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Native American History Articles

Indian Civilizations of Central, South and North America
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Native Americans, also called American Indians or simply Amerindians, are the indigenous people who lived in the Americas before European colonization. In Canada the term First Nations is now in general use. In Alaska, because of legal use in the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act (ANSCA) and because of the presence of the Inuit, Yupik, and Aleut peoples, the term Alaskan Native is used. (See further discussion below.) Native American officially make up the majority of the population in Bolivia and Guatemala and are significant in most other Hispanic American countries, with the possible exception of Costa Rica, Cuba, Dominican Republic and Uruguay


Based on anthropological evidence, there were at least three distinct migrations from Siberia across the Bering Land Bridge. The first wave of migration came into a land populated by the large mammals of the late Pleistocene epoch, including mammoths, horses, giant sloths, and wooly rhinoceri. The Clovis culture is one example. Later a culture developed known as the Folsom culture, based on the hunting of bison. 

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

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

In recent years, the anthropological evidence has been supplemented by studies based on molecular genetics. The results here are still provisional, but suggest that there were four distinct migrations from Asia and, most surprisingly, that there is evidence of smaller scale, contemporaneous human migration from Europe. This is most easily understood by postulating that the migrant population, living in Europe at the time of the most recent ice age, adopted a life-style resembling that lived by the Inuit and Yupik in recent centuries. 

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

The Coming of the White Man

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

Europeans also unintentionally brought diseases that the Native Americans had no immunity to. Common and rarely fatal ailments such as chicken pox and the measles were often fatal to Native Americans and other more deadly diseases, such as smallpox, were especially deadly to Indian populations. It is difficult to estimate the percentage of the total Native American population that were killed by these diseases since waves of disease oftentimes preceded White scouts and often destroyed entire villages. But some historians have argued that greater than 80% of some Indian populations may died due to European-derived diseases. 

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

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

Military defeat, cultural pressure, confinement on reservation and especially slavery, have had deleterious effects on Native Americans' mental and ultimately physical health. Contemporary problems include alcoholism and diabetes.


The native peoples of the United States and Canada are commonly classified by ten geographical regions, which shared cultural traits. The following list is based on the region of origin, followed by the current location. See the individual article for the tribe for a history of their movements. The regions are:  Indians of Central and South America are generally classified by language, environment, and cultural similarities. 


For a general discussion, see Language families and languages See also: Native American mythology

External Resources:

Further Reading

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

This article is licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License, which means that you can copy and modify it as long as the entire work (including additions) remains under this license. See for details. It uses material from the Wikipedia article Native_American

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