Native Americans in the United States

Native Americans
Total population
American Indian and Alaska Native
One race: 2.5 million are registered [1]
In combination with one or more other races: 1.6 million are registered [2]
1.37% of the U.S. population
Regions with significant populations
Predominantly in the Western United States
Languages
American English, Native American languages
Religion
Native American Church
Protestant
Roman Catholic
Russian Orthodox
Traditional Ceremonial Ways
(Unique to Specific Tribe or Band)
Related ethnic groups
Indigenous peoples of the Americas

Native Americans in the United States are the indigenous peoples in North America within the boundaries of the present-day continental United States, parts of Alaska, and the island state of Hawaii. They are composed of numerous, distinct tribes, states, and ethnic groups, many of which survive as intact political communities. The terms used to refer to Native Americans are controversial; according to a 1995 US Census Bureau set of home interviews, most of the respondents with an expressed preference refer to themselves as American Indians or Indians.

In the last 500 years, Afro-Eurasian migration to the Americas has led to centuries of conflict and adjustment between Old and New World societies. Most of the written historical record about Native Americans was made by Europeans after their immigration to the Americas.[3] Many Native Americans lived as hunter-gatherer societies, although in many groups, women carried out sophisticated cultivation of a variety of staples: maize, beans and squash. Their cultures were quite different from those of the agrarian, proto-industrial immigrants from western Eurasia. The differences in culture between the established native Americans and immigrant Europeans, as well as shifting alliances among different nations of each culture, caused a great deal of political tension and ethnic violence. Estimates of the pre-Columbian population of what today constitutes the U.S. vary significantly, ranging from 1 million to 18 million.[4][5]

After the colonies revolted against Great Britain and established the United States of America, President George Washington and Henry Knox conceived of the idea of "civilizing" Native Americans in preparation for United States citizenship.[6][7][8][9][10] Assimilation (whether voluntary as with the Choctaw,[11][12] or forced) became a consistent policy through American administrations. During the 19th century, the ideology of Manifest destiny became integral to the American nationalist movement. Expansion of European-American populations after the American Revolution resulted in increasing pressure on Native American lands, warfare between the groups, and rising tensions. In 1830, the U.S. Congress passed the Indian Removal Act, authorizing the government to relocate most Native Americans of the Deep South east of the Mississippi River from their homelands to accommodate European-American expansion from the United States. Government officials thought that by decreasing the conflict between the groups, they could also help the Indians survive. Remnant groups have descendants living throughout the South. They have organized and been recognized as tribes since the late 20th century by several states and, in some cases, by the federal government.

The first European Americans encountered western tribes as fur traders. As United States expansion reached into the American West, settler and miner migrants came into increasing conflict with the Great Plains tribes. These were complex nomadic cultures based on using horses and traveling seasonally to hunt bison. They carried out strong resistance to American incursions in the decades after the American Civil War, in a series of "Indian Wars", which were frequent up until the 1890s. The coming of the transcontinental railroad increased pressures on the western tribes. Over time, the U.S. forced a series of treaties and land cessions by the tribes, and established reservations for them in many western states. U.S. agents encouraged Native Americans to adopt European-style farming and similar pursuits, but the lands were often too poor to support such uses.

Contemporary Native Americans today have a unique relationship with the United States because they may be members of nations, tribes, or bands of Native Americans who have sovereignty or independence from the government of the United States. Their societies and cultures flourish within a larger population of descendants of immigrants (both voluntary and slave): African, Asian, Middle Eastern, and European peoples. Native Americans who were not already U.S. citizens were granted citizenship in 1924 by the Congress of the United States.

Pre-Columbian

According to the still-debated Settlement of the Americas, a migration of humans from Eurasia to the Americas took place via Beringia, a land bridge which formerly connected the two continents across what is now the Bering Strait.[13] Falling sea levels created the Bering land bridge that joined Siberia to Alaska, which began about 60,000 – 25,000 years ago.[14][13] The minimum time depth by which this migration had taken place is confirmed at 12,000 years ago, with the upper bound (or earliest period) remaining a matter of some unresolved contention.[15][16] These early Paleoamericans soon spread throughout the Americas, diversifying into many hundreds of culturally distinct nations and tribes.[17] The North American climate finally stabilized by 8000 BCE; climatic conditions were very similar to today's.[18] This led to widespread migration, cultivation of crops, and subsequently a dramatic rise in population all over the Americas.

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

Numerous Paleoindian cultures occupied North America, with some restricted to the Great Plains and Great Lakes of the modern United States of America and Canada, as well as adjacent areas to the west and southwest. According to the oral histories of many of the indigenous peoples of the Americas, they have been living there since their genesis, described by a wide range of traditional creation accounts.[19] The Folsom Tradition was characterized by use of Folsom points as projectile tips, and activities known from kill sites where slaughter and butchering of bison took place. Folsom tools were left behind between 9000 BCE and 8000 BCE.[20]

The Na-Dené people entered North America starting around 8000 BC, reaching the Pacific Northwest by 5000 BCE,[21] and from there migrating along the Pacific Coast and into the interior. Linguists, anthropologists and archeologists believe their ancestors comprised a separate migration into North America, later than the first Paleo-Indians. They settled first around present-day Queen Charlotte Islands, British Columbia, from where they migrated into Alaska and northern Canada, south along the Pacific Coast, and into the interior. They were the earliest ancestors of the Athabascan- speaking peoples, including the present-day and historical Navajo and Apache. Their villages were constructed with large multi-family dwellings, used seasonally. People did not live there year round, but for the summer to hunt and fish, and to gather food supplies for the winter.[22] The Oshara Tradition people lived from 5500 BCE to 600 CE. The Southwestern Archaic Tradition was centered in north-central New Mexico, the San Juan Basin, the Rio Grande Valley, southern Colorado, and southeastern Utah.

Poverty Point culture is an archaeological culture whose people inhabited the area of the lower Mississippi Valley and surrounding Gulf Coast. The culture thrived from 2200 BC- 700 BC, during the late Archaic period.[23] Evidence of this culture has been found at more than 100 sites, from Poverty Point, Louisiana across a 100-mile range to the Jaketown Site near Belzoni, Mississippi.

The Woodland period of North American pre-Columbian cultures refers to the time period from roughly 1000 BC to 1000 CE in the eastern part of North America. The term "Woodland" was coined in the 1930s and refers to prehistoric sites dated between the Archaic period and the Mississippian cultures. The Hopewell tradition is the term used to describe common aspects of the Native American culture that flourished along rivers in the northeastern and midwestern United States from 200 BC to 500 CE.[24]

The Hopewell tradition was not a single culture or society, but a widely dispersed set of related populations, who were connected by a common network of trade routes,[25] known as the Hopewell Exchange System. At its greatest extent, the Hopewell exchange system ran from the Southeastern United States into the southeastern Canadian shores of Lake Ontario. Within this area, societies participated in a high degree of exchange with the highest amount of activity along the waterways serving as their major transportation routes. The Hopewell exchange system traded materials from all over the United States.

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

Hohokam is one of the four major prehistoric archaeological traditions of the present-day American Southwest.[26] Living as simple farmers, they raised corn and beans. The early Hohokam founded a series of small villages along the middle Gila River. The communities were located near good arable land, with dry farming common in the earlier years of this period.[26] Wells, usually less than deep, were dug for domestic water supplies by 300 CE to 500 CE.[26] Early Hohokam homes were constructed of branches bent in a semi-circular fashion and then covered with twigs, reeds and heavily applied mud and other materials at hand.[26]

Although not as technologically advanced as the Mesoamerican civilizations further south, sophisticated pre-Columbian sedentary societies evolved in North America. The Southeastern Ceremonial Complex is the name archeologists have given to the regional stylistic similarity of artifacts, iconography, ceremonies and mythology of the Mississippian culture, which coincided with the people's adoption of maize agriculture and chiefdom-level complex social organization from 1200 CE to 1650 CE.[27][28] Contrary to popular belief, this development appears to have no direct links to Mesoamerica. It developed independently, with sophistication based on the accumulation of maize surpluses, more dense population and specialization of skills.[dubious ] This Ceremonial Complex represents a major component of the religion of the Mississippian peoples, and is one of the primary means by which their religion is understood.[29]

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

The Iroquois League of Nations or "People of the Long House" hand a confederacy model that was claimed to contributed to political thinking during the later development of the democratic United States government. Their system of affiliation was a kind of federation, a departure from the strong monarchies from which the Europeans came.[30][31] Leadership was restricted to a group of 50 sachem chiefs, each representing one clan within a tribe; the Oneidas and Mohawk people had nine seats each, the Onondagas held fourteen, the Cayugas had ten and the Senecas had eight. Representation was not based on population numbers, as the Seneca tribe greatly outnumbered the others, possibly even combined. When a sachem chief died, his successor was chosen by the senior woman of his tribe in consultation with other female members of the clan, with descent occurring matrilineally. Decisions were not made through voting but through consensus decision making, with each sachem chief holding theoretical veto power. The Onondagas were the "firekeepers", responsible for raising topics to be discussed, and occupied one side of a three-sided fire (the Mohawks and Senecas sat on one side of the fire, the Oneidas and Cayugas on the other).[32] Elizabeth Tooker, anthropologist at Temple University, commented that it was unlikely the system of government was copied by the founding fathers as it bears little resemblance to the ultimate system of governance adopted in the United States and includes inherited rather than elected leadership selected by female members of the tribes, unanimous decision making irrespective of population size and only a single group capable of bringing matters before the legislative body.[32]

Long-distance trading did not prevent warfare among the indigenous peoples. For instance, archaeology and the tribes' oral histories have contributed to an understanding that the Iroquois' conducted invasions and warfare about 1200 CE against tribes in the Ohio River area of present-day Kentucky. Finally they drove many to migrate west to their historically traditional lands west of the Mississippi River. Tribes originating in the Ohio Valley who moved west included the Osage, Kaw, Ponca and Omaha people. By the mid-17th century, they had resettled in their historical lands in present-day Kansas, Nebraska, Arkansas and Oklahoma. The Osage warred with native Caddo-speaking Native Americans, displacing them in turn by the mid-18th century and dominating their new historical territories.[33]

European exploration and colonization

After 1492 European exploration of the Americas revolutionized how the Old and New Worlds perceived themselves. One of the first major contacts, in what would be called the American Deep South, occurred when conquistador Juan Ponce de León landed in La Florida in April of 1513. Ponce de León was later followed by other Spanish explorers, such as Pánfilo de Narváez in 1528 and Hernando de Soto in 1539. The subsequent European colonialists in North America often rationalized the spread of empire with the presumption that they were saving a barbaric and pagan world by spreading Christian civilization.[34] In the Spanish colonization of the Americas the policy of Indian Reductions resulted in forced conversions of the indigenous people in northern Nuevo España from their long practiced spiritual and religious traditions and theological beliefs.

Impact on Native Populations

From the 16th through the 19th centuries, the population of Native Americans declined in the following ways: epidemic diseases brought from Europe; genocide and warfare [35] at the hands of European explorers and colonists, as well as between tribes; displacement from their lands; internal warfare,[36] enslavement; and a high rate of intermarriage.[37][38] Most mainstream scholars believe that, among the various contributing factors, epidemic disease was the overwhelming cause of the population decline of the American natives because of their lack of immunity to new diseases brought from Europe.[39][40][41] With the rapid declines of some populations and continuing rivalries among their own nations, Native Americans sometimes re-organized to form new cultural groups, such as the Seminoles of Florida and Mission Indians of Alta California.

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

In 1965, American anthropologist Henry Dobyns published studies estimating the original population at 10 to 12 million. By 1983, however, he increased his estimates to 18 million.[42] He took into account the mortality rates caused by infectious diseases of European explorers and settlers, against which Native Americans had no natural immunity. Dobyns combined the known mortality rates of these diseases among native people with reliable population records of the 19th century, to calculate the probable size of the original populations.[4][5]

Chicken pox and measles, although by this time endemic and rarely fatal among Europeans (long after being introduced from Asia), often proved deadly to Native Americans. Smallpox proved particularly fatal to Native American populations.[43] Epidemics often immediately followed European exploration and sometimes destroyed entire village populations. While precise figures are difficult to determine, some historians estimate that up to 80% of some Native populations died after first contact due to Eurasian infectious diseases.[44] One theory of Columbian exchange suggests explorers from the Christopher Columbus expedition contracted syphilis from indigenous peoples and carried it back to Europe, where it spread widely.[45] Other researchers believe that the disease existed in Europe and Asia before Columbus and his men returned from exposure to indigenous peoples of the Americas, but that they brought back a more virulent form. (See Syphilis.)

In 1618–1619, smallpox wiped out 90% of the Massachusetts Bay Native Americans.[46] Historians believe many Mohawk Native Americans in present-day New York were infected after contact with children of Dutch traders in Albany in 1634. The disease swept through Mohawk villages, reaching Native Americans at Lake Ontario by 1636, and the lands of the western Iroquois by 1679, as it was carried by Mohawk and other Native Americans who traveled the trading routes.[47] The high rate of fatalities caused breakdowns in Native American societies and disrupted generational exchanges of culture.

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

After European explorers reached the West Coast in the 1770s, smallpox rapidly killed at least 30% of Northwest Coast Native Americans. For the next 80 to 100 years, smallpox and other diseases devastated native populations in the region.[48] 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.[49] Although the Spanish missions in California did not significantly affect the Population of Native American Californians, their number saw a rapid decrease after California ceased to be a Spanish colony, specially during the second half of the 19th century and the beginning of the 20th (see chart on the right).

Smallpox epidemics in 1780–1782 and 1837–1838 brought devastation and drastic depopulation among the Plains Indians.[50][51] 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.[52][53]