The Senate yielded, and the act of March 3, 1871, declared that "hereafter no Indian nation or tribe" would be recognized "as an independent power with whom the United States may contract by treaty." Indian affairs were brought under the legislative control of the Congress to an extent that had not been attempted previously. Tribal authority with respect to criminal offenses committed by members within the tribe was reduced to the extent that murder and other major crimes were placed under the jurisdiction of the federal courts. The most radical undertaking of the new legislative policy was the Dawes General Allotment Act of 1887. By that time the Indian tribes had been moved out of the mainstreams of traffic and were settled on lands that they had chosen out of the larger areas that they had formerly occupied. Their choice in most cases had been confirmed by treaty, agreement, act of Congress, or executive order of the president. The tribes that lived by hunting over wide areas found reservation confinement a threat to their existence. Generally, they had insisted on annuity payments or rations, or both, and the U.S. peace commissioners had been willing to offer such a price in return for important land cessions. In time the view came to be held that reservation life fostered indolence and perpetuated customs and attitudes that held Indians back from assimilation. The strategy offered by proponents of this theory was the Allotment Act authorizing the president to divide the reservations into individual parcels and to give every Indian, whether he wanted it or not, a particular piece of the tribally owned land. In order not to make the transition too abrupt, the land would be held in trust for a period of 25 years, after which ownership would devolve upon the individual. With it would go all the rights and duties of citizenship. Reservation land remaining after all living members of the tribes had been provided with allotments was declared surplus, and the president was authorized to open it for entry by non-Indian homesteaders, the Indians being paid the homestead price. A total of 118 reservations was allotted in this manner, but the result was not what had been anticipated. Through the alienation of surplus lands (making no allowance for children yet unborn) and through patenting of individual holdings, the Indians lost 86,000,000 acres (34,800,000 hectares), or 62 percent, of a total of 138,000,000 acres in Indian ownership prior to 1887. A generation of landless Indians resulted, with no vocational training to relieve them of dependence upon land. The strategy also failed in that ownership of land did not effect an automatic acculturation in those Indians who received individual parcels. Through scattering of individuals and families, moreover, social cohesiveness tended to break down. The result was a weakening of native institutions and cultural practices with nothing offered in substitution. What was intended as transition proved to be a blind alley. The Indian population had been dwindling through the decades after the mid-19th century. The California Indians alone, it was estimated, dropped from 100,000 in 1853 to not more than 30,000 in 1864 and 19,000 in 1906. Cholera in the central Plains in 1849 struck the Pawnee. As late as 1870-71 an epidemic of smallpox brought disaster to the Blackfeet, Assiniboin, and Cree. These events gave currency to the concept of the Indian as "the vanishing American." The decision of 1871 to discontinue treaty making and the passage of the Allotment Act of 1887 were both founded in the belief that the Indians would not survive, and hence it did not much matter whether their views were sought in advance of legislation or whether lands were provided for coming generations. When it became obvious after about 1920 that the Indians, whose numbers had remained static for several years, were surely increasing, the United States was without a policy for advancing the interests of a living people.

20th-century reforms of U.S. policy

A survey in 1926 brought into clear focus the failings of the previous 40 years. The investigators found most Indians "extremely poor," in bad health, without education, and lacking adjustment to the dominant culture around them. Under the impetus of these findings and other pressures for reform, Congress adopted the Indian Reorganization Act of 1934, which contemplated an orderly decrease of federal control and a concomitant increase of Indian self-government and responsibility. The essentials of the new law were as follows: (1) allotment of tribal lands was prohibited in the future, but tribes might assign use rights to individuals; (2) so-called surplus lands not pre-empted by homesteaders might be returned to the tribes; (3) tribes might adopt written constitutions and charters of incorporation embodying their continuing inherent powers to manage internal affairs; and (4) funds were authorized for the establishment of a revolving credit program, for land purchases, for educational assistance, and for aiding the tribes in forming organizations. Moreover, the act could be rejected on any reservation by referendum.

The response to the 1934 act was indicative of the Indians' ability to rise above adversity. About 160 tribes, bands, and Alaska villages adopted written constitutions, some of which combined traditional practices with modern parliamentary methods. The revolving credit fund helped Indians build up their herds and improve their economic position in other ways. Borrowers from the fund were tribal corporations, credit associations, and cooperatives that loaned to individual Indians and to group enterprises on a multimillion-dollar scale. Educational and health services were also improved through federal aid.

Originally, the United States exercised no guardianship over the person of the Indian; after 1871, when internal tribal matters became the subject of national legislation, the number and variety of regulatory measures multiplied rapidly. In the same year that the Indian Reorganization Act was passed, Congress significantly repealed 12 statutes that had made it possible to hold Indians virtual prisoners on their reservations. Indians were then able to come and go as freely as all other persons. The Snyder Act of 1924, extending citizenship to all Indians born in the United States, opened the door to full participation. But few Indians took advantage of the law, and because of their lack of interest a number of states excluded Indians from the franchise. Organization of tribal governments following the Reorganization Act, however, seemed to awaken an interest in civic affairs beyond tribal boundaries, and when Indians asked for the franchise, they were generally able to secure it eventually, though not until 1948 in Arizona and New Mexico, after lengthy court action.

The federal courts consistently upheld the treaties made with Indian tribes and also held that property may not be taken from Indians, whether or not a treaty exists, "except in fair trade." The latter contention was offered by the Hualapai Indians against the Santa Fe Railway. The company was required by the courts in 1944 to relinquish about 500,000 acres it thought had been granted to it by the U.S. The lands had been occupied since prehistory by the Indians, without benefit of treaty recognition, and the Supreme Court held that, if the occupancy could be proved, as it subsequently was, the Indians were entitled to have their lands restored. In 1950 the Ute Indians were awarded a judgment against the United States of $31,750,000 for lands taken without adequate compensation. A special Indian Claims Commission, created by act of Congress on August 13, 1946, received many petitions for land claims against the United States and awarded, for example, about $14,789,000 to the Cherokee nation, $10,242,000 to the Crow tribe, $3,650,000 to the Snake-Paiute of Oregon, $3,000,000 to the Nez Perce, and $12,300,000 to the Seminole. The period from the early 1950s to the 1970s was one of increasing federal attempts to establish new policies regarding the Indians, and it was also a period in which Indians themselves became increasingly vocal in their quest for an equal measure of human rights and the correction of past wrongs. The first major shift in policy came in 1954, when the Department of the Interior began terminating federal control over those Indians and reservations deemed able to look after their own affairs. From 1954 to 1960, support to 61 tribes and other Indian groups was ended by the withdrawal of federal services or trust supervision. The results, however, were unhappy. Some extremely impoverished Indian groups lost many acres of land to private exploitation of their land and water resources. Indians in certain states became subject exclusively to state laws that were less liberal or sympathetic than federal laws. Finally the protests of Indians, anthropologists, and others became so insistent that the program was decelerated in 1960. In 1961 a trained anthropologist was sworn in as commissioner of Indian Affairs, the first anthropologist ever to hold that position. Federal aid expanded greatly, and in the ensuing decade Indians were brought into various federal programs for equal economic opportunity. Indian unemployment remained severe, however.

American Indians came more and more into public attention in the late 20th century as they sought (along with other minorities) to achieve a better life. Following the example set by black civil-rights activists of the 1960s, Indian groups drew attention to their cause through mass demonstrations and protests. Perhaps the most publicized of these actions were the 19-month seizure (1970-71) of Alcatraz Island in San Francisco Bay (California) by members of the militant American Indian Movement (AIM) and the February 1973 occupation of a settlement at the Oglala Sioux Pine Ridge (South Dakota) reservation; the latter incident was the second conflict to occur at Wounded Knee. Representing an attempt to gain a more traditional political power base was the establishment in 1971 of the National Tribal Chairman's Association, which eventually grew to include more than 100 tribes.

Indian leaders also expanded their sphere of influence into the courts; fishing, mineral, forest, casino gambling, and other rights involving tribal lands became the subject of litigation by the Puyallup (Washington state), the Northern Cheyenne (Montana), and the Penobscot and the Passamaquoddy (Maine), among others. Although control of economic resources was the focus of most such cases, some groups sought to regain sovereignty over ancient tribal lands of primarily ceremonial and religious significance.

Facts about American Indians today

Source: Bureau of Indian Affairs, U.S. Department of the Interior

Who is an Indian?

No single federal or tribal criterion establishes a person's identity as an Indian. Tribal membership is determined by the enrollment criteria of the tribe from which Indian blood may be derived, and this varies with each tribe. Generally, if linkage to an identified tribal member is far removed, one would not qualify for membership.

To be eligible for Bureau of Indian Affairs services, an Indian must (1) be a member of a tribe recognized by the federal government, (2) be of one-half or more Indian blood of tribes indigenous to the United States; or (3) must, for some purposes, be of one-fourth or more Indian ancestry. By legislative and administrative decision, the Aleuts, Eskimos and Indians of Alaska are eligible for BIA services. Most of the BIA's services and programs, however, are limited to Indians living on or near Indian reservations.

The Bureau of the Census counts anyone an Indian who declares himself or herself to be an Indian. In 1990 the Census figures showed there were 1,959,234 American Indians and Alaska Natives living in the United States (1,878,285 American Indians, 57,152 Eskimos, and 23,797 Aleuts). This is a 37.9 percent increase over the 1980 recorded total of 1,420,000. The increase is attributed to improved census taking and more self- identification during the 1990 count.

Why are Indians sometimes referred to as Native Americans?

The term, Native American, came into usage in the 1960s to denote the groups served by the Bureau of Indian Affairs: American Indians and Alaska Natives (Indians, Eskimos and Aleuts of Alaska). Later the term also included Native Hawaiians and Pacific Islanders in some federal programs. It, therefore, came into disfavor among some Indian groups. The preferred term is American Indian. The Eskimos and Aleuts in Alaska are two culturally distinct groups and are sensitive about being included under the Indian designation. They prefer Alaska Native.

How does one trace Indian ancestry and become a member of a tribe?

The first step in tracing Indian ancestry is basic genealogical research if one does not already have specific family information and documents that identify tribal ties. Some information to obtain is: names of ancestors; dates of birth; marriages and death; places where they lived; brothers and sisters, if any; and, most importantly, tribal affiliations. Among family documents to check are Bibles, wills, and other such papers. The next step is to determine whether one's ancestors are on an official tribal roll or census by contacting the tribe.

What is a federally recognized tribe?

There are more than 550 federally recognized tribes in the United States, including 223 village groups in Alaska. Federally recognized means these tribes and groups have a special, legal relationship with the U.S. government. This relationship is referred to as a government-to-government relationship.

A number of Indian tribes and groups in the U.S. do not have a federally recognized status, although some are state-recognized. This means they have no relations with the BIA or the programs it operates. A special program of the BIA, however, works with those groups seeking federal recognition status. Of the 150 petitions for federal recognition received by the BIA since 1978, 12 have received acknowledgment through the BIA process, two groups had their status clarified by the Department of the Interior through other means, and seven were restored or recognized by Congress.


In the U.S. there are only two kinds of reserved lands that are well-known: military and Indian. An Indian reservation is land reserved for a tribe when it relinquished its other land areas to the U.S. through treaties. More recently, Congressional acts, Executive Orders, and administrative acts have created reservations. Today some reservations have non-Indian residents and land owners.

There are approximately 275 Indian land areas in the U.S. administered as Indian reservations (reservations, pueblos, rancherias, communities, etc.). The largest is the Navajo Reservation of some 16 million acres of land in Arizona, New Mexico, and Utah. Many of the smaller reservations are less than 1,000 acres with the smallest less than 100 acres. On each reservation, the local governing authority is the tribal government.

Approximately 56.2 million acres of land are held in trust by the United States for various Indian tribes and individuals. Much of this is reservation land; however, not all reservation land is trust land. On behalf of the United States, the Secretary of the Interior serves as trustee for such lands with many routine trustee responsibilities delegated to BIA officials.

The states in which reservations are located have limited powers over them, and only as provided by federal law. On some reservations, however, a high percentage of the land is owned and occupied by non-Indians. Some 140 reservations have entirely tribally owned land.


Indians pay the same taxes as other citizens with the following exceptions: federal income taxes are not levied on income from trust lands held for them by the United States; state income taxes are not paid on income earned on an Indian reservation; state sales taxes are not paid by Indians on transactions made on an Indian reservation; and local property taxes are not paid on reservation or trust land.


As U.S. citizens, Indians are generally subject to federal, state, and local laws. On Indian reservations, however, only federal and tribal laws apply to members of the tribe unless the Congress provides otherwise. In federal law, the Assimilative Crimes Act makes any violation of state criminal law a federal offense on reservations. Most tribes now maintain tribal court systems and facilities to detain tribal members convicted of certain offenses within the boundaries of the reservation.

Language and Population

American Indian Languages

Spoken at Home by American Indian Persons 5 Years and Over in Households: 1990

Source: U.S. Census Bureau. The American Indian languages shown above are the major languages.

Many American places have been named after Indian words. In fact, about half of the states got their names from Indian words. Here are some:


Number of


All American Indian languages


Algonquian languages


Athapascan Eyak languages


Caddoan languages


Central and South American Indian languages




Hokan languages


Iroquoian languages




Muskogean languages


Penutian languages


Siouan languages


Tanoan languages






Uto-Aztecan languages


Wakashan and Salish languages




Unspecified American Indian languages



may come from Choctaw meaning thicket-clearers or vegetation-gatherers.


corruption of Aleut word meaning great land or that which the sea breaks against.


from the Indian Arizonac, meaning little spring or young spring.


from the Quapaw Indians

Chicago, Ill

Algonquian for "garlic field."

Chesapeake (bay)

Algonquian name of a village


from an Indian word (Quinnehtukqut) meaning beside the long tidal river.


from the Sioux tribe, meaning allies.


Algonquin for tribe of superior men.


meaning land of Indians.


probably from an Indian word meaning this is the place or the Beautiful Land.


from a Sioux word meaning people of the south wind.


from an Iroquoian word Ken-tah-ten meaning land of tomorrow.


from Massachusett tribe of Native Americans, meaning at or about the great hill.


from Indian word Michigana meaning great or large lake.


from a Dakota Indian word meaning sky-tinted water.


from an Indian word meaning Father of Waters.


believed to come from the Chumash Indians.


Algonquian, believed to mean "isolated thing in water."


Algonquian, believed to mean "a good spot or place."


named after the Missouri Indian tribe. Missouri means town of the large canoes.


named after the Indian tribe


from an Oto Indian word meaning flat water.


named after an Iroquoian town, "Ongiaahra."


from an Iroquoian word meaning great river.


from two Choctaw Indian words meaning red people.

Pensacola (Florida)

Choctaw for "hair" and "people."

Roanoke (Virginia)

Algonquian for "shell money" (Indian tribes often used shells that were made into beads called wampum, as money).

Saratoga (New York)

believed to be Mohawk for "springs (of water) from the hillside."

Sunapee (lake in New Hampshire)

Pennacook for "rocky pond."

Tahoe (the lake in California/Nevada)

is Washo for "big water."


of Cherokee origin; the exact meaning is unknown.


from an Indian word meaning friends.


is from the Ute tribe, meaning people of the mountains.


French corruption of an Indian word whose meaning is disputed.


from the Delaware Indian word, meaning mountains and valleys alternating; the same as the Wyoming Valley in Pennsylvania.

American Indian Loan Words

From their earliest contact with traders and explorers, American Indians borrowed foreign words, often to describe things not previously encountered. The language exchange went both ways. Today, thousands of place names across North America have Indian origins - as do hundreds of everyday English words.

Many of these "loan words" are nouns from the Algonquian languages that were once widespread along the Atlantic coast. English colonists, encountering unfamiliar plants and animalsamong them moose, opossum, and skunkborrowed Indian terms to name them. Pronunciations generally changed, and sometimes the newcomers shortened words they found difficult; for instance, "pocohiquara" became "hickory."

Some U.S. English Words with Indian Origins:

anorak from the Greenlandic Inuit "annoraq"

bayou from the Choctaw "bayuk"

chipmunk from the Ojibwa "ajidamoon," red squirrel

hickory from the Virginia Algonquian "pocohiquara"

hominy from the Virginia Algonquian "uskatahomen"

igloo from the Canadian Inuit "iglu," house

kayak from the Alaskan Yupik "qayaq"

moccasin from the Virginia Algonquian

moose from the Eastern Abenaki "mos"

papoose from the Narragansett "papoos," child

pecan from the Illinois "pakani"

powwow from the Narragansett "powwaw," shaman

quahog from the Narragansett "poquauhock"

squash from the Narragansett "askutasquash"

succotash from the Narragansett "msickquatash," boiled corn

tepee from the Sioux "tipi," dwelling

toboggan from the Micmac "topaghan"

tomahawk from the Virginia Algonquian "tamahaac"

totem from the Ojibwa "nindoodem," my totem

wampum from the Massachusett "wampumpeag"

wigwam from the Eastern Abenaki "wik'wom" Natives.


While the Indian population was never dense, the idea that the Indian has held his own, or even actually increased in number, is a serious error, founded on the fact that most official estimates begin with the federal period, when the native race was already wasted by nearly three centuries of white contact and in many regions entirely extinct. An additional source of error is that the law recognizes anyone of even remote Indian ancestry as entitled to Indian rights, including in this category, especially in the former "Five Civilized Nations" of Indian Territory (now Oklahoma), several thousand individuals whose claims have always been stoutly repudiated by the native tribal courts. Moreover, the original Indian was a full-blood, while his present-day representative has often so little aboriginal blood as to practically a white man or a negro. Many broken tribes of today contain not a single full-blood, and some few not even one of half Indian blood. The Cherokee Nation, officially reported to number 36,000 persons of pure or mixed Cherokee blood contains probably not 4000 of even fairly pure blood, the rest being all degrees of admixture even down to one-sixty-fourth or less of Indian blood, besides some 7000 claimants officially recognized, but repudiated by the former Indian Government. In Massachusetts an official census of 1860 reported a "Yartmouth tribe" of 105 persons, all descended from a single Indian woman with a negro husband residing there in 1797. It is obvious that the term Indian cannot properly be applied to such diluted mixtures.

The entire aboriginal population of Florida, of the mission period, numbering perhaps 30,000, is long since extinct without descendants, the Seminole being a later emigrations from the Creeks. The aborigines of South Carolina, counting in 1700 some fifteen tribes of which the Catawba, the largest tribe, numbered some six thousand souls, are represented today by about a hundred mixed blood Catawba, together with some scattered mongrels, whose original ancestry is a matter of doubt.

The same holds good upon the plains, The celebrated Pawnee tribe of some 10,000 souls in 1838 is now reduced to 650; the Kansas of 1500 within the same period have now 200 souls, and the aborigines of Texas, numbering in 1700 perhaps some 40,000 souls in many small tribes with distinct languages, is extinct except for some 900 Caddo, Wichita, and Tonkawa. The last-named, estimated at 1,000 in 1805, numbered 700 in 1849, 300 in 1861, 108 in 1882, and 48 in 1908, including several aliens. In California the aboriginal population has decreased within the same period from perhaps a quarter of a million to perhaps 15,000, and nearly the same proportion of decrease holds good along the whole Pacific coast into Alaska. Not only have tribes dwindled, but whole linguistic stocks have become extinct within the historic period. The only apparent exceptions to the general rule of decay are the Iroquois, Sioux, and Navaho, the first two of whom have kept up their number by wholesale adoptions, while the Navaho have been preserved by their isolation. The causes of decrease may be summarized as: (1) introduced diseases and dissipation, particularly smallpox, sexual disease, and whiskey; (2) wars, also hardship and general enfeeblement consequent upon frequent removals and enforced change from accustomed habitat. The present Indian population north of Mexico is approximately 400,000, or whom approximately 265,000 are within the United States proper.

Other native Americans

The Eskimo (Inuit and Yupiit) and Aleuts are people of the treeless shores and tundra-covered coastal hinterlands of northernmost North America and Greenland and the eastern tip of the Chukchi Peninsula of Siberia. Custom alone designates them Eskimo and Aleuts rather than American Indians like all other native Americans, from whom they are distinguished principally by their language.

The Eskimo are an Asian people who are distinguishable from the American Indians by their more Asian features, by the relative smallness of their hands and feet, and by a few less obvious traits.

Eskimo culture was totally adapted to an extremely cold, snow- and icebound environment in which vegetable foods were almost nonexistent, trees were scarce, and caribou, seal, walrus, and whale meat, whale blubber, and fish were the major food sources. The Eskimo used harpoons to kill seals, which they hunted either on the ice or from skin-covered, one-person canoes known as kayaks. Whales were hunted using larger boats called umiaks. In the summer most Eskimo families hunted caribou and other land animals with the help of bows and arrows. Dogsleds were the basic means of transport on land. Eskimo clothing was fashioned of caribou furs, which provided protection against the extreme cold. Most Eskimo wintered in either snow-block houses called igloos or semisubterranean houses of stone or sod over wooden or whalebone frameworks. In summer many Eskimo lived in animal-skin tents. Their b asic social and economic unit was the nuclear family, and their religion was animistic.

Eskimo life changed greatly in the 20th century owing to increased contacts with societies to the south. Snowmobiles have generally replaced dogs for land transport, and rifl es have replaced harpoons for hunting purposes. Outboard motors, store-bought clothing, and numerous other manufactured items have entered the culture, and money, unknown in traditional Eskimo economy, has become a necessity. Many Eskimo have abandoned their nomadic hunting pursuits to move into northern towns and cities or to work in mines and oil fields. Others, particularly in Canada, have formed cooperatives to market their handicrafts, fish catches, and ventures in tourism.

Aleut - a native of the Aleutian Islands and western portion of the Alaska Peninsula of northwest North America. Aleuts speak three mutually intelligible dialects and are closely related to the Eskimo in language, race, and culture. The earliest people, the Paleo-Aleuts, arrived in the Aleutian Islands from the Alaskan mainland about 2000 BC. The Aleuts hunted seals, sea otters, whales, sea lions, sometimes walrus, and, in some areas, caribou and bears. Fish, birds, and mollusks were also taken. One-man and two-man skin boats known as bidarkas, or kayaks, and large, open, skin boats (Eskimo umiaks) were used. Aleut women wove fine grass basketry; stone, bone, and ivory were also worked. Ancient Aleut villages were situated on the seashore near fresh water, with a good landing for boats and in a position safe from surprise attack from other Aleuts or neighbouring tribes. Villages were usually composed of related families. A chief might govern several villages or an island, but there was no chief over all Aleuts or even over several islands.


A long time ago North America was very different from the way it is today. There were no highways, cars, or cities. There were no schools, malls, or restaurants. But even long, long ago, there were still communities. People made their own homes, food, and clothing from the plants and animals they found around them.

Americans today owe a great deal to the First Americans. Over half of the states and many of the cities, rivers and streets still have Native Americans names. Nearly 550 Indian words are part of everyday English. Many foods, such as potatoes, corn, peanuts, turkey, tomatoes, cocoa, beans were borrowed by later settlers from the Native Americans. It was from the Indians that other Americans learned how to use rubber.

In fact without the help of the Native Americans many other early settlers might never have survived.

In conclusion I would like to cite the words of George W. Bush, todays President of the U.S., which he said in National American Indian Heritage Month proclamation, dated November 19, 2001:

As the early inhabitants of this great land, the native peoples of North America played a unique role in the shaping of our Nation's history and culture. During this month when we celebrate Thanksgiving, we especially celebrate their heritage and the contributions of American Indian and Alaska Native peoples to this Nation. [ ] American Indian and Alaska Native cultures have made remarkable contributions to our national identity. Their unique spiritual, artistic, and literary contributions, together with their vibrant customs and celebrations, enliven and enrich our land.

As we move into the 21st century, American Indians and Alaska Natives will play a vital role in maintaining our Nation's strength and prosperity. Almost half of America's Native American tribal leaders have served in the United States Armed Forces, following in the footsteps of their forebears who distinguished themselves during the World Wars and the conflicts in Korea, Vietnam, and the Persian Gulf. []

During National American Indian Heritage Month, I call on all Americans to learn more about the history and heritage of the Native peoples of this great land. Such actions reaffirm our appreciation and respect for their traditions and way of life and can help to preserve an important part of our culture for generations yet to come.

Encyclopaedia Britannica, electronic edition, 1999

Gilbert Legay, Atlas of Indians of Northern America, Barrons Educ, 1995

Keith C. Wilbur, The New England Indians, The Globe Pequot Press, 1978

Bryn OCalladhan, An Illustrated Hystory of the USA, Longman, 1990

V.M. Pavlotsky, American studies, Karo, St.- Pt., 2000

http://www.first-americans.spb.ru/n4/win/current.htm Russian Pages of American Indian Almanac

http://www.nativetech.org - Native American technologies and art

http://etext.virginia.edu/subjects/Native-American.html electronic texts by and about American Indians

http://www.si.edu/resource/faq/start.htm very useful encyclopaedia

http://www.ilt.columbia.edu/k12/naha/maps/nausa.html tribe finder

http://www.infoplease.com statistics and useful data

main sourses http://www.refcentr.ru/