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Native Americans , also known as American Indians , Indigenous Americans and other terms , are the indigenous peoples of the United States , except Hawaii. There are over federally recognized tribes within the US, about half of which are associated with Indian reservations. The ancestors of modern Native Americans arrived in what is now the United States at least 15, years ago, possibly much earlier, from Asia via Beringia. A vast variety of peoples, societies and cultures subsequently developed.
Native Americans were greatly affected by the European colonization of the Americas , which began in , and their population declined precipitously mainly due to introduced diseases as well as warfare , territorial confiscation and slavery. After the founding of the United States, many Native American peoples were subjected to warfare, removals and one-sided treaties , and they continued to suffer from discriminatory government policies into the 20th century.
Since the s, Native American self-determination movements have resulted in changes to the lives of Native Americans, though there are still many contemporary issues faced by Native Americans. When the United States was created, established Native American tribes were generally considered semi-independent nations, as they generally lived in communities separate from British settlers. The federal government signed treaties at a government-to-government level until the Indian Appropriations Act of ended recognition of independent native nations, and started treating them as "domestic dependent nations" subject to federal law.
This law did preserve the rights and privileges agreed to under the treaties, including a large degree of tribal sovereignty. For this reason, many but not all Native American reservations are still independent of state law and actions of tribal citizens on these reservations are subject only to tribal courts and federal law. The Indian Citizenship Act of granted U. 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. Bill of Rights protections do not apply to tribal governments, except for those mandated by the Indian Civil Rights Act of Since the end of the 15th century, the migration of Europeans to the Americas has led to centuries of population, cultural, and agricultural transfer and adjustment between Old and New World societies, a process known as the Columbian exchange. As most Native American groups had historically preserved their histories by oral traditions and artwork, the first written sources of the conflict were written by Europeans.
Ethnographers commonly classify the indigenous peoples of North America into ten geographical regions with shared cultural traits, called cultural areas. The ten cultural areas are as follows:. 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 operated on a more collective basis than that with which Europeans were familiar.
The majority of Indigenous American tribes maintained their hunting grounds and agricultural lands for use of the entire tribe. Europeans at that time had patriarchal cultures and 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 shifting alliances among different nations in times of war, caused extensive political tension, ethnic violence, and social disruption.
Even before the European settlement of what is now the United States, Native Americans suffered high fatalities from contact with new European diseases , to which they had not yet acquired immunity ; the diseases were endemic to the Spanish and other Europeans, and spread by direct contact and likely through pigs that escaped from expeditions. The Landscape of the Americas in "; "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. Estimates of the pre-Columbian population of what today constitutes the U. After the thirteen colonies revolted against Great Britain and established the United States, President George Washington and Henry Knox conceived of the idea of "civilizing" Native Americans in preparation for assimilation as U.
During the 19th century, the ideology of manifest destiny became integral to the American nationalist movement. Expansion of European-American populations to the west after the American Revolution resulted in increasing pressure on Native American lands, warfare between the groups, and rising tensions. In , the U. Congress passed the Indian Removal Act , authorizing the government to relocate Native Americans from their homelands within established states to lands west of the Mississippi River , accommodating European-American expansion.
This resulted in the ethnic cleansing of many tribes, with the brutal, forced marches coming to be known as The Trail of Tears. As American expansion reached into the West , settler and miner migrants came into increasing conflict with the Great Basin , Great Plains , and other Western tribes. These were complex nomadic cultures based on introduced horse culture and seasonal bison hunting. They carried out resistance against United States incursion in the decades after the end of the Civil War and the completion of the Transcontinental Railroad in a series of Indian Wars , which were frequent up until the s and continued into the 20th century.
Over time, the United States forced a series of treaties and land cessions by the tribes and established reservations for them in many western states. Indian agents encouraged Native Americans to adopt European-style farming and similar pursuits, but European-American agricultural technology of the time was inadequate for the often dry reservation lands, leading to mass starvation. In , Native Americans who were not already U.
Contemporary Native Americans have a unique relationship with the United States because they may be members of nations, tribes, or bands with sovereignty and treaty rights. Cultural activism since the late s has increased political participation and led to an expansion of efforts to teach and preserve indigenous languages for younger generations and to establish a greater cultural infrastructure: Native Americans have founded independent newspapers and online media, recently including First Nations Experience , the first Native American television channel;  established Native American studies programs, tribal schools, and universities , and museums and language programs; and have increasingly been published as authors in numerous genres.
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 Native Americans self-identifying as "Indians" or "American Indians", while younger Native Americans often identify as "Indigenous" or "Aboriginal". By comparison, the indigenous peoples of Canada are generally known as First Nations.
It is not definitively known how or when the Native Americans first settled the Americas and the present-day United States. The prevailing theory proposes that people migrated from Eurasia across Beringia , a land bridge that connected Siberia to present-day Alaska during the Ice Age , and then spread southward throughout the Americas over the subsequent generations. Genetic evidence suggests at least three waves of migrants arrived from Asia, with the first occurring at least 15 thousand years ago.
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 ' voyages of to , in practice the term usually includes the history of American indigenous cultures until they were conquered or significantly influenced by Europeans, even if this happened decades or even centuries after Columbus' initial landing. 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.
They divided the archaeological record in the Americas into five phases;  see Archaeology of the Americas. According to the oral histories of many of the indigenous peoples of the Americas, 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.
Archeological and linguistic data has enabled scholars to discover some of the migrations within the Americas. 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 near Clovis, New Mexico. 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, and 10, radiocarbon years B. 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.
Linguists, anthropologists, and archaeologists believe their ancestors comprised a separate migration into North America, later than the first Paleo-Indians. 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. Since the s, archeologists 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 Oshara Tradition people lived from — CE. Poverty Point culture is a Late Archaic archaeological culture that inhabited the area of the lower Mississippi Valley and surrounding Gulf Coast. The Formative, Classic and post-Classic stages are sometimes incorporated together as the Post-archaic period, which runs from BCE onward.
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,   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.
The indigenous peoples of the Pacific Northwest Coast were of many nations and tribal affiliations, each with distinctive cultural and political identities, but they shared certain beliefs, traditions, and practices, such as the centrality of salmon as a resource and spiritual symbol. Their gift-giving feast, potlatch , is a highly complex event where people gather in order to commemorate special events.
These events include the raising of a Totem pole or the appointment or election of a new chief. The most famous artistic feature of the culture is the Totem pole, with carvings of animals and other characters to commemorate cultural beliefs, legends, and notable events. The Mississippian culture was a mound-building Native American civilization archeologists date from approximately CE to CE, varying regionally.
The civilization flourished from the southern shores of the Great Lakes at Western New York and Western Pennsylvania in what is now the Eastern Midwest , extending south-southwest into the lower Mississippi Valley and wrapping easterly around the southern foot of the Appalachians barrier range into what is now the Southeastern United States.
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 ,   with the Senate passing a resolution to this effect in After , 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. From the 16th through the 19th centuries, the population of Indians sharply declined. There are a number of documented cases where diseases were deliberately spread among Native Americans as a form of biological warfare. The most well-known example occurred in , when Sir Jeffery Amherst , Commander-in-Chief of the Forces of the British Army , wrote praising the use of smallpox-infected blankets to "extirpate" the Indian race.
Blankets infected with smallpox were given to Native Americans besieging Fort Pitt. The effectiveness of the attempt is unclear. In , Fr. 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". Andrew's diaries report that by , 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". The same records report that in , "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. Through the midth 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 , 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.
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