[Date Prev][Date Next][Thread Prev][Thread Next][Date Index][Thread Index]


I am submitting this introduction to the American Indian for those of you
who are interested in pursuing the subject.  Much has been said regarding
the probabilities that cultural contact from outside the "New World"
occurred from the Asian mainland, the Pacific basin, Polynesia and  Africa.
 As you read the following introduction, keep in mind the extraordinary
uniqueness which permeates the indigenous American mind.  There was nothing
in his culture or lifestyle which is common with the "Old World".  A few
threads of similarity exist between the high cultures of Mesoamerica and
ancient Asia, but these are but a handful.  There is no direct evidence
that any contact with the "Old World" predates the coming of the Vikings
and later Christopher Columbus.  

Native Americans, peoples who are indigenous to the Americas. They also
have been known as American Indians. The name Indian was first applied to
them by Christopher Columbus, who believed mistakenly that the mainland and
islands of America were part of the Indies, in Asia. 

This article focuses on the peoples native to North America, Mesoamerica
(Mexico and Central America), and South America. The indigenous population
at the time of European contact is estimated, the general physical
characteristics of native American peoples are described, and a summary is
given of what is known about their arrival and early prehistory in the
Americas. The major culture areas of North, Central, and South America are
discussed, and a survey follows of the traditional ways of life of Native
Americans. Social and political organization are considered, as well as
their food, clothing, and housing, their trade, religion, and warfare, and
their crafts, visual arts, music, and dance. Finally, the history of Native
Americans after European contact and their condition today in North and
Latin America are examined. 

Early Population It is estimated that at the time of first European
contact, North and South America was inhabited by more than 90 million
people: about 10 million in America north of present-day Mexico; 30 million
in Mexico; 11 million in Central America; 445,000 in the Caribbean islands;
30 million in the South American Andean region; and 9 million in the
remainder of South America. These population figures are a rough estimate
(some authorities cite much lower figures); exact figures are impossible to
ascertain. When colonists began keeping records, the Native American
populations had been drastically reduced by war, famine, forced labor, and
epidemics of diseases introduced through contact with Europeans.  Physical
Traits Native Americans are physically most similar to Asian populations
and appear to have descended from Asian peoples who migrated across the
Bering land bridge during the Pleistocene epoch, also known as the Ice Age,
beginning perhaps some 30,000 years ago. Like other peoples with Mongolian
characteristics, Native Americans tend to have light brown skin, brown
eyes, and dark, straight hair. They differ from Asians, however, in their
characteristic blood types.  Because many Native Americans today have had
one or more European-Americans or African-Americans among their ancestors,
numerous people who are legally and culturally Native American may look
fairer or darker than Mongolian peoples or may have markedly non-Mongolian
facial features. 

Over the thousands of years that indigenous peoples have lived in the
Americas, they have developed into a great number of local populations,
each differing somewhat from its neighbors. Some populations (such as those
on the Great Plains of North America) tend to be tall and often heavy in
build, whereas others (for example, many in the South American Andes and
adjacent lowlands) tend to be short and broad chested; furthermore, every
population includes persons who vary from the average. Some physical
characteristics of Native American populations have been influenced by diet
or by the environmental conditions of their societies. For example, the
short stature of some native Guatemalans seems to result at least in part
from diets poor in protein; the broad chests and large hearts and lungs of
native Andeans represent an adaptation to the low-oxygen atmosphere of the
high mountains they inhabit.

Earliest Migrations

Evidence indicates that the first peoples to migrate into the Americas,
coming from northeastern Siberia into Alaska, were carrying stone tools and
other equipment typical of the middle and end of the Paleolithic period.
These peoples probably lived in bands of about 100, fishing and hunting
herd animals such as reindeer and mammoths. They probably used skin tents
for shelter, and they must have tanned reindeer skins and sewn them into
clothing similar to that made by the Inuit-parkas, trousers, boots, and
mittens. These peoples probably were nomadic, moving camp at least several
times each year to take advantage of seasonal sources of food. It is likely
that they gathered each summer for a few weeks with other bands to
celebrate religious ceremonies and to trade, compete in sports, gamble, and
visit. At such gatherings, valuable information could be obtained about new
sources of food or raw materials (such as stone for tools). Such news might
have led families to move into new territory, eventually into Alaska and
then farther south into the Americas. 

Evidence for the earliest migrations into the Americas is scarce and
usually not as clear as archaeologists would wish. Evidence from the
comparative study of Native American languages, as well as analysis of some
genetic materials, suggest that these earliest migrations may have taken
place around 30,000 years ago. More direct evidence from archaeological
sites places the date somewhat later. For example, in the Yukon, in what is
now Canada, bone tools have been discovered that have been
radiocarbon-dated to 22,000 BC. Campfire remains in the Valley of Mexico,
in central Mexico, have been radiocarbon-dated to 21,000 BC, and a few
chips of stone tools have been found near the hearths, indicating the
presence of humans at that time. In a cave in the Andes Mountains of Peru,
near Ayacucho, archaeologists have found stone tools and butchered animal
bones that have been dated to 18,000 BC. A cave in Idaho, in the United
States, contains similar evidence-stone tools and butchered bone-dated to
12,500 BC. In none of these sites do distinctive American styles
characterize the artifacts (manufactured objects such as tools). Artifacts
having the earliest distinctive American styles appeared about 11,000 BC
and are known as Clovis stone blades.

Major Culture Areas To understand how different peoples live and how their
societies have developed, anthropologists find it convenient to group
societies into culture areas. A culture area is first of all a geographical
region; it has characteristic climate, land forms, and biological
population-that is, fauna and flora. Humans who live in the region must
adapt to its characteristics to obtain the necessities of life: No one can
grow grain in the Arctic or hunt seals or whales in the desert, but people
can survive in the Arctic by hunting seals, or in the desert by gathering
foods such as cactus fruits. Each culture area, then, has certain natural
resources as well as the potential for certain technologies. Humans in the
culture area use many of its resources and develop technologies-and social
organizations-to fit the area's physical potential and its hazards (such as
winter cold). Neighboring peoples learn of one another's inventions and
begin to use them. Thus, societies within a given culture area resemble one
another and differ from those in other regions. 

The Americas may be divided into many culture areas, and these divisions
may be determined in different ways. Here, nine areas are used for North
America, one for Mesoamerica (Mexico and Central America), and four for
South America.

North America The culture areas of North America are the Southwest, the
Eastern Woodlands, the Southeast, the Plains, the California-Intermountain
region, the Plateau, the Subarctic, the Northwest Pacific Coast, and the
Arctic. The Southwest 

The Southwestern culture area encompasses Arizona, New Mexico, southern
Colorado, and adjacent northern Mexico (the states of Sonora and
Chihuahua). It can be subdivided into three sectors: northern (Colorado,
northern Arizona, northern New Mexico), with high, pleasant valleys and
pine forests; southern (southern Arizona, southern New Mexico, adjacent
Mexico), with deserts covered with cactus; and western (the
Arizona-California border area), a smaller area with desert terrain cut by
the valley of the lower Colorado River. 

The first known inhabitants of the Southwest hunted mammoths and other game
with Clovis-style spearpoints by about 9500 BC. As the Ice Age ended (about
8000 BC), mammoths became extinct. The people in the Southwest turned to
hunting bison (known as buffalo in North America) and spent more time
collecting wild plants for food. The climate gradually became warmer and
drier, and a way of life-called the Archaic-developed from about 8000 BC to
about 300 BC. Archaic peoples hunted mostly deer, small game, and birds,
and they harvested fruits, nuts, and the seeds of wild plants, using stone
slabs for grinding seeds into flour. About 3000 BC the Southwesterners
learned to grow maize (also known as corn), which had been domesticated in
Mexico, but for centuries it was only a minor food. 

About 300 BC, some Mexicans whose culture was based on cultivating maize,
beans, and squash in irrigated fields migrated to southern Arizona. These
people, called the Hohokam, lived in towns in adobe-plastered houses built
around public plazas. They were the ancestors of the present-day Pima and
Tohono O'Odham (Papago), who preserve much of the Hohokam way of life. 

The peoples of the northern sector of the Southwestern culture area, after
centuries of trading with the Hohokam, had by AD 700 modified their life
into what is called the Anasazi tradition. They grew maize, beans, and
squash and lived in towns of terraced stone or in adobe apartment blocks
built around central plazas; these blocks had blank walls facing the
outside of the town, thereby protecting the people within. During the
summer many families lived in small houses at their fields. After 1275 the
northern sector suffered severe droughts, and many Anasazi farms and towns
were abandoned; those along the Rio Grande, however, grew and expanded
their irrigation systems. In 1540 Spanish explorers visited the descendants
of the Anasazi, who are called the Pueblos. After 1598 the Spanish imposed
their rule on the Pueblos, but in 1680 the Pueblos organized a rebellion
that kept them free until 1692. Since that time, Pueblo towns have been
dominated by Spanish, then Mexican, and finally United States government.
The Pueblos attempted to preserve their culture: They continued their
farming and, in some towns, secretly maintained their own governments and
religion. Twenty-two Pueblo towns exist today. 

In the 1400s, hunters speaking an Athapaskan language-related to languages
of Alaska and western Canada-appeared in the Southwest, having migrated
southward along the western Great Plains. They raided Pueblo towns for food
and-after slave markets were established by the Spanish-for captives to
sell; from the Pueblos, they learned to farm, and from the Spanish, to
raise sheep and horses. Today these peoples are the Navajo and the several
tribes of Apache. 

The western sector of the Southwest is inhabited by speakers of Yuman
languages, including the isolated Havasupai, who farm on the floor of the
Grand Canyon; and the Mojave, who live along the lower Colorado River. The
Yuman-speaking peoples inhabit small villages of pole-and-thatch houses
near their floodplain fields of maize, beans, and squash.

Eastern Woodlands. The Eastern Woodlands culture area consists of the
temperate-climate regions of the eastern United States and Canada, from
Minnesota and Ontario east to the Atlantic Ocean and south to North
Carolina. Originally densely forested, this large region was first
inhabited by hunters, including those who used Clovis spearpoints. About
7000 BC, with the warming climate, an Archaic culture developed. The
peoples of this area became increasingly dependent on deer, nuts, and wild
grains. By 3000 BC human populations in the Eastern Woodlands had reached
cultural peaks that were not again achieved until after AD 1200. The
cultivation of squash was learned from Mexicans, and in the Midwest
sunflowers, amaranth, marsh elder, and goosefoot and related plants were
also farmed. All of these were grown for their seeds, which-except for
those of the sunflower-were usually ground into flour. Fishing and
shellfish gathering increased, and off the coast of Maine the catch
included swordfish. In the western Great Lakes area, copper was surface
mined and made into blades and ornaments, and throughout the Eastern
Woodlands, beautiful stones were carved into small sculptures. 

After 1000 BC the climate became cooler and food resources scarcer, causing
a population decline in the Atlantic part of the region. In the Midwest,
however, groups of people organized into wide trading networks and began
building large mound-covered tombs for their leaders and for use as centers
for religious activities. These peoples, called the Hopewell, raised some
maize, but were more dependent on Archaic foods. The Hopewell culture
declined by about AD 400. 

By 750 a new culture developed in the Midwest. Called the Mississippian
culture, it was based on intensive maize agriculture, and its people built
large towns with earth platforms, or mounds, supporting temples and rulers'
residences. Across the Mississippi River from present-day St. Louis,
Missouri, the Mississippians built the city of Cahokia, which may have had
a population of 20,000. Cahokia contained hundreds of mounds. Its principal
temple was built on the largest, a mound 30 m (100 ft) high and roughly
about 110 m (about 360 ft) long and about 49 m (about 160 ft) wide (the
largest such mound in North America, now part of Cahokia Mounds State Park,
Illinois). During this time period, maize agriculture also became important
in the Atlantic region, but no cities were built. 

The presence of Europeans in the Eastern Woodlands dates from at least AD
1000, when colonists from Iceland tried to settle Newfoundland. Throughout
the 1500s, European fishers and whalers used the coast of Canada. European
settlement of the region began in the 1600s. It was not strongly resisted,
partly because terrible epidemics had spread among the Native Americans of
this region through contact with European fishers and with Spanish
explorers in the Southeast. By this time the Mississippian cities had also
disappeared, probably as a consequence of the epidemics. 

The Native American peoples of the Eastern Woodlands included the Iroquois
and a number of Algonquian-speaking peoples, including the Lenape, also
known as the Delaware; the Micmac; the Narragansett; the Shawnee; the
Potawatomi; the Menominee; and the Illinois. Some Eastern Woodlands peoples
moved west in the 19th century; others remain throughout the region,
usually in their own small communities.

The Southeast

The Southeast culture area is the semitropical region north of the Gulf of
Mexico and south of the Middle Atlantic-Midwest region; it extends from the
Atlantic coast west to central Texas. Much of this land once consisted of
pine forests, which the Native Americans of the region kept cleared of
underbrush by yearly burnings, a form of livestock management that
maintained high deer populations for hunting. 

The early history of the Southeast is similar to that of adjacent areas.
Cultivation of native plants was begun in the Late Archaic period, about
3000 BC, and there were large populations of humans in the area. In 1400 BC
a town, called Poverty Point by archaeologists, was built near present-day
Vicksburg, Mississippi. Like the Mississippian towns of 2000 years later,
Poverty Point had a large public plaza and huge earth mounds that served as
temple platforms or covered tombs. 

The number of Native Americans in the Southeast remained high until
European contact. Maize agriculture appeared about 500 BC. Towns continued
to be built, and crafted items were widely traded. The first European
explorer, the Spaniard Hernando de Soto, marched around the Southeast with
his army between 1539 and 1542; epidemics introduced by the Spaniards
killed thousands. 

Southeastern peoples included the Cherokee, the Choctaw, the Chickasaw, the
Creek, and the Seminole, known as the Five Civilized Tribes because they
resembled European nations in organization and economy, and because they
quickly incorporated desirable European imports (such as fruit trees) into
their way of life. The Natchez, whose elaborate mound-building culture was
destroyed by Europeans in the 18th century, were another famous
Southeastern people.

The Plains 

The North American Plains are the grasslands from central Canada south to
Mexico and from the Midwest westward to the Rocky Mountains. Bison hunting
was always the principal source of food in this culture area, until the
wild bison herds were exterminated in the 1880s. Most of the Plains peoples
lived in small nomadic bands that moved as the herds moved, driving them
into corrals for slaughter. From AD 850 onward, along the Missouri River
and other rivers of the central Plains, agricultural towns were also built.

The customs of the Plains peoples have become well known as the stereotyped
"Indian" customs-the long feather headdress, the tepee (also spelled tipi),
the ceremonial pipe, costumes, and dancing. These peoples and their customs
became well known during the 19th century, when European-Americans invaded
their lands and newspapers, magazines, and photography popularized the

Among early Plains peoples were the Blackfoot, who were bison hunters, and
the Mandan and Hidatsa, who were Missouri River agriculturalists. As
European colonists took over the Eastern Woodlands, many Midwest peoples
moved onto the Plains, among them the Sioux, the Cheyenne, and the Arapaho.
Earlier, about 1450, from the valleys west of the Rockies, some Shoshone
and Comanche had begun moving onto the Plains. After 1630 these peoples
took horses from Spanish ranches in New Mexico and traded them throughout
the Plains. The culture of the Plains peoples of the time thus included
elements from adjacent culture areas.

The California-Intermountain Area 

The mountain ridges and valleys of Utah, Nevada, and California resemble
one another in the pine forests of the mountains and the grasslands and
marshes in the valleys. An Archaic way of life-hunting deer and mountain
sheep, fishing, netting migratory birds, harvesting pine nuts and wild
grains-developed by 8000 BC and persisted with no radical changes until
about AD 1850. Villages were simple, with thatched houses, and in the warm
months little clothing was worn. The technology of getting, processing, and
storing food was sophisticated. Basketry was developed into a true art. On
the California coast, people fished and hunted sea lions, dolphins, and
other sea mammals from boats; the wealth of resources stimulated a
well-regulated trade using shell money. 

The Paiute, Ute, and Shoshone are the best-known peoples of the
Intermountain Great Basin area; the tribes of California include the
Klamath, the Modoc, and the Yurok in the north; the Pomo, Maidu, Miwok,
Patwin, and Wintun in the central region; and the "mission tribes" in the
south, whose European-given names were derived from those of the Spanish
missions that sought to conquer them-for example, the Diegueño.

The Plateau Region

In Idaho, eastern Oregon and Washington, western Montana, and adjacent
Canada, mountains are covered with evergreen forests and separated by
grassy valleys. As in the Great Basin, the Archaic pattern of life
persisted on the Plateau, but it was enriched by annual runs of salmon up
the Columbia, Snake, Fraser, and tributary rivers, as well as by harvests
of camas (western United States plants with edible bulbs) and other
nutritious tubers and roots in the meadows. People lived in villages made
up of sunken round houses in winter and camped in mat houses in summer.
They dried quantities of salmon and camas for winter eating, and on the
lower Columbia River, at the site of the present-day city of The Dalles,
Oregon, the Wishram and Wasco peoples kept a market town where travelers
from the Pacific Coast and the Plains could meet, trade, and buy dried

Plateau peoples include the Nez Percé, Walla Walla, Yakama, and Umatilla in
the Sahaptian language family, the Flathead, Spokane, and Okanagon in the
Salishan language family, and the Cayuse and Kootenai, or Kootenay in
Canada (with no linguistic relatives).

The Subarctic

The Subarctic region comprises the major part of Canada, stretching from
the Atlantic Ocean west to the mountains bordering the Pacific Ocean, and
from the tundra south to within about 300 km (about 200 mi) of the United
States border. The eastern half of this region was once heavily glaciated,
and its soil and drainage are poor. No agriculture is possible in the
Subarctic because summers are extremely short, and so the region's peoples
lived by hunting moose and caribou (a North American reindeer) and by
fishing. They were nomadic, sheltering themselves in tents or, in the west,
sometimes in sunken round houses (as in the Plateau region). To move camp,
they used canoes in summer and sleds in winter. Because of the limited food
resources, Subarctic populations remained small; even the summer rendezvous
at good fishing spots drew only hundreds, compared to the thousands of
persons who gathered at seasonal rendezvous in the Great Lakes or Plains

The peoples native to the eastern half of the Subarctic region are speakers
of Algonquian languages; they include the Cree, Ojibwa (also known as the
Chippewa), Montagnais, and Naskapi. In the western half live speakers of
northern Athapaskan languages, including the Chipewyan, Beaver, Kutchin,
Ingalik, Kaska, and Tanana. Many Subarctic peoples, although now settled in
villages, still live by trapping, fishing, and hunting.

Northwest Pacific Coast

The west coast of North America, from southern Alaska to northern
California, forms the Northwest Pacific Coast culture area. Bordered on the
east by mountains, the habitable land is usually narrow, lying between the
sea and the hills. The sea is rich in sea mammals and in fish, including
salmon and halibut; on the land are mountain sheep and goats, elk, abundant
berries, and edible roots and tubers similar to potatoes. These resources
supported a dense population organized into large villages where people
lived in wooden houses, often more than 30 m (100 ft) long. Each house
contained an extended family, sometimes with slaves, and was managed by a
chief. During the winter, villagers staged elaborate costumed religious
dramas, and they also hosted people from neighboring villages at ceremonial
feasts called potlatches, at which gifts were lavishly given. Trade was
important, and it extended toward northern Asia, where iron for knives was
obtained. The Northwest Pacific Coast is known for its magnificent wooden

Northwest Pacific Coast culture developed after 3000 BC, when sea levels
stabilized and movements of salmon and sea mammals became regular. The
basic pattern of life changed little, and over the centuries carving and
other crafts gradually attained great sophistication and artistry. Tribes
of the Northwest Pacific Coast include the Tlingit, Tsimshian, Haida,
Kwakiutl, Nootka, Chinook, Salish, Makah, and Tillamook.

The Arctic

The Arctic culture area rings the coasts of Alaska and northern Canada.
Because winters are long and dark, agriculture is impossible; people live
by fishing and by hunting seal, caribou, and (in northern Alaska and
eastern Canada), whale. Traditional summer houses were tents. Winter houses
were round, well-insulated frame structures covered with skins and blocks
of sod; in central Canada the winter houses often were made of blocks of
ice. Populations were small because resources were so limited. 

The Arctic was not inhabited until about 2000 BC, after glaciers finally
melted in that region. In Alaska the Inuit and the Yuit (also known as
Yupik) developed ingenious technology to deal with the difficult climate
and meager economic resources. About AD 1000 bands of Alaskan Inuit
migrated across Canada to Greenland; called the Thule culture, they appear
to have absorbed an earlier people in eastern Canada and Greenland (the
Dorset culture). These people are now often referred to as the Greenland
Inuit. Because of this migration, traditional Inuit culture and language
are similar from Alaska to Greenland. Living in southwestern Alaska (and
the eastern end of Siberia) are the Yuit, who are related to the Inuit in
culture and ancestry but whose language is slightly different. Distantly
related to the Inuit and Yuit are the Aleuts, who since 6000 BC have
remained in their homeland on the Aleutian Islands, fishing and hunting sea
mammals. Like the Subarctic peoples but unlike most Native Americans, the
Inuit, Yuit, and Aleut peoples today retain much of their ancient way of
life because their culture areas are remote from cities and their lands
cannot be farmed.


Impressive civilizations developed in Mexico and upper Central America
after about 1400 BC. These civilizations originated from an Archaic
hunting-and-gathering way of life that by 7000 BC included cultivation of
small quantities of beans, squash, pumpkins, and maize. By 2000 BC Mexicans
had come to depend on their planted fields of these crops, plus amaranth,
avocado and other fruits, and chili peppers. Towns developed, and by 1400
BC the Olmec civilization boasted a capital with palaces, temples, and
monuments built on a huge constructed platform about 50 m (about 165 ft)
high and nearly 1.6 km (1 mi) long. The Olmec lived in the jungle of the
east coast of Mexico; their trade routes extended hundreds of miles, both
to Monte Albán in western Mexico (in what is now Oaxaca State) and to the
Valley of Mexico in the central highlands. As the power of the Olmec
declined (about 400 BC), the centers in the central highlands grew, and by
the 1st century AD the largest city in pre-Columbian Mexico had developed
to an urban size at Teotihuacán in the Valley of Mexico. Teotihuacán
dominated Mexico for the first six centuries AD, trading with Monte Albán
and with the Mayan kingdoms that had arisen in southwestern Mexico and
conquering rivals as far south as the Valley of Guatemala. The capital city
covered some 21 sq km (some 8 sq mi) with blocks of apartment houses,
markets, many small factories, temples on platforms, and palaces covered
with murals. 

About AD 700 Teotihuacán suffered attacks that destroyed its power. Later
in the same century many Mayan cities were abandoned, perhaps economically
ruined when their trade with Teotihuacán ended. Other Mayan cities, mostly
in northern Yucatán, were not so affected. By 1000 in central Mexico, a new
power-the Toltec-began building an empire that extended into the Valley of
Mexico and maybe into Mayan territory. This empire collapsed in 1168. By
1433 the Valley of Mexico had regained domination over much of Mexico as a
result of an alliance of three neighboring kingdoms. This alliance secured
the homeland from which one king, Montezuma I of the Aztecs, began
territorial conquests in the 1400s. The empire flourished until 1519, when
a Spanish soldier, Hernán Cortés, landed in eastern Mexico and advanced
with Mexican allies upon the Aztec capital, Tenochtitlán. Internal strife
and a smallpox epidemic weakened the Mexicans and helped Cortés conquer
them in 1521. 

At the time of these initial Spanish conquests the native peoples of Mexico
included those in the domains of the Aztec Empire and of the powerful
kingdoms of the Mixtec rulers in what is now Puebla State and the Tarascan
in Michoacán State, and of the Zapotec in Oaxaca, the Tlaxcalan in
Michoacán, the Otomí in Hidalgo, and the Totonac in Veracruz; the subjects
of the remnants of the Mayan state of Mayapán in the Yucatán and of a
number of smaller undestroyed Mayan states to the south; and many
independent groups in the frontier regions, such as the Yaqui, Huichol, and
Tarahumara in northern Mexico and the Pipil in the south. After the Spanish
conquest-which took more than two centuries to reach throughout Mexico-most
of the Native American peoples were forced to survive as peasants governed
by the Spanish-Mexican upper class. 

The culture area of Mesoamerica-Mexico, Guatemala, El Salvador, western
Honduras, and western Nicaragua-was one of farming villages producing
maize, beans, squash, amaranth, turkeys, and other foods, supporting large
city markets where traders sold tools, cloth, and luxury goods imported
over long land and sea trade routes. In the cities lived manufacturers and
their workers, merchants, the wealthy class, and priests and scholars who
recorded literary, historical, and scientific works in native-language
hieroglyphic texts (astronomy was particularly advanced). Cities were
adorned with sculptures and brilliant paintings, often depicting the
Mesoamerican symbols of power and knowledge: the eagle, lord of the
heavens; the jaguar, lord of the earth; and the rattlesnake, associated
with wisdom, peace, and the arts of civilization.

South America The culture areas of South America extend from lower Central
America-eastern Honduras, Nicaragua, and Costa Rica-to the southern tip of
South America. Four principal areas can be distinguished: northern South
America, including the Caribbean and lower Central America; the central and
southern Andes Mountains and adjacent Pacific coast; the Tropical Forest of
eastern South America; and the tip and eastern portion of the narrow
southern third of the continent, an area supporting only nomadic
hunting-and-gathering peoples. Northern South America and the Caribbean The
culture area of northern South America and the Caribbean includes jungle
lowlands, grassy savannah plains, the northern Andes Mountains, some arid
sections of western Ecuador, and the islands of the Caribbean. Given its
geographical location, the region might seem to link the great
civilizations of Mexico and Peru; but because land travel through the
jungles and mountains of lower Central America is difficult, pre-Columbian
contacts between Peru and Mexico took place mostly by sea, from Ecuador's
Gulf of Guayaquil to western Mexican ports. The native peoples of northern
South America and the Caribbean lived in small, independent states.
Although they traded directly with Mexico and Peru by way of Ecuador, they
were bypassed by the empires. 

Finds of Clovislike spearpoints indicate the presence of hunters in the
area by 9000 BC; other evidence suggests that people were in the northern
region by 18,000 BC. The Archaic style of living continued from the time of
the extinction of the mastodons and mammoths, in the Clovis period, until
about 3000 BC. About this time, village dwellers developed the cultivation
of maize in Ecuador, and of manioc (a tropical tuber) in Venezuela, and
pottery making flourished. Also after this date, the Caribbean islands
began to be settled. By 500 BC, in towns in some areas of northern South
America, distinctive local styles had developed in sculpture and metalwork.
Population growth and technological progress continued until the Spanish
conquered the region; at that time the Chibcha kingdoms of Colombia were
famous for their fine gold ornaments. Around the Caribbean, smaller groups
such as the Mískito of Nicaragua, the Cuna of Panama, and the Arawak and
Carib peoples of the Caribbean islands farmed and fished around their
villages; the Carib also lived along the coast of Venezuela. These peoples
lived a simpler life than did the peoples of the northern Andean states.

Central and Southern Andes The lofty chain of the Andes Mountains that
stretches down the western half of South America, together with the narrow
coastal valleys between the mountains and the Pacific Ocean, were the home
of the great civilizations of Native Americans in South America. 

In recent years, excavation at the Monte Verde site in southern Chile has
yielded unequivocal evidence of human occupation dating back to 11,000 BC.
Excavations farther north, in Peru, show that by 7000 BC beans, including
the lima bean, were cultivated, as were chili peppers. A few centuries
later the domestication of llamas was begun. Guinea pigs were eventually
raised for meat; cotton, potatoes, peanuts, and other foods gradually
became part of Peruvian agriculture, and about 2000 BC maize was brought
from the northern Andes. The peoples of the Pacific coast, from Chile
through Peru into Ecuador, also made use of the rich sea life, which
included many species of fish, as well as water birds, sea lions, dolphins,
and shellfish. 

After 2000 BC peoples in villages in several coastal valleys of central
Peru organized to build great temples of stone and adobe on large
platforms. After about 900 BC these temples appear to have served a new
religion, centered in the mountain town of Chavín de Huántar. This religion
had as its symbols the eagle, the jaguar, the snake (probably an anaconda),
and the caiman (alligator), which seems to have represented water and the
fertility of plants. These symbols are somewhat similar to those of the
Mexican Olmec religion, but no definite link between the two cultures is
known. After 300 BC Chavín influence-or possibly political power-declined.
The Moche civilization then appeared on the northern coast of Peru, and the
Nazca on the southern coast. In both, large irrigation projects, towns, and
temples were constructed, and extensive trade was carried on, including the
export of fine ceramics. The Moche depicted their daily life and their
myths in paintings and in ceramic sculpture; they showed themselves as
fearsome warriors and also made molded ceramic sculptures depicting homes
with families, cultivated plants, fishers, and even lovers. They were also
expert metalworkers. 

By about AD 600 the Moche and Nazca cultures declined, and two new,
powerful states appeared in Peru: Huari in the central mountains, and
Tiahuanacu in the southern mountains at Lake Titicaca. Tiahuanacu seems to
have been a great religious center, reviving symbols from the Chavín. These
states lasted only a few centuries; after 1000, coastal states again became
important, especially Chimú in the north, with its vast and magnificent
adobe-brick capital city of Chanchan. All Peru was eventually conquered by
a state that arose in the central mountains at Cuzco; this was the Quechua
state, ruled by a people known as the Inca. The emperor of the Inca at the
time, Pachacuti Inca Yupanqui, began large-scale expansion of the empire in
the 1400s; by 1525 Inca rule extended from Ecuador to Chile and Argentina.
Civil war raged within the empire from 1525 to 1532. At its conclusion, the
Spanish adventurer Francisco Pizarro landed in Peru and had little trouble
conquering the war-wasted Inca Empire. 

During this time the central and southern Andes were populated by farmers
who raised a variety of crops. Local products, transported by llama
caravans, were exported and traded between the coast, the mountains, and
the eastern tropical jungle. The region's kingdoms were governed by
administrators aided by soldiers and priests. Prehistoric Peru had the only
great civilization known that did not use writing; but the Peruvians did
use the abacus for arithmetic calculations, and they kept numerical records
for government by means of abacuslike sets of knotted strings called

The Tropical Forest The jungle lowlands of eastern South America seem to
have been settled after 3000 BC, for archaeologists have not found evidence
of any earlier peoples. Population was always relatively sparse, clustered
along riverbanks where fish could be obtained and manioc and other crops
planted. Various herbs and foods were cultivated, including hallucinogens
for use in religious rituals; these were also exported to Peru. Although
animals such as tapirs and monkeys were hunted, little game was supported
by the jungle forests. No large towns existed-people lived in thatch houses
in villages. Sometimes the whole village slept in hammocks, which were
invented here. Little clothing was worn, because of the damp heat, but
cotton cloth was woven, and the people ornamented themselves with painting.
Among the many small groups of the Tropical Forest culture area are the
Makiritare, the Yanomamo, the Mundurucu, the Tupinamba, the Shipibo, and
the Cayapó. Speakers of Arawak and Carib languages-linguistic relatives of
Caribbean peoples-also live in the northern Tropical Forest. Although
Tropical Forest peoples retain much of their traditional way of life, today
they suffer from diseases brought by Europeans and from destruction of
their lands by ranchers, loggers, miners, and agribusiness corporations.
Southernmost South America In Uruguay, Argentina, and Chile, farming
peoples such as the Mapuche of Chile still live in villages and cultivate
maize, potatoes, and grains. Although they once kept llamas, after the
Spanish invasions they began to raise cattle, sheep, pigs, and chickens,
and used horses for herding and for warfare. Farther south, on the Pampas,
agriculture was not suitable; people lived by hunting guanacos and rheas
and, on the coasts, by fishing and gathering shellfish. In Tierra del Fuego
evidence of this hunting-and-gathering life dates from 7000 BC. On the
Pampas, hunting was transformed when the horse was obtained from the
Spaniards after AD 1555. The Tehuelche pursued guanacos from horseback, and
like the North American Plains peoples, once they had horses for transport,
they enjoyed larger tepees as well as more clothing and other goods.
Farthest south, around the Strait of Magellan, the Ona, Yahgan, and
Alacaluf lacked the game animals of the Pampas; they survived principally
on fish and shellfish, but also hunted seals and sea lions. Nomadic
peoples, they lived in small wigwams covered with bark or sealskins. In
spite of the cold, foggy climate, they wore little clothing. Life in Tierra
del Fuego appears to have changed little over 9000 years, for no
agriculture or herding is possible in the climate. The peoples native to
this region suffered greatly from diseases brought by Europeans, and few
survive today. Traditional Way of Life Among the elements of the
traditional ways of life of Native Americans are their social and political
organization, their economic and other activities, and their religions,
languages, and art. Social and Political Organization Social organization
among Native Americans, as among peoples throughout the world, is based
largely on the family. Some Native American societies emphasize the
economic cooperation of husband and wife, others that of adult brothers and
sisters. As among various other peoples, men's work has been largely
separate from women's work. Women usually took responsibility for the care
of young children and the home, and for the cultivation of plants, while
men frequently hunted, traveled for trade, or worked as laborers. 

Native American societies also parallel societies elsewhere in that their
size and complexity are affected by the economic potential of their
environment. Accordingly, the smallest societies are found in regions that
are poor in food resources. Examples include the Cree and the
Athapaskan-language peoples of the Canadian Subarctic, the Paiute of the
Nevada desert, and the Ona and Yahgan of Tierra del Fuego. Among these
peoples, two or three couples and their children often lived together,
hunting, fishing, gathering plant foods, and moving camp several times a
year to take advantage of seasonal foods in different localities. During
the season when food was most available, usually summer, these small groups
would gather together, with several hundred people spending a few weeks in
feasting, trading, and visiting. When agriculture is possible, communities
have been larger, from one or two hundred to thousands of people. In most
of what is now the United States, people lived in villages and formed a
loosely organized alliance with nearby villages. The alliance and each
village were governed by councils; village councils usually consisted of
representatives from each family, and the alliance council was made up of
representatives from the villages. The council selected a man or, in some
areas (especially the North American Southeast), sometimes a woman to act
as chief-that is, to preside over the council and act as principal liaison
in dealing with other groups. Often the chief was selected from a family
that trained its children for leadership. In many areas families in the
villages were linked together in clans-that is, groups believed to be
descended from one ancestral couple. Clans usually owned resources such as
agricultural plots and fishing stations; they allotted these as needed to
member families and protected their members. Similar societies became
common in the Tropical Forest culture area of South America. 

In pre-Columbian times in Mesoamerica and the Andes of South America,
kingdoms that had hundreds of thousands of subjects and empires with
millions of subjects were established. These societies were stratified,
with a large lower class of farmers, miners, and craft workers; a middle
class of merchants and officials; and an upper class of rulers who
maintained armies and a priesthood. In many of these states, children were
educated in formal schools; most children were trained to follow their
parents' occupations, but talented youth might be selected for more
suitable work. Citizens supported the state religion, although in the
empires local religious observances were sometimes permitted to coexist
with the state religion. War captives and debtors often became slaves. The
Inca state in Peru was tightly organized and controlled, moving persons and
even whole villages around the empire to meet its needs. In Mesoamerican
kingdoms, on the other hand, clanlike local groups were generally allowed
limited power. 

On first encountering Native American societies, Europeans frequently did
not understand their organization, which differed in various ways from
European types of social organization; subsequently, the native
organization was modified by the British or Spanish conquerors. In North
America, Europeans failed to recognize the respect and power accorded to
women of the Iroquois, Creek, and a number of other peoples. Among the
Iroquois, for example, women made the final decisions in major areas of
government. In California, Europeans who saw the local upper class living
in thatch houses and wearing little clothing failed to understand that the
region's native communities had different social classes and highly
organized ownership of property. Many descriptions of indigenous societies
were written after wars between Europeans and Native Americans and
epidemics of diseases brought by Europeans had severely reduced native
populations and disrupted their societies. Other accounts were written with
a particular bias, to support an author's ideas of how humans ought to
live. Thus, many false stereotypes of Native Americans and their societies
became common.

Food Since at least 2000 BC, most Native Americans have lived by
agriculture. Maize was the most common grain, but certain grainlike plants
were also popular, notably amaranth in Mesoamerica and quinoa in the Andes.
Several varieties of beans and squash were grown alongside maize; many
varieties of potato were cultivated in the Andes; and manioc, a tropical
tuber, was raised in the Tropical Forest area of South America. All these
plants, as well as peanuts, chili peppers, cotton, cacao (chocolate),
avocados, and many others, were domesticated and developed as crops by
Native Americans. 

Livestock was less important to Native Americans than to peoples on other
continents. In the Andes guinea pigs were bred for meat and llamas for
transport and meat, and in Mesoamerica turkeys were domesticated. Protein
was often obtained from plants, especially beans. Maize-growing peoples
obtained calcium by soaking maize in a lime solution as a step in preparing
it to eat. Throughout the Americas additional protein was obtained from
fish and game animals, especially deer. Outside Mesoamerica and the Andes,
in many Native American communities game ranges were regularly burned to
improve pasture, thereby maintaining favorable conditions for deer and, on
the Plains, for bison. In Mesoamerica and Peru, land was too valuable to
pasture animals; instead, land was cultivated, intensively irrigated, and,
in mountain regions, terraced. 

Hunting and fishing techniques were highly developed by Native Americans,
particularly in regions not suited to agriculture. Traps of all kinds were
common. Plains peoples relied on corrals hidden under bluffs or in ravines;
herds of bison were driven into the corrals, where they were easily
slaughtered. Inuit and Subarctic groups drove caribou into corrals, or they
ambushed them in mountain passes or river fords. Guanacos were similarly
hunted in the South American Pampas. Fish were usually taken in nets or
weir traps (where a fence or enclosure is set in a waterway to catch fish),
except in the Northwest Pacific Coast area, where tons of salmon could be
speared at the river rapids. 

Techniques of food preparation have varied according to the type of food
and the culture area. In maize-growing regions, tortillas remain common, as
does a similar flat bread of manioc flour in the Tropical Forest.
Techniques of drying foods, including meats, have always been important. In
pre-Hispanic Mesoamerica and the Andes, nobles indulged in elaborate feasts
of richly prepared dishes.

Clothing and Adornment In their traditional clothing Native Americans
differed from Europeans in that they placed less importance on completely
covering the body. The peoples of warm climates, in California and the
Tropical Forest, for example, often did not bother with much clothing
except at festivals; then they adorned themselves with flowers and paint,
and often with intricate feather headdresses. In Mesoamerica and Peru, men
wore a breechcloth and a cloak knotted over one shoulder, and women wore a
skirt and a loose blouse; these garments were woven of cotton or, in Peru,
sometimes of fine vicuña (a relative of the llama) wool. North American
hunting peoples made garments of well-tanned deer, elk, or caribou skin; a
common style was a tunic, longer for women than for men, with detachable
sleeves and leggings. Northwest Pacific Coast peoples wore rain cloaks of
woven cedar fiber. In the Arctic, the Inuit and Aleuts wore parkas, pants,
and boots of caribou or, when needed, of waterproof fish skin. Except in
Canada and Alaska, where parkas and coats were worn, Native Americans in
cold weather usually wrapped themselves in robes, cloaks, or ponchos.
Housing and Construction Modes of shelter, like food, show adaptation to
environment. Some houses that appear simple, such as the Inuit iglu or the
Florida Seminole chikee, are quite sophisticated: The iglu (Inuit for
"house"), usually made of hide or sod over a wood or whalebone frame, is a
dome with a sunken entrance that traps heat indoors but allows ventilation;
the chikee, naturally air-conditioned, consists of a thatch roof over an
open platform. The tepee of the Plains peoples constitutes efficient
housing for people who must move camp to hunt; tepees are easily portable
and quickly erected or taken down, and an inner liner hung from midway up
the tepee allows ventilation without drafts, so that the enclosed space is
comfortable even in winter. 

Some peoples in cold climates that were well supplied with wood, such as
the peoples of Tierra del Fuego and the Subarctic Athapaskan-language
peoples, relied on windbreaks with good fires in front, rather than on
tents. Many other peoples, including some Athapaskan tribes as well as
Inuit, Californians, Intermountain peoples, and early Southwesterners,
spent cold weather in dome-shaped houses that were sunk well into the
ground for insulation. Plains farming peoples, including the Pawnee and
Mandan, built aboveground dome houses insulated with earth applied over
pole frames. The Navajo hogan, a round log-house banked with earth, is

Mesoamerican and Andean peoples constructed buildings of stone and cement
as well as of wood and adobe. Public buildings and the houses of the upper
class were usually built on raised-earth platforms, with a large number of
rooms arranged around atria and courtyards. In cities and in the Pueblo
towns of the Southwest, multistoried apartment blocks were built.

Trade and Transportation To all Native Americans, trade was an important
economic activity. The early empire of Teotihuacán in Mexico was founded on
the manufacture and export of blades of obsidian, a natural volcanic glass
that made the best stone knives. Several centuries later, the Aztecs
organized their conquests by sending merchants into other kingdoms to
develop trade, act as spies, and help plan conquest if the foreign ruler
failed to give favorable terms to Aztec trade. In the Inca Empire excellent
highways were built over difficult mountain terrain in order to move
quantities of local specialty products in pack trains of llamas. Trade was
also conducted by sea along South America and around Mexico and the
Caribbean. Much sea trade was carried in large sailing rafts or, in the
Caribbean, in canoes made from huge logs. Trade goods in Mesoamerica and
the Andes included foodstuffs, manufactured items such as cloth, knives,
and pottery, and luxuries such as jewelry, brilliant tropical bird
feathers, and chocolate. Both medicinal and hallucinogenic drugs were
widely traded. Goods were bought and sold in large open markets in towns
and cities. 

Outside the kingdoms of Mesoamerica and the Andes, trade was often carried
on by traveling parties who were received in each village by its chief, who
supervised business as the people gathered around the trader. In many
areas, including California and the Eastern Woodlands, small shells or
shell beads-called wampum in the Eastern Woodlands-were used as money.
Because traders carried their goods on their backs or in canoes, trade
goods were usually relatively light, small items. Furs and bright-colored
feathers were valued in trade nearly everywhere. In western North America
dried salmon, fish oil, and fine baskets were major trade products, and in
eastern North America expertly tanned deer hides, copper, catlinite
pipe-bowl stone, pearls, and conch shells were widely traded.

Recreation and Entertainment The games and other recreational activities of
Native Americans have had much in common with those of peoples elsewhere.
Children traditionally played with dolls and with miniature figures and
implements, imitating adult activities; in groups they played tag, the one
who was "it" often pretending to be a jaguar or similar animal. Youths and
adults played games with balls-rubber balls in Mesoamerica and northern
South America, hide or fiber balls elsewhere. The Mesoamerican ball game
called tlatchtli was somewhat similar to basketball in that it was played
in a rectangular court and had the goal of knocking a hard ball through a
stone hoop high on the court wall; players, however, were not allowed to
use their hands, but only body parts such as the hips and knees. In
Mesoamerica these ball games often were seen as rituals of cosmic
significance. Lacrosse was popular in the eastern region of North America
and eventually was adopted by European settlers. In southern South America
a game was played that resembled field hockey. Chunkey, a kind of bowling
with a stone disk instead of a ball, was a favorite in the Midwest.
Hoop-and-pole, in which players throw sticks at a rolling hoop, was played
throughout most of the Americas. 

Guessing games, with the players trying to guess where a token piece is
hidden, continue to be popular among the Native Americans of North America,
but are not common in South America; players usually sing and beat a
rhythm, trying to confuse their opponents. In both North and South America
games of chance using dice are still played, and the Aztecs of earlier
times had a board game similar to the modern game of Parcheesi. 

Competitions-in foot racing, wrestling, archery, and, after the Spanish
invasions, horse racing-were generally popular, as were variants of snow
snake, in which a smooth stick is slid along a course. Minor amusements
that are still popular include cat's cradle, in which a symbolic string
figure is constructed on the player's fingers, and the use of tops and

Religion and Folklore Native American religious beliefs and practices
display great diversity. As among other peoples, educated and philosophical
persons may hold beliefs that differ from those of most people living in
the same community; this was also true in the past. 

The Mexican and Andean nations, the peoples of the North American Southwest
and Southeast, and some Northwest Pacific Coast peoples had full-time
religious leaders as well as shrines or temple buildings. Peoples of other
areas had part-time priests and generally lacked permanent temples.
Part-time priests and shamans (faith healers, who often also used medicinal
plants to cure) learned to conduct ceremonies by apprenticing themselves to
older practitioners; in the larger nations priests were trained in schools
attached to the temples. In some regions religious leaders formed fraternal
orders to train initiates and share knowledge; examples include the Ojibwa
of the Eastern Woodlands and the Pawnee of the Plains. 

Most Native Americans believe that in the universe there exists an
Almighty-a spiritual force that is the source of all life. The Almighty of
Native American belief is not pictured as a man in the sky; rather, it is
believed to be formless and to exist throughout the universe. The sun is
viewed as a manifestation of the power of the Almighty, and Europeans often
thought Native Americans were worshipping the sun, when, in fact, they were
addressing prayers to the Almighty, of which the sun was a sign and symbol.

In many areas of the Americas, the Almighty was recognized in several
aspects: as light and life-power, focused in the sun; as fertility and
strength, centered in the earth; as wisdom and the power of earthly rulers,
observed in creatures such as the jaguar, the bear, or snakes. In most
places in the Americas, religious devotees enhanced their ability to
perceive aspects of the Almighty, sometimes by using hallucinogenic plants,
or sometimes by fasting and singing prayers until they achieved a spiritual
vision. In northern and western North America, most boys and many girls
were sent out alone to fast and pray until they thought they saw a spirit
that promised to help them achieve the power to succeed in adult life.
Shamans among the Inuit, along the Northwest Coast, in South America, and
in some other areas went into trances, believing that their souls could
then battle evil spirits or search the earth for the wandering souls of
sick patients. 

Most Native American peoples have myths in which a time is described when
the earth was not as it now appears, and during which it became transformed
by the actions of legendary persons, or animals who spoke with humans.
Unlike many Europeans, Native Americans tend not to consider humans
entirely different from animals and plants; instead, they often believe
that other beings are like humans and that all are dependent on the
life-giving power of the Almighty. Some Native American myths, such as the
myth of Lone Man (of the Plains people known as the Mandan), describe a
wise leader who teaches the arts of life to the people; others, such as the
California-Intermountain myths about Coyote, describe foolishly clever

Native Americans generally have shown less interest in an afterlife than
have Christians. Native Americans have traditionally tended to assume that
the souls of the dead go to another part of the universe, where they have a
pleasant existence carrying on everyday activities. Souls of unhappy or
evil persons might stay around their former homes, causing misfortunes.
Many Native American peoples have celebrated an annual memorial service for
deceased relatives; in Latin America this observance later became fused
with the Christian All Souls' Day. 

Both private prayer and public rituals are common among Native Americans.
Individuals regularly give thanks to the Almighty; communities gather for
symbolic dances, processions, and feasts. The Sun Dance of the Plains
peoples is an annual summer assembly at which a thousand or more people
meet to fast and pray together, praising and beseeching the blessings of
the Almighty. The Pueblos of the Southwest, like the Iroquois of the
Eastern Woodlands, continue to observe a yearly cycle of festivals: In
spring they pray for good crops; in autumn they celebrate the harvests.
Various tribes used certain ritual objects (such as the long-stemmed pipe
used by priests in North America to blow tobacco-smoke incense) to
symbolize the power of the Almighty; when displayed, these objects reminded
people to cease quarrels and remember moral obligations. 

The folktales of Native Americans, as well as their myths, frequently
express ideas about the nature of humans, other creatures, and the
universe. Among the Mexican nations, detailed historical records are
maintained; elsewhere, in general, no sharp distinction was drawn between
history and legend. Many Native American folktales are fables, pointing out
a moral; others are simply exciting or amusing stories. Translations of
Native American stories and myths-like descriptions of native religious
beliefs and ceremonies-seldom capture the full Native American meaning; a
nonnative reader is rarely aware of the background of ideas that native
listeners bring to a story or ceremony.

Warfare The common stereotype that Native Americans were extremely warlike
arose because, when Europeans first came into contact with them, the Native
Americans were usually defending their homelands, either against European
invaders or against other native peoples supported by European invaders.
Archaeological evidence of fortifications, destroyed towns, and people
killed in battle indicates, however, that wars between Native American
groups did take place before the European invasions. 

Most Native Americans fought in small groups, relying on surprise to give
them victory. The large nations of Mexico and Peru sometimes relied on
surprise attacks by armies, but their soldiers also fought in disciplined
ranks. The Aztecs fought formal battles called "flower wars" with
neighboring peoples; the purpose was to capture men for sacrifice (the
Aztecs believed that the sun would weaken if it were not fed with human
blood). Other native peoples, including many in present United States
territory, conducted war raids to obtain captives, but these captives were
used as slaves, rather than as victims for sacrifice. Some Native American
battles were fought for revenge. The most common cause of war between
Native American groups was probably to defend or enlarge tribal territory. 

Before the Spanish colonizations, warfare was conducted on foot or from
canoes. Both the Mexican and the Andean nations, as well as smaller Native
American groups, employed hand-to-hand combat with clubs, battle-axes, and
daggers, as well as close-range combat with javelins hurled with great
force from spear-thrower boards (known as atlatls). Bows and arrows were
used in attacks, and fire arrows were used against thatched-house villages.
When the Spanish brought riding horses to the New World, native peoples in
both North and South America developed techniques of raiding from

Languages About a thousand distinct languages are presently spoken by
native peoples in North and South America, and hundreds more have become
extinct since first European contact. In many areas, among them the
Intermountain and Plateau regions of North America, people often spoke not
only their native language but also the languages of groups with whom they
had frequent contact. In various cases one language served as a common
language for a multilingual region; examples include Tucano (western Amazon
area) and Quechua (Andean region). Some regions had a traders' language or
pidgin, a simplified language or mixture of several languages, helpful to
traders of different native languages; among these were Chinook Jargon
(Pacific Coast, North America), Mobilian (United States, Southeast), and
lingua geral (Brazil). Linguists have grouped many of the Native American
languages into roughly 180 families, but many other languages have no known
relatives; scholars differ in proposing more distant relationships among
families. Grammatical traits, sound systems, and word formation often vary
from family to family, but families in a given region often influence one
another.  Crafts and the Arts Distinctive craft needs and artistic styles
characterize each culture area of the Americas. Nearly all the major
technologies known in Europe, Asia, and Africa in the 16th century were
known also to Native Americans before European contact, but these
technologies were not always used in the same way. For example, although
the Andean nations had superb metallurgists, they made few metal tools
(people used stone tools for most tasks); instead they applied their skills
to creating magnificent ornaments. In architecture, the Maya built a few
true (known as keystone) arches, but for roofing their buildings, Mayan
architects preferred not the true arch but the narrow corbeled vault. 
Stonework The earliest American art known to archaeologists is flint
knapping, or the chipping of stone. Between about 9000 and 6000 BC, stone
spear and dart points of sharp beauty, such as the Folsom and Eden points,
were produced with great skill. Although flint knapping eventually declined
somewhat in other culture areas, in Mesoamerica the art of chipping flint
and, especially, obsidian continued to be highly prized. In the Late
Archaic period, after 3000 BC, the pecking and grinding (rather than
chipping) of stone developed into art. In the region that is now the
eastern United States lovely small sculptures, particularly of birds, were
made as weights for spear-thrower boards. Between about 1500 and 400 BC in
Mesoamerica, the Olmec made small ornaments of semiprecious stones, as well
as fine naturalistic and in-the-round stone sculptures that were close to
or larger than life size. Jade was a favorite stone of the Olmec, and it
continued to be carved throughout Mesoamerican prehistory. Northwest Coast
Haida carvings in argillite and recent Inuit soapstone carvings are
examples of the continuing expression of Native American art through stone.

In architecture, the pre-Hispanic Andean nations developed stone masonry to
a high degree, fitting smoothed stone blocks together so expertly that no
mortar was needed for walls that have stood for more than a thousand years.
The Mesoamerican peoples also built in stone, and they preferred to cover
their buildings in stucco plaster and adorn them with murals.

Pottery The earliest pottery in the Americas was made about 3500 BC. By
2000 BC several known styles of ceramics had emerged, and in the wares of
the following centuries everyday cooking pottery can be distinguished from
fine serving pieces. Among outstanding styles are the Mayan vessels painted
with scenes of royalty and mythology; the molded vessels of the Moche
culture of Peru, reproducing objects and scenes from daily life as well as
images from mythology; and the pottery of the Pueblos of the Southwest
culture area, painted in geometric or stylized naturalistic designs. Ever
since its beginnings as an Archaic-period art form in the Americas (by
about 8000 BC or perhaps earlier), basketry continued to develop, reaching
its finest levels of achievement in western North America. There, baskets
became a true art form, prized as objects of wealth when of highest
quality. In most parts of the Americas several basketry techniques were
known, among them weaving, twining, and coiling; decorative techniques
included embroidery and the use of bright feathers, shells, and beads.
Weaving Throughout the Americas weaving of one kind or another was
practiced, but the craft reached its highest development in the Andean
nations. In ancient South America twining seems to have been in use earlier
than true weaving, and this early technique continued in use in both North
and South America for bags, belts, and other items. Almost as widespread as
twining was the use of the backstrap loom, in which the tension on the
threads is maintained as the weaver leans against a strap attached to the
lower ends of the warp threads (the upper ends are attached to a hanging
bar). On this simple loom a skilled weaver can make extremely fine,
although narrow, textiles. Heddle looms appeared in Peru after about 2000
BC, allowing wider cloth to be woven (a heddle is a mechanism that raises
and lowers the warp threads in the pattern required). Peruvian weavers,
using cotton as well as llama and vicuña wool, produced some of the finest
textiles known, from filmy gauzes to double-faced brocades. Into their
fabrics Native American weavers sometimes wove feathers or ornaments of
precious metal, shell, or beads. The Aztec emperor and the Inca wore cloaks
completely covered by brilliant feathers of rare birds, or by gold.
Metalworking In North America, in the upper Midwest, copper had been beaten
into knives, awls, and other tools in the Late Archaic period (around 2000
BC), and since that time it had been used for small tools and ornaments.
The use of copper in this region, however, was not true metallurgy, because
the metal was hammered from pure deposits rather than smelted from ore. The
earliest metallurgy in the Americas was practiced in Peru about 900 BC, and
this technology spread into Mesoamerica, probably from South America, after
about AD 900. Over the intervening centuries a variety of techniques
developed, among them alloying, gilding, casting, the lost-wax process,
soldering, and filigree work. Iron was never smelted, but bronze came into
use after about AD 1000. Thus, copper and, much later, bronze were the
metals used when metal tools were made; more effort, however, was put into
developing the working of precious metals-gold and silver-than into making

The best-known recent Native American metalwork is that of Navajo and Hopi
silversmiths; their craft began when they adopted Mexican silver-working
techniques in the mid-19th century.

Work in Other Materials Among hunting peoples leather was used extensively
for clothing, tents, shields, and containers (quivers, baby carriers, food
storage, sheaths, ritual paraphernalia). In North America leather clothing
was often embroidered with dyed porcupine quills. After European trade
began, quill embroidery gave way to decoration with glass beads. Native
Americans in eastern North America copied embroidery designs of the French,
and they substituted silk threads for quills and moose hair. 

Wood carving was a widespread craft among Native Americans. The peoples of
the Northwest Pacific Coast developed a truly distinctive art style in
their wood carvings, with variations from tribe to tribe; the most famous
examples of this style are its totem poles, tall logs carved and painted to
represent the noted ancestors of a clan and figures from mythology. 

Bark was employed in several Native American crafts. In northeastern North
America it was used for roofing, canoes, and containers; along the
Northwest Coast, shredded cedar bark was woven into rain capes and
ornaments; in South America bark was beaten in a felting process into a
kind of cloth; and in Mexico bark pulp was made into paper. 

Among Southwestern peoples such as the Navajo, Pueblo, and Yumans, pollen,
pulverized charcoal and sandstone, and other colored powdery materials are
distributed over a ground of sand to create symbolic sand paintings that
are used in healing rites and then destroyed. In the 20th century a number
of Native American artists in Canada and the United States have adopted
tempera, watercolor, and oil painting, using both traditional imagery and
modern Western styles. The peoples of the Northwest Coast and the Inuit
have also adapted traditional pictorial styles to printmaking.

Music and Dance In North America six distinctive musical styles or regions
have been recognized: Inuit and Northwest Coast; California and nearby
Arizona; the Great Basin; Athapaskan; Plains and Pueblo; and Eastern
Woodland. The music of northern Mexico has much in common with that of
western Arizona; farther south, however, in the regions of the Mesoamerican
and Andean civilizations, complex musical cultures existed. Little
information has been preserved about the music of these civilizations, and
whatever remains of the original styles survived the Spanish conquest
principally in the form of highly complex and varied blends of native and
assimilated Spanish elements. Elsewhere in South America the music of the
native peoples, like that of North America, was relatively insulated from
nonnative influence; the South American music, however, has been less
extensively studied than that of North America. Instruments and Vocal
Styles Among the persisting native musical styles of the Americas, singing
is the dominant form of musical expression, with instrumental music serving
primarily as rhythmic accompaniment. Exceptions occur, notably the North
American love songs played by men on flutes. The native peoples of South
America tend to use a softer singing voice than those of North America,
whereas a tense vocal production is characteristic east of the Rocky

Throughout the Americas the principal instruments have been drums and
rattles (shaken in the hand or worn on the body), as well as flutes and
whistles. In Mesoamerica and the Andes, greater variety exists. Besides
rattles and drums, the pre-Hispanic ensembles of the Aztecs are known to
have included double and triple flutes; trumpets played in harmony in
pairs; rasps; and the slit-drum (known as the teponaztli, a resonant,
carved hollowed log struck with a stick). In Panama and the Andes, panpipes
continue to be played in harmony. Instruments have often had ritual or
religious significance; among some Brazilian tribes, for example, women
must not view the men's flutes. In North America the tambourinelike frame
drum, and in South America the maraca rattle, were frequently played by

Inuit and Northwest Pacific Coast The Inuit and the peoples of the
Northwest Pacific Coast use more complex rhythms than are common elsewhere
in North America, and on the Northwest Pacific Coast, songs may have more
complex musical forms and may use exceptionally small melodic intervals (a
semitone or smaller). Northwest Pacific Coast dance dramas are lengthy,
elaborate productions with magnificent costumes and tricky props, and the
songs for these dramas are carefully taught and rehearsed. Inuit dance and
costumes are simpler, possibly because their communities are smaller, and
the dances often feature men using the forceful movements of harpooning
while women sing accompaniment. California and the Great Basin The singing
of the Native Americans of California and the Great Basin is produced by a
more relaxed throat than that of other North American musical areas. The
melodies and texts, however, are like those found elsewhere in North
America in that the songs are short (although they may be repeated or
combined into series) and the texts are often brief sentences. Such texts
tend to refer to myths, events, or emotions, rather than telling stories,
and sections of text may alternate with song sections sung to meaningless
syllables. Listeners must know the background to appreciate the poetry and
meaning of a song. Both social dances and costumed ritual dances are found
in the Great Basin and in California, where they are more elaborate. Some
California (and western Arizona, particularly Yuman) music is characterized
by a rise in pitch in the middle section of a song. Songs of the Great
Basin often have a structure consisting of paired phrases. Athapaskan Music
The music of the Athapaskan peoples-those of northwestern Canada and Alaska
as well as the Navajo and Apache of the Southwest-is characterized by
melodies that have a wide range and an arc-shaped contour, and by frequent
changes in meter; falsetto singing is prized. Costumed ritual dances are
unusual except among the Apache, who, like the Navajo, have been influenced
by the Pueblos. Much Navajo music belongs to healing rituals designed to
restore patients to harmony by seating them in beautiful sand paintings
while they listen to poetic songs. Plains and Pueblo Music The music of the
Great Plains is the best known of the Native American styles of North
America and is the source of the musical styles heard at present-day
powwows (social gatherings, often intertribal, featuring Native American
dancing). Singing is in a tense, pulsating, forceful style; men's voices
are preferred, although a high range and falsetto are valued. Melodic
ranges are wide, and the typical melodic contour is
terrace-shaped-beginning high, and descending as the song progresses.
Plains music is often produced by a group of men sitting around a large
double-headed drum, singing in unison and drumming with drumsticks (at
powwows, the group itself is called a drum). In Plains dancing, men usually
dance solo with bent body (several may dance at once, independently), but
there are also ritual dances with symbolic steps and social round dances
for couples. The Pueblos add some lower-voiced music; they make more use of
chorus, and they perform elaborate costumed ritual dances (often with
clowns that entertain between serious dances).Eastern Woodland Styles
Eastern Woodland music resembles Plains music, but it tends to have
narrower melodic ranges, and Eastern singing makes use of polyphony
(multipart music) as well as forms that are antiphonal (with alternating
choruses) and responsorial (with alternating solo and chorus). Dances
include men's solos, as well as ritual dances and social round dances. In
the Stomp Dance of the Southeast, a snakelike line of dancers follows a
leader who calls out in song and is answered by the followers. Mexico and
the Andes Almost no archaeological evidence exists for prehistoric music in
the Americas; all that is known from pre-Hispanic civilizations is a few
preserved instruments (such as panpipes and ocarinas in Peru) and painted
or carved scenes of musicians and dancers. In Mexico and Peru at the point
of European contact, the nobles and the temple personnel maintained
professional performers. In Mexico officials organized rituals for each
month, with hundreds of richly costumed, carefully rehearsed dancers and
musicians. Responsorial singing was practiced; sophisticated scales and
chords were apparently used, and compositions seem to have been formally
structured, with variety in melody and in combinations of meters. Secular
dramas with professional actors were also produced, and bards composed
epics. The harps, fiddles, and guitars found in the Native American music
of present-day Mexico and Peru were adopted from the Spanish. Other South
American Areas Elsewhere in South America, indigenous music was relatively
unaffected by European music. The pentatonic (five-note) scale of the Incas
spread to some other regions, but earlier scales of three or four notes
also survived. Polyphonic singing, characterized by various voices and
melodies, developed in some areas, notably in Patagonia. Flutes are still
sometimes played in harmony, and the music of some Tropical Forest peoples
is often a complex combination of voices, percussion, and flutes. 

European Contact and Impact As early Europeans first stepped ashore in what
they considered the "New World"-whether in San Salvador (West Indies),
Roanoke Island (North Carolina), or Chaleur Bay (New Brunswick)-they
usually were welcomed by the peoples indigenous to the Americas. Native
Americans seemed to regard their lighter-complexioned visitors as something
of a marvel, not only for their dress, beards, and winged ships but even
more for their technology-steel knives and swords, fire-belching arquebus
(a portable firearm of the 15th and 16th centuries) and cannon, mirrors,
hawkbells and earrings, copper and brass kettles, and other items unusual
to the way of life of Native Americans. Initial Reaction to Europeans
Nonetheless, Native Americans soon recognized that the Europeans themselves
were very human. Indeed, early records show that 16th- and 17th-century
Native Americans very often regarded Europeans as rather despicable
specimens. White Europeans, for instance, were frequently accused of being
stingy with their wealth and avaricious in their insatiable desire for
beaver furs and deer hides. Likewise, Native Americans were surprised at
European intolerance for native religious beliefs, sexual and marital
arrangements, eating habits, and other customs. At the same time, Native
Americans became perplexed when Europeans built permanent structures of
wood and stone, thus precluding movement. Even village- and town-dwelling
Native Americans were used to relocating when local game, fish, and
especially firewood gave out. 

To many Native Americans, the Europeans appeared to be oblivious to the
rhythms and spirit of nature. Nature to the Europeans seemed to be an
obstacle, even an enemy. It was also a commodity: A forest was so many
board feet of timber, a beaver colony so many pelts, a herd of buffalo so
many robes and tongues. Some Europeans perceived the Native Americans
themselves as a resource-souls ripe for religious conversion, or a
plentiful supply of labor. Europeans, in sum, were regarded as somewhat
mechanical-soulless creatures who wielded ingenious tools and weapons to
accomplish their ends.

Relations with the Colonial Powers "We came here to serve God, and also to
get rich," announced a member of the entourage of Spanish explorer and
conqueror Hernán Cortés. Both agendas of 16th-century Spaniards, the
commercial and the religious, needed the Native Americans themselves in
order to be successful. The Spanish conquistadors and other adventurers
wanted the land and labor of the Native Americans; the priests and friars
laid claim to their souls. Ultimately, both programs were destructive to
many indigenous peoples of the Americas. The first robbed them of their
freedom and, in many cases, their lives; the second deprived them of their

Contrary to many stereotypes, however, many 16th-century Spaniards agonized
over the ethics of conquest. Important Spanish jurists and humanists argued
at length over the legality of depriving the Native Americans of their land
and coercing them to submit to Spanish authority. For the Native Americans,
however, these ethical debates did little good. 

The situation for Native Americans was considerably less destructive in
Canada, where French commercial interests centered on the fur trade. Many
of the indigenous peoples were vital suppliers of beaver, otter, muskrat,
mink, and other valuable pelts. It would have been ruinous for the French
to have mistreated such useful business partners. It was also unnecessary,
as the lure of trade goods was sufficient incentive for the native hunters
to transport the pelts to Montréal, Trois-Rivières, and Québec. 

Another factor favoring the relative independence of the indigenous peoples
of Canada was the French need for allies in their wars with the
British-both to the south, in the thirteen colonies, and to the north, on
the shores of Hudson Bay. Both the French and British employed Native
Americans as auxiliaries in their wars. 

While the French tended to regard the indigenous peoples as equals and
intermarriage as acceptable, the English were not so inclined. English
scorn for Native Americans no doubt derived in large measure from the
tensions and friction generated by the English desire to acquire more and
more land. Unlike the French in Canada, the English settled the Atlantic
seaboard of the present-day United States on a relatively massive scale,
and in the process displaced many more Native Americans. Moreover, Native
Americans were not considered nearly as important to the English economy as
they were to the French. The result was that the English generally viewed
them as an obstacle to progress and a nuisance-except when war with France
threatened; at such times the English attempted to purchase the support or
neutrality of the indigenous peoples with outlays of gifts.

The Ravages of Disease In 1492 the Caribbean, Mexico, Central America, and
Andean South America were among the most densely populated regions of the
hemisphere. Yet, within a span of several generations, each experienced a
cataclysmic population decline. The culprit, to a large extent, was
microbial infection: European-brought diseases such as smallpox, pulmonary
ailments, and gastrointestinal disorders, all of which had been unknown in
the Americas during the pre-Columbian period. Native Americans were
immunologically vulnerable to this invisible conqueror. 

The destruction was especially visible in Latin America, where great masses
of susceptible individuals were congregated in cities such as Tenochtitlán
and Cuzco, not to mention the innumerable towns and villages dotting the
countryside. More than anything else, it was the appalling magnitude of
these deaths from disease that prompted the vigorous Spanish debate over
the morality of conquest. 

As the indigenous population in the Caribbean plummeted, Spaniards resorted
to slave raids on the mainland of what is now Florida to bolster the work
force. When the time came that this, too, proved insufficient, they took to
importing West Africans to work the cane fields and silver mines. 

Those Native Americans who did survive were often assigned, as an entire
village or community to a planter or mine operator to whom they would owe
all their services. The encomienda system, as it came to be known, amounted
to virtual slavery. This, too, broke the spirit and health of the
indigenous peoples, making them all the more vulnerable to the diseases
brought by the Europeans. 

Death from microbial infection was probably not as extensive in the
Canadian forest, where most of the indigenous peoples lived as migratory
hunter-gatherers. Village farmers, such as the Huron north of Lake Ontario,
did, however, suffer serious depopulation in waves of epidemics that may
have been triggered by Jesuit priests and their lay assistants, who had
established missions in the area.

Wars and Enforced Migrations Without a doubt, the indigenous peoples of
Canada suffered fewer dislocations than did the indigenous peoples of Latin
or English America. This can be partly explained by the nature of the fur
trade, which militated against settlement; the idea was to maintain the
wilderness so that fur-bearing animals would continue to flourish.
Furthermore, French settlement in Canada was restricted to a thin line of
seigneuries (large tracts of land) and villages along the banks of the
Saint Lawrence and lower Ottawa rivers. This demographic and commercial
legacy continues to be felt in present-day Canada, where numerous
indigenous groups may be found living in a more or less traditional manner,
at least for part of the year. 

In contrast, English-Native American relations in the 17th and 18th
centuries were marked by a series of particularly vicious wars won by the
English. The English exercised the mandate of victory to insist that the
Native Americans submit to English sovereignty and either confine their
activities to strictly delimited tracts of land near areas of English
settlement or move out beyond the frontier. 

Disease was also a grim factor in the American colonies, where the majority
of the Eastern Woodlands people lived as village farmers. Severely affected
by smallpox and war and harassed by settlers, many of the peoples
indigenous to the eastern coastal areas gathered together their remnants
and sought refuge west of the Appalachians.

Relations with the United States

One of the problems confronting the young United States was what to do with
Native American peoples, particularly those in the Old Northwest (today
called the Midwest) and South. The Treaty of Paris (1783), which formally
ended the American Revolution, had made no mention of the country's
indigenous peoples, reflecting Great Britain's ambiguous jurisdiction over
them. The United States would have to chart its own course, which it did in
Article I, Section 8, of its Constitution: "The Congress shall have Power …
To regulate Commerce with foreign Nations, and among the several States,
and with the Indian Tribes." This was the law from which more than 200
years of federal legislation and programs would derive. 

In the closing years of the 18th century, many of these "new" Americans
were migrating in search of land across the Alleghenies and the Blue Ridge
into the Ohio Valley, Kentucky, and Tennessee-areas where various Native
American nations were still intact and strong. Once there, many of these
migrants squatted on Native American land, with the predictable result:
war. A series of battles culminated in 1794 in the Battle of Fallen Timbers
in northwestern Ohio, won by the forces of American General Anthony Wayne;
it was followed, a year later, by the forced Treaty of Greenville,
establishing a definite boundary between what was designated "Indian
Territory" and white settlement.

The Trade and Intercourse Acts These were difficult years for the fledgling
government of the United States. Dominated by easterners, who were far
removed from the brutality and anxieties of the trans-Appalachian frontier,
the Congress of the United States was interested in pursuing a just and
humane policy toward Native Americans. This was the rationale behind the
passage of the Trade and Intercourse Acts, a series of programs at the turn
of the century aimed at reducing fraud and other abuses in commerce with
Native Americans. In practice, Congress sought to extinguish Native
American titles to lands through peaceful negotiation before white

However, Washington policymakers and eastern humanitarians could not
control the frontier. To many frontier dwellers in Kentucky or Ohio, the
indigenous peoples needed to be exterminated. Providence, they believed,
had ordained that Anglo-Saxon stock should push west until it could go no
farther. It was "progress" to dispossess the Native Americans of their
land, which in the eyes of these new settlers had lain idle for millennia.
The settlers would break the soil and use it. 

Native Americans were thus regarded as an anachronism-irreclaimable
"children of the forest" by some, particularly those west of the
Appalachians, and redeemable "savages" by many eastern philanthropists and
humanitarians. It was the latter group, which included President Thomas
Jefferson (1801-1809), that sought to incorporate the indigenous peoples
into the mainstream of U.S. society by means of an ambitious, largely
church-operated educational program. The goal was to convey the virtues of
the independent yeoman farmer to the tribespeople, in the hope that they
would emulate them. By the 1820s, however, even the staunchest defenders of
this program were admitting defeat.

The Removal Act

The Indian Removal Act was passed in May 1830; it empowered the president
of the United States to move eastern Native Americans west of the
Mississippi, to what was then "Indian Territory" (now essentially
Oklahoma). Although it was supposed to be voluntary, removal became
mandatory whenever the federal government felt it necessary. The memory of
these brutal forced marches of Native Americans, sometimes in the dead of
winter, remained vivid for years to come in the minds of those who
survived. To many in the North, where support for the removal idea was at
best tepid, the Indian Removal Act represented another outrage committed by
slaveholding southerners. Removal would be another wedge separating the
North from the South. 

By midcentury, as it became clear that U.S. expansion was going to claim
the trans-Mississippi West as well, the removal concept was further refined
into the concept of "reservations." As wagon trains clattered west along
the Oregon, Santa Fe, Mormon, and California trails, entering the American
Great Plains, United States government officials concluded that the vast,
unspecified tracts of "Indian Territory" would have to be more sharply
defined as reservations. And when resident peoples sought to thwart that
westward expansion, the same Washington officials decided that these
peoples were to be rounded up by the U.S. Army and restricted to these
reservations by force. That, in essence, was the point of the Plains Indian
Wars, which raged during the last half of the 19th century, ending with the
slaughter of Sioux men, women, and children, as well as the soldiers of the
U.S. 7th Cavalry, at Wounded Knee, South Dakota, on December 29, 1890.

The Allotment Act By 1890 Americans had migrated all the way to the Pacific
Ocean. The frontier era had ended. Well before that date, however, it had
become clear to many that a new policy had to be adopted toward Native
Americans, whose dwindling numbers seemed to threaten extinction. Congress
began moving in this direction in 1871, when it unilaterally decided to
abandon the treaty process and legislate on the behalf of Native Americans.
Whereas a century before they had functioned as sovereign nations, Native
Americans were now wards of the United States government. 

The new plan to rescue Native Americans from extinction called for an
aggressive assault on tribalism by parceling out communally owned
reservation land on a severalty (individual) basis. The plan, called the
Dawes Act (or General Allotment Act), went into effect in 1887. Hundreds of
thousands of acres remaining after the individual 160-acre allotments had
been made were then sold at bargain prices to land-hungry or
land-speculating whites. 

This allotment, designed to absorb the Native Americans into the society of
the United States, turned out to be a monumental disaster. In addition to
losing their "surplus" tribal land, many Native Americans families lost
their allotted land as well, despite the government's 25-year period of
trusteeship. The poorest of the nation's poor-many of them now landless and
the majority still resisting assimilation-Native Americans reached their
lowest population numbers shortly after the turn of the 20th century. In
June 1924 the U.S. Congress granted these original Americans United States

Stereotypes of Native Americans Many other cultures, such many people of
the United States, have failed to grasp the complexity of Native American
culture and society, and as a result Native Americans were often dismissed
as juvenile and superstitious-in other words, as "primitive." The
"primitive Indian," supposedly equipped with a rudimentary technology and a
child's mind, is surely the most fundamental and ancient of stereotypes of
Native Americans. Those Native Americans who were perceived to be
courageous and wise and selfless were dubbed noble "savages." By the early
19th century, however, these "noble savages" seemed to have disappeared, as
James Fenimore Cooper reminded readers in The Last of the Mohicans (1826).
All that was left, or so it seemed to many white settlers, was the
stereotype of the disheveled, snake-eyed, beggarly survivor who hung around
the frontier outpost-the "drunken Indian". By the end of the century even
the "drunken Indian" seemed on the verge of extinction. Far from vanishing,
however, the "Indian" eventually turned up in movies as a breechclothed
Plains warrior. Finally, in the 1960s, as the Hollywood cliché faded, the
Indian emerged as the model ecologist, hero of the ecology and
counterculture movement. Flattering or unflattering, the images are all
caricatures which fail to acknowledge the depth and diversity of Native
American cultures. Native Americans in Contemporary Society The Native
American population in the United States has increased steadily in the 20th
century; by 1990 the number of Native Americans, including Aleuts and
Inuits, was almost two million, or 0.8 percent of the total U.S.
population. Slightly more than one-third of these people live on
reservations; about half live in urban areas, often near the reservations.
The U.S. government holds about 23 million hectares (56 million acres) in
trust for 314 federally recognized tribes and groups in the form of
reservations, pueblos, rancherias, and trust lands. There are 278
reservations in 35 states. The largest reservation is the Navajo (mostly in
Arizona), with nearly 6.4 million hectares (16 million acres) and over
140,000 people; the smallest is the state reservation of Golden Hill in
Connecticut, with 0.1 hectare (0.25 acre) and 6 people. In Alaska there are
48 additional tribal groups and the situation is different. Tribal
Sovereignty The basic distinction that sets Native Americans apart from
other groups of people in the United States is their historic existence as
self-governing peoples, whose nationhood preceded that of the United
States. As nations, they signed treaties with colonial authorities and
later with the U.S. government, and today, on what remains of their former
lands, they continue to function as separate governments within the federal

The United States has long acknowledged a special
"government-to-government" relationship with the recognized Native American
groups and with the Alaskan Native Villages. Also, the United States
government is deemed to have a trust relationship with Native American
people which means that the United States, in return for vast tracts of
Native American lands, assumed contractual and statutory responsibilities
to protect remaining Native American lands and to promote the health,
welfare, and education of Native Americans.

20th-Century U.S. Policies In practice, the United States government, as
trustee, has subjected Native Americans to bewildering policy switches,
often without their consent, as new theories have gained the support of the
federal government. The Indian Reorganization Act The passage of the Indian
Reorganization Act (1934) signaled the end of the "Allotment Era," which
started with the Dawes Act of 1887 and during which it had been hoped that
Native Americans could be coaxed or coerced to abandon their traditional
tribal ways and to assimilate into the society of the United States. Great
emphasis was placed on the need to "civilize" and to teach Christianity to
Native Americans. To this end, young Native American children were sent to
distant government- or church-run boarding schools, often thousands of
miles from the "detrimental" influences of their home reservations. 

With the 1934 Indian Reorganization Act, United States policy took a
dramatic swing and acknowledged the continuing force and value of Native
American tribal existence. The "Indian New Deal," ushered in by the
reform-minded Commissioner of Indian Affairs John Collier, put an end to
further allotment of lands. Native American tribes were encouraged to
organize governments under the terms of the Indian Reorganization Act and
to adopt constitutions and by-laws, subject to the approval of the U.S.
Department of the Interior. 

The act further provided for the reacquisition of tribal lands and
established preferential hiring of Native Americans within the U.S. Bureau
of Indian Affairs. Native American tribes were authorized to set up
business corporations for economic development, and a credit program was
established to back tribal and individual enterprises.

The Termination Period Implementation of the Indian Reorganization Act
slowed considerably after the United States entered World War II in 1941,
and after the war ended in 1945 a new policy was formulated-that of
terminating federal trust responsibility to Native American tribes. Whereas
earlier the assimilationists had envisioned a time when tribal entities and
reservations would disappear because of assimilation, the proponents of
termination decided the time had come to legislate them out of existence.
Arguing that Native Americans should be treated exactly as all other
citizens, the United States Congress resolved in 1953 to work toward the
withdrawal of all federal support and responsibility for Native American

In the next two decades-the termination period-United States federal
services were withdrawn from about 11,500 Native Americans, and federal
trust protection removed from 600,000 hectares (1.5 million acres). The
land was often sold and the proceeds divided among tribal members. A few
years after their termination in 1961, the Menominees of Wisconsin, the
largest tribe so treated, were almost totally dependent on welfare. 

In 1970 United States President Richard M. Nixon officially repudiated
termination as a policy. The need to reevaluate United States government
policy toward Native Americans once again became evident, as Native
American activists staged public protests-first with the occupation of
Alcatraz Island in San Francisco Bay from 1969 to 1971, then with the
occupation in 1972 of the Bureau of Indian Affairs in Washington, D.C., and
subsequently with the 71-day armed siege at Wounded Knee in 1973.

Self-determination In the 1970s, Native American demands for greater
authority over their own lives and reservations led to a new federal policy
encouraging self-determination. Still in effect, this policy in many ways
reflects the earlier goals of the Indian Reorganization Act; its most
significant feature is the emphasis on tribal administration of federal
programs for Native Americans, including health, education, and welfare,
law enforcement, and housing. 

Native American tribes have increasingly resorted to federal court actions
to test the extent of their jurisdiction on reservations and to assert
long-ignored treaty rights to land, water, and off-reservation hunting and
fishing. Congressional efforts have also led to the return of many Native
American religious sites to tribal possession, including the sacred Blue
Lake of the Taos Pueblo. 

The Alaska Native Land Claims Settlement Act of 1971 resolved long
unsettled claims of that state's Inuit and Aleut population, with a cash
settlement of $962 million and 16 million hectares (40 million acres) of
land. The act established 12 Native Regional Corporations and more than 200
Native Village Corporations to manage the land and money. Many observers
fear that this act might eventually result in the loss of much land to
nonnatives, as did the Allotment Act of 1887. In 1988 the United States
Congress passed amendments to correct flaws in the act, thus diminishing
the risk that most corporations and their land will be controlled by
nonnatives. The amendments do not address native sovereignty or subsistence
rights. Sections of the native community continue to be concerned as to
whether the amendments adequately protect long-term control of the land. 

Many tribes in the eastern United States initiated land claims in the
1970s, based on an obscure law from 1790, and in 1980 the United States
Congress agreed to a settlement providing three Maine tribes with 120,000
hectares (300,000 acres) and a $27 million trust fund. The U.S. government
also established a procedure whereby tribes not recognized as such could
petition for review of their nontribal status.

Native North Americans Today Statistics of health, education, unemployment
rates, and income levels continue to show Native Americans as disadvantaged
compared to the general population of North America. In the 1980s U.S.
government policies have led to budget cuts for social and welfare services
on the reservations. However, according to the United States Census Bureau,
the Native American population in the United States rose more than 20
percent between 1980 and 1990. Pride in Native American heritage has
survived as well. On many reservations, tribal languages and religious
ceremonies are enjoying renewed vigor. Traditional arts and crafts, such as
Pueblo pottery and Navajo weaving, continue to be practiced, and some
contemporary Native American artists of North America, such as Fritz
Scholder and R. C. Gorman, have successfully adapted European styles to
their paintings and prints of Native American subjects. The strength of the
Native American narrative tradition can be felt in the poetry and novels of
the Native American writer N. Scott Momaday, who won a Pulitzer Prize in
fiction for his House Made of Dawn (1969). Other prestigious contemporary
Native American writers of North America include Vine Deloria, best known
for his indictment of U.S. policy toward Native Americans in Custer Died
for Your Sins (1969) and Behind the Trail of Broken Treaties (1974);
novelists James Welch and Leslie Marmon Silko; and William Least Heat-Moon,
author of the widely popular Blue Highways: A Journey into America (1983),
an account of his travels in the United States. Native Americans of Latin
America The Native American population of Latin America is estimated at
26.3 million, of whom 24 million live in Bolivia, Ecuador, Guatemala,
Mexico, and Peru. Generally classified as campesinos (peasants) by the
governments of the countries in which they live, the vast majority live in
extreme poverty in remote rural areas where they eke out a living from the
land. Native American campesinos make up 55 percent of the total population
of Bolivia and Guatemala. In all of Latin America, only Uruguay has no
remaining indigenous population. 

Only 1.5 percent of the total Native American population of Latin America
is designated as tribal, mainly in Brazil, Colombia, Panama, Paraguay, and
Venezuela. Many of the tribal groups live in the remote jungle environment
of the Amazon Basin, where they subsist by hunting, fishing, and gathering
manioc and other roots. Current Brazilian expansion into the Amazon,
however, threatens the physical and cultural survival of the Amazon tribes,
as diseases brought by outsiders decimate the indigenous populations, and
mineral exploration and highway construction destroy tribal hunting

The largest unacculturated Brazilian tribe today is the Yanomamo, numbering
more than 16,000 people, for whom the Brazilian government plans to create
a special park where they may be protected. Anthropologists estimate,
however, that the Yanomamo would need at least 6.4 million hectares (16
million acres) in order to continue their traditional life-style. 

The total indigenous population of Latin America includes slightly more
than 400 different Native American groups, with their own languages or
dialects. Like the Native Americans of North America, they live in vast
extremes of climate and conditions, ranging from the Amazon jungle to the
heights of the Andes, where one group, on Lake Titicaca, subsists on
artificial islands of floating reeds.