Native Americans in the United States are the indigenous peoples from the regions of North America now encompassed by the continental United States, including parts of Alaska. They comprise a large number of distinct tribes, states, and ethnic groups, many of which survive as intact political communities. There has been a wide range of terms used to describe them and no consensus has been reached among indigenous members as to what they prefer to be called collectively. They have been known as American Indians, Amerindians, Amerinds, Aboriginal, Indians, Indigenous, Original Americans, Red Indians, or Red Men.
European colonization of the Americas was a period of conflict between Old and New World cultures. Most of the written historical record about Native Americans began with European contact. Ideologies clashed, old world diseases decimated, religious institutions challenged, and technologies were exchanged in what would be one of the greatest and most devastating meetings of cultures in the history of the world. Native Americans lived in hunter/farmer subsistence societies with much fewer societal constraints and institutional structures, and much less focus on material goods and market transactions, than the rigid, institutionalized, market-based, materialistic, and tyrannical societies of Western Europe. The differences between the two societies were vast enough to make for significant misunderstandings and create long-lasting cultural conflicts.
As the colonies revolted against England and established the United States of America, the ideology of Manifest destiny was ingrained into the American psyche. The idea of civilizing Native Americans (as conceived by George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, and Henry Knox) and assimilation (whether voluntary as with the Choctaw, or forced) were a consistent policy through American administrations. Major resistance, or “Indian Wars,” to American expansion were nearly a constant issue up until the 1890s.
Native Americans today have a special relationship with the United States of America. They can be found as nations, tribes, or bands of Native Americans who have sovereignty or independence from the government of the United States, and whose society and culture still flourish amidst a larger immigrated American (such as European, African, Asian, Middle Eastern) populace. Native Americans who were not already U.S. citizens as granted by other provisions such as with a treaty term were granted citizenship in 1924 by the Congress of the United States.
According to the still-debated New World migration model, a migration of humans from Eurasia to the Americas took place via Beringia, a land bridge which formerly connected the two continents across what is now the Bering Strait. The minimum time depth by which this migration had taken place is confirmed at c. 12,000 years ago, with the upper bound (or earliest period) remaining a matter of some unresolved contention. These early Paleoamericans soon spread throughout the Americas, diversifying into many hundreds of culturally distinct nations and tribes. 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.
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 like Pánfilo de Narváez in 1528 and Hernando de Soto in 1539.
The European exploration and subsequent colonization obliterated some Native Americans populations and cultures. Other re-organized to form new cultural groups. From the 16th through the 19th centuries, the population of Native Americans declined in the following ways: epidemic diseases brought from Europe along with violence at the hands of European explorers and colonists; displacement from their lands; internal warfare, enslavement; and a high rate of intermarriage. Most mainstream scholars believe that, among the various contributing factors, epidemic disease was the overwhelming cause of the population decline of the American natives because of their lack of immunity to new diseases brought from Europe.
European explorers and settlers brought infectious diseases to North America against which the Native Americans had no natural immunity. Chicken pox and measles, though common and rarely fatal among Europeans, often proved deadly to Native Americans. Smallpox proved particularly deadly to Native American populations. Epidemics often immediately followed European exploration and sometimes destroyed entire village populations. While precise figures are difficult to determine, some historians estimate that up to 80% of some Native populations died due to European diseases after first contact.
In 1618–1619, smallpox wiped out 90% of the Massachusetts Bay Native Americans. Historians believe Mohawk Native Americans were infected after contact with children of Dutch traders in Albany in 1634. The disease swept through Mohawk villages, reaching Native Americans at Lake Ontario in 1636, and the lands of the Iroquois by 1679, as it was carried by Mohawks and other Native Americans who traveled the trading routes. The high rate of fatalities caused breakdowns in Native American societies and disrupted generational exchanges of culture.
Similarly, after initial direct contact with European explorers in the 1770s, smallpox rapidly killed at least 30% of Northwest Coast Native Americans. For the next 80 to 100 years, smallpox and other diseases devastated native populations in the region. Puget Sound area populations once as high as 37,000 were reduced to only 9,000 survivors by the time settlers arrived en masse in the mid-19th century.
Smallpox epidemics in 1780–1782 and 1837–1838 brought devastation and drastic depopulation among the Plains Indians. By 1832, the federal government established a smallpox vaccination program for Native Americans (The Indian Vaccination Act of 1832). It was the first program created to address a health problem of American Indians.
In the sixteenth century Spaniards and other Europeans brought horses to the Americas. The reintroduction of horses resulted in benefits to Native Americans. As they adopted the animals, they began to change their cultures in substantial ways, especially by extending their ranges. Some of the horses escaped and began to breed and increase their numbers in the wild. Horses had originated naturally in North America and migrated westward via the Bering Land Bridge to Asia. The early American horse was game for the earliest humans and was hunted to extinction about 7,000 BC, just after the end of the last glacial period.
The re-introduction of the horse to North America had a profound impact on Native American culture of the Great Plains. The tribes trained and used the horses to ride and to carry packs or pull travois, to expand their territories markedly, more easily exchange goods with neighboring tribes, and more easily hunt game. They fully incorporated the use of horses into their societies, including using the horses to conduct warring raids.
Native American societies reminded Europeans of a golden age only known to them in folk history. The idea of freedom and democratic ideals was born in the Americas because "it was only in America" that Europeans from 1500 to 1776 knew of societies that were "truly free."
Natural freedom is the only object of the polity of the [Native Americans]; with this freedom do nature and climate rule alone amongst them ... [Native Americans] maintain their freedom and find abundant nourishment . . . [and are] people who live without laws, without police, without religion.|20px|20px|- Jean Jacques Rousseau, Jesuit and Savage in New France
The Iroquois nations' political confederacy and democratic government has been credited as one of the influences on the Articles of Confederation and the United States Constitution. However, there is heated debate among historians about the importance of their contribution. Although Native American governmental influence is debated, it is a historical fact that several founding fathers had contact with the Iroquois, and prominent figures such as Thomas Jefferson and Benjamin Franklin were involved with their stronger and larger native neighbor-- the Iroquois.
During the American Revolution, the newly proclaimed United States competed with the British for the allegiance of Native American nations east of the Mississippi River. Most Native Americans who joined the struggle sided with the British, hoping to use the American Revolutionary War to halt further colonial expansion onto Native American land. Many native communities were divided over which side to support in the war. The first native community to sign a treaty with the new United States Government was the Lenape. For the Iroquois Confederacy, the American Revolution resulted in civil war. Cherokees split into a neutral (or pro-American) faction and the anti-American Chickamaugas, led by Dragging Canoe.
Frontier warfare during the American Revolution was particularly brutal, and numerous atrocities were committed by settlers and native tribes alike. Noncombatants suffered greatly during the war. Military expeditions on each side destroyed villages and food supplies to reduce the ability of people to fight, as in frequent raids in the Mohawk Valley and western New York. The largest of these expeditions was the Sullivan Expedition of 1779, in which American troops destroyed more than 40 Iroquois villages to neutralize Iroquois raids in upstate New York. The expedition failed to have the desired effect: Native American activity became even more determined.
American Indians have played a central role in shaping the history of the nation, and they are deeply woven into the social fabric of much of American life ... During the last three decades of the twentieth century, scholars of ethnohistory, of the "new Indian history," and of Native American studies forcefully demonstrated that to understand American history and the American experience, one must include American Indians.|20px|20px|- Robbie Ethridge, Creek Country.
The British made peace with the Americans in the Treaty of Paris (1783), through which they ceded vast Native American territories to the United States without informing the Native Americans. The United States initially treated the Native Americans who had fought with the British as a conquered people who had lost their lands. Although many of the Iroquois tribes went to Canada with the Loyalists, others tried to stay in New York and western territories and tried to maintain their lands. Nonetheless, the state of New York made a separate treaty with Iroquois and put up for sale of land that had previously been their territory. The state established a reservation near Syracuse for the Onondagas who had been allies of the colonists.
The United States was eager to expand, to develop farming and settlements in new areas, and to satisfy land hunger of settlers from New England and new immigrants. The national government initially sought to purchase Native American land by treaties. The states and settlers were frequently at odds with this policy.
European nations often sent Native Americans, often against their will and others went willingly, to the Old World as objects of curiosity. They often entertained royalty and were sometimes prey to commercial purposes. Christianization of Native Americans was a charted purpose for some European colonies.
American policy toward Native Americans had continued to evolve after the American Revolution. George Washington and Henry Knox believed that Native Americans were equals but that their society was inferior. He formulated a policy to encourage the "civilizing" process. Washington had a six-point plan for civilization which included,
1. impartial justice toward Native Americans
2. regulated buying of Native American lands
3. promotion of commerce
4. promotion of experiments to civilize or improve Native American society
5. presidential authority to give presents
6. punishing those who violated Native American rights.
Robert Remini, a historian, wrote that "once the Indians adopted the practice of private property, built homes, farmed, educated their children, and embraced Christianity, these Native Americans would win acceptance from white Americans." The United States appointed agents, like Benjamin Hawkins, to live among the Native Americans and to teach them how to live like whites.
How different would be the sensation of a philosophic mind to reflect that instead of exterminating a part of the human race by our modes of population that we had persevered through all difficulties and at last had imparted our Knowledge of cultivating and the arts, to the Aboriginals of the Country by which the source of future life and happiness had been preserved and extended. But it has been conceived to be impracticable to civilize the Indians of North America - This opinion is probably more convenient than just.|20px|20px|-Henry Knox to George Washington, 1790s.
In the late eighteenth century, reformers starting with Washington and Knox, in efforts to "civilize" or otherwise assimilate Native Americans (as opposed to relegating them to reservations), adopted the practice of educating native children. The Civilization Fund Act of 1819 promoted this civilization policy by providing funding to societies (mostly religious) who worked on Native American improvement. Native American Boarding Schools, which were run primarily by Christian missionaries, often proved traumatic to Native American children, who were forbidden to speak their native languages, taught Christianity and denied the right to practice their native religions, and in numerous other ways forced to abandon their Native American identities and adopt European-American culture. There were many documented cases of sexual, physical and mental abuse occurring at these schools.
The Indian Citizenship Act of 1924 granted U.S. citizenship to all Native Americans. Prior to the passage of the act, nearly two-thirds of Native Americans were already U.S. citizens. The earliest recorded date of Native Americans becoming U.S. citizens was in 1831 when the Mississippi Choctaw became citizens after the United States Legislature ratified the Treaty of Dancing Rabbit Creek. Under article XIV of that treaty, any Choctaw, who elected not to move to Native American Territory, could become an American citizen when he registers and if he stays on designated lands for five years after treaty ratification. Citizenship could also be obtained by:
1. Treaty Provision (as with the Mississippi Choctaw)
2. Allotment under the 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
9. Special Act of Congress.
Be it enacted by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America in Congress assembled, That all noncitizen Native Americans born within the territorial limits of the United States be, and they are hereby, declared to be citizens of the United States: Provided, That the granting of such citizenship shall not in any manner impair or otherwise affect the right of any Native American to tribal or other property.|20px|20px| - Indian Citizenship Act of 1924
Manifest Destiny had serious consequences for Native Americans since continental expansion implicitly meant the occupation of Native American land. Manifest Destiny was an explanation or justification for expansion and westward movement, or, in some interpretations, an ideology or doctrine which helped to promote the process of civilization. Advocates of Manifest Destiny believed that expansion was not only good, but that it was obvious and certain. The term was first used primarily by Jacksonian Democrats in the 1840s to promote the annexation of much of what is now the Western United States (the Oregon Territory, the Texas Annexation, and the Mexican Cession).
What a prodigious growth this English race, especially the American branch of it, is having! How soon will it subdue and occupy all the wild parts of this continent and of the islands adjacent. No prophecy, however seemingly extravagant, as to future achievements in this way [is] likely to equal the reality.|20px|20px|-Rutherford Birchard Hayes, U.S. President, January 1, 1857, Personal Diary.
The age of Manifest Destiny, which came to be known as "Indian Removal", gained ground. Although some humanitarian advocates of removal believed that Native Americans would be better off moving away from whites, an increasing number of Americans regarded the natives as nothing more than "savages" who stood in the way of American expansion. Thomas Jefferson believed that while Native Americans were the intellectual equals of whites, they had to live like the whites or inevitably be pushed aside by them. Jefferson's belief, rooted in Enlightenment thinking, that whites and Native Americans would merge to create a single nation did not last, and he began to believe that the natives should emigrate across the Mississippi River and maintain a separate society.
Conflicts generally known as "Indian Wars" broke out between colonial/American government and Native American societies. U.S. government authorities entered into numerous treaties during this period but later abrogated many for various reasons; however, many treaties are considered "living" documents. Major conflicts east of the Mississippi River include the Pequot War, Creek War, and Seminole Wars. Native American Nations west of the Mississippi were numerous and wer the last to submit to U.S. authority. Notably, a multi-tribal army led by Tecumseh, a Shawnee chief, fought a number of engagements during the period 1811-12, known as Tecumseh's War. In the latter stages, Tecumseh's group allied with the British forces in the War of 1812 and was instrumental in the conquest of Detroit. Other military engagements included Native American victories at the Battle of the Wabash in 1791, the Seminole Wars, and the Battle of Little Bighorn in 1876. Defeats included the Creek War of 1813-14, the Sand Creek Massacre in 1864 and the Wounded Knee in 1890. These conflicts were catalysts to the decline of dominate Native American culture.
The Indian (was thought) as less than human and worthy only of extermination. We did shoot down defenseless men, and women and children at places like Camp Grant, Sand Creek, and Wounded Knee. We did feed strychnine to red warriors. We did set whole villages of people out naked to freeze in the iron cold of Montana winters. And we did confine thousands in what amounted to concentration camps.|20px|20px| Wellman- The Indian Wars of the West, 1934
In the nineteenth century, the incessant westward expansion of the United States incrementally compelled large numbers of Native Americans to resettle further west, often by force, almost always reluctantly, long held to be an illegal practice, given the status of the Hopewell Treaty of 1785. Under President Andrew Jackson, United States Congress passed the Indian Removal Act of 1830, which authorized the President to conduct treaties to exchange Native American land east of the Mississippi River for lands west of the river. As many as 100,000 Native Americans eventually relocated in the West as a result of this Indian Removal policy. In theory, relocation was supposed to be voluntary and many Native Americans did remain in the East. In practice, great pressure was put on Native American leaders to sign removal treaties.
The most egregious violation of the stated intention of the removal policy took place under the Treaty of New Echota, which was signed by a dissident faction of Cherokees but not the elected leadership. President Jackson rigidly enforced the treaty, which resulted in the deaths of an estimated 4,000 Cherokees on the Trail of Tears. About 17,000 Cherokees along with approximately 2,000 black slaves held by Cherokees were removed from their homes.
Native American Removal forced or coerced the relocation of major Native American groups in the Eastern United States, resulting directly and indirectly in the deaths of tens of thousands. Tribes were generally located to reservations on which they could more easily be separated from traditional life and pushed into European-American society. Some southern states additionally enacted laws in the 19th century forbidding non-Native American settlement on Native American lands, with the intention to prevent sympathetic white missionaries from aiding the scattered Native American resistance.
The resulting increase in contact with the world outside of the reservation system brought profound changes to American Indian culture. "The war," said the U.S. Indian commissioner in 1945, "caused the greatest disruption of Indian life since the beginning of the reservation era", affecting the habits, views, and economic well-being of tribal members. The most significant of these changes was the opportunity—as a result of wartime labor shortages—to find well-paying work. Yet there were losses to contend with as well. Altogether, 1,200 Pueblo Indians served in World War II; only about half came home alive. in addition many more Navajo served as code talkers for the military in the pacific. the code they made was never cracked by the Japanese.
There are 561 federally recognized tribal governments in the United States. These tribes possess the right to form their own government, to enforce laws (both civil and criminal), to tax, to establish requirements for membership, to license and regulate activities, to zone and to exclude persons from tribal territories. Limitations on tribal powers of self-government include the same limitations applicable to states; for example, neither tribes nor states have the power to make war, engage in foreign relations, or coin money (this includes paper currency).
Many Native Americans and advocates of Native American rights point out that the US Federal government's claim to recognize the "sovereignty" of Native American peoples falls short, given that the US still wishes to govern Native American peoples and treat them as subject to US law. True respect for Native American sovereignty, according to such advocates, would require the United States federal government to deal with Native American peoples in the same manner as any other sovereign nation, handling matters related to relations with Native Americans through the Secretary of State, rather than the Bureau of Indian Affairs. The Bureau of Indian Affairs reports on its website that its "responsibility is the administration and management of of land held in trust by the United States for American Indians, Indian tribes, and Alaska Natives. Many Native Americans and advocates of Native American rights believe that it is condescending for such lands to be considered "held in trust" and regulated in any fashion by a foreign power, whether the US Federal Government, Canada, or any other non-Native American authority.
According to 2003 United States Census Bureau estimates, a little over one third of the 2,786,652 Native Americans in the United States live in three states: California at 413,382, Arizona at 294,137 and Oklahoma at 279,559.
As of 2000, the largest tribes in the U.S. by population were Navajo, Cherokee, Choctaw, Sioux, Chippewa, Apache, Blackfeet, Iroquois, and Pueblo. In 2000, eight of ten Americans with Native American ancestry were of mixed blood. It is estimated that by 2100 that figure will rise to nine out of ten. In addition, there are a number of tribes that are recognized by individual states, but not by the federal government. The rights and benefits associated with state recognition vary from state to state.
Some tribal nations have been unable to establish their heritage and obtain federal recognition. The Muwekma Ohlone of the San Francisco bay area are pursuing litigation in the federal court system to establish recognition. Many of the smaller eastern tribes have been trying to gain official recognition of their tribal status. The recognition confers some benefits, including the right to label arts and crafts as Native American and permission to apply for grants that are specifically reserved for Native Americans. But gaining recognition as a tribe is extremely difficult; to be established as a tribal group, members have to submit extensive genealogical proof of tribal descent.
Military defeat, cultural pressure, confinement on reservations, forced cultural assimilation, outlawing of native languages and culture, termination policies of the 1950s and 1960s and earlier, slavery and poverty, have had deleterious effects on Native Americans' mental and physical health. Contemporary health problems suffered disproportionately include alcoholism, heart disease, diabetes, and suicide.
As recently as the 1970s, the Bureau of Indian Affairs was still actively pursuing a policy of "assimilation", dating at least to the Indian Citizenship Act of 1924. The goal of assimilation—plainly stated early on—was to eliminate the reservations and steer Native Americans into mainstream U.S. culture. In July 2000 the Washington state Republican Party adopted a resolution of termination for tribal governments. As of 2004, there are still claims of theft of Native American land for the coal and uranium it contains.
In the state of Virginia, Native Americans face a unique problem. Virginia has no federally recognized tribes, largely due to Walter Ashby Plecker. In 1912, Plecker became the first registrar of the state's Bureau of Vital Statistics, serving until 1946. Plecker believed that the state's Native Americans had been "mongrelized" with its African American population. A law passed by the state's General Assembly recognized only two races, "white" and "colored". Plecker pressured local governments into reclassifying all Native Americans in the state as "colored", leading to the destruction of records on the state's Native American community.
Maryland also has a non-recognized tribal nation—the Piscataway Indian Nation.
In order to receive federal recognition and the benefits it confers, tribes must prove their continuous existence since 1900. The federal government has so far refused to bend on this bureaucratic requirement. A bill currently before U.S. Congress to ease this requirement has been favorably reported out of a key Senate committee, being supported by both of Virginia's senators, George Allen and John Warner, but faces opposition in the House from Representative Virgil Goode, who has expressed concerns that federal recognition could open the door to gambling in the state.
In the early 21st century, Native American communities remain an enduring fixture on the United States landscape, in the American economy, and in the lives of Native Americans. Communities have consistently formed governments that administer services like firefighting, natural resource management, and law enforcement. Most Native American communities have established court systems to adjudicate matters related to local ordinances, and most also look to various forms of moral and social authority vested in traditional affiliations within the community. To address the housing needs of Native Americans, Congress passed the Native American Housing and Self Determination Act (NAHASDA) in 1996. This legislation replaced public housing, and other 1937 Housing Act programs directed towards Indian Housing Authorities, with a block grant program directed towards Tribes.
Despite the ongoing political and social issues surrounding Native Americans' position in the United States, there has been relatively little public opinion research on attitudes toward them among the general public. In a 2007 focus group study by the nonpartisan Public Agenda organization, most non-Indians admitted they rarely encounter Native Americans in their daily lives. While sympathetic toward Native Americans and expressing regret over the past, most people had only a vague understanding of the problems facing Native Americans today. For their part, Native Americans told researchers that they believed they continued to face prejudice and mistreatment in the broader society.
LeCompte also endured taunting on the battlefield. "They ridiculed him and called him a 'drunken Indian.' They said, 'Hey, dude, you look just like a haji--you'd better run.' They call the Arabs 'haji.' I mean, it's one thing to worry for your life, but then to have to worry about friendly fire because you don't know who in the hell will shoot you?|20px|20px| Tammie LeCompte, May 25, 2007, Soldier highlights problems in U.S. Army
Conflicts between the federal government and native Americans occasionally erupt into violence. Perhaps one of the more noteworthy incidents in recent history is the Wounded Knee incident in small town of Wounded Knee, South Dakota. On February 27, 1973, the town was surrounded by federal law enforcement officials and the United States military. The town itself was under the control of members of the American Indian Movement which was protesting a variety of issues important to the organization. Two members of AIM were killed and one United States Marshal was paralyzed as a result of gunshot wounds. In the aftermath of the conflict, one man, Leonard Peltier was arrested and sentenced to life in prison while another, John Graham, as late as 2007, was extradited to the U.S. to stand trial for killing a Native American woman, months after the standoff, that he believed to be an FBI informant.
He is ignoble—base and treacherous, and hateful in every way. Not even imminent death can startle him into a spasm of virtue. The ruling trait of all savages is a greedy and consuming selfishness, and in our Noble Red Man it is found in its amplest development. His heart is a cesspool of falsehood, of treachery, and of low and devilish instincts ... The scum of the earth!'|20px|20px| Mark Twain, 1870, The Noble Red Man''
Intertribal and interracial mixing was common among Native American tribes making it difficult to clearly identify which tribe an individual belonged to. Bands or entire tribes occasionally split or merged to form more viable groups in reaction to the pressures of climate, disease and warfare. A number of tribes practiced the adoption of captives into their group to replace their members who had been captured or killed in battle. These captives came from rival tribes and later from European settlers. Some tribes also sheltered or adopted white traders and runaway slaves and Native American-owned slaves. So a number of paths to genetic mixing existed.
In later years, such mixing, however, proved an obstacle to qualifying for recognition and assistance from the U.S. federal government or for tribal money and services. To receive such support, Native Americans must belong to and be certified by a recognized tribal entity. This has taken a number of different forms as each tribal government makes its own rules while the federal government has its own set of standards. In many cases, qualification is based upon the percentage of Native American blood, or the "blood quantum" of an individual seeking recognition. To attain such certainty, some tribes have begun requiring genetic genealogy (DNA testing). Requirements for tribal certification vary widely by tribe. The Cherokee require only a descent from a Native American listed on the early 20th century Dawes Rolls while federal scholarships require enrollment in a federally recognized tribe as well as a Certificate of Degree of Indian Blood card showing at least a one-quarter Native American descent. Tribal rules regarding recognition of members with Native American blood from multiple tribes are equally diverse and complex.
Tribal membership conflicts have led to a number of activist groups, legal disputes and court cases. One example are the Cherokee freedmen, who were descendants of slaves once owned by the Cherokees. The Cherokees had allied with the Confederate States of America in the American Civil War and, after the war, were forced by the federal government, in an 1866 treaty, to free their slaves and make them citizens. They were later disallowed as tribe members due to their not having "Indian blood". However, in March 2006, the Judicial Appeals Tribunal—the Cherokee Nation's highest court—ruled that Cherokee freedmen are full citizens of the Cherokee Nation. The court declared that the Cherokee freedmen retain citizenship, voting rights and other privileges despite attempts to keep them off the tribal rolls for not having identifiable "Indian" blood. In March 2007, however, the Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma passed a referendum requiring members to have descent from at least one Native American ancestor on the Dawes Rolls. More than 1200 Freedmen lost their tribal membership after more than 100 years of participation.
In the 20th century, people among white ethnic groups began to claim descent from an "American Indian princess", often a Cherokee. The prototypical "American Indian princess" was Pocahontas, and, in fact, descent from her is a frequent claim. However, the American Indian "princess" is a false concept, derived from the application of European concepts to Native Americans, as also seen in the naming of war chiefs as "kings". Descent from "Indian braves" is also sometimes claimed.
Descent from Native Americans became fashionable not only among whites claiming prestigious colonial descent but also among whites seeking to claim connection to groups with distinct folkways that would differentiate them from the mass culture. Large influxes of recent immigrants with unique social customs may have been partially an object of envy. Among African Americans, the desire to be more than black was sometimes expressed in claims of Native American descent. Those passing as white might use the slightly more acceptable Native American ancestry to explain inconvenient details of their heritage.
Native Americans have been depicted by American artists in various ways at different historical periods. During the period when America was first being colonized, in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, the artist John White made watercolors and engravings of the people native to the southeastern states. John White’s images were, for the most part, faithful likenesses of the people he observed. Later the artist Theodore de Bry used White’s original watercolors to make a book of engravings entitled, A briefe and true report of the new found land of Virginia. In his book, de Bry often altered the poses and features of White’s figures to make them appear more European, probably in order to make his book more marketable to a European audience. During the period that White and de Bry were working, when Europeans were first coming into contact with native Americans, there was a large interest and curiosity in native American cultures by Europeans, which would have created the demand for a book like de Bry’s.
Several centuries later, during the construction of the Capitol building in the early nineteenth century, the U.S. government commissioned a series of four relief panels to crown the doorway of the Rotunda. The reliefs encapsulate a vision of European—Native American relations that had assumed mythicohistorical proportions by the nineteenth century. The four panels depict: The Preservation of Captain Smith by Pocahontas (1825) by Antonio Capellano, The Landing of the Pilgrims (1825) and The Conflict of Daniel Boone and the Indians (1826–27) by Enrico Causici, and William Penn’s Treaty with the Indians (1827) by Nicholas Gevelot. The reliefs present idealized versions of the Europeans and the native Americans, in which the Europeans appear refined and gentile, and the natives appear ferocious and savage. The Whig representative of Virginia, Henry A. Wise, voiced a particularly astute summary of how Native Americans would read the messages contained in all four reliefs: “We give you corn, you cheat us of our lands: we save your life, you take ours.” While many nineteenth century images of native Americans conveyed similarly negative messages, there were artists, such as Charles Bird King, who sought to express a more realistic image of the native Americans.
Native Americans in television and movies roles were first depicted by European-Americans dressed in mock traditional attire. Such instances include the 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) and Iron Eyes Cody came to prominence; however, roles were still diminutive and not reflective of Native American culture. In the 1970s some Native Americans roles in movies had become reality based. Little Big Man (1970), Billy Jack (1971), and The Outlaw Josey Wales (1976) depicted Native Americans in minor supporting roles. Dances with Wolves (1990), The Last of the Mohicans (1992), and Smoke Signals (1998) employed Native American actors, culture, and languages so that those features could portray a better sense of authenticity.
The use of Native American mascots in sports has become a contentious issue in the United States and Canada. Americans have had a history of "playing Indian" that dates back to at least the 1700s. Many individuals admire the heroism and romanticism evoked by the classic Native American image, but many too view the use of mascots as both offensive and demeaning (especially amongst Native Americans). Despite the concerns that have been raised, many Native American mascots are still used in American sports from the elementary to the professional level.
(Trudie Lamb Richmond doesn't) know what to say when kids argue, 'I don't care what you say, we are honoring you. We are keeping our Indian.' ... What if it were 'our black' or 'our Hispanic'?|20px|20px|- Amy D'orio quoting Trudie Lamb Richmond, March 1996, Indian Chief Is Mascot No More
In August 2005, the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) banned the use of "hostile and abusive" Native American mascots from postseason tournaments. An exception was made to allow the use of tribal names as long as approved by that tribe (such as the Seminole Tribe of Florida approving the use of their name as the mascot for Florida State University.) The use of Native American themed team names in U.S. professional sports is widespread and often controversial, with examples such as Chief Wahoo of the Cleveland Indians and the Washington Redskins.
Could you imagine people mocking African Americans in black face at a game?” he said. 'Yet go to a game where there is a team with an Indian name and you will see fans with war paint on their faces. Is this not the equivalent to black face?' |20px|20px|- Teaching Tolerance, May 9, 2001, Native American Mascots Big Issue in College Sports
The term Native American was originally introduced in the United States by anthropologists as a more accurate term for the indigenous people of the Americas, as distinguished from the people of India. Because of the widespread acceptance of this newer term in and outside of academic circles, some people believe that Indians is outdated or offensive. People from India (and their descendants) who are citizens of the United States are known as Indian Americans or Asian Indians.
Criticism of the neologism Native American, however, comes from diverse sources. Some American Indians have misgivings about the term Native American. Russell Means, a famous American Indian activist, opposes the term Native American because he believes it was imposed by the government without the consent of American Indians. He has also argued that this use of the word Indian derives not from a confusion with India but from a Spanish expression En Dio, meaning "in God". Furthermore, some American Indians question the term Native American because, they argue, it serves to ease the conscience of "white America" with regard to past injustices done to American Indians by effectively eliminating "Indians" from the present. Still others (both Indians and non-Indians) argue that Native American is problematic because "native of" literally means "born in," so any person born in the Americas could be considered "native". However, very often the compound "Native American" will be capitalized in order to differentiate this intended meaning from others. Likewise, "native" (small 'n') can be further qualified by formulations such as "native-born" when the intended meaning is only to indicate place of birth or origin.
A 1995 US Census Bureau survey found that more American Indians in the United States preferred American Indian to Native American. Nonetheless, most American Indians are comfortable with Indian, American Indian, and Native American, and the terms are often used interchangeably. The traditional term is reflected in the name chosen for the National Museum of the American Indian, which opened in 2004 on the Mall in Washington, D.C..
Recently, the U.S. Census Bureau has introduced the "Asian-Indian" category to avoid ambiguity when sampling the Indian-American population.
Though cultural features, language, clothing, and customs vary enormously from one tribe to another, there are certain elements which are encountered frequently and shared by many tribes. ' Early hunter-gatherer tribes made stone weapons from around 10,000 years ago; as the age of metallurgy dawned, newer technologies were used and more efficient weapons produced. Prior to contact with Europeans, most tribes used similar weaponry. The most common implements were the bow and arrow, the war club, and the spear. Quality, material, and design varied widely. Native American use of fire both helped provide insects for food and altered the landscape of the continent to help the human population flourish.
Large mammals like mammoths and mastodons were largely extinct by around 8,000 B.C., primarily because of being overhunted by the American Indians. Native Americans switched to hunting other large game, such as bison. The Great Plains tribes were still hunting the bison when they first encountered the Europeans. Acquiring horses from the Spanish and learning to ride in the 17th century greatly altered the natives' culture, changing the way in which they hunted large game. In addition, horses became a central feature of Native lives and a measure of wealth.
Before the formation of tribal structure, a structure dominated by gentes existed.
The Iroquois, living around the Great Lakes and extending east and north, used strings or belts called wampum that served a dual function: the knots and beaded designs mnemonically chronicled tribal stories and legends, and further served as a medium of exchange and a unit of measure. The keepers of the articles were seen as tribal dignitaries.
Pueblo peoples crafted impressive items associated with their religious ceremonies. Kachina dancers wore elaborately painted and decorated masks as they ritually impersonated various ancestral spirits. Sculpture was not highly developed, but carved stone and wood fetishes were made for religious use. Superior weaving, embroidered decorations, and rich dyes characterized the textile arts. Both turquoise and shell jewelry were created, as were high-quality pottery and formalized pictorial arts.
Navajo spirituality focused on the maintenance of a harmonious relationship with the spirit world, often achieved by ceremonial acts, usually incorporating sandpainting. The colors—made from sand, charcoal, cornmeal, and pollen—depicted specific spirits. These vivid, intricate, and colorful sand creations were erased at the end of the ceremony.
Native American Agriculture started about 7,000 years ago in the area of present day Illinois. The first crop the Native Americans grew was squash. This was the first of several crops the Native Americans learned to domesticate. Others included cotton, sunflower, pumpkins, watermelon, tobacco, goosefoot, and sump weed. The most important crop the Native Americans raised was maize. It was first started in Mesoamerica and spread north. About 2,000 years ago it reached eastern America. This crop was important to the Native Americans because it was part of their everyday diet, it could be stored in underground pits during the winter, and no part of it was wasted. The husk was made into art crafts and the cob was used as fuel for fires. By 800 A.D. the Native Americans had established 3 main crops which were beans, squash, and corn called the three sisters. Agriculture in the southwest started around 4,000 years ago when traders brought cultigens from Mexico. Due to the varying climate, some ingenuity had to be done for agriculture to be successful. The climate in the southwest ranged from cool, moist mountains regions, to dry, sandy soil in the desert. Some innovations of the time included irrigation to bring water into the dry regions, and the selection of seed based on their seed trait. In the southwest, they grew beans that were self-supported, much of the way they are grown today. In the east, however, they were planted right by corn in order for the vein to be able to climb the stalk. The gender role of the Native Americans, when it came to agriculture, varied from region to region. In the southwest area, men would prepare the soil with hoes. The women were in charge of planting, weeding, and harvesting the crops. In most other regions, the women were in charge of doing everything including clearing the land. Clearing the land was an immense chore since the Native Americans rotated fields frequently. There have been stories about how Squanto showed pilgrims to put fish in fields and this would acts like a fertilizer, but this story is not true. They did plant beans next to corn; the beans would replace the nitrogen the corn took from the ground. They also had controlled fires to burn weeds and this would put nutrients back into the ground. If this did not work they would simply abandon the field and go find a new spot for their field.
Some of the tools the Native Americans used were the hoe, the maul, and the dibber. The hoe was the main tool used to till the land and prepare it for planting and then 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 hatches. The dibber was essentially a digging stick, and was used to plant the seed. Once the plants were harvested they were prepared by the women for eating. The maul was used to grind the corn into mash and was eaten that way or made into corn bread.
No particular religion or religious tradition is hegemonic among Native Americans in the United States. Most self-identifying and federally recognized Native Americans claim adherence to some form of Christianity, some of these being cultural and religious syntheses unique to the particular tribe. Traditional Native American spiritual rites and ceremonies are maintained by many Americans of both Native and non-Native identity. These spiritualities may accompany adherence to another faith, or can represent a person's primary religious identity. While much Native American spiritualism exists in a tribal-cultural continuum, and as such cannot be easily separated from tribal identity itself, certain other more clearly-defined movements have arisen within "Trad" Native American practitioners, these being identifiable as "religions" in the clinical sense. The Midewiwin Lodge is a traditional medicine society inspired by the oral traditions and prophesies of the Ojibwa (Chippewa) and related tribes. Traditional practices include the burning of sacred herbs (tobacco, sweetgrass, sage, etc.), the sweatlodge, fasting (paramount in "vision quests"), singing and drumming, and the smoking of natural tobacco in a pipe. A practitioner of Native American spiritualities and religions may incorporate all, some or none of these into their personal or tribal rituals.
Another significant religious body among Native peoples is known as the Native American Church. It is a syncretistic church incorporating elements of native spiritual practice from a number of different tribes as well as symbolic elements from Christianity. Its main rite is the peyote ceremony. Prior to 1890, traditional religious beliefs included Wakan Tanka. In the American Southwest, especially New Mexico, a syncretism between the Catholicism brought by Spanish missionaries and the native religion is common; the religious drums, chants, and dances of the Pueblo people are regularly part of Masses at Santa Fe's Saint Francis Cathedral. Native American-Catholic syncretism is also found elsewhere in the United States. (e.g., the National Kateri Tekakwitha Shrine in Fonda, New York and the National Shrine of the North American Martyrs in Auriesville, New York).
Native Americans are the only known ethnic group in the United States requiring a federal permit to practice their religion. The eagle feather law, (Title 50 Part 22 of the Code of Federal Regulations), stipulates that only individuals of certifiable Native American ancestry enrolled in a federally recognized tribe are legally authorized to obtain eagle feathers for religious or spiritual use. Native Americans and non-Native Americans frequently contest the value and validity of the eagle feather law, charging that the law is laden with discriminatory racial preferences and infringes on tribal sovereignty. The law does not allow Native Americans to give eagle feathers to non-Native Americans, a common modern and traditional practice. Many non-Native Americans have been adopted into Native American families, made tribal members and given eagle feathers.
Most Native American tribes had traditional gender roles. In some tribes, such as the Iroquois nation, social and clan relationships were matrilineal and/or matriarchal, although several different systems were in use. One example is the Cherokee custom of wives owning the family property. Men hunted, traded and made war, while women gathered plants, cared for the young and the elderly, fashioned clothing and instruments and cured meat. The cradleboard was used by mothers to carry their baby while working or traveling. However, in some (but not all) tribes a kind of transgender was permitted; see Two-Spirit.
At least several dozen tribes allowed polygyny to sisters, with procedural and economic limits.
Apart from making home, women had many tasks that were essential for the survival of the tribes. They made weapons and tools, took care of the roofs of their homes and often helped their men hunt buffalos. In some of the Plains Indian tribes there reportedly were medicine women who gathered herbs and cured the ill.
In some of these tribes such as the Sioux girls were also encouraged to learn to ride, hunt and fight. Though fighting was mostly left to the boys and men, there had been cases of women fighting alongside them, especially when the existence of the tribe was threatened.
Native American leisure time led to competitive individual and team sports. Early accounts include team games played between tribes with hundreds of players on the field at once. Jim Thorpe, Notah Begay III, and Billy Mills are well known professional athletes.
Native American ball sports, sometimes referred to as lacrosse, stickball, or baggataway, was often used to settle disputes rather than going to war which was a civil way to settle potential conflict. The Choctaw called it ISITOBOLI ("Little Brother of War"); the Onondaga name was DEHUNTSHIGWA'ES ("men hit a rounded object"). There are three basic version classifed as Great Lakes, Iroquoian, and Southern. The game is played with one or two rackets/sticks and one ball. The object of the game is to land the ball on the opposing team's goal (either a single post or net) to score and prevent the opposing team from scoring on your goal. The game involves as few as twenty or as many as 300 players with no height or weight restrictions and no protective gear. The goals could be from a few hundred feet apart to a few miles; in Lacrosse the field is 110 yards. A Jesuit priest referenced stickball in 1729, and George Catlin painted the subject.
Chunke was a game that consisted of a stone shaped disk that was about 1–2 inches in length. The disk was thrown down a 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 is a Lakota and USMC officer who was trained to compete in the 1964 Olympics. Mills was a virtual unknown. He had finished second in the U.S. Olympic trials. His time in the preliminaries was a full minute slower than Clarke's.
Jim Thorpe, a Sauk and Fox Native American, was an all-round athlete playing football and baseball. Future President Dwight Eisenhower injured his knee while trying to tackle Thorpe. Eisenhower recalled of Thorpe in a 1961 speech, "Here and there, there are some people who are supremely endowed. My memory goes back to Jim Thorpe. He never practiced in his life, and he could do anything better than any other football player I ever saw." In the Olympics, Thorpe could run the 100-yard dash in 10 seconds flat, the 220 in 21.8 seconds, the 440 in 51.8 seconds, the 880 in 1:57, the mile in 4:35, the 120-yard high hurdles in 15 seconds, and the 220-yard low hurdles in 24 seconds. He could long jump 23 ft 6 in and high-jump 6 ft 5 in. He could pole vault 11 feet, put the shot 47 ft 9 in, throw the javelin 163 feet, and throw the discus 136 feet. Thorpe entered the U.S. Olympic trials for both the pentathlon and the decathlon.
Traditional Native American music is almost entirely monophonic, but there are notable exceptions. Native American music often includes drumming and/or the playing of rattles or other percussion instruments but little other instrumentation. Flutes and whistles made of wood, cane, or bone are also played, generally by individuals, but in former times also by large ensembles (as noted by Spanish conquistador de Soto). The tuning of these flutes is not precise and depends on the length of the wood used and the hand span of the intended player, but the finger holes are most often around a whole step apart and, at least in Northern California, a flute was not used if it turned out to have an interval close to a half step.
Performers with Native American parentage have occasionally appeared in American popular music, such as Tina Turner, Rita Coolidge, Wayne Newton, Gene Clark, Blackfoot, Tori Amos and Redbone. Some, such as John Trudell, have used music to comment on life in Native America, and others, such as R. Carlos Nakai integrate traditional sounds with modern sounds in instrumental recordings. A variety of small and medium-sized recording companies offer an abundance of recent music by Native American performers young and old, ranging from pow-wow drum music to hard-driving rock-and-roll and rap.
The most widely practiced public musical form among Native Americans in the United States is that of the pow-wow. At pow-wows, such as the annual Gathering of Nations in Albuquerque, New Mexico, members of drum groups sit in a circle around a large drum. Drum groups play in unison while they sing in a native language and dancers in colorful regalia dance clockwise around the drum groups in the center. Familiar pow-wow songs include honor songs, intertribal songs, crow-hops, sneak-up songs, grass-dances, two-steps, welcome songs, going-home songs, and war songs. Most indigenous communities in the United States also maintain traditional songs and ceremonies, some of which are shared and practiced exclusively within the community.
Native American art comprises a major category in the world art collection. Native American contributions include pottery(Native American pottery), paintings, jewellery, weavings, sculptures, basketry, and carvings.
The integrity of certain Native American artworks is now protected by an act of Congress that prohibits representation of art as Native American when it is not the product of an enrolled Native American artist.
The Inuit, or Eskimo, prepared and buried large amounts of dried meat and fish. Pacific Northwest tribes crafted seafaring dugouts 40–50 feet long for fishing. Farmers in the Eastern Woodlands tended fields of maize with hoes and digging sticks, while their neighbors in the Southeast grew tobacco as well as food crops. On the Plains, some tribes engaged in agriculture but also planned buffalo hunts in which herds were driven over bluffs. Dwellers of the Southwest deserts hunted small animals and gathered acorns to grind into flour with which they baked wafer-thin bread on top of heated stones. Some groups on the region's mesas developed irrigation techniques, and filled storehouses with grain as protection against the area's frequent droughts.
In the early years, as these native peoples encountered European explorers and settlers and engaged in trade, they exchanged food, crafts, and furs for blankets, iron and steel implements, horses, trinkets, firearms, and alcoholic beverages.
Today, other than tribes successfully running casinos, many tribes struggle. There are an estimated 2.1 million Native Americans, and they are the most impoverished of all ethnic groups. According to the 2000 Census, an estimated 400,000 Native Americans reside on reservation land. While some tribes have had success with gaming, only 40% of the 562 federally recognized tribes operate casinos. According to a 2007 survey by the U.S. Small Business Administration, only 1 percent of Native Americans own and operate a business. Native Americans rank at the bottom of nearly every social statistic: highest teen suicide rate of all minorities at 18.5%, highest rate of teen pregnancy, highest high school drop out rate at 54%, lowest per capita income, and unemployment rates between 50% to 90%.
The barriers to economic development on Indian reservations often cited by others and two experts Joseph Kalt and Stephen Cornell of Harvard University, in their classic report: What Can Tribes Do? Strategies and Institutions in American Indian Economic Development, are as follows (incomplete list, see full Kalt & Cornell report):
One of the major barriers for overcoming the economic strife is the lack of entrepreneurial knowledge and experience across Indian reservations. “A general lack of education and experience about business is a significant challenge to prospective entrepreneurs,” also says another report on Native American entrepreneurship by the Northwest Area Foundation in 2004. “Native American communities that lack entrepreneurial traditions and recent experiences typically do not provide the support that entrepreneurs need to thrive. Consequently, experiential entrepreneurship education needs to be embedded into school curricula and after-school and other community activities. This would allow students to learn the essential elements of entrepreneurship from a young age and encourage them to apply these elements throughout life.”. One publication devoted to addressing these issues is Rez Biz magazine.
The earliest record of African and Native American relations occurred in April, 1502, when the first Africans kidnapped were brought to Hispanola to serve as slaves. Some escaped and somewhere inland on Santo Domingo life birthed the first circle of African-Native Americans. In addition, an example of African slaves' escaping from European colonists and being absorbed by American Indians occurred as far back as 1526. In June of that year, Lucas Vasquez de Ayllon established a Spanish colony near the mouth of the Pee Dee River in what is now eastern South Carolina. The Spanish settlement was named San Miquel de Guadalupe. Amongst the settlement were 100 enslaved Africans. In 1526, the first African slaves fled the colony and took refuge with local Native Americans
European Colonists created treaties with Native American tribes requesting the return of any runaway slaves. For example, in 1726, the British Governor of New York exacted a promise from the Iroquois to return all runaway slaves who had joined up with them. This same promise was extracted from the Huron Natives in 1764 and from the Delaware Natives in 1765. Numerous advertisements requested the return of African Americans who had married Native Americans or who spoke a Native-American language. Individuals in some tribes, especially the Cherokee, owned African slaves; however, other tribes incorporated African Americans, slave or freemen, into the tribe. Interracial relations between Native Americans and African Americans has been apart of American history that has been neglected.
In 2006, the U.S. Census Bureau estimated that about 1.0 percent of the U.S. population was of American Indian or Alaska Native descent. This population is unevenly distributed across the country. Below, are all 50 states, (the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico) are listed by the proportion of residents citing American Indian or Alaska Native ancestry, based on 2006 estimates:
In 2006, the U.S. Census Bureau estimated that about less than 1.0 percent of the U.S. population was of Native Hawaiian or Pacific Islander descent. This population is unevenly distributed across 26 states. Below, are the 26 states that had at least 0.1%. They are listed by the proportion of residents citing Native Hawaiian or Pacific Islander ancestry, based on 2006 estimates: