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Native Americans are the indigenous peoples within the territory that is now encompassed by the continental United States, including parts of Alaska down to their descendants in modern times. They comprise a large number of distinct tribes, states, and ethnic groups, many of which are still enduring as political communities. There is some controversy surrounding the names used to describe these peoples: they are also known as American Indians, Indians, Amerindians, Amerinds, or Indigenous, Aboriginal or Original Americans. In Canada they are known as First Nations.

Initial impacts

The European colonization of the Americas decimated the populations and cultures of the Native Americans. During the 15th through 19th centuries, their populations were ravaged by displacement, disease, enslavement, and warfare against European explorers and colonists.

The first Native American group encountered by Christopher Columbus in 1492, were the 250 thousand to 1 million Island Arawaks (more properly called the Taino) of Boriquen (Puerto Rico), Dominican Republic (Quisqueya), the Cubanacan (Cuba), and Haiti. It is said that only 500 survived by the year 1550, and the group was considered extinct before 1650. Yet DNA studies show that the genetic contribution of the Taino to that region continues, and the mitochondrial DNA studies of the Taino are said to show relationships to the Northern Indigenous Nations, such as Inuit (Eskimo) and others.

In the fifteenth century, Spaniards and other Europeans brought horses to the Americas. Some of these animals escaped and began to breed and increase their numbers in the wild. Ironically, the horse had originally evolved in the Americas, but the early American horses were game for early human hunters, and went extinct about 7,000 BC, just after the end of the last ice age. The re-introduction of the horse had a profound impact on Native American culture 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 more easily capture game.

Europeans also brought diseases, against which the Native Americans had no immunity. Chicken pox and measles, though common and rarely fatal among Europeans, often proved fatal to Native Americans, and more dangerous diseases such as smallpox were especially deadly to Native American populations. It is difficult to estimate the total percentage of the Native American population killed by these diseases. Epidemics often immediately followed European exploration, sometimes destroying entire villages. Some historians estimate that up to 80% of some Native populations may have died due to European diseases.

Early relations

The first documented encounter of Europeans on the Eastern seaboard of the United States came with the Hernando De Soto expedition through the Southern United States from 1539-1542. This expedition was responsible for introducing diseases into that region, and also resulted in several battles with various tribes.

Spain was successful in establishing the first permanent settlement at St. Augustine, Florida in 1565.

The next encounter was the failed Roanoke Colony led by Sir Walter Raleigh of England in 1584. At first, the local tribes bartered with the colonists, but this was during a time of a severe drought, and when the local tribes grew more reluctant to trade, relations deteriorated. The fate of the colonists is still a controversy.

By 1578 there were about 350 european fishing vessels at Newfoundland and sailors began to trade metal implements (particularly knives) for the natives' well worn pelts. The French fur trade was undertaken by Francis Grave (a merchant) and Chauvin (a captain) in 1599 when they aquired a monopoly from Henry IV and their attempt to establish a colony at the mouth of the Saguenay River was a direct result of their desire to profit from trading native fur pelts for european goods.

England attempted again to colonize, first in 1606 with the Popham Colony in present-day Maine, and again in 1607 in Jamestown, Virginia. The latter became the first permanent English settlement in the United States. The Popham Colony interacted with the Abeneki tribe, but failed to establish cooperation. Jamestown's breakdown in relations with the Paspahegh and Powhatan tribes resulted in the First Anglo–Powhatan War, which ended with the marriage of John Rolfe and Pocahontas.

In 1610 a teenage Étienne Brûlé was sent by Samuel de Champlain to live with the Hurons for a year as a sort of 'exchange student'. Champlian, in turn, accepted the company of a Huron youth named Savignon who accompanied him back to France. The two cultures made a successful rendezvous the next year and the young men returned to their respective groups to report their experiences.

In 1620, a group of Puritans, who were heading for the Hudson River, got blown off-course and settled at present-day Plymouth, Massachusetts, instead, during a harsh winter. In the autumn of 1621, they celebrated a three-day thanksgiving feast with the native Wampanoag people, without whom they would not have survived the winter of 1620.

The Great Migration continued into the 1630s and 40s, creating many settlements in New England and the Virginia colony. Dutch colonization activities proceeded in an overlapping terr Pequot War Meanwhile, Spanish and French colonization were also proceeding on other areas of the continent.

Some European settlers used Native American contacts to further their activities in the fur trade; others sold European technology to the natives, including firearms which fueled tribal wars. Peaceful cooexistance was established in some times and places. For example, the careful diplomacy of William Pynchon facilitated the founding of what would become Springfield, Massachusetts in a desirable farming location close to the native Agawam settlement.

Struggles for economic and territorial dominance also continued to result in armed conflict. In some cases these latent conflicts resulted in escalating tensions, gradually followed by escalating multi-party violence. In other cases sudden, relatively unprovoked raids were conducted on native and colonial settlements, which might involve arson, massacre, or kidnapping for slavery.

Pre-existing rivalries among both the Native American tribes and confederacies and the European nations led groups from both continents to find war allies among the others against their traditional enemies. When transatlantic civilizations clashed, better technology (including firearms) and the epidemics decimating native populations gave Europeans a substantial military advantage.

In 1637, the Pequot War erupted in the Massachusetts and Plymouth colonies. Indian Wars in the English colonies would continue on and off into the American Revolution.

In the in the early 1680s, Philadelphia was established by William Penn in the Delaware Valley, which was home to the Lenni-Lenape nation. Chief Tamanend reputably took part in a peace treaty between the leaders of the Lenni-Lenape nation and the leaders of the Pennsylvania colony held under a large elm tree at Shakamaxon.

In the Spanish sphere, many of the Pueblo people harbored hostility toward the Spanish, primarily due to their denigration and prohibition of the traditional religion (the Spanish at the time being staunchly and aggressively Catholic). The traditional economies of the pueblos were likewise disrupted when they were forced to labor on the encomiendas of the colonists. However, the Spanish had introduced new farming implements and provided some measure of security against Navajo and Apache raiding parties. As a result, they lived in relative peace with the Spanish following the founding of the Northern New Mexican colony in 1598. In the 1670s, however, drought swept the region, which not only caused famine among the Pueblo, but also provoked increased attacks from neighboring hunter-gatherer tribes — attacks against which Spanish soldiers were unable to defend. At the same time, European-introduced diseases were ravaging the natives, greatly decreasing their numbers. It has also been alleged that the introduction of these diseases was often exacerbated when soldiers handed out blankets and other humanitarian supplies carrying European microorganisms. Unsatisfied with the protective powers of the Spanish crown, the Pueblo revolted in 1680. In 1692, Spanish control was reasserted, but under much more lenient terms.

Relations during and after the American Revolutionary war

During the American Revolutionary War, 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 war to halt further colonial expansion onto Native American land. Many native communities were divided over which side to support in the war. 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. Noncombatants suffered greatly during the war, and villages and food supplies were frequently destroyed during military expeditions. The largest of these expeditions was the Sullivan Expedition of 1779, which destroyed more than 40 Iroquois villages in order to neutralize Iroquois raids in upstate New York. The expedition failed to have the desired effect: Native American activity became even more determined.

In fact, the last battle of the Revolutionary War was fought with the participation of the Ohio Shawnee on the side of the British at the Battle of Blue Licks on August 19, 1782.

The British made peace with the Americans in the Treaty of Paris (1783), and had ceded a vast amount of Native American territory 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 land. When this proved impossible to enforce (the Native Americans had lost the war on paper, not on the battlefield), the policy was abandoned. The United States was eager to expand, and the national government initially sought to do so only by purchasing Native American land in treaties. The states and settlers were frequently at odds with this policy.

Removal and reservations

In the 19th century, the incessant Westward expansion of the United States incrementally compelled large numbers of Native Americans to resettle further west, often by force, almost always reluctantly. Under President Andrew Jackson, 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), but in practice great pressure was put on Native American leaders to sign removal treaties. Arguably the most egregious violation of the stated intention of the removal policy was the Treaty of New Echota, which was signed by a dissident faction of Cherokees, but not the elected leadership. The treaty was brutally enforced by President Martin Van Buren, which resulted in the deaths of an estimated 4,000 Cherokees (mostly from disease) on the Trail of Tears.

The explicit policy of Indian Removal forced or coerced the relocation of major Native American groups in both the Southeast and the Northeast United States, resulting directly and indirectly in the deaths of tens of thousands. The subsequent process of assimilations, though a less active means of an ethnic cleansing, was no less devastating to Native American peoples. 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-Indian settlement on Indian lands, intending to prevent sympathetic white missionaries from aiding the scattered Indian resistance.

Conflicts, generally known as "Indian Wars", broke out between U.S. forces and many different tribes. U.S. government authorities entered numerous treaties during this period, but later abrogated many for various reasons. Well-known military engagements include the Native American victory at the Battle of Little Bighorn in 1876, and the massacre of Native Americans at Wounded Knee in 1890. On January 31, 1876, the United States government ordered all remaining Native Americans to move into reservations or reserves. This, together with the near-extinction of the American Bison that many tribes had lived on, set about the downturn of Prairie Culture that had developed around the use of the horse for hunting, travel and trading.

American policy toward Native Americans has been an evolving process. In the late nineteenth century, reformers, in efforts to "civilize" or otherwise assimilate Indians (as opposed to relegating them to reservations), adapted the practice of educating native children in Indian Boarding Schools. These schools, which were primarily run by Christian missionaries, often proved traumatic to Native American children, who were forbidden to speak their native languages, taught Christianity instead of their native religions and in numerous other ways forced to abandon their various Native American identities and adopt European-American culture. There are also many documented cases of sexual, physical and mental abuses occurring at these schools.

The Indian Citizenship Act of 1924 gave United States citizenship to Native Americans, in part because of an interest by many to see them merged with the American mainstream, and also because of the heroic service of many Native American veterans in World War I.

Current status

There are 563 Federally recognized tribal governments in the United States. The United States recognizes the right of these tribes to self-government and supports their tribal sovereignty and self-determination. These tribes possess the right to form their own government, to enforce laws (both civil and criminal), to tax, to establish 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.

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, Lumbee, 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 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.

Then there are Tribal Nations that have been denied recognition such as the Muwekma Ohlone and the Miami tribe of Indiana. 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 because of a Catch-22 in the process. To be established as a tribal group, members have to submit extensive genealogical proof of tribal descent, yet in past years many Native Americans denied their Native American heritage, because it would have deprived them of many rights, such as the right of probate.

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 dispropotionately include alcoholism, heart disease, diabetes, and New World Syndrome.

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 GOP 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.

This Census Bureau map depicts the locations of Native Americans in the United States as of 2000.

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.

Gambling has become a leading industry. Casinos operated by many Native American governments in the United States are creating a stream of gambling revenue that some communities are beginning to use as leverage to build diversified economies. Native American communities have waged and prevailed in legal battles to assure recognition of rights to self-determination and to use of natural resources. Some of those rights, known as treaty rights are enumerated in early treaties signed with the young United States government. Tribal sovereignty has become a cornerstone of American jurisprudence, and at least on the surface, in national legislative policies. Although many Native American tribes have casinos, they are a source of conflict. Most tribes, especially small ones such as the Winnemem Wintu of Redding, California, feel that casinos and their proceeds destroy culture from the inside out. These tribes refuse to participate in the gaming industry.

On May 19, 2005, the Massachusetts legislature finally repealed a disused 330-year-old law that barred Native Americans from entering Boston.

In August 2005, the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) banned the use of "hostile and abusive" Native American mascots from postseason tournaments. 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.

Blood Quanta

Historically, a number of tribes practiced the adoption of captives into their group to replace tribe members who had been killed in battle or captured. These captives came from rival tribes and later also from European settlers. Bands or entire tribes occasionally split or merged to form viable groups in reaction to the pressures of climate, disease and warfare. Some tribes also sheltered or adopted white traders and blacks, both runaway slaves and Native American-owned slaves. So a number of paths to genetic mixing existed.

However, to qualify for recognition and assistance from the U.S. federal government or for tribal money and services, Native Americans have not only to belong to a recognized tribal entity but also to qualify as members of that entity. This has taken a number of different forms as each tribal government makes its own rules while the federal government has separate standards in some areas as well. In many cases, this is based on the percentage of Native American blood, or the "blood quanta". This has led to a number of disputes as groups are disallowed or membership restricted, sometimes in disputes over tribal casino income. Some tribes have even begun requiring genetic genealogy (DNA testing).

Requirements vary widely: the Cherokee require only a descent from an 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 even court cases. One example is the Cherokee freedmen, descendants of slaves 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.

American Indian princesses

In the 20th century, among white ethnic groups, it was popular 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 claimed.

This "safe" descent from Native Americans was seen as 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 un-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. In the PBS program "African American Lives", Oprah Winfrey described childhood taunting where being Native American was preferable to being all black. Genetic tests done for the program showed that she and Chris Tucker had Native American ancestors.

Cultural aspects

Though cultural features, including language, garb, 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 forged 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 implement were the bow and arrow, the war club, and the spear. Quality, material, and design varied widely.

Large mammals such as the mammoth were largely extinct by around 8,000 B.C., and the Native Americans were hunting their descendants, such as bison. The Great Plains tribes were still hunting the bison when they first encountered the Europeans. The acquisition of the horse and horsemanship from the Spanish in the 17th century greatly altered the natives' culture, changing the way in which these large creatures were hunted and making them a central feature of their lives.

Society and art

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.


The most widespread religion at the present time 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. The church has had significant success in combatting many of the ills brought by colonization, such as alcoholism and crime. 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.

Many Native Americans would describe their religious practices as a form of spirituality, rather than religion, although in practice the terms may sometimes be used interchangeably.

Native Americans and African American slaves

There were historical treaties between the colonists and the 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 Indians in 1764 and from the Delaware Indians in 1765. There are also numerous accounts of advertisements requesting the return of African Americans who had married Native Americans or who spoke a Native American language. Individuals in some tribes owned African slaves; however, other tribes incorporated African Americans, slave or freemen, into the tribe. This custom among the Seminoles was part of the reason for the Seminole Wars where the Americans feared their slaves fleeing to the Indians. The Cherokee Freedmen, and tribes such as the Lumbee in North Carolina include African American ancestors.

Gender roles

Most Native American tribes had traditional gender roles. In some tribes, such as the Iroquois nation, social and clan relationships were matrilinear 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 cared for the young and the elderly, fashioned clothing and instruments and cured meat. The cradle board was used by mothers to carry their baby while working or traveling..

Music and art

Native American music is almost entirely monophonic, but there are notable exceptions. Traditional 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 Rita Coolidge, Wayne Newton, Gene Clark, Tori Amos and Redbone (band). 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, paintings, jewelry, weavings, sculptures, basketry, and carvings.

Artists have at times misrepresented themselves as having native parentage, most notably Johnny Cash, who traced his heritage to Scottish ancestors and admitted he fabricated a story that he was one-quarter Cherokee. 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 efficiently driven over bluffs. Dwellers of the Southwest deserts hunted small animals and gathered acorns to grind into a 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.

As these native peoples encountered European explorers and settlers and engaged in trade, they exchanged food, crafts, and furs for trinkets, blankets, iron, and steel implements, horses, firearms, and alcoholic beverages.

Terminology differences

When Christopher Columbus arrived in the "New World", he described the people he encountered as Indians because he mistakenly believed that he had reached India, the original destination of his voyage. Despite Columbus's mistake, the name Indian (or American Indian) stuck, and for centuries the native people of the Americas were collectively called Indians in America, and similar terms in Europe. The problem with this traditional term is that the peoples of India are, of course, also known as Indians. A usage in British English was to refer to natives of North America as 'Red Indians', though this is now an old fashioned usage and considered insulting.

Common usage in the United States

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 was outdated or offensive. People from India (and their descendants) who are citizens of the United States are known as Indian Americans.

However, 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. 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 1996 survey revealed that more American Indians in the United States still preferred American Indian to Native American. Nonetheless, most American Indians are comfortable with Indian, American Indian, and Native American, and the terms are now used interchangeably. The continued usage of the traditional term is reflected in the name chosen for the National Museum of the American Indian, which opened in 2004 in Washington, D.C..

Recently, the U.S. Census introduced the "Asian Indian" category to more accurately sample the Indian American population.

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