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Native Americans, also called American Indians or Amerindians, form the indigenous peoples who already lived in the Americas before European colonization, and who still survive.

Canadians now generally use the term "First Nations" to refer to Native Americans. In Alaska, because of legal use in the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act (ANSCA) and because of the presence of the Inuit, Yupik, and Aleut peoples, the term Alaskan Native predominates. (See further discussion below.)

Native Americans officially make up the majority of the population in Bolivia and Guatemala and are significant in most other Hispanic American countries, with the possible exception of Costa Rica, Cuba, Dominican Republic and Uruguay.

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Based on anthropological evidence, at least three distinct migrations from Siberia across the Bering Land Bridge occurred. The first wave of migration came into a land populated by the large mammals of the late Pleistocene epoch, including mammoths, horses, giant sloths, and wooly rhinoceroses. The Clovis culture[?] provides one example of such immigrants. Later the Folsom culture[?] developed, based on the hunting of bison.

The second immigration wave comprised the Athabascan people, including the ancestors of the Apache and the Navajo; the third wave consisted of the Inuit, the Yupik, and the Aleut, who may have come by sea over the Bering Strait. These last are so ethnically distinct from the remainder of the aboriginal inhabitants of the Americas that they are not usually included in the terms "American Indian" or "First Nations".

The Athabascan peoples, late migrants, generally lived in Alaska and western Canada but several tribes migrated south as far as California and the American Southwest[?].

In recent years, anthropological evidence of migration has been supplemented by studies based on molecular genetics. The provisional results from this field suggest that four distinct migrations from Asia occurred; and, most surprisingly, provide evidence of smaller-scale, contemporaneous human migration from Europe. This suggests that the migrant population, living in Europe at the time of the most recent ice age, adopted a life-style resembling that lived by the Inuit and Yupik in recent centuries.

In the Mississippi valley of the United States, in Mexico and Central America, and in the Andes of South America Native American civilizations arose with farming cultures and city-states.

See archeology of the Americas.

The Arrival of Europeans In the 15th century Spaniards and other Europeans brought horses to the Americas. Some of these animals escaped their owners and began to breed and increase their numbers in the wild. Ironically, the horse had originally evolved in the Americas, but the last American horses died out at the end of the last ice age. The re-introduction of the horse, however, had a profound impact on Native American cultures in the Great Plains of North America. This new mode of travel made it possible for some tribes to greatly expand their territories, exchange goods with neighboring tribes and to more easily capture game.

Europeans also brought diseases against which the Native Americans had no immunity. Sometimes they did this intentionally, but often it was intentinal. Common and rarely fatal ailments such as chicken pox and the measles often proved fatal to Native Americans, and other more deadly diseases, such as smallpox, were especially deadly to Indian populations. It is difficult to estimate the percentage of the total Native American population killed by these diseases, since waves of disease oftentimes preceded White scouts and often destroyed entire villages. Some historians have argued that more than 80% of some Indian populations may have died due to European-derived diseases. [See Jeffrey Amherst]

The first reported case of white men scalping[?] Native Americans took place in New Hampshire colony on February 20, 1725.

In the 19th century the United States forced Native Americans onto marginal lands in areas farther and farther west as white settlement of the young nation expanded in that direction. Numerous Indian Wars[?] broke out between US forces and many different tribes. Authorities drafted countless treaties during this period and then later nullified them for various reasons. The fighting climaxed with the Native American victory at the Battle of Little Bighorn and with the massacre of Native Americans at Wounded Knee. Then on January 31, 1876 the United States government ordered all Native Americans to move into reservations or reserves. This effectively ended the Prairie Culture[?] that developed around the use of the horse for hunting, travel and trading.

Military defeat, cultural pressure, confinement on reservations and (especially) slavery have had deleterious effects on Native Americans' mental and ultimately physical health. Contemporary problems include alcoholism and diabetes: see New World Syndrome.

Classification Ethnographers commonly classify the native peoples of the United States and Canada into ten geographical regions with shared cultural traits. The following list groups peoples by their region of origin, followed by the current location. See the individual article on each tribe for a history of their movements. The regions are:

Indians of Central and South America are generally classified by language, environment, and cultural similarities.

Languages For a general discussion, see Language families and languages

See also: Native American mythology

External Resources:

Further Reading

  • Discover Indian Reservations USA: A Visitors' Welcome Guide, Edited by Veronica E. Tiller, Forward by Ben Nighthorse Campbell[?], Council Publications, Denver, Colorado, 1992, Trade Paperback, 402 pages, ISBN 0-9632580-0-1
  • Arlene B. Hirschfelder, Mary Gloyne Byler, and Michael Dorris, Guide to research on North American Indians, American Library Association, 1983, (ISBN 0838903533)
  • Indians in the United States & Canada, A Comparative History, Roger L. Nicholes, University of Nebraska Press, 1998, Trade Paperback, 393 pages, ISBN 0-8032-8377-6
See European colonization of the Americas, Indian Territory, The Indian Trade, Indian Massacres, and Indian Removal.

What name best identifies this group of people?

The term "Native American" originated with anthropologists who preferred it to the former appelations of "Indian" or "American Indian", which they considered inaccurate, as these terms bear no relationship to the actual origins of Aboriginal Americans (or American Aborigines), and were born of the misapprehension on the part of Christopher Columbus, arriving at islands off the east coast of the North American continent, that he had reached the East Indies. The words "Indian" and "American Indian" continue in widespread use in North America, even amongst Native Americans themselves, many of whom do not feel offended by the terms. "Red Indian[?]" is a common British term, useful in differentiating this group from a distinct group of people referred to as East Indians.

One minority view has advocated the name "Asiatic Americans" as a more accurate term because of the popular theory that such peoples migrated to the Americas from Asia across an ice bridge covering the Bering Straits some 20,000 years ago. Competent fossil evidence supports the case for such a migration. The strong tradition among archaeologists and anthropologists, however, is to indicate the geographic origins of a people as relating to the region where researchers first encountered them or their remains.

One difficulty with the term "Native American" as a substitute for "American Indian" lies in the fact that there exist several groups of people indisputably indigenous to the Americas, but who fall outside the classification of "American Indians", for example the Innu people of the Labrador/Quebec peninsula and the Inuit, Yupik, and Aleut peoples of the far north of the continent.

Another difficulty is that many Native American groups migrated (or were displaced) to their current locations after the start of European colonization, and therefore it can be argued that they have no more "native" ties to their current locations than do the Europeans.

See also List of Native Americans

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