Native Americans in the United States

Source: Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.

Native Americans
Proportion of Indigenous Americans in each of the 50 states, Washington, D.C., and Puerto Rico as of the 2020 census
Total population
American Indian and Alaska Native (2020 census)[1][2]
One race: 3,727,135 are registered
In combination with one or more of the other races listed: 5,938,923
Total: 9,666,058 ~ 2.9% of the total U.S. population.
Regions with significant populations
Predominantly in the Western and Midwestern United States
Native American languages
(including Navajo, Central Alaskan Yup'ik, Tlingit, Haida, Dakota, Seneca, Lakota, Western Apache, Keres, Cherokee, Choctaw, Creek, Kiowa, Comanche, Osage, Zuni, Pawnee, Shawnee, Winnebago, Ojibwe, Cree, O'odham[3])
Native Pidgin (extinct)
Related ethnic groups
Comanche Indians Chasing Buffalo with Lances and Bows, a mid-19th century portrait depicting the Comanche tribe by George Catlin, now on display at the Smithsonian American Art Museum in Washington, D.C.

Native Americans, sometimes called American Indians, First Americans, or Indigenous Americans, are the Indigenous peoples native to portions of the land that the United States is located on. At its core, it includes peoples indigenous to the lower 48 states plus Alaska; it may additionally include any Americans whose origins lie in any of the Indigenous peoples of North or South America. The United States Census Bureau publishes data about "American Indians and Alaska Natives", which it defines as anyone "having origins in any of the original peoples of North and South America (including Central America) and who maintains tribal affiliation or community attachment."[4] The census does not, however, enumerate "Native Americans" as such, noting that the latter term can encompass a broader set of groups, e.g. Native Hawaiians and other Pacific Islander Americans, which it tabulates separately.[5]

The European colonization of the Americas that began in 1492 resulted in a precipitous decline in the size of the Native American population because of newly introduced diseases, including weaponized diseases and biological warfare by European colonizers,[6][7][8][9][10] wars, ethnic cleansing, and enslavement. Numerous historians have classified the elements of colonization as comprising genocide. As part of a policy of white settler colonialism, European settlers continued to wage war and perpetrated massacres against Native American peoples, removed them from their ancestral lands, and subjected them to one-sided government treaties and discriminatory government policies. Into the 20th century, these later policies focused on forced assimilation.[11][12][13]

When the United States was established, Native American tribes were generally considered semi-independent nations, because they generally lived in communities which were separate from communities of white settlers. The federal government signed treaties at a government-to-government level until the Indian Appropriations Act of 1871 ended recognition of independent Native nations, and started treating them as "domestic dependent nations" subject to applicable federal laws. This law did preserve the rights and privileges agreed to under the treaties, including a large degree of tribal sovereignty. For this reason, many Native American reservations are still independent of state law and the actions of tribal citizens on these reservations are subject only to tribal courts and federal law, often differently applicable to tribal lands than to U.S. state or territory by exemption, exclusion, treaty, or superseding tribal or federal law. The Indian Citizenship Act of 1924 granted U.S. citizenship to all Native Americans born in the United States who had not yet obtained it. This emptied the "Indians not taxed" category established by the United States Constitution, allowed Natives to vote in state and federal elections, and extended the Fourteenth Amendment protections granted to people "subject to the jurisdiction" of the United States. However, some states continued to deny Native Americans voting rights for several decades. Titles II through VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1968 comprise the Indian Civil Rights Act, which applies to the Native American tribes of the United States and makes many but not all of the guarantees of the U.S. Bill of Rights applicable within the tribes (that Act appears today in Title 25, sections 1301 to 1303 of the United States Code).[14]

Since the 1960s, Native American self-determination movements have resulted in positive changes to the lives of many Native Americans, though there are still many contemporary issues faced by them. Today, there are over five million Native Americans in the United States, 78% of whom live outside reservations. The states with the highest percentage of Native Americans in the U.S. are Alaska, Oklahoma, New Mexico, South Dakota, Montana, and North Dakota.[15][16]


The cultural areas of Indigenous peoples of North America during the Pre-Columbian era, according to anthropologist Alfred Kroeber

Beginning toward the end of the 15th century, the migration of Europeans to the Americas led to centuries of population, cultural, and agricultural transfer and adjustment between Old and New World societies, a process known as the Columbian exchange. Because most Native American groups had previously preserved their histories by means of oral traditions and artwork, the first written accounts of the contact were provided by Europeans.[17]

Ethnographers commonly classify the Indigenous peoples of North America into ten geographical regions which are inhabited by groups of people who share certain cultural traits, called cultural areas.[18] Some scholars combine the Plateau and Great Basin regions into the Intermontane West, some separate Prairie peoples from Great Plains peoples, while some separate Great Lakes tribes from the Northeastern Woodlands. The ten cultural areas are:[citation needed]

At the time of the first contact, the Indigenous cultures were quite different from those of the proto-industrial and mostly Christian immigrants. Some Northeastern and Southwestern cultures, in particular, were matrilineal and they were organized and operated on a more collective basis than the culture which Europeans were familiar with. The majority of Indigenous American tribes treated their hunting grounds and their agricultural lands as pieces of land that could be used by their entire tribe. At that time, Europeans had cultures that had developed concepts of individual property rights with respect to land that were extremely different. The differences in cultures between the established Native Americans and immigrant Europeans, as well as the shifting alliances among different nations during periods of warfare, caused extensive political tension, ethnic violence, and social disruption.[citation needed]

Native Americans suffered high fatality rates from contact with European diseases that were new to them, and to which they had not yet acquired immunity; the diseases were endemic to the Spanish and other Europeans, and were spread by direct contact — probably primarily contact with domesticated pigs that had been brought over by European expeditions and had then escaped.[19] Smallpox epidemics are thought to have caused the greatest loss of life for Indigenous populations. As William M. Denevan, a noted author and professor emeritus of geography at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, in "The Pristine Myth: The Landscape of the Americas in 1492": "The decline of native American populations was rapid and severe, probably the greatest demographic disaster ever. Old World diseases were the primary killer. In many regions, particularly the tropical lowlands, populations fell by 90 percent or more in the first century after the contact."[20][21]

Estimates of pre-Columbian population of the area that today is the United States vary considerably. They range from William M. Denevan's estimate of 3.8 million- in his 1992 work, The Native Population of the Americas in 1492-to Henry F. Dobyns's 18 million in his 1983 work,Their Number Become Thinned.[19][20][22][23] Because Henry F. Dobyns' is by far the highest single-point estimate among professional academic researchers, it has been criticized as "politically motivated".[19] Dobyns' most vehement critic is perhaps David Henige, a bibliographer of African literature at the University of Wisconsin, whose Numbers From Nowhere (1998)[24] has been jocularly described as "a landmark in the literature of demographic fulmination".[19] Henige writes of Dobyns' work, "Suspect in 1966, it is no less suspect nowadays … If anything, it is worse."[19]

Historian Jeffrey Ostler highlights European colonization as the primary cause for the Native American population decline due to the disruption it caused to Native communities. Ostler writes: "Most Indigenous communities were eventually afflicted by a variety of diseases, but in many cases this happened long after Europeans first arrived. When severe epidemics did hit, it was often less because Native bodies lack immunity than because European colonialism disrupted Native Communities and damaged their resources, making them more vulnerable to pathogens."[25]

After the thirteen British colonies revolted against Great Britain and established the United States, President George Washington and Secretary of War Henry Knox conceived the idea of "civilizing" Native Americans in preparation for their assimilation as U.S. citizens.[26][27][28][29][30] Assimilation, whether it was voluntary, as it was with the Choctaw,[31][32] or forced, was consistently maintained as a matter of policy by a number of consecutive American administrations.

During the 19th century, the ideology known as manifest destiny became integral to the American nationalist movement. Westward expansion of European American populations after the American Revolution resulted in increasing pressure on Native Americans and their lands, warfare, and rising tensions. In 1830, the U.S. Congress passed the Indian Removal Act, authorizing the federal government to relocate Native Americans from their homelands within established states to lands west of the Mississippi River, in order to accommodate continued European American expansion. This resulted in what amounted to the ethnic cleansing or genocide of many tribes, who were subjected to brutal forced marches. The most infamous of these came to be known as the Trail of Tears.

Contemporary Native Americans have a unique relationship with the United States because they may be members of nations, tribes, or bands that have sovereignty and treaty rights upon which federal Indian law and a federal Indian trust relationship are based.[33] Cultural activism since the late 1960s has increased the participation of Indigenous peoples in American politics. It has also led to expanded efforts to teach and preserve Indigenous languages for younger generations, and to establish a more robust cultural infrastructure: Native Americans have founded independent newspapers and online media outlets, including First Nations Experience, the first Native American television channel;[34] established Native American studies programs, tribal schools universities, museums, and language programs. Literature is at the growing forefront of American Indian studies in many genres, with the notable exception of fiction—some traditional American Indians experience fictional narratives as insulting when they conflict with traditional oral tribal narratives.[35]

The terms used to refer to Native Americans have at times been controversial. The ways Native Americans refer to themselves vary by region and generation, with many older[citation needed] Native Americans self-identifying as "Indians" or "American Indians", while younger[citation needed] Native Americans often identify as "Indigenous" or "Aboriginal". The term "Native American" has not traditionally included Native Hawaiians or certain Alaskan Natives,[36] such as Aleut, Yup'ik, or Inuit peoples. By comparison, the Indigenous peoples of Canada are generally known as First Nations, Inuit and Métis (FNIM).[citation needed]


Settlement of the Americas

A map showing the approximate location of the ice-free corridor and Paleo-Indian settlements during the era of Clovis culture

It is not definitively known how or when the Native Americans first emerged from, or settled, in the Americas and present-day United States. The most popular theory is that people migrated from Eurasia across Beringia, a land bridge that connected Siberia to present-day Alaska, and then spread southward throughout the Americas over subsequent generations.[37] The 2021 findings of fossilized human footprints in relict lake sediments near White Sands National Park in present-day New Mexico suggest a human presence there dating back to the Last Glacial Maximum (LGM), between 18,000 and 26,000 years ago.[38][39][40] This age is based on a well-constrained stratigraphic record and radiocarbon dating of seeds in the sediments. Pre-LGM migration across Beringia has also been proposed to explain purported pre-LGM ages of archaeological sites in the Americas such as Bluefish Caves[41][42] in the Yukon Territory, and Meadowcroft Rock Shelter in Pennsylvania.[43][44]

Genetic evidence has suggested at least three waves of migrants arrived from East Asia, with the first occurring at least 15,000 years ago.[45] These migrations may have begun as early as 30,000 years ago[46] and continued to about 10,000 years ago, when the land bridge became submerged by the rising sea level at the onset of the current interglacial period.[47]

In November 2018, scientists of the University of São Paulo and Harvard University released a study of Luzia Woman, an 11,500-year-old skeleton of a Paleo-Indian woman who was found in a cave in Brazil. While initially believed to be part of the wave of Asian migrants, DNA and other evidence have shown this to be improbable. Using DNA sequencing, the results showed that Luzia was "entirely Amerindian", genetically.[48][49][50]

Pre-Columbian era

The pre-Columbian era incorporates all period subdivisions in the history and prehistory of the Americas before the appearance of significant European influences on the American continents, spanning the time of the original settlement in the Upper Paleolithic period to European colonization during the early modern period. While technically referring to the era before Christopher Columbus' 1492 arrival on the continent, in practice the term usually includes the history of Indigenous cultures until they were conquered or significantly influenced by Europeans, even if this happened decades, or even centuries, after Columbus' initial landing.[citation needed]

Native American cultures are not normally included in characterizations of advanced Stone Age cultures as "Neolithic", which is a category that more often includes only the cultures in Eurasia, Africa, and other regions. The archaeological periods used are the classifications of archaeological periods and cultures established in Gordon Willey and Philip Phillips' 1958 book Method and Theory in American Archaeology. They divided the archaeological record in the Americas into five phases.[51]

Lithic stage

A Folsom point used as a spear by Paleo-Indians during the Folsom tradition era between c. 10800 BCE and c. 10200 BCE

Numerous Paleo-Indian cultures occupied North America, with some arrayed around the Great Plains and Great Lakes of the modern United States and Canada, as well as areas to the West and Southwest. According to the oral histories of many of the Indigenous peoples, they have been living on this continent since their genesis, described by a wide range of traditional creation stories. Other tribes have stories that recount migrations across long tracts of land and a great river believed to be the Mississippi River.[52]

Archeological evidence at the Gault site near Austin, Texas, suggests that pre-Clovis peoples settled in present-day Texas some 16,000–20,000 years ago. Evidence of pre-Clovis cultures has also been found in the Paisley Caves in south-central Oregon and butchered mastodon bones in a sinkhole near Tallahassee, Florida. More convincingly but also controversially, another pre-Clovis has been discovered at Monte Verde in Chile.[53]

The Clovis culture, a megafauna hunting culture, is primarily identified by the use of fluted spear points. Artifacts from this culture were first excavated in 1932 near Clovis, New Mexico. The Clovis culture ranged over much of North America and parts of South America. The culture is identified by the distinctive Clovis point, a flaked flint spear-point with a notched flute, by which it was inserted into a shaft. The dating of Clovis materials has been by association with animal bones and by the use of carbon dating methods. Recent reexaminations of Clovis materials using improved carbon-dating methods produced results of 11,050 and 10,800 radiocarbon years B.P. (roughly 9100 to 8850 BCE).[54]

The Folsom tradition was characterized by the use of Folsom points as projectile tips and activities known from kill sites, where slaughter and butchering of bison took place. Folsom tools were left behind between 9000 BCE and 8000 BCE.[55]

Na-Dené-speaking peoples entered North America starting around 8000 BCE, reaching the Pacific Northwest by 5000 BCE,[56] and from there migrating along the Pacific Coast and into the interior. Linguists, anthropologists, and archaeologists believe their ancestors comprised a separate migration into North America, later than the first Paleo-Indians. They migrated into Alaska and northern Canada, south along the Pacific Coast, into the interior of Canada, and south to the Great Plains and the American Southwest. Na-Dené-speaking peoples were the earliest ancestors of the Athabascan-speaking peoples, including the present-day and historical Navajo and Apache. They constructed large multi-family dwellings in their villages, which were used seasonally. People did not live there year-round, but for the summer to hunt and fish, and to gather food supplies for the winter.[57]

Archaic period

Since the 1990s, archaeologists have explored and dated eleven Middle Archaic sites in present-day Louisiana and Florida at which early cultures built complexes with multiple earthwork mounds; they were societies of hunter-gatherers rather than the settled agriculturalists believed necessary according to the theory of Neolithic Revolution to sustain such large villages over long periods. The prime example is Watson Brake in northern Louisiana, whose 11-mound complex is dated to 3500 BCE, making it the oldest, dated site in North America for such complex construction.[58] It is nearly 2,000 years older than the Poverty Point site. Construction of the mounds went on for 500 years until the site was abandoned about 2800 BCE, probably due to changing environmental conditions.[59]

The Oshara tradition people lived from around 5,440 BCE to 460 CE. They were part of the Southwestern Archaic tradition centered in north-central New Mexico, the San Juan Basin, the Rio Grande Valley, southern Colorado, and southeastern Utah.[60][61][62]

Poverty Point culture is a Late Archaic archaeological culture that inhabited the area of the lower Mississippi Valley and surrounding Gulf Coast. The culture thrived from 2200 BCE to 700 BCE, during the Late Archaic period.[63] Evidence of this culture has been found at more than 100 sites, from the major complex at Poverty Point, Louisiana (a UNESCO World Heritage Site) across a 100-mile (160 km) range to the Jaketown Site near Belzoni, Mississippi.

Post-archaic period

Shriver Circle Earthworks and the Mound City Group (on the left), c. 200 BCE to c. 500 CE, depicted in a 2019 portrait
A 2013 illustration of Cahokia, the largest Mississippian culture site, c. 1050 CE to c. 1350 CE
Native Americans from southeast Idaho, in a photo by Benedicte Wrensted, c. 1897

The Formative, Classic, and post-Classic stages are sometimes incorporated together as the Post-archaic period, which runs from 1,000 BCE onward.[64] Sites & cultures include: Adena, Old Copper, Oasisamerica, Woodland, Fort Ancient, Hopewell tradition and Mississippian cultures.

The Woodland period of North American pre-Columbian cultures refers to the time period from roughly 1000 BCE to 1000 CE in the eastern part of North America. The Eastern Woodlands cultural region covers what is now eastern Canada south of the Subarctic region, the Eastern United States, along to the Gulf of Mexico.[65] The Hopewell tradition describes the common aspects of the culture that flourished along rivers in the northeastern and midwestern United States from 100 BCE to 500 CE, in the Middle Woodland period. The Hopewell tradition was not a single culture or society, but a widely dispersed set of related populations. They were connected by a common network of trade routes.[66][67] This period is considered a developmental stage without any massive changes in a short period, but instead having a continuous development in stone and bone tools, leather working, textile manufacture, tool production, cultivation, and shelter construction.[66]

The Mississippian culture was a mound-building Native American civilization archaeologists date from approximately 800 CE to 1600 CE, varying regionally.[68] It was composed of a series of urban settlements and satellite villages (suburbs) linked together by a loose trading network,[69] the largest city being Cahokia, believed to be a major religious center. The civilization flourished in what is now the Midwestern, Eastern, and Southeastern United States.[70][71]

Numerous pre-Columbian societies were sedentary, such as the Pueblo peoples, Mandan, Hidatsa and others, and some established large settlements, even cities, such as Cahokia, in what is now Illinois. The Iroquois League of Nations or "People of the Long House" was a politically advanced, democratic society, which is thought by some historians to have influenced the United States Constitution,[72][73] with the Senate passing a resolution to this effect in 1988.[74] Other historians have contested this interpretation and believe the impact was minimal, or did not exist, pointing to numerous differences between the two systems and the ample precedents for the constitution in European political thought.[75][76][77]

European exploration and colonization

A map showing the approximate locations of Native American nations in present-day North America, c. 16th century
Spanish Empire explorer Hernando DeSoto greeting Native Americans on the Mississippi River, c. 1541, depicted in an 1853 portrait by William Henry Powell, which now hangs in the United States Capitol rotunda in Washington, D.C.

After 1492, European exploration and colonization of the Americas revolutionized how the Old and New Worlds perceived themselves. Many of the first major contacts were in Florida and the Gulf coast by Spanish explorers.[78]

The use of the doctrine of discovery

During European exploration and colonization of the Americas, the Europeans adopted the use of the doctrine of discovery, which involves a nation "discovering" land and claiming the rights to that land. There are two significant elements of the Doctrine that directly relate to the claim of Native lands; these elements are Christianity and Civilization. The Doctrine involved non-Christian peoples not having the same rights to lands as Christians. As Indigenous peoples were not Christian, Europeans used that as justification to declare rights to Indigenous lands. Europeans saw Indigenous peoples as "uncivilized savages"; therefore, civilization was a crucial aspect of the Discovery. The Europeans believed God intended them to bring civilization to the Indigenous peoples and their lands.[79]

Impact on native populations

Early Native American tribal territories in a 1967 United States Geological Survey color-coded map

From the 16th through the 19th centuries, the population of Native Americans sharply declined.[80] Most mainstream scholars believe that, among the various contributing factors,[81] epidemic disease (e.g. smallpox) was the overwhelming cause of the population decline of the Native Americans because of their lack of immunity to new diseases brought from Europe.[82][83][84][85][86] It is difficult to estimate the number of pre-Columbian Native Americans who were living in what is today the United States of America.[87] Estimates ranged from a low of 720,000 (Kroeber 1939) to a high of 15 million (Dobyns 1983), with a reanalysis estimating 5.65 million (Thornton 1990).[88][22][89] By 1800, the Native population of the present-day United States had declined to approximately 600,000, and only 250,000 Native Americans remained in the 1890s.[90] Chicken pox and measles, endemic but rarely fatal among Europeans (long after being introduced from Asia), often proved deadly to Native Americans.[91][92][93][94] In the 100 years following the arrival of the Spanish to the Americas, large disease epidemics depopulated large parts of the eastern United States in the 16th century.[95]

Historian Dina Gilio-Whitaker emphasizes the effects of European colonization on the Native population decline due to the destruction of Native land and resources, which destroyed Native ways of life. She highlights the common and violent ways militia would force Native Americans from their lands. Native populations were forcibly expelled from their lands to the west, detrimentally harming their populations. Gilio-Whitaker describes how during the California genocide "rape was rampant, and children were always under threat of kidnapping to be sold into California's legalized slave trade." The Medicine Lodge Treaty of 1867 "removed Comanches, Kiowas, and Kiowa Apaches (Plains Apache) from their territories in Texas, confining them to reservations in Oklahoma, where starvation and illness dramatically reduced their populations."[96]

The best-attested example of possible intentional spread of smallpox occurred in 1763, when William Trent and Simeon Ecuyer, a Swiss mercenary in British service, may have given items from a smallpox infirmary as gifts to Native American emissaries with the hope of spreading the deadly disease to nearby tribes. The effectiveness is unknown, although it is known that the method used is inefficient compared to respiratory transmission and these attempts to spread the disease are difficult to differentiate from epidemics occurring from previous contacts with colonists.[97]

In 1837, Mandan Native Americans at Fort Clark fell victim to a smallpox epidemic; some scholars have claimed they were intentionally infected with smallpox blankets.[98][99][100][101][102]

In 1634, Andrew White of the Society of Jesus established a mission in what is now the state of Maryland, and the purpose of the mission, stated through an interpreter to the chief of an Indian tribe there, was "to extend civilization and instruction to his ignorant race, and show them the way to heaven".[103] White's diaries report that by 1640, a community had been founded which they named St. Mary's, and the Indians were sending their children there "to be educated among the English".[104] This included the daughter of the Piscataway Indian chief Tayac, which exemplifies not only a school for Indians, but either a school for girls or an early co-ed school. The same records report that in 1677, "a school for humanities was opened by our Society in the centre of [Maryland], directed by two of the Fathers; and the native youth, applying themselves assiduously to study, made good progress. Maryland and the recently established school sent two boys to St. Omer who yielded in abilities to few Europeans, when competing for the honor of being first in their class. So that not gold, nor silver, nor the other products of the earth alone, but men also are gathered from thence to bring those regions, which foreigners have unjustly called ferocious, to a higher state of virtue and cultivation."[105]

Through the mid-17th century, the Beaver Wars were fought over the fur trade between the Iroquois and the Hurons, the northern Algonquians, and their French allies. During the war the Iroquois destroyed several large tribal confederacies, including the Huron, Neutral, Erie, Susquehannock, and Shawnee, and became dominant in the region and enlarged their territory.

In 1727, the Sisters of the Order of Saint Ursula founded Ursuline Academy in New Orleans, which is currently the oldest continuously operating school for girls and the oldest Catholic school in the United States. From the time of its foundation, it offered the first classes for Native American girls, and would later offer classes for female African American slaves and free women of color.

An 1882 studio portrait of the last three surviving Six Nations warriors who fought with the British in the War of 1812; John Smoke Johnson, a Mohawk leader in Canada, appears on the left.

Between 1754 and 1763, many Native American tribes were involved in the French and Indian War/Seven Years' War. Those involved in the fur trade tended to ally with French forces against British colonial militias. The British had made fewer allies, but it was joined by some tribes that wanted to prove assimilation and loyalty in support of treaties to preserve their territories. They were often disappointed when such treaties were later overturned. The tribes had their own purposes, using their alliances with the European powers to battle traditional Native enemies. Some Iroquois who were loyal to the British and helped them fight in the American Revolution, fled north into Canada.

After European explorers reached the West Coast in the 1770s, smallpox rapidly killed at least 30% of Northwest Coast Native Americans. For the next eighty to one hundred years, smallpox and other diseases devastated native populations in the region.[106] Puget Sound area populations, once estimated as high as 37,000 people, were reduced to only 9,000 survivors by the time settlers arrived en masse in the mid-19th century.[107]

Smallpox epidemics in 1780–1782 and 1837–1838 brought devastation and drastic depopulation among the Plains Indians.[108][109] By 1832, the federal government established a smallpox vaccination program for Native Americans (The Indian Vaccination Act of 1832). It was the first federal program created to address a health problem of Native Americans.[110][111]

Animal introductions

With the meeting of two worlds, animals, insects, and plants were carried from one to the other, both deliberately and by chance, in what is called the Columbian Exchange.[112] In the 16th century, Spaniards and other Europeans brought horses to Mexico. Some of the horses escaped and began to breed and increase their numbers in the wild. As Native Americans adopted use of the animals, they began to change their cultures in substantial ways, especially by extending their nomadic ranges for hunting. The reintroduction of the horse to North America had a profound impact on Native American culture of the Great Plains.

17th century

King Philip's War

King Philip's War, also called Metacom's War or Metacom's Rebellion, was the last major armed[113] conflict between Native American inhabitants of present-day southern New England and English colonists and their Native American allies from 1675 to 1676. It continued in northern New England (primarily on the Maine frontier) even after King Philip was killed, until a treaty was signed at Casco Bay in April 1678.[114]

18th century

Natural society

The Treaty of Penn with the Indians a 1771 portrait by Benjamin West depicting William Penn and Tamanend, a Lenape chief, entering into the Treaty of Shackamaxon in present-day Philadelphia

Some European philosophers considered Native American societies to be truly "natural" and representative of a golden age known to them only in folk history.[115]

American Revolution

Yamacraw Native Americans meet with the trustee of the colonial-era Province of Georgia in England in July 1734, depicted in a portrait showing a Native American boy (in blue coat) and woman (in red dress) in European clothing; the portrait includes James Oglethorpe, the British founder of the Province of Georgia, and Tomochichi, chief of the Yamacraw tribe.

During the American Revolution, American patriots competed with British colonialists for the allegiance of Native American nations east of the Mississippi River. Most Native Americans who joined the struggle sided with the British, based both on their trading relationships and hopes that a United States defeat would result in a halt to further expansion onto Native American land. The first native community to sign a treaty with the new United States Government was the Lenape.

In 1779, the Sullivan Expedition was carried out during the American Revolutionary War against the British and the four allied nations of the Iroquois. George Washington gave orders that made it clear he wanted the Iroquois threat eliminated:

The Expedition you are appointed to command is to be directed against the hostile tribes of the Six Nations of Indians, with their associates and adherents. The immediate objects are the total destruction and devastation of their settlements, and the capture of as many prisoners of every age and sex as possible. It will be essential to ruin their crops now in the ground and prevent their planting more.[116]

The British made peace with the Americans in the Treaty of Paris (1783), through which they ceded vast Native American territories to the United States without informing or consulting with the Native Americans.

United States

Benjamin Hawkins, a delegate to the Continental Congress in Philadelphia, teaches Creek Native Americans near Flint River in Georgia how to use European technology, depicted in an 1805 portrait

Settlers from New England and new immigrants to the United States were eager to expand their settlements, develop farming and hunting grounds in areas new to them, and to satisfy their ever-increasing land hunger. The national government initially sought to purchase Native American land by treaties. Settlers continually violated these treaties.[117]

United States policy toward Native Americans continued to change after the American Revolution. George Washington and Henry Knox believed that Native Americans were equals but that their society was inferior. Washington formulated a policy to encourage the "civilizing" process.[27] Washington had a six-point plan for this, which included:

  1. Impartial justice toward Native Americans
  2. Regulated buying of Native American lands
  3. Promotion of commerce
  4. Promotion of experiments to civilize or improve Native American society
  5. Presidential authority to give presents
  6. Punishing those who violated Native American rights.[29]

In the late 18th century, reformers, starting with Washington and Knox,[118] supported educating Native American children and adults in European ways, in efforts to "civilize" or otherwise assimilate them into the larger society (as opposed to relegating them to reservations). The Civilization Fund Act of 1819 promoted this civilization policy by providing funding to societies (mostly religious) who worked towards what they defined as "Native American improvement".[119]

19th century

A map of Native American-controlled territories in the Western United States as of 1836

The population of California Indians was reduced by 90% during the 19th century—from more than 250,000 to 200,000 in the early 19th century to approximately 15,000 at the end of the century, mostly due to disease.[120][121][122] Epidemics swept through California Indian Country, such as the 1833 malaria epidemic.[123] The population went into decline as a result of the Spanish authorities forcing Native Californians to live in the missions where they contracted diseases from which they had little immunity. Cook estimates that 15,250 or 45% of the population decrease in the Missions was caused by disease. Two epidemics of measles, one in 1806 and the other in 1828, caused many deaths. The mortality rates were so high that the missions were constantly dependent upon new conversions.[124] During the California Gold Rush, many natives were killed by incoming settlers as well as by militia units financed and organized by the California government.[125] Some scholars contend that the state financing of these militias, as well as the US government's role in other massacres in California, such as the Bloody Island and Yontoket Massacres, in which up to 400 or more natives were killed in each massacre, constitutes a campaign of genocide against the Indigenous peoples of California.[126][127]

Westward expansion

Tecumseh, the Shawnee leader of Tecumseh's War who attempted to organize an alliance of Native American tribes throughout North America.[128]

As American expansion continued, Native Americans resisted settlers' encroachment in several regions of the new nation (and in unorganized territories), from the Northwest to the Southeast, and then in the West, as settlers encountered the Native American tribes of the Great Plains. East of the Mississippi River, an intertribal army led by Tecumseh, a Shawnee chief, fought a number of engagements in the Northwest during the period 1811–1812, known as Tecumseh's War. During the War of 1812, Tecumseh's forces allied themselves with the British. After Tecumseh's death, the British ceased to aid the Native Americans south and west of Upper Canada and American expansion proceeded with little resistance. Conflicts in the Southeast include the Creek War and Seminole Wars, both before and after the Indian removals of most members of the Five Civilized Tribes.

In the 1830s, President Andrew Jackson signed the Indian Removal Act of 1830, a policy of forcing Indians from their homelands to new Indian Territory and reservations in surrounding areas that lacked the kinship and non-human relationships that they once had with their homeland, to commodify their lands for non-native settlements. [129] This resulted in the Trail of Tears.

The Rescue sculpture stood outside the U.S. Capitol between 1853 and 1958. A work commissioned by the U.S. government, its sculptor Horatio Greenough wrote that it was "to convey the idea of the triumph of the whites over the savage tribes".[130]

In July 1845, the New York newspaper editor John L. O'Sullivan coined the phrase, "Manifest Destiny", as the "design of Providence" supporting the territorial expansion of the United States.[131] Manifest Destiny had serious consequences for Native Americans, since continental expansion for the U.S. took place at the cost of their occupied land.[132] A justification for the policy of conquest and subjugation of the Indigenous people emanated from the stereotyped perceptions of all Native Americans as "merciless Indian savages" (as described in the United States Declaration of Independence).[133] Sam Wolfson in The Guardian writes, "The declaration's passage has often been cited as an encapsulation of the dehumanizing attitude toward Indigenous Americans that the US was founded on."[134]

The Indian Appropriations Act of 1851 set the precedent for modern-day Native American reservations through allocating funds to move western tribes onto reservations since there were no more lands available for relocation.

Native American nations on the plains in the west continued armed conflicts with the U.S. throughout the 19th century, through what were called generally Indian Wars.[135] Notable conflicts in this period include the Dakota War, Great Sioux War, Snake War, Colorado War, and Texas-Indian Wars. Expressing the frontier anti-Indian sentiment, Theodore Roosevelt believed the Indians were destined to vanish under the pressure of white civilization, stating in an 1886 lecture:

I don't go so far as to think that the only good Indians are dead Indians, but I believe nine out of ten are, and I shouldn't like to inquire too closely into the case of the tenth.[136]

A mass grave for the dead Lakota after the Wounded Knee Massacre, which took place on December 29, 1890, during the Indian Wars

One of the last and most notable events during the Indian wars was the Wounded Knee Massacre in 1890.[137] In the years leading up to it the U.S. government had continued to seize Lakota lands. A Ghost Dance ritual on the Northern Lakota reservation at Wounded Knee, South Dakota, led to the U.S. Army's attempt to subdue the Lakota. The dance was part of a religious movement founded by the Northern Paiute spiritual leader Wovoka that told of the return of the Messiah to relieve the suffering of Native Americans and promised that if they would live righteous lives and perform the Ghost Dance properly, the European American colonists would vanish, the bison would return, and the living and the dead would be reunited in an Edenic world.[137] On December 29 at Wounded Knee, gunfire erupted, and U.S. soldiers killed up to 300 Indians, mostly old men, women, and children.[137]

Days after the massacre, the author L. Frank Baum wrote:

The Pioneer has before declared that our only safety depends upon the total extermination of the Indians. Having wronged them for centuries, we had better, in order to protect our civilization, follow it up by one more wrong and wipe these untamed and untamable creatures from the face of the earth.[138]

American Civil War

Ely Parker of the Seneca was a Union Army general during the American Civil War who was asked by then U.S. President Ulysses S. Grant to author the terms of surrender between the United States and the Confederacy.[139]

Native Americans served in both the Union and Confederate military during the American Civil War. At the outbreak of the war, for example, the minority party of the Cherokee gave its allegiance to the Confederacy, while originally the majority party went for the North.[140] Native Americans fought knowing they might jeopardize their independence, unique cultures, and ancestral lands if they ended up on the losing side of the Civil War.[140][141] 28,693 Native Americans served in the Union and Confederate armies during the Civil War, participating in battles such as Pea Ridge, Second Manassas, Antietam, Spotsylvania, Cold Harbor, and in federal assaults on Petersburg.[141][142] A few Native American tribes, such as the Creek and the Choctaw, were slaveholders and found a political and economic commonality with the Confederacy.[143] The Choctaw owned over 2,000 slaves.[144]

Removals and reservations

In the 19th century, the incessant westward expansion of the United States incrementally compelled large numbers of Native Americans to resettle further west, often by force, almost always reluctantly. Native Americans believed this forced relocation illegal, given the Treaty of Hopewell of 1785. Under President Andrew Jackson, United States Congress passed the Indian Removal Act of 1830, which authorized the President to conduct treaties to exchange Native American land east of the Mississippi River for lands west of the river.

As many as 100,000 Native Americans relocated to the West as a result of this Indian removal policy. In theory, relocation was supposed to be voluntary and many Native Americans did remain in the East. In practice, great pressure was put on Native American leaders to sign removal treaties. The most egregious violation, the Trail of Tears, was the removal of the Cherokee by President Jackson to Indian Territory.[145] In 1864, 9,000 Navajos were forced by the U.S. government to an internment camp in Bosque Redondo,[146] where, under armed guards, up to 3,500 Navajo and Mescalero Apache men, women, and children died from starvation and disease over the next 4 years. The interned Navajo were allowed to return to their ancestral homeland in 1868.[146]

Native Americans and U.S. citizenship

In 1817, the Cherokee became the first Native Americans recognized as U.S. citizens. Under Article 8 of the 1817 Cherokee treaty, "Upwards of 300 Cherokees (Heads of Families) in the honest simplicity of their souls, made an election to become American citizens".[32][147]

Factors establishing citizenship included:

  1. Treaty provision (as with the Cherokee)
  2. Registration and land allotment under the Dawes Act of February 8, 1887
  3. Issuance of patent in fee simple
  4. Adopting habits of civilized life
  5. Minor children
  6. Citizenship by birth
  7. Becoming soldiers and sailors in the U.S. Armed Forces
  8. Marriage to a U.S. citizen
  9. Special act of Congress.

After the American Civil War, the Civil Rights Act of 1866 states, "that all persons born in the United States, and not subject to any foreign power, excluding Indians not taxed, are hereby declared to be citizens of the United States".[148]

Indian Appropriations Act of 1871

In 1871, Congress added a rider to the Indian Appropriations Act, signed into law by President Ulysses S. Grant, ending United States recognition of additional Native American tribes or independent nations, and prohibiting additional treaties.[149]

Historical education

Young girls posed in room

After the Indian wars in the late 19th century, the government established Native American boarding schools, initially run by Christian missionaries, but eventually by other religious organizations, as well.[150] At this time, the majority of non-Native American society thought that Native American children needed to be acculturated to the mainstream society, and assimilated into white culture.[151]

Indigenous children were forcibly removed from their families and admitted to these boarding schools. They were forced to abandon their cultural traditions, and were taught about American ideas of refinement and civilization.[152] They were given white names, had their hair cut and traditional clothing taken away, were forced to speak English and beaten when they would not comply.[153][154] They were forced to practice Christianity and not allowed to practice their Indigenous religions, and in numerous other ways forced to abandon their Native American identities.[155][156] While their parents were told the schools were for scholastic pursuits, many of them were more like work farms, with "classes" on how to conduct manual labor such as farming and housekeeping. When they were not in class, they were expected to maintain the upkeep of the schools. Unclean and overpopulated living conditions led to the spread of disease and many students did not receive enough food. Bounties were offered for students who tried to run away and many students committed suicide. Students who died were sometimes placed in coffins and buried in the school cemetery by their own classmates.[153] This forced assimilation increased substance abuse and suicides among these students as they suffered mental illnesses such as depression and PTSD. These illnesses also increased the risk of developing cardiovascular diseases.[152]

The sexual abuse of Indigenous children in boarding schools was perpetrated by the administrators of these programs. Teachers, nuns, and priests performed these acts upon their students. Children were touched and molested to be used as pleasure by these mentors who were supposed to educate them. Several mentors considered these students as objects and sexually abused them by forming rotations to switch in and out whenever they were done sexually tormenting the next student. These adults also used sexual abuse as a form of embarrassment towards each other. In tracing the path of violence, several students experienced an assault that, "can only be described as unconscionable, it was a violation not only of a child's body but an assault on their spirit". This act created a majority among the children who were victims in silence. This recurred in boarding schools across the nation in different scenarios. These include boys being sexually assaulted on their 13th birthdays to girls being forcibly taken at night by the priest to be used as objects.[157]

Before the 1930s, schools on the reservations provided no formal schooling beyond what the settlers considered the sixth grade. To obtain more formal education, that would enable them to get jobs among the settlers, the children were often sent to boarding school.[158] Small reservations with a few hundred people usually sent their children to nearby public schools.

The "Indian New Deal" of the 1930s closed many of the boarding schools, and downplayed the assimilationist goals, however some of the schools stayed open well into the 20th Century.[159]

The Indian Division of the Civilian Conservation Corps operated large-scale construction projects on the reservations, building thousands of new schools and community buildings. Under the leadership of John Collier the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) brought in settler teachers to reshape Indian education. The BIA by 1938 taught 30,000 students in 377 boarding and day schools, or 40% of all Indian children in school. The Navajo largely opposed schooling of any sort, but the other tribes accepted the system. There were now high schools on larger reservations, educating not only teenagers but also an adult audience. There were no Indian facilities for higher education.[160][161]

Since the rise of self-determination for Native Americans, and the revealing of the abuse that took place at the boarding schools, Native American communities now have their own schools, many of which additionally include tribal languages and culture, and tribal history in the curriculum. Beginning in the 1970s, tribes have also founded colleges at their reservations, controlled, and operated by Native Americans, to educate youth for jobs as well as to pass on their cultures. Circa 2020, the Bureau of Indian Education operates approximately 183[162] schools, primarily non-boarding, and primarily located on reservations. The schools have 46,000 students.[163] In March 2020 the BIA finalized a rule to create Standards, Assessments and Accountability System (SAAS) for all BIA schools. The motivation behind the rule is to prepare BIA students to be ready for college and careers.[164]

20th century

Republican Charles Curtis, a Kaw with Osage, Potawatomi, French, and British ancestry from Kansas, was 31st vice president of the United States, and the first minority U.S. vice president, serving with Republican Herbert Hoover from 1929 to 1933

On August 29, 1911, Ishi, generally considered to have been the last Native American to live most of his life without contact with European American culture, was discovered near Oroville, California.[165][166][167]

In 1919, the United States under President Woodrow Wilson granted citizenship to all Native Americans who had served in World War I. Nearly 10,000 men had enlisted and served, a high number in relation to their population.[168] Despite this, in many areas Native Americans faced local resistance when they tried to vote and were discriminated against with barriers to voter registration.

On June 2, 1924, U.S. President Republican Calvin Coolidge signed the Indian Citizenship Act, which made all Native Americans born in the United States and its territories American citizens. Prior to passage of the act, nearly two-thirds of Native Americans were already U.S. citizens, through marriage, military service or accepting land allotments.[169][170] The Act extended citizenship to "all non-citizen Indians born within the territorial limits of the United States".[168]

Republican Charles Curtis, a Congressman and longtime U.S. Senator from Kansas, was Kaw and of Osage, Potawatomi, and European ancestry. After serving as a United States Representative and being repeatedly re-elected as United States Senator from Kansas, Curtis served as Senate Minority Whip for 10 years and as Senate Majority Leader for five years. He was very influential in the Senate. In 1928, he ran as the vice presidential candidate with Herbert Hoover for president, and served from 1929 to 1933. He was the first Native American person and the first person with acknowledged non-European ancestry to be elected to either of the highest offices in the land.

American Indians today in the United States have all the rights guaranteed in the U.S. Constitution, can vote in elections, and run for political office. Controversies remain over how much the federal government has jurisdiction over tribal affairs, sovereignty, and cultural practices.[171]

Mid-century, the Indian termination policy and the Indian Relocation Act of 1956 marked a new direction for assimilating Native Americans into urban life.[172]

The census counted 332,000 Indians in 1930 and 334,000 in 1940, including those on and off reservations in the 48 states. Total spending on Indians averaged $38 million a year in the late 1920s, dropping to a low of $23 million in 1933, and returning to $38 million in 1940.[173]

World War II

General Douglas MacArthur meeting with Navajo, Pima, Pawnee, and other Native American troops in late 1943 during World War II

Some 44,000 Native Americans served in the U.S. military during World War II: at the time, one-third of all able-bodied Indian men from eighteen to fifty years of age.[174] Described as the first large-scale exodus of Indigenous peoples from the reservations since the removals of the 19th century, the men's service with the U.S. military in the international conflict was a turning point in Native American history. The overwhelming majority of Native Americans welcomed the opportunity to serve; they had a voluntary enlistment rate that was 40% higher than those drafted.[175]

Their fellow soldiers often held them in high esteem, in part since the legend of the tough Native American warrior had become a part of the fabric of American historical legend. White servicemen sometimes showed a lighthearted respect toward Native American comrades by calling them "chief". The resulting increase in contact with the world outside of the reservation system brought profound changes to Native American culture. "The war", said the U.S. Indian Commissioner in 1945, "caused the greatest disruption of Native life since the beginning of the reservation era", affecting the habits, views, and economic well-being of tribal members.[176] The most significant of these changes was the opportunity—as a result of wartime labor shortages—to find well-paying work in cities, and many people relocated to urban areas, particularly on the West Coast with the buildup of the defense industry.

There were also losses as a result of the war. For instance, a total of 1,200 Pueblo men served in World War II; only about half came home alive. In addition, many more Navajo served as code talkers for the military in the Pacific. The code they made, although cryptographically very simple, was never cracked by the Japanese.


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

Through the mid-1970s, conflicts between governments and Native Americans occasionally erupted into violence. A notable late 20th-century event was the Wounded Knee incident on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation. Upset with tribal government and the failures of the federal government to enforce treaty rights, about 300 Oglala Lakota and AIM activists took control of Wounded Knee on February 27, 1973.[177]

Indian activists from around the country joined them at Pine Ridge, and the occupation became a symbol of rising American Indian identity and power. Federal law enforcement officials and the National Guard cordoned off the town, and the two sides had a standoff for 71 days. During much gunfire, one United States Marshal was wounded and paralyzed. In late April, a Cherokee and local Lakota man were killed by gunfire; the Lakota elders ended the occupation to ensure no more people died.[177]

In June 1975, two FBI agents seeking to make an armed robbery arrest at Pine Ridge Reservation were wounded in a firefight, and killed at close range. The AIM activist Leonard Peltier was sentenced in 1976 to two consecutive terms of life in prison for the FBI deaths.[178]

In 1968, the government enacted the Indian Civil Rights Act. This gave tribal members most of the protections against abuses by tribal governments that the Bill of Rights accords to all U.S. citizens with respect to the federal government.[179] In 1975, the U.S. government passed the Indian Self-Determination and Education Assistance Act, marking the culmination of fifteen years of policy changes. It resulted from American Indian activism, the Civil Rights Movement, and community development aspects of President Lyndon Johnson's social programs of the 1960s. The Act recognized the right and need of Native Americans for self-determination. It marked the U.S. government's turn away from the 1950s policy of termination of the relationship between tribes and the government. The U.S. government encouraged Native Americans' efforts at self-government and determining their futures. Tribes have developed organizations to administer their own social, welfare and housing programs, for instance. Tribal self-determination has created tension with respect to the federal government's historic trust obligation to care for Indians; however, the Bureau of Indian Affairs has never lived up to that responsibility.[180]

Tribal colleges

A Navajo man on horseback in Monument Valley in Arizona in May 2011

Navajo Community College, now called Diné College, the first tribal college, was founded in Tsaile, Arizona, in 1968 and accredited in 1979. Tensions immediately arose between two philosophies: one that the tribal colleges should have the same criteria, curriculum and procedures for educational quality as mainstream colleges, the other that the faculty and curriculum should be closely adapted to the particular historical culture of the tribe. There was a great deal of turnover, exacerbated by very tight budgets.[181] In 1994, the U.S. Congress passed legislation recognizing the tribal colleges as land-grant colleges, which provided opportunities for large-scale funding. Thirty-two tribal colleges in the United States belong to the American Indian Higher Education Consortium. By the early 21st century, tribal nations had also established numerous language revival programs in their schools.

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

21st century

Byron Mallott, an Alaskan Native, was Alaska's lieutenant governor from 2014 to 2018.

In 2009, an "apology to Native Peoples of the United States" was included in the Defense Appropriations Act. It stated that the U.S. "apologizes on behalf of the people of the United States to all Native Peoples for the many instances of violence, maltreatment, and neglect inflicted on Native Peoples by citizens of the United States".[182]

In 2013, jurisdiction over persons who were not tribal members under the Violence Against Women Act was extended to Indian Country. This closed a gap which prevented arrest or prosecution by tribal police or courts of abusive partners of tribal members who were not native or from another tribe.[183][184]

Migration of Native Americans to urban areas continued to grow up from 8% in 1940 to 45% in 1970 and up to 70% in 2012. Urban areas with significant Native American populations include Phoenix, Tulsa, Minneapolis, Denver, Albuquerque, Tucson, Chicago, Oklahoma City, Houston, New York City, Los Angeles, and Rapid City. Many live in poverty. Racism, unemployment, drugs, and gangs were common problems that Indian social service organizations such as the Little Earth housing complex in Minneapolis attempt to address.[185] Grassroots efforts to support urban Indigenous populations have also taken place, as in the case of Bringing the Circle Together in Los Angeles.[186]

In 2020, Congress passed a law to transition the management of the National Bison Range on over 18,000 acres in northwest Montana from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes.[187] In the 1900s these lands were taken by the U.S. government without the consent of the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes.[187] Secretary Interior Deb Haaland celebrated this transition at the Salish Kootenai College on May 21, 2022, calling it "a return to something pure and sacred."[187]


Proportion of Indigenous Americans (including Native Hawaiians) in each U.S. state, Washington, D.C., and Puerto Rico as of the 2020 U.S. census
Proportion of Indigenous Americans (Including Native Hawaiians) in each county of the fifty states, Washington, D.C., and Puerto Rico as of the 2020 United States census
The American Indian and Alaskan Native (alone/single race) populations as of 2020

According to the 2020 census, the U.S. population was 331.4 million. Of this, 3.7 million people, or 1.1 percent, reported American Indian or Alaska Native ancestry alone. In addition, 5.9 million people (1.8 percent), reported American Indian or Alaska Native in combination with one or more other races.[188]

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

According to Office of Management and Budget, "American Indian or Alaska Native" refers to a person having origins in any of the original peoples of North and South America (including Central America) and who maintains tribal affiliation or community attachment.[189]

Despite generally referring to groups indigenous to the continental US and Alaska, this demographic as defined by the US Census Bureau includes all Indigenous people of the Americas, including Mesoamerican peoples such as the Maya, as well as Canadian and South American natives.[190] In 2022, 634,503 Indigenous people in the United States identified with Central American Indigenous groups, 875,183 identified with the Indigenous people of Mexico, and 47,518 identified with Canadian First Nations.[191] Of the 3.2 million Americans who identified as American Indian or Alaska Native alone in 2022, around 45% are of Hispanic or Latino ethnicity, with this number growing as increasing numbers of Indigenous people from Latin American countries immigrate to the US and more Latinos self-identify with indigenous heritage.[192] Of groups Indigenous to the United States, the largest self-reported tribes are Cherokee (1,449,888), Navajo (434,910), Choctaw (295,373), Blackfeet (288,255), Sioux (220,739), and Apache (191,823).[193] 205,954 respondents specified an Alaska Native identity.

Native Hawaiians are counted separately from Native Americans by the census, being classified as Pacific Islanders. According to 2022 estimates, 714,847 Americans reported Native Hawaiian ancestry.[194]

The 2010 census permitted respondents to self-identify as being of one or more races. Self-identification dates from the census of 1960; prior to that the race of the respondent was determined by the opinion of the census taker. The option to select more than one race was introduced in 2000.[195] If American Indian or Alaska Native was selected, the form requested the individual provide the name of the "enrolled or principal tribe".

Population since 1880

Censuses counted around 346,000 Native Americans in 1880 (including 33,000 in Alaska and 82,000 in Oklahoma, back then known as Indian Territory), around 274,000 in 1890 (including 25,500 in Alaska and 64,500 in Oklahoma), 362,500 in 1930 and 366,500 in 1940, including those on and off reservations in the 48 states and Alaska. Native American population rebounded sharply from 1950, when they numbered 377,273; it reached 551,669 in 1960, 827,268 in 1970, with an annual growth rate of 5%, four times the national average.[196] Total spending on Native Americans averaged $38 million a year in the late 1920s, dropping to a low of $23 million in 1933, and returning to $38 million in 1940.[173] The Office of Indian Affairs counted more American Indians than the Census Bureau until 1930:

American Indians according to the Census Bureau and the Office of Indian Affairs 1890-1930
Decade American Indians, Census Bureau American Indians, Office of Indian Affairs Alaska Natives
1890 248,253 249,278 25,354
1900 237,196 270,544 29,536
1910 265,683 304,950 25,331
1920 244,437 336,337 26,558
1930 332,397 340,541 29,983

American Indians and Alaska Natives as percentage of the total population between 1880 and 2020:

American Indian and Alaska Native as percentage of population by U.S. state and territory (1880–2020)[197][198][199][200][201][202][203][204]
State/Territory 1880 1890 1900 1910 1920 1930 1940 1950 1960 1970 1980 1990 2000 2010 2020
Alabama Alabama 0.0% 0.1% 0.0% 0.0% 0.0% 0.0% 0.0% 0.0% 0.0% 0.1% 0.2% 0.4% 0.5% 0.6% 0.7%
Alaska Alaska 98.7% 79.1% 46.5% 39.4% 48.3% 50.6% 44.8% 26.3% 19.1% 16.8% 16.0% 15.6% 15.6% 14.8% 21.9%
Arizona Arizona 37.5% 34.0% 21.5% 14.3% 9.9% 10.0% 11.0% 8.8% 6.4% 5.4% 5.6% 5.6% 5.0% 4.6% 6.3%
Arkansas Arkansas 0.0% 0.0% 0.0% 0.0% 0.0% 0.0% 0.0% 0.0% 0.0% 0.1% 0.4% 0.5% 0.7% 0.8% 0.9%
California California 2.4% 1.4% 1.0% 0.7% 0.5% 0.3% 0.3% 0.2% 0.2% 0.5% 0.9% 0.8% 1.0% 1.0% 1.6%
Colorado Colorado 1.4% 0.3% 0.3% 0.2% 0.1% 0.1% 0.1% 0.1% 0.2% 0.4% 0.6% 0.8% 1.0% 1.1% 1.3%
Connecticut Connecticut 0.0% 0.0% 0.0% 0.0% 0.0% 0.0% 0.0% 0.0% 0.0% 0.1% 0.1% 0.2% 0.3% 0.3% 0.4%
Delaware Delaware 0.0% 0.0% 0.0% 0.0% 0.0% 0.0% 0.0% 0.0% 0.1% 0.1% 0.2% 0.3% 0.3% 0.5% 0.5%
 Florida 0.3% 0.0% 0.1% 0.0% 0.1% 0.0% 0.0% 0.0% 0.1% 0.1% 0.2% 0.3% 0.3% 0.4% 0.4%
Georgia (U.S. state) Georgia 0.0% 0.0% 0.0% 0.0% 0.0% 0.0% 0.0% 0.0% 0.0% 0.1% 0.1% 0.2% 0.3% 0.3% 0.5%
Hawaii Hawaii 0.0% 0.0% 0.0% 0.0% 0.0% 0.0% 0.0% 0.0% 0.1% 0.1% 0.3% 0.5% 0.3% 0.3% 0.3%
Idaho Idaho 10.0% 4.8% 2.6% 1.1% 0.7% 0.8% 0.7% 0.6% 0.8% 0.9% 1.1% 1.4% 1.4% 1.4% 1.4%
Illinois Illinois 0.0% 0.0% 0.0% 0.0% 0.0% 0.0% 0.0% 0.0% 0.0% 0.1% 0.1% 0.2% 0.2% 0.3% 0.8%
Indiana Indiana 0.0% 0.0% 0.0% 0.0% 0.0% 0.0% 0.0% 0.0% 0.0% 0.1% 0.1% 0.2% 0.3% 0.3% 0.4%
Iowa Iowa 0.1% 0.0% 0.0% 0.0% 0.0% 0.0% 0.0% 0.0% 0.1% 0.1% 0.2% 0.3% 0.3% 0.4% 0.5%
Kansas Kansas 0.2% 0.1% 0.1% 0.1% 0.1% 0.1% 0.1% 0.1% 0.2% 0.4% 0.7% 0.9% 0.9% 1.0% 1.1%
Kentucky Kentucky 0.0% 0.0% 0.0% 0.0% 0.0% 0.0% 0.0% 0.0% 0.0% 0.0% 0.1% 0.2% 0.2% 0.2% 0.3%
Louisiana Louisiana 0.1% 0.1% 0.0% 0.0% 0.1% 0.1% 0.1% 0.0% 0.1% 0.1% 0.3% 0.4% 0.6% 0.7% 0.7%
 Maine 0.1% 0.1% 0.1% 0.1% 0.1% 0.1% 0.1% 0.2% 0.2% 0.2% 0.4% 0.5% 0.6% 0.6% 0.6%
Maryland Maryland 0.0% 0.0% 0.0% 0.0% 0.0% 0.0% 0.0% 0.0% 0.0% 0.1% 0.2% 0.3% 0.3% 0.4% 0.5%
Massachusetts Massachusetts 0.0% 0.0% 0.0% 0.0% 0.0% 0.0% 0.0% 0.0% 0.0% 0.1% 0.1% 0.2% 0.2% 0.3% 0.3%
Michigan Michigan 1.1% 0.3% 0.3% 0.3% 0.2% 0.1% 0.1% 0.1% 0.1% 0.2% 0.4% 0.6% 0.6% 0.6% 0.6%
Minnesota Minnesota 1.1% 0.8% 0.5% 0.4% 0.4% 0.4% 0.4% 0.4% 0.5% 0.6% 0.9% 1.1% 1.1% 1.1% 1.2%
Mississippi Mississippi 0.2% 0.2% 0.1% 0.1% 0.1% 0.1% 0.1% 0.1% 0.1% 0.2% 0.2% 0.3% 0.4% 0.5% 0.6%
Missouri Missouri 0.0% 0.0% 0.0% 0.0% 0.0% 0.0% 0.0% 0.0% 0.0% 0.1% 0.3% 0.4% 0.4% 0.5% 0.5%
Montana Montana 38.3% 7.8% 4.7% 0.8% 2.0% 2.8% 3.0% 2.8% 3.1% 3.9% 4.7% 6.0% 6.2% 6.3% 9.3%
Nebraska Nebraska 1.0% 0.6% 0.3% 0.3% 0.2% 0.2% 0.3% 0.3% 0.4% 0.4% 0.6% 0.8% 0.9% 1.2% 1.2%
Nevada Nevada 13.9% 10.9% 12.3% 6.4% 6.3% 5.3% 4.3% 3.1% 2.3% 1.6% 1.7% 1.6% 1.3% 1.2% 1.4%
 New Hampshire 0.0% 0.0% 0.0% 0.0% 0.0% 0.0% 0.0% 0.0% 0.0% 0.0% 0.1% 0.2% 0.2% 0.2% 0.2%
New Jersey New Jersey 0.0% 0.0% 0.0% 0.0% 0.0% 0.0% 0.0% 0.0% 0.0% 0.1% 0.1% 0.2% 0.2% 0.3% 0.6%
New Mexico New Mexico 23.2% 9.4% 6.7% 6.3% 5.4% 6.8% 6.5% 6.2% 5.9% 7.2% 8.1% 8.9% 9.5% 9.4% 12.4%
New York (state) New York 0.1% 0.1% 0.1% 0.1% 0.1% 0.1% 0.1% 0.1% 0.1% 0.2% 0.2% 0.3% 0.4% 0.6% 0.7%
North Carolina North Carolina 0.1% 0.1% 0.3% 0.4% 0.5% 0.5% 0.6% 0.1% 0.8% 0.9% 1.1% 1.2% 1.2% 1.3% 1.2%
North Dakota North Dakota 13.0% 4.3% 2.2% 1.1% 1.0% 1.2% 1.6% 1.7% 1.9% 2.3% 3.1% 4.1% 4.9% 5.4% 7.2%
South Dakota South Dakota 20.6% 5.7% 5.0% 3.3% 2.6% 3.2% 3.6% 3.6% 3.8% 4.9% 6.5% 7.3% 8.3% 8.8% 11.1%
Ohio Ohio 0.0% 0.0% 0.0% 0.0% 0.0% 0.0% 0.0% 0.0% 0.0% 0.1% 0.1% 0.2% 0.2% 0.2% 0.3%
Oklahoma Oklahoma 100.0% 24.9% 8.2% 4.5% 2.8% 3.9% 2.7% 2.4% 2.8% 3.8% 5.6% 8.0% 7.9% 8.6% 16.0%
Oregon Oregon 3.5% 1.6% 1.2% 0.8% 0.6% 0.5% 0.4% 0.4% 0.5% 0.6% 1.0% 1.4% 1.3% 1.4% 4.4%
Pennsylvania Pennsylvania 0.0% 0.0% 0.0% 0.0% 0.0% 0.0% 0.0% 0.0% 0.0% 0.0% 0.1% 0.1% 0.1% 0.2% 0.2%
Rhode Island Rhode Island 0.0% 0.1% 0.0% 0.1% 0.0% 0.0% 0.0% 0.0% 0.1% 0.1% 0.3% 0.4% 0.5% 0.6% 0.7%
South Carolina South Carolina 0.0% 0.0% 0.0% 0.0% 0.0% 0.1% 0.1% 0.1% 0.1% 0.1% 0.2% 0.2% 0.3% 0.4% 0.5%
Tennessee Tennessee 0.0% 0.0% 0.0% 0.0% 0.0% 0.0% 0.0% 0.0% 0.0% 0.1% 0.1% 0.2% 0.3% 0.3% 0.4%
Texas Texas 0.1% 0.0% 0.0% 0.0% 0.0% 0.0% 0.0% 0.0% 0.1% 0.2% 0.3% 0.4% 0.6% 0.7% 1.0%
Utah Utah 0.9% 1.6% 0.9% 0.8% 0.6% 0.6% 0.7% 0.6% 0.8% 1.1% 1.3% 1.4% 1.3% 1.2% 1.3%
 Vermont 0.0% 0.0% 0.0% 0.0% 0.0% 0.0% 0.0% 0.0% 0.0% 0.1% 0.2% 0.3% 0.4% 0.4% 0.4%
Virginia Virginia 0.0% 0.0% 0.0% 0.0% 0.0% 0.0% 0.0% 0.0% 0.1% 0.1% 0.2% 0.2% 0.3% 0.4% 0.5%
Washington (state) Washington 20.8% 3.1% 1.9% 1.0% 0.7% 0.7% 0.7% 0.6% 0.7% 1.0% 1.5% 1.7% 1.6% 1.5% 4.1%
 West Virginia 0.0% 0.0% 0.0% 0.0% 0.0% 0.0% 0.0% 0.0% 0.0% 0.0% 0.1% 0.1% 0.2% 0.2% 0.2%
Wisconsin Wisconsin 0.8% 0.6% 0.4% 0.4% 0.4% 0.4% 0.4% 0.4% 0.4% 0.4% 0.6% 0.8% 0.9% 1.0% 1.0%
Wyoming Wyoming 9.6% 2.9% 1.8% 1.0% 0.7% 0.8% 0.9% 1.1% 1.2% 1.5% 1.5% 2.1% 2.3% 2.4% 4.8%
Washington, D.C. Washington, D.C. 0.0% 0.0% 0.0% 0.0% 0.0% 0.0% 0.0% 0.0% 0.1% 0.1% 0.2% 0.2% 0.3% 0.3% 0.5%
 Puerto Rico 0.4% 0.5% 0.5%
 United States 0.7% 0.4% 0.3% 0.3% 0.2% 0.3% 0.3% 0.2% 0.3% 0.4% 0.6% 0.8% 0.9% 0.9% 1.1%

Absolute numbers of American Indians and Alaska Natives between 1880 and 2020 (since 1890 according to the Census Bureau):

American Indian and Alaska Native population by U.S. state and territory (1880–2020)
State/Territory 1880 1890 1900 1910 1920 1930 1940 1950 1960 1970 1980 1990 2000 2010 2020
Alabama Alabama 213 1143 177 909 405 465 464 928 1276 2443 9239 16506 22430 28218 33625
Alaska Alaska 32996 25354 29536 25331 26558 29983 32458 33863 42522 50814 64103 85698 98043 104871 111575
Arizona Arizona 22199 29981 26480 29201 32989 43726 55076 65761 83387 95812 154175 203527 255879 296529 319512
Arkansas Arkansas 195 250 66 460 106 408 278 533 580 2014 12713 12773 17808 22248 27177
California California 20385 16624 15377 16371 17360 19212 18675 19947 39014 91018 227757 242164 333346 362801 631016
Colorado Colorado 2684 1092 1437 1482 1383 1395 1360 1567 4288 8836 20682 27776 44241 56010 74129
Connecticut Connecticut 255 228 153 152 159 162 201 333 923 2222 4822 6654 9639 11256 16051
Delaware Delaware 5 4 9 5 2 5 14 0 597 656 1380 2019 2731 4181 5148
Florida Florida 780 [Note 1] 171 358 74 518 587 690 1011 2504 6677 24714 36335 53541 71458 94795
Georgia (U.S. state) Georgia 124 68 19 95 125 43 106 333 749 2347 9876 13348 21737 32151 50618
Hawaii Hawaii 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 472 1126 2833 5099 3535 4164 4370
Idaho Idaho 3585 4223 4226 3488 3098 3638 3537 3800 5231 6687 10405 13780 17645 21441 25621
Illinois Illinois 140 98 16 188 194 469 624 1443 4704 11413 19118 21836 31006 43963 96498
Indiana Indiana 246 343 243 279 125 285 223 438 948 3887 9495 12720 15815 18462 26086
Iowa Iowa 821 457 382 471 529 660 733 1084 1708 2992 6311 7349 8989 11084 14486
Kansas Kansas 1499 1682 2130 2444 2276 2454 1165 2381 5069 8672 17829 21965 24936 28150 30995
Kentucky Kentucky 50 71 102 234 57 22 44 234 391 1531 4497 5769 8616 10120 12801
Louisiana Louisiana 848 628 593 780 1069 1536 1801 409 3587 5294 12841 18541 25477 30579 31657
Maine Maine 625 559 798 892 830 1012 1251 1522 1879 2195 4360 5998 7098 8568 7885
Maryland Maryland 15 44 3 55 32 50 73 314 1538 4239 8946 12972 15423 20420 31845
Massachusetts Massachusetts 369 428 587 688 555 874 769 1201 2118 4475 8996 12241 15015 18850 24018
Michigan Michigan 17390 5625 6354 7519 5614 7080 6282 7000 9701 16854 44712 55638 58479 62007 61261
Minnesota Minnesota 8498 10096 9182 9053 8761 11077 12528 12533 15496 23128 36527 49909 54967 60916 68641
Mississippi Mississippi 1857 2036 2203 1253 1105 1458 2134 2502 3119 4113 6836 8525 11652 15030 16450
Missouri Missouri 113 128 135 313 171 578 330 547 1723 5405 14820 19835 25076 27376 30518
Montana Montana 23313 11206 11343 10745 10956 14798 16841 16606 21181 27130 37623 47679 56068 62555 67612
Nebraska Nebraska 4541 6431 3322 3502 2888 3256 3401 3954 5545 6624 9059 12410 14896 18427 23102
Nevada Nevada 9603 5156 5216 5240 4907 4871 4747 5025 6681 7933 14256 19637 26420 32062 43932
New Hampshire New Hampshire 63 16 22 34 28 64 50 74 135 361 1342 2134 2964 3150 3031
New Jersey New Jersey 74 84 63 168 106 213 211 621 1699 4706 10028 14970 19492 29026 51186
New Mexico New Mexico 33224 15044 13144 20573 19512 28941 34510 41901 56255 72788 106585 134355 173483 193222 212241
New York (state) New York 5958 6044 5257 6046 5503 6973 8651 10640 16491 28355 43508 62651 82461 106906 149690
North Carolina North Carolina 1230 1516 5687 7851 11824 16579 22546 3742 38129 44406 65808 80155 99551 122110 130032
North Dakota North Dakota 8329 8174 6968 6486 6254 8387 10114 10766 11736 14369 19905 25917 31329 36591 38914
Ohio Ohio 130 206 42 127 151 435 338 1146 1910 6654 15300 20358 24486 25292 30720
Oklahoma Oklahoma 82334 [Note 2] 64456 64445 74825 57337 92725 63125 53769 64689 98468 171092 252420 273230 321687 332791
Oregon Oregon 6249 4971 4951 5090 4590 4776 4594 5820 8026 13510 29783 38496 45211 53203 62993
Pennsylvania Pennsylvania 184 1081 1639 1503 337 523 441 1141 2122 5533 10928 14733 18348 26843 31052
Rhode Island Rhode Island 77 180 35 284 110 318 196 385 932 1390 3186 4071 5121 6058 7385
South Carolina South Carolina 131 173 121 331 304 959 1234 554 1098 2241 6655 8246 13718 19524 24303
South Dakota South Dakota 20230 19854 20225 19137 16384 21833 23347 23344 25794 32365 45525 50575 62283 71817 77748
Tennessee Tennessee 352 146 103 216 56 161 114 339 638 2276 6946 10039 15152 19994 28044
Texas Texas 992 708 470 702 2109 1001 1103 2736 5750 17957 50296 65877 118362 170972 278948
Utah Utah 1257 3456 2623 3123 2711 2869 3611 4201 6961 11273 19994 24283 29684 32927 41644
Vermont Vermont 11 34 5 26 24 36 16 30 57 229 1041 1696 2420 2207 2289
Virginia Virginia 85 349 354 539 824 779 198 1056 2155 4853 9867 15282 21172 29225 40007
Washington (state) Washington 18594 11181 10039 10997 9061 11253 11394 13816 21076 33386 61233 81483 93301 103869 121468
West Virginia West Virginia 29 9 12 36 7 18 25 160 181 751 2317 2458 3606 3787 3706
Wisconsin Wisconsin 10798 9930 8372 10142 9611 11548 12265 12196 14297 18924 30553 39387 47228 54526 60428
Wyoming Wyoming 2203 1844 1686 1486 1343 1845 2349 3237 4020 4980 8192 9479 11133 13336 13898
Washington, D.C. Washington, D.C. 5 25 22 68 37 40 190 330 587 956 986 1466 1713 2079 3193
 United States 345,888 273,607 266,732 291,014 270,995 362,380 366,427 377,273 551,669 827,268 1,519,995 1,959,234 2,475,956 2,932,248 3,727,135
  1. ^ In Florida in 1880 there were reported 180 taxed Indians and 600 inhabitants of unknown race, possibly also Indians.
  2. ^ For Oklahoma one count reported 76585 Indians in 1880 (including 59187 in Five Civilized Tribes), another count reported 79769 or 79469 (including 64000 in Five Civilized Tribes) and yet another reported 82334 (including 64000 in Five Civilized Tribes) as of 1884.

Population distribution

This U.S. Census Bureau map depicts the locations of differing Native American groups, including Indian reservations, as of 2000; present-day Oklahoma in the Southwestern United States, which was once designated as an Indian Territory before Oklahoma's statehood in 1907, is highlighted in blue.

78% of Native Americans live outside a reservation. Full-blood individuals are more likely to live on a reservation than mixed-blood individuals. The Navajo, with 286,000 full-blood individuals, is the largest tribe if only full-blood individuals are counted; the Navajo are the tribe with the highest proportion of full-blood individuals, 86.3%. The Cherokee have a different history; it is the largest tribe, with 819,000 individuals, and it has 284,000 full-blood individuals.[205]

Urban migration

As of 2012, 70% of Native Americans live in urban areas, up from 45% in 1970 and 8% in 1940. Urban areas with significant Native American populations include Minneapolis, Denver, Phoenix, Tucson, Chicago, Oklahoma City, Houston, New York City, and Los Angeles. Many live in poverty. Racism, unemployment, drugs and gangs are common problems which Indian social service organizations such as the Little Earth housing complex in Minneapolis attempt to address.[185]

Population by tribal grouping

Below are numbers for U.S. citizens self-identifying to selected tribal groupings, according to the 2010 U.S. census.[206]

2010 Native American distribution by tribal group
Tribal grouping Tribal flag Tribal seal American Indian & Alaska Native Alone one tribal grouping reported American Indian & Alaska Native Alone more than one tribal grouping reported American Indian & Alaska Native Mixed one tribal grouping reported American Indian & Alaska Native Mixed more than one tribal grouping reported American Indian & Alaska Native tribal grouping alone or mixed in any combination
Total 2,879,638 52,610 2,209,267 79,064 5,220,579
Apache 63,193 6,501 33,303 8,813 111,810
Arapaho 8,014 388 2,084 375 10,861
Blackfeet 27,279 4,519 54,109 19,397 105,304
Canadian & French American Indian 6,433 618 6,981 790 14,822
Central American Indian 15,882 572 10,865 525 27,844
Cherokee 284,247 16,216 468,082 50,560 819,105
(Northern and Southern)
11,375 1,118 5,311 1,247 19,051
Chickasaw 27,973 2,233 19,220 2,852 52,278
Chippewa 112,757 2,645 52,091 3,249 170,742
Choctaw 103,910 6,398 72,101 13,355 195,764
Colville 8,114 200 2,148 87 10,549
Comanche 12,284 1,187 8,131 1,728 23,330
Cree 2,211 739 4,023 1,010 7,983
Creek 48,352 4,596 30,618 4,766 88,332
Crow 10,332 528 3,309 1,034 15,203
Delaware (Lenape) 7,843 372 9,439 610 18,264
Hopi 12,580 2,054 3,013 680 18,327
Houma 8,169 71 2,438 90 10,768
Iroquois 40,570 1,891 34,490 4,051 81,002
Kiowa 9,437 918 2,947 485 13,787
Lumbee 62,306 651 10,039 695 73,691
Menominee 8,374 253 2,330 176 11,133
Mexican American Indian 121,221 2,329 49,670 2,274 175,494
Navajo 286,731 8,285 32,918 4,195 332,129
Osage 8,938 1,125 7,090 1,423 18,576
Ottawa 7,272 776 4,274 711 13,033
Paiute[207] 9,340 865 3,135 427 13,767
Pima 22,040 1,165 3,116 334 26,655
Potawatomi 20,412 462 12,249 648 33,771
Pueblo 49,695 2,331 9,568 946 62,540
Puget Sound Salish 14,320 215 5,540 185 20,260
Seminole 14,080 2,368 12,447 3,076 31,971
Shoshone 7,852 610 3,969 571 13,002
Sioux 112,176 4,301 46,964 6,669 170,110
South American Indian 20,901 479 25,015 838 47,233
Spanish American Indian 13,460 298 6,012 181 19,951
Tohono O'odham 19,522 725 3,033 198 23,478
Ute 7,435 785 2,802 469 11,491
Yakama 8,786 310 2,207 224 11,527
Yaqui 21,679 1,516 8,183 1,217 32,595
Yuman 7,727 551 1,642 169 10,089
All other American Indian tribes 270,141 12,606 135,032 11,850 429,629
American Indian tribes, not specified 131,943 117 102,188 72 234,320
Alaska Native tribes, specified 98,892 4,194 32,992 2,772 138,850
Alaskan Athabaskans 15,623 804 5,531 526 22,484
Aleut 11,920 723 6,108 531 19,282
Inupiat 24,859 877 7,051 573 33,360
Tlingit-Haida 15,256 859 9,331 634 26,080
Tsimshian 2,307 240 1,010 198 3,755
Yup'ik 28,927 691 3,961 310 33,889
Alaska Native tribes, not specified 19,731 173 9,896 133 29,933
American Indian or Alaska Native tribes, not specified 693,709 no data 852,253 1 1,545,963

Tribal sovereignty

Indian reservations in the continental United States

There are 573 federally recognized tribal governments[208] and 326 Indian reservations[209] in the United States. These tribes possess the right to form their own governments, to enforce laws (both civil and criminal) within their lands, to tax, to establish requirements for membership, to license and regulate activities, to zone, and to exclude persons from tribal territories. Limitations on tribal powers of self-government include the same limitations applicable to states; for example, neither tribes nor states have the power to make war, engage in foreign relations, or coin money (this includes paper currency).[210] In addition, there are a number of tribes that are recognized by individual states, but not by the federal government. The rights and benefits associated with state recognition vary from state to state.

Many Native Americans and advocates of Native American rights point out that the U.S. federal government's claim to recognize the "sovereignty" of Native American peoples falls short, given that the United States wishes to govern Native American peoples and treat them as subject to U.S. law.[211] Such advocates contend that full respect for Native American sovereignty would require the U.S. government to deal with Native American peoples in the same manner as any other sovereign nation, handling matters related to relations with Native Americans through the Secretary of State, rather than the Bureau of Indian Affairs. The Bureau of Indian Affairs reports on its website that its "responsibility is the administration and management of 55,700,000 acres (225,000 km2) of land held in trust by the United States for American Indians, Indian tribes, and Alaska Natives".[212] Many Native Americans and advocates of Native American rights believe that it is condescending for such lands to be considered "held in trust" and regulated in any fashion by any entity other than their own tribes.

Some tribal groups have been unable to document the cultural continuity required for federal recognition. To achieve federal recognition and its benefits, tribes must prove continuous existence since 1900. The federal government has maintained this requirement, in part because through participation on councils and committees, federally recognized tribes have been adamant about groups' satisfying the same requirements as they did.[213] The Muwekma Ohlone of the San Francisco Bay Area are pursuing litigation in the federal court system to establish recognition.[214] Many of the smaller eastern tribes, long considered remnants of extinct peoples, have been trying to gain official recognition of their tribal status. Several tribes in Virginia and North Carolina have gained state recognition. Federal recognition confers some benefits, including the right to label arts and crafts as Native American and permission to apply for grants that are specifically reserved for Native Americans. But gaining federal recognition as a tribe is extremely difficult; to be established as a tribal group, members have to submit extensive genealogical proof of tribal descent and continuity of the tribe as a culture.

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

In July 2000, the Washington State Republican Party adopted a resolution recommending that the federal and legislative branches of the U.S. government terminate tribal governments.[215] In 2007, a group of Democratic Party congressmen and congresswomen introduced a bill in the U.S. House of Representatives to terminate Federal recognition of the Cherokee Nation.[216] This was related to their voting to exclude Cherokee Freedmen as members of the tribe unless they had a Cherokee ancestor on the Dawes Rolls, although all Cherokee Freedmen and their descendants had been members since 1866.

As of 2004, various Native Americans are wary of attempts by others to gain control of their reservation lands for natural resources, such as coal and uranium in the West.[217][218]

The State of Maine is the only State House Legislature that allows Representatives from Indian Tribes. The three nonvoting members represent the Penobscot Nation, Houlton Band of Maliseet Indians, and Passamaquoddy Tribe. These representatives can sponsor any legislation regarding American Indian affairs or co-sponsor any pending State of Maine legislation. Maine is unique regarding Indigenous leadership representation.[219]

In the state of Virginia, Native Americans face a unique problem. Until 2017 Virginia previously had no federally recognized tribes but the state had recognized eight. This is related historically to the greater impact of disease and warfare on the Virginia Indian populations, as well as their intermarriage with Europeans and Africans. Some people confused ancestry with culture, but groups of Virginia Indians maintained their cultural continuity. Most of their early reservations were ended under the pressure of early European settlement.

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

Plecker, a segregationist, believed that the state's Native Americans had been "mongrelized" by intermarriage with African Americans; to him, ancestry determined identity, rather than culture. He thought that some people of partial black ancestry were trying to "pass" as Native Americans. Plecker thought that anyone with any African heritage had to be classified as colored, regardless of appearance, amount of European or Native American ancestry, and cultural/community identification. Plecker pressured local governments into reclassifying all Native Americans in the state as "colored" and gave them lists of family surnames to examine for reclassification based on his interpretation of data and the law. This led to the state's destruction of accurate records related to families and communities who identified as Native American (as in church records and daily life). By his actions, sometimes different members of the same family were split by being classified as "white" or "colored". He did not allow people to enter their primary identification as Native American in state records.[213] In 2009, the Senate Indian Affairs Committee endorsed a bill that would grant federal recognition to tribes in Virginia.[220]

As of 2000, the largest groups in the United States by population were Navajo, Cherokee, Choctaw, Sioux, Chippewa, Apache, Blackfeet, Iroquois, and Pueblo. In 2000, eight of ten Americans with Native American ancestry were of mixed ancestry. It is estimated that by 2100 that figure will rise to nine out of ten.[221]

Civil rights movement

A group of NIYC demonstrators holding signs in front of the BIA office.
National Indian Youth Council demonstrations, March 1970, Bureau of Indian Affairs Office

The civil rights movement was a very significant moment for the rights of Native Americans and other people of color. Native Americans faced racism and prejudice for hundreds of years, and this increased after the American Civil War. Native Americans, like African Americans, were subjected to the Jim Crow Laws and segregation in the Deep South especially after they were made citizens through the Indian Citizenship Act of 1924. As a body of law, Jim Crow institutionalized economic, educational, and social disadvantages for Native Americans, and other people of color living in the south.[222][223][224] Native American identity was especially targeted by a system that only wanted to recognize white or colored, and the government began to question the legitimacy of some tribes because they had intermarried with African Americans.[222][223] Native Americans were also discriminated and discouraged from voting in the southern and western states.[224]

In the south segregation was a major problem for Native Americans seeking education, but the NAACP's legal strategy would later change this.[225] Movements such as Brown v. Board of Education was a major victory for the Civil Rights Movement headed by the NAACP, and inspired Native Americans to start participating in the Civil Rights Movement.[226][227] Martin Luther King Jr. began assisting Native Americans in the south in the late 1950s after they reached out to him.[227] At that time the remaining Creek in Alabama were trying to completely desegregate schools in their area. In this case, light-complexioned Native children were allowed to ride school buses to previously all white schools, while dark-skinned Native children from the same band were barred from riding the same buses.[227] Tribal leaders, upon hearing of King's desegregation campaign in Birmingham, Alabama, contacted him for assistance. He promptly responded and, through his intervention, the problem was quickly resolved.[227] King would later make trips to Arizona visiting Native Americans on reservations, and in churches encouraging them to be involved in the Civil Rights Movement.[228] In King's book Why We Can't Wait he writes:

Our nation was born in genocide when it embraced the doctrine that the original American, the Indian, was an inferior race. Even before there were large numbers of Negroes on our shores, the scar of racial hatred had already disfigured colonial society. From the sixteenth century forward, blood flowed in battles over racial supremacy. We are perhaps the only nation which tried as a matter of national policy to wipe out its Indigenous population. Moreover, we elevated that tragic experience into a noble crusade. Indeed, even today we have not permitted ourselves to reject or to feel remorse for this shameful episode. Our literature, our films, our drama, our folklore all exalt it.[229]

Native Americans would then actively participate and support the NAACP, and the civil rights movement.[230] The National Indian Youth Council (NIYC) would soon rise in 1961 to fight for Native American rights during the Civil Rights Movement, and were strong King supporters.[231][232] During the 1963 March on Washington there was a sizable Native American contingent, including many from South Dakota, and many from the Navajo nation.[227][233] Native Americans also participated the Poor People's Campaign in 1968.[231] The NIYC were very active supporters of the Poor People's Campaign unlike the National Congress of American Indians (NCAI); the NIYC and other Native organizations met with King in March 1968 but the NCAI disagreed on how to approach the anti-poverty campaign; the NCAI decided against participating in the march.[232] The NCAI wished to pursue their battles in the courts and with Congress, unlike the NIYC.[231][232] The NAACP also inspired the creation of the Native American Rights Fund (NARF) which was patterned after the NAACP's Legal Defense and Education Fund.[227] Furthermore, the NAACP continued to organize to stop mass incarceration and end the criminalization of Native Americans and other communities of people of color.[234] The following is an excerpt from a statement from Mel Thom on May 1, 1968, during a meeting with Secretary of State Dean Rusk:[232] (It was written by members of the Workshop on American Indian Affairs and the NIYC)

We have joined the Poor People's Campaign because most of our families, tribes, and communities number among those suffering most in this country. We are not begging. We are demanding what is rightfully ours. This is no more than the right to have a decent life in our own communities. We need guaranteed jobs, guaranteed income, housing, schools, economic development, but most important- we want them on our own terms. Our chief spokesman in the federal government, the Department of Interior, has failed us. In fact it began failing us from its very beginning. The Interior Department began failing us because it was built upon and operates under a racist, immoral, paternalistic and colonialistic system. There is no way to improve upon racism, immorality and colonialism; it can only be done away with. The system and power structure serving Indian peoples is a sickness which has grown to epidemic proportions. The Indian system is sick. Paternalism is the virus and the secretary of the Interior is the carrier.

Contemporary issues

Native American struggles amid poverty to maintain life on the reservation or in larger society have resulted in a variety of health issues, some related to nutrition and health practices. The community suffers a vulnerability to and disproportionately high rate of alcoholism:[235]

It has long been recognized that Native Americans are dying of diabetes, alcoholism, tuberculosis, suicide, and other health conditions at shocking rates. Beyond disturbingly high mortality rates, Native Americans also suffer a significantly lower health status and disproportionate rates of disease compared with all other Americans.

Recent studies also point to rising rates of stroke,[237] heart disease,[238] and diabetes[239] in the Native American population.

Societal discrimination and racism

A discriminatory sign posted above a bar. Birney, Montana, 1941
Chief Plenty Coups and seven Crow prisoners under guard at Crow agency, Montana, 1887

Native Americans have been subjected to discrimination for centuries. In response to being labeled "merciless Indian savages" in the Declaration of Independence, Simon Moya-Smith, culture editor at Indian Country Today, states, "Any holiday that would refer to my people in such a repugnant, racist manner is certainly not worth celebrating. [July Fourth] is a day we celebrate our resiliency, our culture, our languages, our children and we mourn the millions — literally millions — of indigenous people who have died as a consequence of American imperialism."[240]

In a study conducted in 2006–2007, non-Native Americans admitted they rarely encountered Native Americans in their daily lives. This is largely due to the number of Native Americans having dwindled since white settler colonialism, while those who survived were forcibly moved into reservations; both of these factors were referenced by Adolf Hitler in 1928 when he admiringly stated the US had "gunned down the millions of Redskins to a few hundred thousand, and now keep the modest remnant under observation in a cage".[241][242] While sympathetic toward Native Americans and expressing regret over the past, most people had only a vague understanding of the problems facing Native Americans today. For their part, Native Americans told researchers that they believed they continued to face prejudice, mistreatment, and inequality in the broader society.[243]

Affirmative action issues

Federal contractors and subcontractors, such as businesses and educational institutions, are legally required to adopt equal opportunity employment and affirmative action measures intended to prevent discrimination against employees or applicants for employment on the basis of "color, religion, sex, or national origin".[244][245] For this purpose, a Native American is defined as "A person having origins in any of the original peoples of North and South America (including Central America), and who maintains a tribal affiliation or community attachment". The passing of the Indian Relocation Act saw a 56% increase in Native American city dwellers over 40 years.[246] The Native American urban poverty rate exceeds that of reservation poverty rates due to discrimination in hiring processes.[246] However, self-reporting is permitted: "Educational institutions and other recipients should allow students and staff to self-identify their race and ethnicity unless self-identification is not practicable or feasible."[247]

Self-reporting opens the door to "box checking" by people who, despite not having a substantial relationship to Native American culture, innocently or fraudulently check the box for Native American.[248]

The difficulties that Native Americans face in the workforce, for example, a lack of promotions and wrongful terminations are attributed to racial stereotypes and implicit biases. Native American business owners are seldom offered auxiliary resources that are crucial for entrepreneurial success.[246]

Sexual violence as a tool for settler colonialism

Throughout history, settler colonialism has remained a violent and destructive tool to displace and exterminate Native American peoples. The use of sexual violence to perpetuate this is very common. Musocgee Creek law professor Sarah Deer highlights the high number of Native women who still experience this violence: "Since 1999 a variety of reports and studies have come to the same conclusion- namely, that Native women in particular suffer the highest rate of per capita rape in the United States." The continued acts of sexual violence against Native women have been perpetuated by colonization and the actions of colonizers. Native women through time have been portrayed as extremely sexual which only enforces sexual violence. Deer explains, "Dispossession and relocation of indigenous peoples on this continent both necessitated and precipitated a highly gendered and sexualized dynamic in which Native women's bodies became commodities- bought and sold for the purposes of sexual gratification (or profit), invariably transporting them far away from their homes."[249]

Native American mascots in sports

Protest against the name of the Washington Redskins in Minneapolis, November 2014

American Indian activists in the United States and Canada have criticized the use of Native American mascots in sports, as perpetuating stereotypes. This is considered cultural appropriation. There has been a steady decline in the number of secondary school and college teams using such names, images, and mascots. Some tribal team names have been approved by the tribe in question, such as the Seminole Tribe of Florida's approving use of their name for the teams of Florida State University.[250][251]

Among professional teams, the NBA's Golden State Warriors discontinued use of Native American-themed logos in 1971. The NFL's Washington Commanders, formerly the Washington Redskins, changed their name in 2020, as the term is considered to be a racial slur.[252]

MLB's Cleveland Guardians were formerly known as the Cleveland Indians. Their use of a caricature called Chief Wahoo faced protest for decades.[253][254] Starting in 2019, Chief Wahoo ceased to be a logo for Cleveland Indians, though Chief Wahoo merchandise could still be sold in the Cleveland-area.[255][256][257][258] On December 13, 2020, The New York Times reported that Cleveland would be officially changing their name.[259] On November 19, 2021, the team officially became the Cleveland Guardians.[260][261]

Historical depictions in art

Secotan Indians' dance in North Carolina. Watercolor by John White, 1585.

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

Eagle Dance of the Sac and Fox Indians, painting by George Catlin, c. 1845

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

For years, Native people on U.S. television were relegated to secondary, subordinate roles. During the years of the series Bonanza (1959–1973), no major or secondary Native characters appeared on a consistent basis. The series The Lone Ranger (1949–1957), Cheyenne (1955–1963), and Law of the Plainsman (1959–1963) had Native characters who were essentially aides to the central white characters. This continued in such series as How the West Was Won. These programs resembled the "sympathetic" yet contradictory film Dances With Wolves of 1990, in which, according to Ella Shohat and Robert Stam, the narrative choice was to relate the Lakota story as told through a Euro-American voice, for wider impact among a general audience.[262] Like the 1992 remake of The Last of the Mohicans and Geronimo: An American Legend (1993), Dances with Wolves employed a number of Native American actors, and made an effort to portray Indigenous languages. In 1996, Plains Cree actor Michael Greyeyes would play renowned Native American warrior Crazy Horse in the 1996 television film Crazy Horse,[263] and would also later play renowned Sioux chief Sitting Bull in the 2017 movie Woman Walks Ahead.[264]

The 1998 film Smoke Signals, which was set on the Coeur D'Alene Reservation and discussed hardships of present-day American Indian families living on reservations, featured numerous Native American actors as well.[265] The film was the first feature film to be produced and directed by Native Americans, and was also the first feature to include an exclusive Native American cast.[265] At the annual Sundance Film Festival, Smoke Signals would win the Audience Award and its producer Chris Eyre, an enrolled member of the Cheyenne and Arapaho Tribes of Oklahoma, would win the Filmmaker's Trophy.[266] In 2009, We Shall Remain (2009), a television documentary by Ric Burns and part of the American Experience series, presented a five-episode series "from a Native American perspective". It represented "an unprecedented collaboration between Native and non-Native filmmakers and involves Native advisors and scholars at all levels of the project".[267] The five episodes explore the impact of King Philip's War on the northeastern tribes, the "Native American confederacy" of Tecumseh's War, the U.S.-forced relocation of Southeastern tribes known as the Trail of Tears, the pursuit and capture of Geronimo and the Apache Wars, and concludes with the Wounded Knee incident, participation by the American Indian Movement, and the increasing resurgence of modern Native cultures since.

Differences in terminology

The most common of the modern terms to refer to Indigenous peoples of the United States are Indians, American Indians, and Native Americans. Up to the early to mid 18th century, the term Americans was not applied to people of European heritage in North America. Instead it was equivalent to the term Indians. As people of European heritage began using the term Americans to refer instead to themselves, the word Indians became historically the most often employed term.[268]

The term Indians, long laden with racist stereotypes, began to be widely replaced in the 1960s with the term Native Americans, which recognized the Indigeneity of the people who first made the Americas home. But as the term Native Americans became popular, the American Indian Movement saw pejorative connotations in the term native and reappropriated the term Indian, seeing it as witness to the history of violence against the many nations that lived in the Americas before European arrival.[269]

The term Native American was introduced in the United States in preference to the older term Indian to distinguish the Indigenous peoples of the Americas from the people of India. It may have been coined by Mohican Sachem John Wannuaucon Quinney, in an 1852 address to the US Congress where he argued against proposed resettlement.[270]

The term Amerindian, a portmanteau of "American Indian", was coined in 1902 by the American Anthropological Association. However, it has been controversial since its creation. It was immediately rejected by some leading members of the Association, and, while adopted by many, it was never universally accepted.[271] While never popular in Indigenous communities themselves, it remains a preferred term among some anthropologists, notably in some parts of Canada and the English-speaking Caribbean.[272][273][274][275]

During World War II, draft boards typically classified American Indians from Virginia as Negroes.[276][277]

In 1995, a plurality of Indigenous Americans, however, preferred the term American Indian[278] and many tribes include the word Indian in their formal title.

Criticism of the neologism Native American comes from diverse sources. Russell Means, an Oglala Lakota activist, opposed the term Native American because he believed it was imposed by the government without the consent of Native people.[279]

A 1995 U.S. Census Bureau survey found that more Native Americans in the United States preferred American Indian to Native American.[278] Most American Indians are comfortable with Indian, American Indian, and Native American.[280] That term is reflected in the name chosen for the National Museum of the American Indian, which opened in 2004 on the Mall in Washington, DC.

Other commonly used terms are First Americans, First Nations, and Native Peoples.[281]

Colonial ecological violence

Colonial ecological violence, defined by sociologist J. M. Bacon as the result of eco-social disruptions that "generate colonial ecological violence, a unique form of violence perpetrated by the settler-colonial state, private industry, and settler-colonial culture as a whole."[282] The relocation and displacement of Native peoples is a result of the colonizer mindset that land is a commodity. By removing these communities from their Native land, settlers are preventing the ways of life and the use of culture-affirming resources. Gilio-Whitaker, highlights some of the ways in which these practices are reinforced, with the concept of environmental deprivation – "historical processes of land and resource dispossession calculated to bring about the destruction of Indigenous lives and cultures." The reason these lands are so important to Native populations is because, “Since a strong component of many Indigenous cultures is a robust relationship to place, it serves to reason that forced removals, settler resource appropriation, and the ecological damage perpetuated by US settle colonial society contribute to significant "conflict" between "traditional cultural values" and "those of majority culture".[283]

Colonial ecological violence in the Pacific Northwest

The Karuk tribe in Klamath, California are one of the many victims to colonial ecological violence. One of the major ways of life to the Karuk tribe is the use of fires to maintain and regulate their environment. Sociologist Kari Marie Norgaard goes into detail about how colonialism disrupted these ways of life. These fires were also used to correct travel routes and optimized hunting, which is a major part of Karuk life. In 1905, the Klamath National Forest was established which prevented the burning of fires on Karuk land- "Fire exclusion, then, has simultaneously produced indigenous exclusion, erasure, and replacement." Norgaard explains that this land is one of the most economically wealthy spots due to the establishment of the forest, which only further demonstrates the ways in which settler-colonialism enables and continues to negatively impact the land that Indigenous people live(d) on.[284]

Colonial ecological violence in the Great Lakes region of North America

The Potawatomi tribe had long occupied the Great Lakes region of Northern America, up until they were displaced and spread out around the US. They had previously lived on 30 million acres of land, building cultural, familial, and other-than-human relationships for generations. (Whyte, 2016) Citizen Potawatomi environmental philosopher Kyle Powys Whyte highlights the ways in which this displacement has had violent and detrimental impacts on the tribe. “The consequences of capitalist economics, such as deforestation, water pollution, the clearing of land for large scale agriculture and urbanization, generate immediate disruptions on ecosystems "rapidly" rendering them very different from what they were like before, undermining Indigenous knowledge systems and Indigenous peoples' capacity to cultivate landscapes and adjust to environmental change.”[285]

Colonial ecological violence in the Northeast

The Miami tribe, which now occupies Oklahoma, once resided in Oxford, Ohio, where Miami University now is placed. Historian Jeffrey Ostler provides insight into the forced movement of the Miami tribe off their land. In 1818, the tribe agreed to give up a large amount of land to U.S. officials (enough to create twenty-two Indiana counties. It was not until 1826 that Lewis Cass informed them and nearby Potawatomi, "You must remove or perish."[25] This plan did not work, but the officials persisted and eventually the Miami tribe would be forced off their land in 1846. Miami University has a land acknowledgement document and a center dedicated to working with the Miami tribe of Oklahoma, though this is the only tribe from the original Miami tribe that is accredited by the U.S. government.[286]

Gambling industry

Sandia Casino, owned by the Sandia Pueblo of New Mexico

Because Indian reservations have tribal sovereignty, states have limited ability to forbid gambling there, as codified by the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act of 1988. Tribes run casinos, bingo halls, and other gambling operations, and as of 2011, there were 460 such operations run by 240 tribes,[287] with a total annual revenue of $27 billion.[288]

Financial services

Numerous tribes around the country have entered the financial services market including the Otoe-Missouria, Tunica-Biloxi, and the Rosebud Sioux. Because of the challenges involved in starting a financial services business from scratch, many tribes hire outside consultants and vendors to help them launch these businesses and manage the regulatory issues involved. Similar to the tribal sovereignty debates that occurred when tribes first entered the gaming industry, the tribes, states, and federal government are currently in disagreement regarding who possesses the authority to regulate these e-commerce business entities.[289]

Crime on reservations

Prosecution of serious crime, historically endemic on reservations,[290][291] was required by the 1885 Major Crimes Act,[292] 18 U.S.C. §§1153, 3242, and court decisions to be investigated by the federal government, usually the Federal Bureau of Investigation, and prosecuted by United States Attorneys of the United States federal judicial district in which the reservation lies.[293][294][295][296][297]

A December 13, 2009 New York Times article about growing gang violence on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation estimated that there were 39 gangs with 5,000 members on that reservation alone.[298] Navajo country recently reported 225 gangs in its territory.[299]

As of 2012, a high incidence of rape continued to impact Native American women and Alaskan native women. According to the Department of Justice, 1 in 3 Native women have suffered rape or attempted rape, more than twice the national rate.[300] About 46 percent of Native American women have been raped, beaten, or stalked by an intimate partner, according to a 2010 study by the Centers for Disease Control.[301] According to Professor N. Bruce Duthu, "More than 80 percent of Indian victims identify their attacker as non-Indian".[302][303]

Barriers to economic development

Today, other than tribes successfully running casinos, many tribes struggle, as they are often located on reservations isolated from the main economic centers of the country. The estimated 2.1 million Native Americans are the most impoverished of all ethnic groups. According to the 2000 census, an estimated 400,000 Native Americans reside on reservation land. While some tribes have had success with gaming, only 40% of the 562 federally recognized tribes operate casinos.[304] According to a 2007 survey by the U.S. Small Business Administration, only 1% of Native Americans own and operate a business.[305]

The barriers to economic development on Native American reservations have been identified by Joseph Kalt[306] and Stephen Cornell[307] of the Harvard Project on American Indian Economic Development at Harvard University, in their report: What Can Tribes Do? Strategies and Institutions in American Indian Economic Development (2008),[308] are summarized as follows:

  • Lack of access to capital
  • Lack of human capital (education, skills, technical expertise) and the means to develop it
  • Reservations lack effective planning
  • Reservations are poor in natural resources
  • Reservations have natural resources but lack sufficient control over them
  • Reservations are disadvantaged by their distance from markets and the high costs of transportation
  • Tribes cannot persuade investors to locate on reservations because of intense competition from non-Native American communities
  • The Bureau of Indian Affairs is inept, corrupt or uninterested in reservation development
  • Tribal politicians and bureaucrats are inept or corrupt
  • On-reservation factionalism destroys stability in tribal decisions
  • The instability of tribal government keeps outsiders from investing. The lack of international recognition Native American tribal sovereignty weakens their political-economic legitimacy.[309] (Many tribes adopted constitutions by the 1934 Indian Reorganization Act model, with two-year terms for elected positions of chief and council members deemed too short by the authors for getting things done)
  • Entrepreneurial skills and experience are scarce
Teacher with picture cards giving English instruction to Navajo day school students

A major barrier to development is the lack of entrepreneurial knowledge and experience within Indian reservations. "A general lack of education and experience about business is a significant challenge to prospective entrepreneurs", was the report on Native American entrepreneurship by the Northwest Area Foundation in 2004. "Native American communities that lack entrepreneurial traditions and recent experiences typically do not provide the support that entrepreneurs need to thrive. Consequently, experiential entrepreneurship education needs to be embedded into school curriculum and after-school and other community activities. This would allow students to learn the essential elements of entrepreneurship from a young age and encourage them to apply these elements throughout life".[310]

Discourse in Native American economic development

Some scholars argue that the existing theories and practices of economic development are not suitable for Native American communities—given the lifestyle, economic, and cultural differences, as well as the unique history of Native American-U.S. relations.[309] Little economic development research has been conducted on Native American communities. The federal government fails to consider place-based issues of American Indian poverty by generalizing the demographic.[309][311] In addition, the concept of economic development threatens to upend the multidimensionality of Native American culture.[309] The dominance of federal government involvement in Indigenous developmental activities perpetuates and exacerbates the salvage paradigm.[309]

Land ownership challenges

Native land owned by individual Native Americans sometimes cannot be developed because of fractionalization. Fractionalization occurs when a landowner dies, and their land is inherited by their children, but not subdivided. This means that one parcel might be owned by 50 different individuals. A majority of those holding interest must agree to any proposal to develop the land, and establishing this consent is time-consuming, cumbersome, and sometimes impossible.

Another landownership issue on reservations is checkerboarding, where tribal land is interspersed with land owned by the federal government on behalf of Natives, individually owned plots, and land owned by non-Native individuals. This prevents Tribal governments from securing plots of land large enough for economic development or agricultural uses.[312] Because reservation land is owned "in trust" by the federal government, individuals living on reservations cannot build equity in their homes. This bars Native Americans from getting loans, as there is nothing that a bank can collect if the loan is not paid. Past efforts to encourage land ownership (such as the Dawes Act) resulted in a net loss of Tribal land. After they were familiarized with their smallholder status, Native American landowners were lifted of trust restrictions and their land would get transferred back to them, contingent on a transactional fee to the federal government. The transfer fee discouraged Native American land ownership, with 65% of tribal-owned land being sold to non-Native Americans by the 1920s.[313] Activists against property rights point to historical evidence of communal ownership of land and resources by tribes. They claim that because of this history, property rights are foreign to Natives and have no place in the modern reservation system. Those in favor of property rights cite examples of tribes negotiating with colonial communities or other tribes about fishing and hunting rights in an area.[314] Land ownership was also a challenge because of the different definitions of land that the Natives and the Europeans had.[315] Most Native American tribes thought of property rights more as "borrowing" the land, while those from Europe thought of land as individual property.[316]

Land ownership and bureaucratic challenges in historical context

State-level efforts such as the Oklahoma Indian Welfare Act were attempts to contain tribal land in Native American hands. However, more bureaucratic decisions only expanded the bureaucracy. The knowledge disconnect between the decision-making bureaucracy and Native American stakeholders resulted in ineffective development efforts.[311][313]

Traditional Native American entrepreneurship does not prioritize profit maximization; rather, business transactions must align with Native American social and cultural values.[317] In response to Indigenous business philosophy, the federal government created policies that aimed to formalize their business practices, which undermined the Native American status quo.[313] Additionally, legal disputes interfered with tribal land leasing, which were settled with the verdict against tribal sovereignty.[318]

Often, bureaucratic overseers of development are far removed from Native American communities and lack the knowledge and understanding to develop plans or make resource allocation decisions.[311] The top-down heavy involvement in developmental operations, does not mitigate incentives for bureaucrats to act in their self-interest. Such instances include reports that exaggerate results.[311]

Geographic poverty

While Native American urban poverty is attributed to hiring and workplace discrimination in a heterogeneous setting,[246] reservation and trust land poverty rates are endogenous to deserted opportunities in isolated regions.[319]


Historical trauma

Historical trauma is described as collective emotional and psychological damage throughout a person's lifetime and across multiple generations.[320] Examples of historical trauma can be seen through the Wounded Knee Massacre of 1890, where over 200 unarmed Lakota were killed,[321] and the Dawes Allotment Act of 1887, when American Indians lost four-fifths of their land.[322]

Impacts of intergenerational trauma

American Indian youth have higher rates of substance and alcohol use deaths than the general population.[323] Many American Indians can trace the beginning of their substance and alcohol use to a traumatic event related to their offender's own substance use.[324] A person's substance use can be described as a defense mechanism against the user's emotions and trauma.[325] For American Indians alcoholism is a symptom of trauma passed from generation to generation and influenced by oppressive behaviors and policies by the dominant Euro-American society.[326] Boarding schools were made to "Kill the Indian, Save the man".[327] Shame among American Indians can be attributed to the hundreds of years of oppression and annihilation.[325]

Food insecurity

An older Native American woman talks behind a table of beans, grains, and other produce. She is demonstrating the different traditional Native American foods.
A Native American woman talks behind a table of bowls of beans, grains, and other produce at an Indigenous food demonstration.

Studies are being conducted which show Native Americans often experience higher rates of food insecurity than other racial groups in the US. The studies do not focus on the overall picture of Native American households, however, and tend to focus rather on smaller sample sizes in the available research.[328] In a study that evaluated the level of food insecurity among White, Asian, Black, Hispanic, and Indigenous Americans: it was reported that over the 10-year span of 2000–2010, Indigenous people were reported to be one of the highest at-risk groups from a lack of access to adequate food, reporting anywhere from 20% to 30% of households suffering from this type of insecurity. There are many reasons that contribute to the issue, but overall, the biggest lie in high food costs on or near reservations, lack of access to well-paying jobs, and predisposition to health issues relating to obesity and mental health.[329]

Society, language, and culture

Three Native American women in Warm Springs Indian Reservation, Wasco County, Oregon (1902)

The culture of Pre-Columbian North America is usually defined by the concept of the culture area, namely a geographical region where shared cultural traits occur. The northwest culture area, for example, shared common traits such as salmon fishing, woodworking, and large villages or towns and a hierarchical social structure.[330] Ethnographers generally classify the Indigenous peoples of North America into ten cultural areas based on geographical region.

Though cultural features, language, clothing, and customs vary enormously from one tribe to another, there are certain elements which are encountered frequently and shared by many tribes. Early European American scholars described the Native Americans as having a society dominated by clans.[331]

European colonization of the Americas had a major impact on Native American cultures through what is known as the Columbian exchange, also known as the Columbian interchange, which was the widespread transfer of plants, animals, culture, human populations, technology, and ideas between the Americas and Eurasia (the Old World) in the 15th and 16th centuries, following Christopher Columbus's 1492 voyage.[332] The Columbian exchange generally had a destructive impact on Native American cultures through disease, and a 'clash of cultures',[333] whereby European values of private land ownership, the family, and division of labor, led to conflict, appropriation of traditional communal lands and changed how the Indigenous tribes practiced slavery.[333]

Geronimo, Chiricahua Apache leader. Photograph by Frank A. Rinehart (1898).

The impact of the Columbian exchange was not entirely negative, however. For example, the re-introduction of the horse to North America allowed the Plains Indians to revolutionize their ways of life by making hunting, trading, and warfare far more effective, and to greatly improve their ability to transport possessions and move their settlements.[334]

The Great Plains tribes were still hunting the bison when they first encountered the Europeans. The Spanish reintroduction of the horse to North America in the 17th century and Native Americans' learning to use them greatly altered the Native Americans' cultures, including changing the way in which they hunted large game. Horses became such a valuable, central element of Native lives that they were counted as a measure of wealth by many tribes.

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

Ethno-linguistic classification

Pre-contact: distribution of North American language families, including northern Mexico

The Na-Dené, Algic, and Uto-Aztecan families are the largest in terms of the number of languages. Uto-Aztecan has the most speakers (1.95 million) if the languages in Mexico are considered (mostly due to 1.5 million speakers of Nahuatl); Na-Dené comes in second with approximately 200,000 speakers (nearly 180,000 of these are speakers of Navajo), and Algic in third with about 180,000 speakers (mainly Cree and Ojibwe). Na-Dené and Algic have the widest geographic distributions: Algic currently spans from northeastern Canada across much of the continent down to northeastern Mexico (due to later migrations of the Kickapoo) with two outliers in California (Yurok and Wiyot); Na-Dené spans from Alaska and western Canada through Washington, Oregon, and California to the U.S. Southwest and northern Mexico (with one outlier in the Plains). Several families consist of only 2 or 3 languages. Demonstrating genetic relationships has proved difficult due to the great linguistic diversity present in North America. Two large (super-) family proposals, Penutian and Hokan have potential. However, even after decades of research, a large number of families remain.[citation needed]

Words used in English have been derived from Native American languages.

Language education

Oklahoma Cherokee language immersion school student writing in the Cherokee syllabary
The Cherokee language taught to preschoolers as a first language, at New Kituwah Academy

To counteract a shift to English, some Native American tribes have initiated language immersion schools for children, where an Indigenous American language is the medium of instruction. For example, the Cherokee Nation initiated a 10-year language preservation plan that involved raising new fluent speakers of the Cherokee language from childhood on up through school immersion programs as well as a collaborative community effort to continue to use the language at home.[335] This plan was part of an ambitious goal that, in 50 years, will result in 80% or more of the Cherokee people being fluent in the language.[336] The Cherokee Preservation Foundation has invested $3 million in opening schools, training teachers, and developing curricula for language education, as well as initiating community gatherings where the language can be actively used.[336] Formed in 2006, the Kituwah Preservation & Education Program (KPEP) on the Qualla Boundary focuses on language immersion programs for children from birth to fifth grade, developing cultural resources for the general public and community language programs to foster the Cherokee language among adults.[337]

There is also a Cherokee language immersion school in Tahlequah, Oklahoma, that educates students from pre-school through eighth grade.[338] Because Oklahoma's official language is English, Cherokee immersion students are hindered when taking state-mandated tests because they have little competence in English.[339] The Department of Education of Oklahoma said that in 2012 state tests: 11% of the school's sixth-graders showed proficiency in math, and 25% showed proficiency in reading; 31% of the seventh-graders showed proficiency in math, and 87% showed proficiency in reading; 50% of the eighth-graders showed proficiency in math, and 78% showed proficiency in reading.[339] The Oklahoma Department of Education listed the charter school as a Targeted Intervention school, meaning the school was identified as a low-performing school but has not so that it was a Priority School.[339] Ultimately, the school made a C, or a 2.33 grade point average on the state's A-F report card system.[339] The report card shows the school getting an F in mathematics achievement and mathematics growth, a C in social studies achievement, a D in reading achievement, and an A in reading growth and student attendance.[339] "The C we made is tremendous", said school principal Holly Davis, "[t]here is no English instruction in our school's younger grades, and we gave them this test in English."[339] She said she had anticipated the low grade because it was the school's first year as a state-funded charter school, and many students had difficulty with English.[339] Eighth graders who graduate from the Tahlequah immersion school are fluent speakers of the language, and they usually go on to attend Sequoyah High School where classes are taught in both English and Cherokee.

Indigenous foodways

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

Historical diets of Native Americans differed dramatically from region to region. Different peoples might have relied more heavily on agriculture, horticulture, hunting, fishing, or gathering wild plants and fungi. Tribes developed diets best suited to their environments.

Iñupiat, Yupiit, Unangan, and fellow Alaska Natives fished, hunted, and harvested wild plants, but did not rely on agriculture. Coastal peoples relied more heavily on sea mammals, fish, and fish eggs, while inland peoples hunted caribou and moose.[340] Alaskan Natives prepared and preserved dried and smoked meat and fish.

Frybread, made into an Indian taco

Pacific Northwest tribes crafted seafaring dugout canoes 40–50 feet (12–15 m) long for fishing. In the Eastern Woodlands, early peoples independently invented agricultural and by 1800 BCE developed the crops of the Eastern Agricultural Complex, which include squash (Cucurbita pepo ssp. ovifera), sunflower (Helianthus annuus var. macrocarpus), goosefoot (Chenopodium berlandieri), and marsh elder (Iva annua var. macrocarpa).[341][342]

The Sonoran desert region including parts of Arizona and California, part of a region known as Aridoamerica, relied heavily on the tepary bean (Phaseolus acutifolius) as a staple crop. This and other desert crops, mesquite bead pods, tunas (prickly pear fruit), cholla buds, saguaro cactus fruit, and acorns are being actively promoted today by Tohono O'odham Community Action.[343] In the Southwest, some communities developed irrigation techniques while others, such as the Hopi dry-farmed. They filled storehouses with grain as protection against the area's frequent droughts.

Maize grown by Native Americans

Maize or corn, first cultivated in what is now Mexico was traded north into Aridoamerica and Oasisamerica, southwest. From there, maize cultivation spread throughout the Great Plains and Eastern Woodlands by 200 CE. Native farmers practiced polycropping maize, beans, and squash; these crops are known as the Three Sisters. The beans would replace the nitrogen, which the maize leached from the ground, as well as using corn stalks for support for climbing. The deficiencies of a diet heavily dependent on maize were mitigated by the common practice among Native Americans of converting maize kernels into hominy in a process called Nixtamalization.[344]

The agriculture gender roles of the Native Americans varied from region to region. In the Southwest area, men prepared the soil with hoes. The women were in charge of planting, weeding, and harvesting the crops. In most other regions, the women were in charge of most agriculture, including clearing the land. Clearing the land was an immense chore since the Native Americans rotated fields.

Europeans in the eastern part of the continent observed that Native Americans cleared large areas for cropland. Their fields in New England sometimes covered hundreds of acres. Colonists in Virginia noted thousands of acres under cultivation by Native Americans.[345]

Makah Native Americans and a whale, The King of the Seas in the Hands of the Makahs, 1910 photograph by Asahel Curtis

Early farmers commonly used tools such as the hoe, maul, and dibber. The hoe was the main tool used to till the land and prepare it for planting; then it was used for weeding. The first versions were made out of wood and stone. When the settlers brought iron, Native Americans switched to iron hoes and hatchets. The dibber was a digging stick, used to plant the seed. Once the plants were harvested, women prepared the produce for eating. They used the maul to grind the corn into a mash. It was cooked and eaten that way or baked as cornbread.[346]


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

Native American religious practices, beliefs, and philosophies differ widely across tribes. These spiritualities, practices, beliefs, and philosophies may accompany adherence to another faith or can represent a person's primary religious, faith, spiritual or philosophical identity. Much Native American spirituality exists in a tribal-cultural continuum, and as such cannot be easily separated from tribal identity itself.

Cultural spiritual, philosophical, and faith ways differ from tribe to tribe and person to person. Some tribes include the use of sacred leaves and herbs such as tobacco, sweetgrass or sage. Many Plains tribes have sweatlodge ceremonies, though the specifics of the ceremony vary among tribes. Fasting, singing and prayer in the ancient languages of their people, and sometimes drumming are common.[347]

Saint Kateri Tekakwitha, the patron of ecologists, exiles, and orphans, was canonized by the Catholic Church

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

Another significant religious body among Native peoples is known as the Native American Church. It is a syncretistic church incorporating elements of Native spiritual practice from a number of different tribes as well as symbolic elements from Christianity. Its main rite is the peyote ceremony. Prior to 1890, traditional religious beliefs included Wakan Tanka. In the American Southwest, especially New Mexico, a syncretism between the Catholicism brought by Spanish missionaries and the native religion is common; the religious drums, chants, and dances of the Pueblo people are regularly part of Masses at Santa Fe's Saint Francis Cathedral.[348] Native American-Catholic syncretism is also found elsewhere in the United States. (e.g., the National Kateri Tekakwitha Shrine in Fonda, New York, and the National Shrine of the North American Martyrs in Auriesville, New York). Some Native American tribes who practice Christianity, including the Lumbee, organized denominations, such as the Lumber River Conference of the Holiness Methodist Church.[349]

The eagle feather law (Title 50 Part 22 of the Code of Federal Regulations) stipulates that only individuals of certifiable Native American ancestry enrolled in a federally recognized tribe are legally authorized to obtain eagle feathers for religious or spiritual use. The law does not allow Native Americans to give eagle feathers to non-Native Americans.[350]

Gender roles

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

Gender roles are differentiated in many Native American tribes. Many Natives have retained traditional expectations of sexuality and gender and continue to do so in contemporary life despite continued and on-going colonial pressures.[351]

Whether a particular tribe is predominantly matrilineal or patrilineal, often both sexes have some degree of decision-making power within the tribe. Many Nations, such as the Haudenosaunee Five Nations and the Southeast Muskogean tribes, have matrilineal or Clan Mother systems, in which property and hereditary leadership are controlled by and passed through the maternal lines.[352] In these Nations, the children are considered to belong to the mother's clan. In Cherokee culture, women own the family property. When traditional young women marry, their husbands may join them in their mother's household.

Matrilineal structures enable young women to have assistance in childbirth and rearing and protect them in case of conflicts between the couple. If a couple separates or the man dies, the woman has her family to assist her. In matrilineal cultures the mother's brothers are usually the leading male figures in her children's lives; fathers have no standing in their wife and children's clan, as they still belong to their own mother's clan. Hereditary clan chief positions pass through the mother's line and chiefs have historically been selected on the recommendations of women elders, who could also disapprove of a chief.[352]

Ball-play of the women, painting by George Catlin, c. 1835

In the patrilineal tribes, such as the Omaha, Osage, Ponca, and Lakota, hereditary leadership passes through the male line, and children are considered to belong to the father and his clan. In patrilineal tribes, if a woman marries a non-Native, she is no longer considered part of the tribe, and her children are considered to share the ethnicity and culture of their father.[353]

In patriarchal tribes, gender roles tend to be rigid. Men have historically hunted, traded and made war while, as life-givers, women have primary responsibility for the survival and welfare of the families (and future of the tribe). Women usually gather and cultivate plants, use plants and herbs to treat illnesses, care for the young and the elderly, make all the clothing and instruments, and process and cure meat and skins from the game. Some mothers use cradleboards to carry an infant while working or traveling.[354] In matriarchal and egalitarian nations, the gender roles are usually not so clear-cut and are even less so in the modern era.[351]

At least several dozen tribes allowed polygyny to sisters, with procedural and economic limits.[331]

Lakota, Dakota, and Nakota girls are encouraged to learn to ride, hunt and fight.[355] Though fighting in war has mostly been left to the boys and men, occasionally women have fought as well, both in battles and in defense of the home, especially if the tribe was severely threatened.[356]

Modern education

As of 2020 90% of Native American school-aged children attend public schools operated by school districts.[357] Tribally-operated schools under contracts/grants with the Bureau of Indian Education (BIE) and direct BIE-operated schools take about 8% of Native American students,[358] including students who live in very rural remote areas.[357]

In 1978, 215,000 (78%) of Native Americans attended school district-operated public schools, 47,000 (17%) attended schools directly operated by the BIA, 2,500 (1%) attended tribal or other schools that contracted with the BIA, and the remaining 9,000 (3%) attended missionary schools for Native American children or other private schools.[359]


Jim Thorpe, gold medalist at the 1912 Olympics, in the pentathlon and decathlon events

Native American leisure time led to competitive individual and team sports. Jim Thorpe, Lewis Tewanima, Joe Hipp, Notah Begay III, Chris Wondolowski, Jacoby Ellsbury, Joba Chamberlain, Kyle Lohse, Sam Bradford, Jack Brisco, Tommy Morrison, Billy Mills, Angel Goodrich, Shoni Schimmel, and Kyrie Irving are well known professional athletes.

Ball players from the Choctaw and Lakota tribe in a 19th-century lithograph by George Catlin

Team sports

Native American ball sports, sometimes referred to as lacrosse, stickball, or baggataway, were often used to settle disputes, rather than going to war, as a civil way to settle potential conflict. The Choctaw called it isitoboli ("Little Brother of War");[360] the Onondaga name was dehuntshigwa'es ("men hit a rounded object"). There are three basic versions, classified as Great Lakes, Iroquoian, and Southern.[361]

The game is played with one or two rackets or sticks and one ball. The object of the game is to land the ball in the opposing team's goal (either a single post or net) to score and to prevent the opposing team from scoring on your goal. The game involves as few as 20 or as many as 300 players with no height or weight restrictions and no protective gear. The goals could be from around 200 feet (61 m) apart to about 2 miles (3.2 km); in lacrosse the field is 110 yards (100 m).

Individual sports

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

Billy Mills crosses the finish line at the end of the 10,000-meter race at the 1964 Tokyo Olympics.

U.S. Olympics

Jim Thorpe, a Sauk and Fox Native American, was an all-around athlete playing football and baseball in the early 20th century. Future President Dwight Eisenhower injured his knee while trying to tackle the young Thorpe. In a 1961 speech, Eisenhower recalled Thorpe: "Here and there, there are some people who are supremely endowed. My memory goes back to Jim Thorpe. He never practiced in his life, and he could do anything better than any other football player I ever saw."[362]

In the 1912 Olympics, Thorpe could run the 100-yard dash in 10 seconds flat, the 220 in 21.8 seconds, the 440 in 51.8 seconds, the 880 in 1:57, the mile in 4:35, the 120-yard high hurdles in 15 seconds, and the 220-yard low hurdles in 24 seconds.[363] He could long jump 23 ft 6 in and high-jump 6 ft 5 in.[363] He could pole vault 11 feet (3.4 m), put the shot 47 ft 9 in (14.55 m), throw the javelin 163 feet (50 m), and throw the discus 136 feet (41 m).[363] Thorpe entered the U.S. Olympic trials for the pentathlon and the decathlon.

Louis Tewanima, Hopi people, was an American two-time Olympic distance runner and silver medalist in the 10,000-meter run in 1912. He ran for the Carlisle Indian School where he was a teammate of Jim Thorpe. His silver medal in 1912 remained the best U.S. achievement in this event until another Indian, Billy Mills, won the gold medal in 1964. Tewanima also competed at the 1908 Olympics, where he finished in ninth place in the marathon.[1]

Ellison Brown, of the Narragansett people from Rhode Island, better known as "Tarzan" Brown, won two Boston Marathons (1936, 1939) and competed on the United States Olympic team in the 1936 Olympic Games in Berlin, Germany, but did not finish due to injury. He qualified for the 1940 Olympic Games in Helsinki, Finland, but the games were canceled due to the outbreak of World War II.

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

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

Ashton Locklear (Lumbee), an uneven bars specialist was an alternate for the 2016 Summer Olympics U.S. gymnastics team, the Final Five.[364] In 2016, Kyrie Irving (Sioux) also helped Team USA win the gold medal at the 2016 Summer Olympics. With the win, he became just the fourth member of Team USA to capture the NBA championship and an Olympic gold medal in the same year, joining LeBron James, Michael Jordan, and Scottie Pippen.[365]


Native American literature, composed of both oral literature and written literature, has a long history. Relevantly, it is considered a series of literatures reflecting the varied traditions and histories of different tribes. Modern authors cover a wide range of genres and include Tommy Orange, Joy Harjo, Louise Erdrich, Stephen Graham Jones, Rebecca Roanhorse, Tommy Pico, and many more.


Fancy Dancer at the Seafair Indian Days Pow-Wow, Daybreak Star Cultural Center, Seattle, Washington
Jake Fragua, Jemez Pueblo from New Mexico

Traditional Native American music is almost entirely monophonic, but there are notable exceptions. Native American music often includes drumming or the playing of rattles or other percussion instruments but little other instrumentation. Flutes and whistles made of wood, cane, or bone are also played, generally by individuals, but in former times also by large ensembles (as noted by Spanish conquistador de Soto). The tuning of modern flutes is typically pentatonic.

Performers with Native American parentage have occasionally appeared in American popular music such as Rita Coolidge, Wayne Newton, Gene Clark, Blackfoot, and Redbone (members are also of Mexican descent). Some, such as John Trudell, have used music to comment on life in Native America. Other musicians such as R. Carlos Nakai, Joanne Shenandoah and Robert "Tree" Cody integrate traditional sounds with modern sounds in instrumental recordings, whereas the music by artist Charles Littleleaf is derived from ancestral heritage as well as nature. A variety of small and medium-sized recording companies offer an abundance of recent music by Native American performers young and old, ranging from pow-wow drum music to hard-driving rock-and-roll and rap. In the International world of ballet dancing Maria Tallchief was considered America's first major prima ballerina,[366] and was the first person of Native American descent to hold the rank.[367] along with her sister Marjorie Tallchief both became star ballerinas.

The most widely practiced public musical form among Native Americans in the United States is that of the pow-wow. At pow-wows, such as the annual Gathering of Nations in Albuquerque, New Mexico, members of drum groups sit in a circle around a large drum. Drum groups play in unison while they sing in a native language and dancers in colorful regalia dance clockwise around the drum groups in the center. Familiar pow-wow songs include honor songs, intertribal songs, crow-hops, sneak-up songs, grass-dances, two-steps, welcome songs, going-home songs, and war songs. Most Indigenous communities in the United States also maintain traditional songs and ceremonies, some of which are shared and practiced exclusively within the community.[368]


The Iroquois, living around the Great Lakes and extending east and north, used strings or belts called wampum that served a dual function: the knots and beaded designs mnemonically chronicled tribal stories and legends, and further served as a medium of exchange and a unit of measure. The keepers of the articles were seen as tribal dignitaries.[369]

Pueblo peoples crafted impressive items associated with their religious ceremonies. Kachina dancers wore elaborately painted and decorated masks as they ritually impersonated various ancestral spirits.[370] Pueblo people are particularly noted for their traditional high-quality pottery, often with geometric designs and floral, animal and bird motifs.[371] Sculpture was not highly developed, but carved stone and wood fetishes were made for religious use. Superior weaving, embroidered decorations, and rich dyes characterized the textile arts. Both turquoise and shell jewelry were created, as were formalized pictorial arts.[372]

Navajo spirituality focused on the maintenance of a harmonious relationship with the spirit world, often achieved by ceremonial acts, usually incorporating sandpainting. For the Navajo, the sand painting is not merely a representational object, but a dynamic spiritual entity with a life of its own, which helped the patient at the center of the ceremony re-establish a connection with the life force. These vivid, intricate, and colorful sand creations were erased at the end of the healing ceremony.[373]

It has been estimated that the Native American arts and crafts industry brings in more than a billion USD in gross sales annually, nationwide.[374]

Native American art comprises a major category in the world art collection. Native American contributions include pottery, paintings, jewellery, weavings, sculpture, basketry, and carvings. Franklin Gritts was a Cherokee artist who taught students from many tribes at Haskell Institute (now Haskell Indian Nations University) in the 1940s, the Golden Age of Native American painters. The integrity of certain Native American artworks is protected by the Indian Arts and Crafts Act of 1990, which prohibits the representation of art as Native American when it is not the product of an enrolled Native American artist. Attorney Gail Sheffield and others claim that this law has had "the unintended consequence of sanctioning discrimination against Native Americans whose tribal affiliation was not officially recognized".[375] Native artists such as Jeanne Rorex Bridges (Echota Cherokee) who was not enrolled ran the risk of fines or imprisonment if they continued to sell their art while affirming their Indian heritage.[376][377][378]

Interracial relations

Lillian Gross, described as a "Mixed Blood" by the Smithsonian source, was of Cherokee and European American heritage. She identified with the Cherokee culture in which she was raised.

Interracial relations between Native Americans, Europeans, and Africans is a complex issue that has been mostly neglected with "few in-depth studies on interracial relationships".[379][380]


European impact was immediate, widespread, and profound already during the early years of colonization and the creation of the countries which currently exist in the Americas. Europeans living among Native Americans were often called "white indians". They "lived in native communities for years, learned native languages fluently, attended native councils, and often fought alongside their native companions".[381]

Early contact was often charged with tension and emotion, but also had moments of friendship, cooperation, and intimacy.[382] Marriages took place in English, Spanish, French, and Russian colonies between Native Americans and Europeans though Native American women were also the victims of rape.[383]

There was fear on both sides, as the different peoples realized how different their societies were.[382] Many whites regarded Native people as "savages" because the Native people were not Protestant or Roman Catholic and therefore the Native people were not considered to be human beings.[382] The Native American author, Andrew J. Blackbird, wrote in his History of the Ottawa and Chippewa Indians of Michigan (1897), that white settlers introduced some immoralities into Native American tribes. Many Native Americans suffered because the Europeans introduced alcohol. Many Native people do not break down alcohol in the same way as people of Eurasian background. Many Native people were learning what their body could tolerate of this new substance and died as a result of imbibing too much.[382]

Blackbird wrote:

The Ottawas and Chippewas were quite virtuous in their primitive state, as there were no illegitimate children reported in our old traditions. But very lately this evil came to exist among the Ottawas-so lately that the second case among the Ottawas of 'Arbor Croche' is yet living in 1897. And from that time this evil came to be quite frequent, for immorality has been introduced among these people by evil white persons who bring their vices into the tribes.[382]

The 1725 return of an Osage bride from a trip to Paris, France. The Osage woman was married to a French soldier.
Five Indians and a Captive, painted by Carl Wimar, 1855

The U.S. government had two purposes when making land agreements with Native Americans: to open up more land for white settlement,[382] and to "ease tensions" (in other words assimilate Native people to Eurasian social ways) between whites and Native Americans by forcing the Native Americans to use the land in the same way as did the whites—for subsistence farms.[382] The government used a variety of strategies to achieve these goals; many treaties required Native Americans to become farmers in order to keep their land.[382] Government officials often did not translate the documents which Native Americans were forced to sign, and native chiefs often had little or no idea what they were signing.[382]

Charles Eastman was one of the first Native Americans to become certified as a medical doctor, after he graduated from Boston University.[384][385]

For a Native American man to marry a white woman, he had to get consent of her parents, as long as "he can prove to support her as a white woman in a good home".[386] In the early 19th century, the Shawnee Tecumseh and blonde hair, blue-eyed Rebecca Galloway had an interracial affair. In the late 19th century, three European American middle-class women teachers at Hampton Institute married Native American men whom they had met as students.[387]

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

European enslavement

The majority of Native American tribes did practice some form of slavery before the European introduction of African slavery into North America, but none exploited slave labor on a large scale. Most Native American tribes did not barter captives in the pre-colonial era, although they sometimes exchanged enslaved individuals with other tribes in peace gestures or in exchange for their own members.[388] When Europeans arrived as colonists in North America, Native Americans changed their practice of slavery dramatically. Native Americans began selling war captives to Europeans rather than integrating them into their own societies as they had done before. As the demand for labor in the West Indies grew with the cultivation of sugar cane, Europeans enslaved Native Americans for the Thirteen Colonies, and some were exported to the "sugar islands". The British settlers, especially those in the southern colonies, purchased or captured Native Americans to use as forced labor in cultivating tobacco, rice, and indigo. Accurate records of the numbers enslaved do not exist because vital statistics and census reports were at best infrequent.[389] Scholars estimate tens to hundreds of thousands of Native Americans may have been enslaved by the Europeans, being sold by Native Americans themselves or Europeans.[390][391]

In Colonial America, slavery soon became racialized, with those enslaved by the institution consisting of ethnic groups (non-Christian Native Americans and Africans) who were foreign to the Christian, European colonists. The House of Burgesses define the terms of slavery in Virginia in 1705:

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

— Virginia General Assembly declaration, 1705[392]

The slave trade of Native Americans lasted only until around 1750. It gave rise to a series of devastating wars among the tribes, including the Yamasee War. The Indian Wars of the early 18th century, combined with the increasing importation of African slaves, effectively ended the Native American slave trade by 1750. Colonists found that Native American slaves could easily escape, as they knew the country. The wars cost the lives of numerous colonial slave traders and disrupted their early societies. The remaining Native American groups banded together to face the Europeans from a position of strength. Many surviving Native American peoples of the southeast strengthened their loose coalitions of language groups and joined confederacies such as the Choctaw, the Creek, and the Catawba for protection. Even after the Indian Slave Trade ended in 1750, the enslavement of Native Americans continued (mostly through kidnappings) in the west and in the Southern states.[393][394] Both Native American and African enslaved women suffered rape and sexual harassment by male slaveholders and other white men.[383]

Native American and African relations

African- and Native- Americans have interacted for centuries. The earliest record of Native American and African contact occurred in April 1502, when Spanish colonists transported the first Africans to Hispaniola to serve as slaves.[395]

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

Sometimes Native Americans resented the presence of African Americans.[396] The "Catawaba tribe in 1752 showed great anger and bitter resentment when an African American came among them as a trader".[396] To gain favor with Europeans, the Cherokee exhibited the strongest color prejudice of all Native Americans.[396] Because of European fears of a unified revolt of Native Americans and African Americans, the colonists tried to encourage hostility between the ethnic groups: "Whites sought to convince Native Americans that African Americans worked against their best interests."[397] In 1751, South Carolina law stated:

The carrying of Negroes among the Indians has all along been thought detrimental, as an intimacy ought to be avoided.[398]

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

it has always been the policy of this government to create an aversion in them [Indians] to Negroes.[399]

Europeans considered both races inferior and made efforts to make both Native Americans and Africans enemies. Native Americans were rewarded if they returned escaped slaves, and African Americans were rewarded for fighting in the late 19th-century Indian Wars.[400][401][402]

According to the National Park Service, "Native Americans, during the transitional period of Africans becoming the primary race enslaved, were enslaved at the same time and shared a common experience of enslavement. They worked together, lived together in communal quarters, produced collective recipes for food, shared herbal remedies, myths and legends, and in the end they intermarried."[403][404] Because of a shortage of men due to warfare, many tribes encouraged marriage between the two groups, to create stronger, healthier children from the unions.[405]

In the 18th century, many Native American women married freed or runaway African men due to a decrease in the population of men in Native American villages.[400] Records show that many Native American women bought African men but, unknown to the European sellers, the women freed and married the men into their tribe.[400] When African men married or had children by a Native American woman, their children were born free, because the mother was free (according to the principle of partus sequitur ventrem, which the colonists incorporated into law).[400]

While numerous tribes used captive enemies as servants and slaves, they also often adopted younger captives into their tribes to replace members who had died. In the Southeast, a few Native American tribes began to adopt a slavery system similar to that of the American colonists, buying African American slaves, especially the Cherokee, Choctaw, and Creek. Though less than 3% of Native Americans owned slaves, divisions grew among the Native Americans over slavery.[406] Among the Cherokee, records show that slaveholders in the tribe were largely the children of European men who had shown their children the economics of slavery.[401] As European colonists took slaves into frontier areas, there were more opportunities for relationships between African and Native American peoples.[400]

Race, ethnicity, and citizenship

Sharice Davids became one of the first two Native American women elected to the U.S. House of Representatives.
Ben Reifel of South Dakota, the only Lakota elected to the U.S. House of Representatives
Deb Haaland became one of the first two Native American women elected to the U.S. House of Representatives.
Ada Brown, a citizen of the Choctaw Nation with mixed-African American heritage, nominated by President Donald Trump in 2019 to be a federal judge in Texas
Mary Peltola became the first Alaska Native elected to the U.S. House of Representatives.

Native American identity is determined by the tribal community that the individual or group is seeking to identify with.[407][408] While it is common for non-Natives to consider it a racial or ethnic identity, it is considered by Native Americans in the United States to be a political identity, based on citizenship and immediate family relationships.[407][408] As culture can vary widely between the 574 extant federally recognized tribes in the United States, the idea of a single unified "Native American" racial identity is a European construct that does not have an equivalent in tribal thought.[407]

In the 2010 Census, nearly 3 million people indicated that their "race" was Native American (including Alaska Native).[409] Of these, more than 27% specifically indicated "Cherokee" as their ethnic origin.[410][411] Many of the First Families of Virginia claim descent from Pocahontas or some other "Indian princess". This phenomenon has been dubbed the "Cherokee Syndrome".[412] Across the US, numerous individuals cultivate an opportunistic ethnic identity as Native American, sometimes through Cherokee heritage groups or Indian Wedding Blessings.[413]

Some tribes (particularly some in the Eastern United States) are primarily made up of individuals with an unambiguous Native American identity, despite having a large number of mixed-race citizens with prominent non-Native ancestry. More than 75% of those enrolled in the Cherokee Nation have less than one-quarter Cherokee blood,[414] and the former Principal Chief of the Cherokee Nation, Bill John Baker, is 1/32 Cherokee, amounting to about 3%.

Historically, numerous Native Americans assimilated into colonial and later American society, e.g. through adopting English and converting to Christianity. In many cases, this process occurred through forced assimilation of children sent off to American Indian boarding schools far from their families. Those who could eventually pass for white gained the advantage of white privilege, yet often paid for it with the loss of community connections.[413] With the enforcement of blood quantum laws, Indian blood could be diluted over generations through intermarrying with non-Native populations, as well as intermarrying with members of tribes that also required high blood-quantum, solely from one tribe.[415] "Kill the Indian, save the man" was a mantra of nineteenth-century U.S. assimilation policies.[416]

Native Americans are more likely than any other racial group to practice interracial or intertribal marriage among the different tribes and non-Natives, resulting in an ever-declining proportion of Indigenous blood among those who claim a Native American identity (tribes often count only the Indian blood from their own tribal background in the enrollment process, disregarding intertribal heritages).[417] Some tribes disenroll those with low blood quantum. Disenrollment has become a contentious issue in Native American reservation politics.[418][419]

Tribal enrollment

Requirements for tribal citizenship vary by tribe, but are generally based on who one's parents and grandparents are, as known and documented by community members and tribal records. Among the tribal nations, qualification for enrolling those who were not logged at birth by their parents may be based upon a required percentage of Native American "blood" (or the "blood quantum") of an individual, or upon documented lineal descent from an ancestor on a specific census or register.

Tribal rules regarding the recognition of members who have heritage from multiple tribes also vary, but most do not allow citizenship in multiple tribes at once. For those that do, usually citizens consider one of their citizenships primary, and their other heritage to be "descent". Federally recognized tribes do not accept genetic ethnicity percentages results as appropriate evidence of Native American identity, as they cannot indicate specific tribe, or even whether or not someone is Native American. Unless requested for a paternity test, they do not advise applicants to submit such things.[416]

To receive tribal services, a Native American must be a citizen of (or enrolled in) a federally recognized tribe. While each tribal government makes its own rules for the eligibility of citizens, the federal government has its own qualifications for federally-funded services. Federal scholarships for Native Americans require the student to be enrolled in a federally recognized tribe and to be of at least one-quarter Native American blood quantum, as attested to by a Certificate of Degree of Indian Blood (CDIB) card issued by the federal government.

Tribal membership conflicts have led to a number of legal disputes, court cases, and the formation of activist groups. One example of this is the Cherokee Freedmen. The Cherokee Nation requires documented direct genealogical descent from a Cherokee person listed in the early 1906 Dawes Rolls. The Freedmen are descendants of African Americans once enslaved by the Cherokees, who were granted, by federal treaty, citizenship in the historic Cherokee Nation as freedmen after the Civil War. The modern Cherokee Nation, in the early 1980s, passed a law to require that all members must prove descent from a Cherokee Native American (not Cherokee Freedmen) listed on the Dawes Rolls, resulting in the exclusion of some individuals and families who had been active in Cherokee culture for years.

Increased self-identification

Since the 2000 census, people may identify as being of more than one race.[189] Since the 1960s, the number of people claiming Native American ancestry has grown significantly and, by the 2000 census, the number had more than doubled. Sociologists attribute this dramatic change to "ethnic shifting" or "ethnic shopping"; they believe that it reflects a willingness of people to question their birth identities and adopt new ethnicities which they find more compatible.

The author Jack Hitt writes:

The reaction from lifelong Indians runs the gamut. It is easy to find Native Americans who denounce many of these new Indians as members of the wannabe tribe. But it is also easy to find Indians like Clem Iron Wing, an elder among the Lakota, who sees this flood of new ethnic claims as magnificent, a surge of Indians 'trying to come home.' Those Indians who ridicule Iron Wing's lax sense of tribal membership have retrofitted the old genocidal system of blood quantum—measuring racial purity by blood—into the new standard for real Indianness, a choice rich with paradox.[195]

Journalist Mary Annette Pember (Ojibwe) writes that non-Natives identifying with Native American identity may be a result of a person's increased interest in genealogy, the romanticization of what they believe the cultures to be, and family lore of Native American ancestors in the distant past. However, there are different issues if a person wants to pursue enrollment as a citizen of a tribal nation. Different tribes have different requirements for citizenship. Often those who live as non-Natives, yet claim distant heritage, say they are simply reluctant to enroll, arguing that it is a method of control initiated by the federal government. However, it is the tribes that set their own enrollment criteria, and "the various enrollment requirements are often a hurdle that ethnic shoppers are unable to clear." Says Grayson Noley, (Choctaw), of the University of Oklahoma, "If you have to search for proof of your heritage, it probably isn't there."[420] In other cases, there are some individuals who are 100% Native American but, if all of their recent ancestors are from different tribes, blood quantum laws could result in them not meeting the citizenship criteria for any one of those individual tribes. Pember concludes:

The subjects of genuine American Indian blood, cultural connection and recognition by the community are extremely contentious issues, hotly debated throughout Indian country and beyond. The whole situation, some say, is ripe for misinterpretation, confusion and, ultimately, exploitation.[420]

Admixture and genetics

Members of the Creek (Muscogee) Nation in Oklahoma around 1877; they include men with some European and African ancestry.[421]

Intertribal marriage is historically common among many Native American tribes, both prior to European contact and in the present. Historically, tribal conflicts might result in the eventual adoption of, or marriages with, captives taken in warfare, with former foes becoming full members of the community. Individuals often have ancestry from more than one tribe, and this became increasingly common after so many tribes lost family members to colonial invasions bringing disease, war and massacres.[81] Bands or entire tribes were often reduced to very small numbers, and at times split or merged to form stronger communities in reaction to these pressures.[422]

Tribes with long trading histories with Europeans show a higher rate of European admixture, reflecting admixture events between Native American women and European men.[423][422]

The Indigenous Peoples Council on Biocolonialism has also said that haplogroup testing is not a valid means of determining Native American ancestry, and that the concept of using genetic testing to determine who is or is not Native American threatens tribal sovereignty.[424][425] Author of Native American DNA: Tribal Belonging and the False Promise of Genetic Science, Kim TallBear (Sisseton Wahpeton Oyate), agrees, stating that not only is there no DNA test that can indicate a tribe, but "there is no DNA-test to prove you're Native American."[426][427] Tallbear writes in Native American DNA that while a DNA test may bring up some markers associated with some Indigenous or Asian populations, the science in these cases is problematic,[426] as Indigenous identity is not about one distant (and possibly nonexistent) ancestor, but rather political citizenship, culture, kinship, and daily, lived experience as part of an Indigenous community.[427] She adds that a person, "… could have up to two Native American grandparents and show no sign of Native American ancestry. For example, a genetic male could have a maternal grandfather (from whom he did not inherit his Y chromosome) and a paternal grandmother (from whom he did not inherit his mtDNA) who were descended from Native American founders, but mtDNA and Y-chromosome analyses would not detect them."[416]

Given all these factors, DNA testing is not sufficient to qualify a person for specific tribal membership, as the ethnicity admixture tests cannot distinguish among Native American tribes. They cannot even reliably indicate Native American ancestry:[428]

"Native American markers" are not found solely among Native Americans. While they occur more frequently among Native Americans, they are also found in people in other parts of the world.[428]

The only use of DNA testing by legitimate tribes is that some, such as the Meskwaki, may use DNA for paternity tests, or similar confirmation that an applicant who was not enrolled at birth is the biological child of an enrolled tribal member. It is solely about confirming or ruling out biological paternity, and has no relationship to race or ethnicity.[429][430]

African American admixtures

DNA testing and research has provided some data about the extent of Native American ancestry among African Americans, which varies in the general population. Based on the work of geneticists, Harvard University historian Henry Louis Gates, Jr. hosted a popular, and at times controversial, PBS series, African American Lives, in which geneticists said DNA evidence shows that Native American ancestry is far less common among African Americans than previously believed.[431][432] Their conclusions were that while almost all African Americans are racially mixed, and many have family stories of Native heritage, usually these stories turn out to be inaccurate,[431][432] with only 5 percent of African American people showing more than 2 percent Native American ancestry.[431]

Gates summarized these statistics to mean that, "If you have 2 percent Native American ancestry, you had one such ancestor on your family tree five to nine generations back (150 to 270 years ago)."[431] Their findings also concluded that the most common "non-Black" mix among African Americans is English and Scots-Irish. Some critics thought the PBS series did not sufficiently explain the limitations of DNA testing for assessment of heritage.[433] Another study, published in the American Journal of Human Genetics, also indicated that, despite how common these family stories are, relatively few African Americans who have these stories actually turned out to have detectable Native American ancestry.[434] A study reported in the American Journal of Human Genetics stated, "We analyzed the European genetic contribution to 10 populations of African descent in the United States (Maywood, Illinois; Detroit; New York; Philadelphia; Pittsburgh; Baltimore; Charleston, South Carolina; New Orleans; and Houston) ... mtDNA haplogroups analysis shows no evidence of a significant maternal Amerindian contribution to any of the 10 populations."[435] Despite this, some still insist that most African Americans have at least some Native American heritage.[436]


The genetic history of Indigenous peoples of the Americas primarily focuses on human Y-chromosome DNA haplogroups and human mitochondrial DNA haplogroups. "Y-DNA" is passed solely along the patrilineal line, from father to son, while "mtDNA" is passed down the matrilineal line, from mother to offspring of both sexes. Neither recombines, and thus Y-DNA and mtDNA change only by chance mutation at each generation with no intermixture between parents' genetic material.[437] Autosomal "atDNA" markers are also used, but differ from mtDNA or Y-DNA in that they overlap significantly.[438] Autosomal DNA is generally used to measure the average continent-of-ancestry genetic admixture in the entire human genome and related isolated populations.[438] Within mtDNA, genetic scientists have found specific nucleotide sequences that they have classified as "Native American markers" because the sequences are understood to have been inherited through the generations of genetic females within populations first found in the "New World". There are five primary Native American mtDNA haplogroups in which there are clusters of closely linked markers inherited together. All five haplogroups have been identified by researchers as "prehistoric Native North American samples", and it is commonly asserted that the majority of living Native Americans possess one of the common five mtDNA haplogroup markers.[416]

The genetic pattern indicates Indigenous Americans experienced two very distinctive genetic episodes; first with the initial-peopling of the Americas, and secondly with European colonization of the Americas.[439][440][441] The former is the determinant factor for the number of gene lineages, zygosity mutations and founding haplotypes present in today's Indigenous American populations.[440]

The most popular theory is that human settlement of the Americas occurred in stages from the Bering sea coast line, with an initial 15,000 to 20,000-year layover on Beringia for the small founding population.[439][442][443] The micro-satellite diversity and distributions of the Y lineage specific to South America indicates that certain Amerindian populations have been isolated since the initial colonization of the region.[444] The Na-Dené, Inuit and Indigenous Alaskan populations exhibit haplogroup Q-M242 (Y-DNA) mutations, however, that are distinct from other Indigenous Amerindians, and that have various mtDNA and atDNA mutations.[445][446][447] This suggests that the paleo-Indian migrants into the northern extremes of North America and Greenland were descended from a later, independent migrant population.[448][449]

Genetic analyses of HLA I and HLA II genes as well as HLA-A, -B, and -DRB1 gene frequencies links the Ainu people of northern Japan and southeastern Russia to some Indigenous peoples of the Americas, especially to populations on the Pacific Northwest Coast such as Tlingit. Scientists suggest that the main ancestor of the Ainu and of some Native American groups can be traced back to Paleolithic groups in Southern Siberia.[450]

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