Native Americans in the United States

Native Americans
Native Americans Race.png
Percent of population with indigenous ancestry by U.S. state and Canadian province/territory
Total population
American Indian and Alaska Native (2010 Census Bureau)[1]
One race: 2,932,248 are registered
In combination with one or more of the other races listed: 2,288,331
Total: 5,220,579 ~ 1.6% of the total U.S. population.
Regions with significant populations
Predominantly in the Western United States; small communities also exist in the Eastern United States
Native American languages
including Navajo, Central Alaskan Yup'ik, Tlingit, Haida, Dakota, Lakota, Western Apache, Keres, Cherokee, Choctaw, Creek, Kiowa, Comanche, Osage, Zuni, Pawnee, Shawnee, Winnebago, Ojibwe, Cree, O'odham[2]
English, Spanish, Native Pidgin (extinct), French, Russian (some in Alaska)
Related ethnic groups

Native Americans, also known as American Indians, First Americans, Indigenous Americans and other terms, are the indigenous peoples of the United States, sometimes including Hawaii and territories of the United States and sometimes limited to the mainland. There are 574 federally recognized tribes living within the US, about half of which are associated with Indian reservations. "Native Americans" (as defined by the United States Census) are Indigenous tribes that are originally from the continental United States, plus Alaska Natives.

Indigenous peoples of the United States who are not American Indian or Alaska Native include Native Hawaiians, Samoans, or Chamorros. The US Census groups these peoples as "Native Hawaiian and other Pacific Islander."

The ancestors of living Native Americans arrived in what is now the United States at least 15,000 years ago, possibly much earlier, from Asia via Beringia.[3] A vast variety of peoples, societies and cultures subsequently developed. European colonization of the Americas, which began in 1492, resulted in a precipitous decline in Native American population because of new diseases to which they had no immunity, wars, ethnic cleansing, and enslavement.[4][5][6][7] After its formation, the United States, as part of its policy of settler colonialism, continued to wage war and perpetrated massacres against many Native American peoples, removed them from their ancestral lands, and subjected them to one-sided treaties and to discriminatory government policies, later focused on forced assimilation, into the 20th century.[8][9][10] Since the 1960s, Native American self-determination movements have resulted in changes to the lives of Native Americans, though there are still many contemporary issues faced by Native Americans. Today, there are over five million Native Americans in the United States, 78% of whom live outside reservations: California, Arizona and Oklahoma have the largest populations of Native Americans in the United States. Most Native Americans live in small-town or rural areas.

When the United States was created, established Native American tribes were generally considered semi-independent nations, as they generally lived in communities separate from white settlers. The federal government signed treaties at a government-to-government level until the Indian Appropriations Act of 1871 ended recognition of independent native nations, and started treating them as "domestic dependent nations" subject to federal law. This law did preserve the rights and privileges agreed to under the treaties, including a large degree of tribal sovereignty. For this reason, many (but not all) Native American reservations are still independent of state law and actions of tribal citizens on these reservations are subject only to tribal courts and federal law.

The Indian Citizenship Act of 1924 granted U.S. citizenship to all Native Americans born in the United States who had not yet obtained it. This emptied the "Indians not taxed" category established by the United States Constitution, allowed natives to vote in state and federal elections, and extended the Fourteenth Amendment protections granted to people "subject to the jurisdiction" of the United States. However, some states continued to deny Native Americans voting rights for several decades. Bill of Rights protections do not apply to tribal governments, except for those mandated by the Indian Civil Rights Act of 1968.


Since the end of the 15th century, the migration of Europeans to the Americas has led to centuries of population, cultural, and agricultural transfer and adjustment between Old and New World societies, a process known as the Columbian exchange. As most Native American groups had historically preserved their histories by oral traditions and artwork, the first written sources of the contact were written by Europeans.[11]

Ethnographers commonly classify the indigenous peoples of North America into ten geographical regions with shared cultural traits, called cultural areas.[12] Some scholars combine the Plateau and Great Basin regions into the Intermontane West, some separate Prairie peoples from Great Plains peoples, while some separate Great Lakes tribes from the Northeastern Woodlands. The ten cultural areas are as follows:

At the time of the first contact, the indigenous cultures were quite different from those of the proto-industrial and mostly Christian immigrants. Some Northeastern and Southwestern cultures, in particular, were matrilineal and operated on a more collective basis than that with which Europeans were familiar. The majority of indigenous American tribes maintained their hunting grounds and agricultural lands to use the entire tribe. At that time, Europeans had cultures that had developed concepts of individual property rights with respect to land that were extremely different. The differences in cultures between the established Native Americans and immigrant Europeans, as well as shifting alliances among different nations in times of war, caused extensive political tension, ethnic violence, and social disruption.

Even before the European settlement of what is now the United States, Native Americans suffered high fatalities from contact with new European diseases, to which they had not yet acquired immunity; the diseases were endemic to the Spanish and other Europeans, and spread by direct contact and likely through pigs that escaped from expeditions.[13] Smallpox epidemics are thought to have caused the greatest loss of life for indigenous populations. William M. Denevan, noted author and Professor Emeritus of Geography at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, said on this subject in his essay "The Pristine Myth: The Landscape of the Americas in 1492"; "The decline of native American populations was rapid and severe, probably the greatest demographic disaster ever. Old World diseases were the primary killer. In many regions, particularly the tropical lowlands, populations fell by 90 percent or more in the first century after the contact. "[14][15]

Estimates of the pre-Columbian population of what today constitutes the U.S. vary significantly, ranging from William M. Denevan's 3.8 million in his 1992 work The Native Population of the Americas in 1492, to 18 million in Henry F. Dobyns' Their Number Become Thinned (1983).[13][14][16][17] Henry F. Dobyns' work, being the highest single point estimate by far within the realm of professional academic research on the topic, has been criticized for being "politically motivated".[13] Perhaps Dobyns' most vehement critic is David Henige, a bibliographer of Africana at the University of Wisconsin, whose Numbers From Nowhere (1998)[18] is described as "a landmark in the literature of demographic fulmination".[13] "Suspect in 1966, it is no less suspect nowadays," Henige wrote of Dobyns's work. "If anything, it is worse."[13]

After the thirteen colonies revolted against Great Britain and established the United States, President George Washington and Secretary of War Henry Knox conceived of the idea of "civilizing" Native Americans in preparation for assimilation as U.S. citizens.[19][20][21][22][23] Assimilation (whether voluntary, as with the Choctaw,[24][25] or forced) became a consistent policy through American administrations. During the 19th century, the ideology of manifest destiny became integral to the American nationalist movement. Expansion of European-American populations to the west after the American Revolution resulted in increasing pressure on Native American lands, warfare between the groups, and rising tensions. In 1830, the U.S. Congress passed the Indian Removal Act, authorizing the government to relocate Native Americans from their homelands within established states to lands west of the Mississippi River, accommodating European-American expansion. This resulted in the ethnic cleansing of many tribes, with the brutal, forced marches coming to be known as The Trail of Tears.

Contemporary Native Americans have a unique relationship with the United States because they may be members of nations, tribes, or bands with sovereignty and treaty rights upon which federal Indian law and a federal Indian trust relationship is based.[26] Cultural activism since the late 1960s has increased political participation and led to an expansion of efforts to teach and preserve indigenous languages for younger generations and to establish a greater cultural infrastructure: Native Americans have founded independent newspapers and online media, recently including First Nations Experience, the first Native American television channel;[27] established Native American studies programs, tribal schools, and universities, and museums and language programs. Literature is at the growing forefront of American Indian studies in many genres with exception only to fiction, which some traditional American Indians actually find insulting due to conflicts with tribal oral traditions.[28]

The terms used to refer to Native Americans have at times been controversial. The ways Native Americans refer to themselves vary by region and generation, with many older Native Americans self-identifying as "Indians" or "American Indians", while younger Native Americans often identify as "Indigenous" or "Aboriginal". The term "Native American" has not traditionally included Native Hawaiians or certain Alaskan Natives, such as Aleut, Yup'ik, or Inuit peoples. By comparison, the indigenous peoples of Canada are generally known as First Nations.[29]


Settlement of the Americas

This map shows the approximate location of the ice-free corridor and specific Paleoindian sites ( Clovis theory).

It is not definitively known how or when the Native Americans first settled the Americas and the present-day United States. The prevailing theory proposes that people migrated from Eurasia across Beringia, a land bridge that connected Siberia to present-day Alaska during the Last Glacial Period, and then spread southward throughout the Americas over subsequent generations. Genetic evidence suggests at least three waves of migrants arrived from Asia, with the first occurring at least 15,000 years ago.[30] These migrations may have begun as early as 30,000 years ago[31] and continued to about 10,000 years ago, when the land bridge became submerged by the rising sea level at the onset of the current interglacial period.[32]

Pre-Columbian era

The pre-Columbian era incorporates all period subdivisions in the history and prehistory of the Americas before the appearance of significant European influences on the American continents, spanning the time of the original settlement in the Upper Paleolithic period to European colonization during the early modern period. While technically referring to the era before Christopher Columbus' 1492 arrival on the continent, in practice the term usually includes the history of American indigenous cultures until they were conquered or significantly influenced by Europeans, even if this happened decades, or even centuries, after Columbus' initial landing.

Native American cultures are not normally included in characterizations of advanced Stone Age cultures as "Neolithic," which is a category that more often includes only the cultures in Eurasia, Africa, and other regions. The archaeological periods used are the classifications of archaeological periods and cultures established in Gordon Willey and Philip Phillips' 1958 book Method and Theory in American Archaeology. They divided the archaeological record in the Americas into five phases.[33]

Numerous Paleoindian cultures occupied North America, with some arrayed around the Great Plains and Great Lakes of the modern United States and Canada, as well as adjacent areas to the West and Southwest. According to the oral histories of many of the indigenous peoples of the Americas, they have been living on this continent since their genesis, described by a wide range of traditional creation stories. Other tribes have stories that recount migrations across long tracts of land and a great river, believed to be the Mississippi River.[34] Genetic and linguistic data connect the indigenous people of this continent with ancient northeast Asians. Archeological and linguistic data has enabled scholars to discover some of the migrations within the Americas.

Archeological evidence at the Gault site near Austin, Texas, demonstrates that pre-Clovis peoples settled in Texas some 16,000—20,000 years ago. Evidence of pre-Clovis cultures have also been found in the Paisley Caves in south-central Oregon and butchered mastodon bones in a sinkhole near Tallahassee, Florida. More convincingly but also controversially, another pre-Clovis has been discovered at Monte Verde, Chile.[35]

The Clovis culture, a megafauna hunting culture, is primarily identified by the use of fluted spear points. Artifacts from this culture were first excavated in 1932 near Clovis, New Mexico. The Clovis culture ranged over much of North America and also appeared in South America. The culture is identified by the distinctive Clovis point, a flaked flint spear-point with a notched flute, by which it was inserted into a shaft. Dating of Clovis materials has been by association with animal bones and by the use of carbon dating methods. Recent reexaminations of Clovis materials using improved carbon-dating methods produced results of 11,050 and 10,800 radiocarbon years B.P. (roughly 9100 to 8850 BCE).[36]

A Folsom point for a spear

The Folsom Tradition was characterized by the use of Folsom points as projectile tips and activities known from kill sites, where slaughter and butchering of bison took place. Folsom tools were left behind between 9000 BCE and 8000 BCE.[37]

Na-Dené-speaking peoples entered North America starting around 8000 BCE, reaching the Pacific Northwest by 5000 BCE,[38] and from there migrating along the Pacific Coast and into the interior. Linguists, anthropologists, and archaeologists believe their ancestors comprised a separate migration into North America, later than the first Paleo-Indians. They migrated into Alaska and northern Canada, south along the Pacific Coast, into the interior of Canada, and south to the Great Plains and the American Southwest. Na-Dené-speaking peoples were the earliest ancestors of the Athabascan-speaking peoples, including the present-day and historical Navajo and Apache. They constructed large multi-family dwellings in their villages, which were used seasonally. People did not live there year-round, but for the summer to hunt and fish, and to gather food supplies for the winter.[39]

Since the 1990s, archeologists have explored and dated eleven Middle Archaic sites in present-day Louisiana and Florida at which early cultures built complexes with multiple earthwork mounds; they were societies of hunter-gatherers rather than the settled agriculturalists believed necessary according to the theory of Neolithic Revolution to sustain such large villages over long periods. The prime example is Watson Brake in northern Louisiana, whose 11-mound complex is dated to 3500 BCE, making it the oldest, dated site in North America for such complex construction.[citation needed] It is nearly 2,000 years older than the Poverty Point site. Construction of the mounds went on for 500 years until the site was abandoned about 2800 BCE, probably due to changing environmental conditions.[40]

The Oshara Tradition people lived from 700 to 1000 CE. They were part of the Southwestern Archaic Tradition centered in north-central New Mexico, the San Juan Basin, the Rio Grande Valley, southern Colorado, and southeastern Utah.[41]

Poverty Point culture is a Late Archaic archaeological culture that inhabited the area of the lower Mississippi Valley and surrounding Gulf Coast. The culture thrived from 2200 BCE to 700 BCE, during the Late Archaic period.[42] Evidence of this culture has been found at more than 100 sites, from the major complex at Poverty Point, Louisiana (a UNESCO World Heritage Site) across a 100-mile (160 km) range to the Jaketown Site near Belzoni, Mississippi.

Artists conception of Ohio Hopewell culture Shriver Circle with the Mound City Group to the left
Cahokia, the largest Mississippian culture site

The Formative, Classic and post-Classic stages are sometimes incorporated together as the Post-archaic period, which runs from 1000 BCE onward.[43] Sites & cultures include: Adena, Old Copper, Oasisamerica, Woodland, Fort Ancient, Hopewell tradition and Mississippian cultures.

The Woodland period of North American pre-Columbian cultures refers to the time period from roughly 1000 BCE to 1000 CE in the eastern part of North America. The Eastern Woodlands cultural region covers what is now eastern Canada south of the Subarctic region, the Eastern United States, along to the Gulf of Mexico.[44] The Hopewell tradition describes the common aspects of the culture that flourished along rivers in the northeastern and midwestern United States from 100 BCE to 500 CE, in the Middle Woodland period. The Hopewell tradition was not a single culture or society, but a widely dispersed set of related populations. They were connected by a common network of trade routes,[45][46] This period is considered a developmental stage without any massive changes in a short period, but instead having a continuous development in stone and bone tools, leather working, textile manufacture, tool production, cultivation, and shelter construction.[45]

The indigenous peoples of the Pacific Northwest Coast were of many nations and tribal affiliations, each with distinctive cultural and political identities, but they shared certain beliefs, traditions, and practices, such as the centrality of salmon as a resource and spiritual symbol. Their gift-giving feast, potlatch, is a highly complex event where people gather in order to commemorate special events. These events include the raising of a Totem pole or the appointment or election of a new chief. The most famous artistic feature of the culture is the Totem pole, with carvings of animals and other characters to commemorate cultural beliefs, legends, and notable events.

The Mississippian culture was a mound-building Native American civilization archaeologists date from approximately 800 CE to 1600 CE, varying regionally.[47] It was composed of a series of urban settlements and satellite villages (suburbs) linked together by a loose trading network,[48] the largest city being Cahokia, believed to be a major religious center. The civilization flourished in what is now the Midwestern, Eastern, and Southeastern United States.[49][50]

Numerous pre-Columbian societies were sedentary, such as the Pueblo peoples, Mandan, Hidatsa and others, and some established large settlements, even cities, such as Cahokia, in what is now Illinois. The Iroquois League of Nations or "People of the Long House" was a politically advanced, democratic society, which is thought by some historians to have influenced the United States Constitution,[51][52] with the Senate passing a resolution to this effect in 1988.[53] Other historians have contested this interpretation and believe the impact was minimal, or did not exist, pointing to numerous differences between the two systems and the ample precedents for the constitution in European political thought.[54][55][56]

European exploration and colonization

Discovery of the Mississippi by William Henry Powell (1823–1879) is a Romantic depiction of Spanish explorer de Soto's seeing the Mississippi River for the first time. It hangs in the United States Capitol rotunda.

After 1492, European exploration and colonization of the Americas revolutionized how the Old and New Worlds perceived themselves. Many of the first major contacts were in Florida and the Gulf coast by Spanish explorers.[57]

From the 16th through the 19th centuries, the population of Native Americans sharply declined.[58] Most mainstream scholars believe that, among the various contributing factors,[59] epidemic disease was the overwhelming cause of the population decline of the Native Americans because of their lack of immunity to new diseases brought from Europe.[60][61][62][63] It is difficult to estimate the number of pre-Columbian Native Americans who were living in what is today the United States of America.[64] Estimates range from a low of 2.1 million to a high of 18 million (Dobyns 1983).[16][65][66] By 1800, the Native population of the present-day United States had declined to approximately 600,000, and only 250,000 Native Americans remained in the 1890s.[67] Chicken pox and measles, endemic but rarely fatal among Europeans (long after being introduced from Asia), often proved deadly to Native Americans.[68][69][70][71] In the 100 years following the arrival of the Spanish to the Americas, large disease epidemics depopulated large parts of the eastern United States in the 16th century.[72]

There are a number of documented cases where diseases were deliberately spread among Native Americans as a form of biological warfare. The most well-known example occurred in 1763, when Sir Jeffery Amherst, Commander-in-Chief of the Forces of the British Army, wrote praising the use of smallpox-infected blankets to "extirpate" the Indian race. Blankets infected with smallpox were given to Native Americans besieging Fort Pitt. The effectiveness of the attempt is unclear.[73][74][75]

In 1634, Fr. Andrew White of the Society of Jesus established a mission in what is now the state of Maryland, and the purpose of the mission, stated through an interpreter to the chief of an Indian tribe there, was "to extend civilization and instruction to his ignorant race, and show them the way to heaven".[76] Fr. Andrew's diaries report that by 1640, a community had been founded which they named St. Mary's, and the Indians were sending their children there "to be educated among the English".[77] This included the daughter of the Piscataway Indian chief Tayac, which exemplifies not only a school for Indians, but either a school for girls, or an early co-ed school. The same records report that in 1677, "a school for humanities was opened by our Society in the centre of [Maryland], directed by two of the Fathers; and the native youth, applying themselves assiduously to study, made good progress. Maryland and the recently established school sent two boys to St. Omer who yielded in abilities to few Europeans, when competing for the honor of being first in their class. So that not gold, nor silver, nor the other products of the earth alone, but men also are gathered from thence to bring those regions, which foreigners have unjustly called ferocious, to a higher state of virtue and cultivation."[78]

Through the mid-17th century the Beaver Wars were fought over the fur trade between the Iroquois and the Hurons, the northern Algonquians, and their French allies. During the war the Iroquois destroyed several large tribal confederacies, including the Huron, Neutral, Erie, Susquehannock, and Shawnee, and became dominant in the region and enlarged their territory.

In 1727, the Sisters of the Order of Saint Ursula founded Ursuline Academy in New Orleans, which is currently the oldest continuously operating school for girls and the oldest Catholic school in the United States. From the time of its foundation, it offered the first classes for Native American girls, and would later offer classes for female African-American slaves and free women of color.

1882 studio portrait of the (then) last surviving Six Nations warriors who fought with the British in the War of 1812

Between 1754 and 1763, many Native American tribes were involved in the French and Indian War/Seven Years' War. Those involved in the fur trade tended to ally with French forces against British colonial militias. The British had made fewer allies, but it was joined by some tribes that wanted to prove assimilation and loyalty in support of treaties to preserve their territories. They were often disappointed when such treaties were later overturned. The tribes had their own purposes, using their alliances with the European powers to battle traditional Native enemies. Some Iroquois who were loyal to the British, and helped them fight in the American Revolution, fled north into Canada.

After European explorers reached the West Coast in the 1770s, smallpox rapidly killed at least 30% of Northwest Coast Native Americans. For the next eighty to one hundred years, smallpox and other diseases devastated native populations in the region.[79] Puget Sound area populations, once estimated as high as 37,000 people, were reduced to only 9,000 survivors by the time settlers arrived en masse in the mid-19th century.[80]

Smallpox epidemics in 1780–82 and 1837–38 brought devastation and drastic depopulation among the Plains Indians.[81][82] By 1832, the federal government established a smallpox vaccination program for Native Americans (The Indian Vaccination Act of 1832). It was the first federal program created to address a health problem of Native Americans.[83][84]

With the meeting of two worlds, animals, insects, and plants were carried from one to the other, both deliberately and by chance, in what is called the Columbian Exchange.[85] In the 16th century, Spaniards and other Europeans brought horses to Mexico. Some of the horses escaped and began to breed and increase their numbers in the wild. As Native Americans adopted use of the animals, they began to change their cultures in substantial ways, especially by extending their nomadic ranges for hunting. The reintroduction of the horse to North America had a profound impact on Native American culture of the Great Plains.

Early Native American tribal territories

17th century

King Philip's War, also called Metacom's War or Metacom's Rebellion, was the last major armed[86] conflict between Native American inhabitants of present-day southern New England and English colonists and their Native American allies from 1675 to 1676. It continued in northern New England (primarily on the Maine frontier) even after King Philip was killed, until a treaty was signed at Casco Bay in April 1678.[87]

18th century

Some European philosophers considered Native American societies to be truly "natural" and representative of a golden age known to them only in folk history.[88]

Yamacraw Creek Native Americans meet with the Trustee of the colony of Georgia in England, July 1734. The painting shows a Native American boy (in a blue coat) and woman (in a red dress) in European clothing.

During the American Revolution, the newly proclaimed United States competed with the British for the allegiance of Native American nations east of the Mississippi River. Most Native Americans who joined the struggle sided with the British, based both on their trading relationships and hopes that colonial defeat would result in a halt to further colonial expansion onto Native American land. The first native community to sign a treaty with the new United States Government was the Lenape.

In 1779 the Sullivan Expedition was carried out during the American Revolutionary War against the British and the four allied nations of the Iroquois. George Washington gave orders that made it clear he wanted the Iroquois threat completely eliminated:

The Expedition you are appointed to command is to be directed against the hostile tribes of the Six Nations of Indians, with their associates and adherents. The immediate objects are the total destruction and devastation of their settlements, and the capture of as many prisoners of every age and sex as possible. It will be essential to ruin their crops now in the ground and prevent their planting more.[89]

The British made peace with the Americans in the Treaty of Paris (1783), through which they ceded vast Native American territories to the United States without informing or consulting with the Native Americans.

The United States was eager to expand, develop farming and settlements in new areas, and satisfy land hunger of settlers from New England and new immigrants. The national government initially sought to purchase Native American land by treaties. The states and settlers were frequently at odds with this policy.[90]

United States policy toward Native Americans continued to evolve after the American Revolution. George Washington and Henry Knox believed that Native Americans were equals but that their society was inferior. Washington formulated a policy to encourage the "civilizing" process.[20] Washington had a six-point plan for civilization which included:

  1. impartial justice toward Native Americans
  2. regulated buying of Native American lands
  3. promotion of commerce
  4. promotion of experiments to civilize or improve Native American society
  5. presidential authority to give presents
  6. punishing those who violated Native American rights.[22]
Benjamin Hawkins, seen here on his plantation, teaches Creek Native Americans how to use European technology, painted in 1805

In the late 18th century, reformers, starting with Washington and Knox,[91] supported educating native both children and adults, in efforts to "civilize" or otherwise assimilate Native Americans into the larger society (as opposed to relegating them to reservations). The Civilization Fund Act of 1819 promoted this civilization policy by providing funding to societies (mostly religious) who worked towards Native American improvement.[92]

19th century

The population of California Indians was reduced by 90% during the 19th century—from more than 200,000 in the early 19th century to approximately 15,000 at the end of the century, mostly due to disease.[93] Epidemics swept through California Indian Country, such as the 1833 malaria epidemic.[94] The population went into decline as a result of the Spanish authorities forcing Native Californians to live in the missions where they contracted diseases from which they had little immunity. Dr. Cook estimates that 15,250 or 45% of the population decrease in the Missions was caused by disease. Two epidemics of measles, one in 1806 and the other in 1828, caused many deaths. The mortality rates were so high that the missions were constantly dependent upon new conversions. During the California Gold Rush, many natives were killed by incoming settlers as well as by militia units financed and organized by the California government.[95] Some scholars contend that the state financing of these militias, as well as the US government's role in other massacres in California, such as the Bloody Island and Yontoket Massacres, in which up to 400 or more natives were killed in each massacre, constitutes a campaign of genocide against the native people of California.[96][97]

Tecumseh was the Shawnee leader of Tecumseh's War who attempted to organize an alliance of Native American tribes throughout North America. [98]

As American expansion continued, Native Americans resisted settlers' encroachment in several regions of the new nation (and in unorganized territories), from the Northwest to the Southeast, and then in the West, as settlers encountered the Native American tribes of the Great Plains. East of the Mississippi River, an intertribal army led by Tecumseh, a Shawnee chief, fought a number of engagements in the Northwest during the period 1811–12, known as Tecumseh's War. During the War of 1812, Tecumseh's forces allied themselves with the British. After Tecumseh's death, the British ceased to aid the Native Americans south and west of Upper Canada and American expansion proceeded with little resistance. Conflicts in the Southeast include the Creek War and Seminole Wars, both before and after the Indian Removals of most members of the Five Civilized Tribes.

In the 1830s, President Andrew Jackson signed the Indian Removal Act of 1830, a policy of relocating Indians from their homelands to Indian Territory and reservations in surrounding areas to open their lands for non-native settlements.[99] This resulted in the Trail of Tears.

Mass grave for the dead Lakota following the 1890 Wounded Knee Massacre, which took place during the Indian Wars in the 19th century

In July 1845, the New York newspaper editor John L. O'Sullivan coined the phrase, "Manifest Destiny", as the "design of Providence" supporting the territorial expansion of the United States.[100] Manifest Destiny had serious consequences for Native Americans, since continental expansion for the U.S. took place at the cost of their occupied land.[101] A justification for the policy of conquest and subjugation of the indigenous people emanated from the stereotyped perceptions of all Native Americans as "merciless Indian savages" (as described in the United States Declaration of Independence).[102] Sam Wolfson in The Guardian writes, "The declaration's passage has often been cited as an encapsulation of the dehumanizing attitude toward indigenous Americans that the US was founded on."[103]

The Indian Appropriations Act of 1851 set the precedent for modern-day Native American reservations through allocating funds to move western tribes onto reservations since there were no more lands available for relocation.

Native American nations on the plains in the west continued armed conflicts with the U.S. throughout the 19th century, through what were called generally Indian Wars.[104] Notable conflicts in this period include the Dakota War, Great Sioux War, Snake War, Colorado War, and Texas-Indian Wars. Expressing the frontier anti-Indian sentiment, Theodore Roosevelt believed the Indians were destined to vanish under the pressure of white civilization, stating in an 1886 lecture:

I don't go so far as to think that the only good Indians are dead Indians, but I believe nine out of ten are, and I shouldn't like to inquire too closely into the case of the tenth.[105]

The Ghost Dance ritual, which the Lakota believed would reunite the living with spirits of the dead, cause the white invaders to vanish, and bring peace, prosperity, and unity to Indian peoples throughout the region

One of the last and most notable events during the Indian wars was the Wounded Knee Massacre in 1890.[106] In the years leading up to it the U.S. government had continued to seize Lakota lands. A Ghost Dance ritual on the Northern Lakota reservation at Wounded Knee, South Dakota, led to the U.S. Army's attempt to subdue the Lakota. The dance was part of a religious movement founded by the Northern Paiute spiritual leader Wovoka that told of the return of the Messiah to relieve the suffering of Native Americans and promised that if they would live righteous lives and perform the Ghost Dance properly, the European American colonists would vanish, the bison would return, and the living and the dead would be reunited in an Edenic world.[106] On December 29 at Wounded Knee, gunfire erupted, and U.S. soldiers killed up to 300 Indians, mostly old men, women, and children.[106]

Ely Parker (of the Seneca people) was a Union Civil War general who wrote the terms of surrender between the United States and the Confederate States of America. [107]

Native Americans served in both the Union and Confederate military during the American Civil War. At the outbreak of the war, for example, the minority party of the Cherokees gave its allegiance to the Confederacy, while originally the majority party went for the North.[108] Native Americans fought knowing they might jeopardize their independence, unique cultures, and ancestral lands if they ended up on the losing side of the Civil War.[108][109] 28,693 Native Americans served in the Union and Confederate armies during the Civil War, participating in battles such as Pea Ridge, Second Manassas, Antietam, Spotsylvania, Cold Harbor, and in Federal assaults on Petersburg.[109][110] A few Native American tribes, such as the Creek and the Choctaw, were slaveholders and found a political and economic commonality with the Confederacy.[111] The Choctaw owned over 2,000 slaves.[112]

In the 19th century, the incessant westward expansion of the United States incrementally compelled large numbers of Native Americans to resettle further west, often by force, almost always reluctantly. Native Americans believed this forced relocation illegal, given the Treaty of Hopewell of 1785. Under President Andrew Jackson, United States Congress passed the Indian Removal Act of 1830, which authorized the President to conduct treaties to exchange Native American land east of the Mississippi River for lands west of the river.

As many as 100,000 Native Americans relocated to the West as a result of this Indian removal policy. In theory, relocation was supposed to be voluntary and many Native Americans did remain in the East. In practice, great pressure was put on Native American leaders to sign removal treaties. The most egregious violation, the Trail of Tears, was the removal of the Cherokee by President Jackson to Indian Territory.[113] The 1864 deportation of the Navajos by the U.S. government occurred when 8,000 Navajos were forced to an internment camp in Bosque Redondo,[114] where, under armed guards, more than 3,500 Navajo and Mescalero Apache men, women, and children died from starvation and disease.[114]

In 1817, the Cherokee became the first Native Americans recognized as U.S. citizens. Under Article 8 of the 1817 Cherokee treaty, "Upwards of 300 Cherokees (Heads of Families) in the honest simplicity of their souls, made an election to become American citizens".[25][115]

Factors establishing citizenship included:

  1. Treaty provision (as with the Cherokee)
  2. Registration and land allotment under the Dawes Act of February 8, 1887
  3. Issuance of Patent in Fee simple
  4. Adopting Habits of Civilized Life
  5. Minor Children
  6. Citizenship by Birth
  7. Becoming Soldiers and Sailors in the U.S. Armed Forces
  8. Marriage to a U.S. citizen
  9. Special Act of Congress.

After the American Civil War, the Civil Rights Act of 1866 states, "that all persons born in the United States, and not subject to any foreign power, excluding Indians not taxed, are hereby declared to be citizens of the United States".[116]

In 1871, Congress added a rider to the Indian Appropriations Act, signed into law by President Ulysses S. Grant, ending United States recognition of additional Native American tribes or independent nations, and prohibiting additional treaties.[117]

After the Indian wars in the late 19th century, the government established Native American boarding schools, initially run primarily by or affiliated with Christian missionaries.[118] At this time, American society thought that Native American children needed to be acculturated to the general society. The boarding school experience was a total immersion in modern American society, but it could prove traumatic to children, who were forbidden to speak their native languages. They were taught Christianity and not allowed to practice their native religions, and in numerous other ways forced to abandon their Native American identities.[119][120][121]

Before the 1930s, schools on the reservations provided no schooling beyond the sixth grade. To obtain more, boarding school was usually necessary.[122] Small reservations with a few hundred people usually sent their children to nearby public schools. The "Indian New Deal" of the 1930s closed many of the boarding schools, and downplayed the assimilationist goals. The Indian Division of the Civilian Conservation Corps operated large-scale construction projects on the reservations, building thousands of new schools and community buildings. Under the leadership of John Collier the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) brought in progressive educators to reshape Indian education. The BIA by 1938 taught 30,000 students in 377 boarding and day schools, or 40% of all Indian children in school. The Navajo largely opposed schooling of any sort, but the other tribes accepted the system. There were now high schools on larger reservations, educating not only teenagers but also an adult audience. There were no Indian facilities for higher education.[123][124] They deemphasized textbooks, emphasized self-esteem, and started teaching Indian history. They promoted traditional arts and crafts of the sort that could be conducted on the reservations, such as making jewelry. The New Deal reformers met significant resistance from parents and teachers, and had mixed results. World War II brought younger Indians in contact with the broader society through military service and work in the munitions industries. The role of schooling was changed to focus on vocational education for jobs in urban America.[125]

Since the rise of self-determination for Native Americans, they have generally emphasized education of their children at schools near where they live. In addition, many federally recognized tribes have taken over operations of such schools and added programs of language retention and revival to strengthen their cultures. Beginning in the 1970s, tribes have also founded colleges at their reservations, controlled, and operated by Native Americans, to educate their young for jobs as well as to pass on their cultures.

20th century

Charles Curtis, of Kaw, Osage, Potawatomi, French and British ancestry from Kansas, was 31st Vice President of the United States, 1929–1933, serving with Herbert Hoover.

On August 29, 1911, Ishi, generally considered to have been the last Native American to live most of his life without contact with European-American culture, was discovered near Oroville, California.[126][127][128]

In 1919, the United States under President Woodrow Wilson granted citizenship to all Native Americans who had served in World War I. Nearly 10,000 men had enlisted and served, a high number in relation to their population.[129] Despite this, in many areas Native Americans faced local resistance when they tried to vote and were discriminated against with barriers to voter registration.

On June 2, 1924, U.S. President Calvin Coolidge signed the Indian Citizenship Act, which made all Native Americans born in the United States and its territories American citizens. Prior to passage of the act, nearly two-thirds of Native Americans were already U.S. citizens, through marriage, military service or accepting land allotments.[130][131] The Act extended citizenship to "all non-citizen Indians born within the territorial limits of the United States".[129]

Charles Curtis, a Congressman and longtime US Senator from Kansas, was of Kaw, Osage, Potawatomi, and European ancestry. After serving as a United States Representative and being repeatedly re-elected as United States Senator from Kansas, Curtis served as Senate Minority Whip for 10 years and as Senate Majority Leader for five years. He was very influential in the Senate. In 1928 he ran as the vice-presidential candidate with Herbert Hoover for president, and served from 1929 to 1933. He was the first person with significant Native American ancestry and the first person with acknowledged non-European ancestry to be elected to either of the highest offices in the land.

American Indians today in the United States have all the rights guaranteed in the U.S. Constitution, can vote in elections, and run for political office. Controversies remain over how much the federal government has jurisdiction over tribal affairs, sovereignty, and cultural practices.[132]

Mid-century, the Indian termination policy and the Indian Relocation Act of 1956 marked a new direction for assimilating Native Americans into urban life.[133]

The census counted 332,000 Indians in 1930 and 334,000 in 1940, including those on and off reservations in the 48 states. Total spending on Indians averaged $38 million a year in the late 1920s, dropping to a low of $23 million in 1933, and returning to $38 million in 1940.[134]

General Douglas MacArthur meeting Navajo, Pima, Pawnee and other Native American troops

Some 44,000 Native Americans served in the United States military during World War II: at the time, one-third of all able-bodied Indian men from eighteen to fifty years of age.[135] Described as the first large-scale exodus of indigenous peoples from the reservations since the removals of the 19th century, the men's service with the U.S. military in the international conflict was a turning point in Native American history. The overwhelming majority of Native Americans welcomed the opportunity to serve; they had a voluntary enlistment rate that was 40% higher than those drafted.[136]

Their fellow soldiers often held them in high esteem, in part since the legend of the tough Native American warrior had become a part of the fabric of American historical legend. White servicemen sometimes showed a lighthearted respect toward Native American comrades by calling them "chief". The resulting increase in contact with the world outside of the reservation system brought profound changes to Native American culture. "The war", said the U.S. Indian Commissioner in 1945, "caused the greatest disruption of Native life since the beginning of the reservation era", affecting the habits, views, and economic well-being of tribal members.[137] The most significant of these changes was the opportunity—as a result of wartime labor shortages—to find well-paying work in cities, and many people relocated to urban areas, particularly on the West Coast with the buildup of the defense industry.

There were also losses as a result of the war. For instance, a total of 1,200 Pueblo men served in World War II; only about half came home alive. In addition, many more Navajo served as code talkers for the military in the Pacific. The code they made, although cryptologically very simple, was never cracked by the Japanese.

Military service and urban residency contributed to the rise of American Indian activism, particularly after the 1960s and the occupation of Alcatraz Island (1969–1971) by a student Indian group from San Francisco. In the same period, the American Indian Movement (AIM) was founded in Minneapolis, and chapters were established throughout the country, where American Indians combined spiritual and political activism. Political protests gained national media attention and the sympathy of the American public.

Through the mid-1970s, conflicts between governments and Native Americans occasionally erupted into violence. A notable late 20th-century event was the Wounded Knee incident on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation. Upset with tribal government and the failures of the federal government to enforce treaty rights, about 300 Oglala Lakota and AIM activists took control of Wounded Knee on February 27, 1973.[138]

Indian activists from around the country joined them at Pine Ridge, and the occupation became a symbol of rising American Indian identity and power. Federal law enforcement officials and the national guard cordoned off the town, and the two sides had a standoff for 71 days. During much gunfire, one United States Marshal was wounded and paralyzed. In late April, a Cherokee and local Lakota man were killed by gunfire; the Lakota elders ended the occupation to ensure no more lives were lost.[138]

In June 1975, two FBI agents seeking to make an armed robbery arrest at Pine Ridge Reservation were wounded in a firefight, and killed at close range. The AIM activist Leonard Peltier was sentenced in 1976 to two consecutive terms of life in prison for the FBI deaths.[139]

In 1968, the government enacted the Indian Civil Rights Act. This gave tribal members most of the protections against abuses by tribal governments that the Bill of Rights accords to all U.S. citizens with respect to the federal government.[140] In 1975, the U.S. government passed the Indian Self-Determination and Education Assistance Act, marking the culmination of fifteen years of policy changes. It resulted from American Indian activism, the Civil Rights Movement, and community development aspects of President Lyndon Johnson's social programs of the 1960s. The Act recognized the right and need of Native Americans for self-determination. It marked the U.S. government's turn away from the 1950s policy of termination of the relationship between tribes and the government. The U.S. government encouraged Native Americans' efforts at self-government and determining their futures. Tribes have developed organizations to administer their own social, welfare and housing programs, for instance. Tribal self-determination has created tension with respect to the federal government's historic trust obligation to care for Indians; however, the Bureau of Indian Affairs has never lived up to that responsibility.[141]

A Navajo man on horseback in Monument Valley, Arizona, United States

Navajo Community College, now called Diné College, the first tribal college, was founded in Tsaile, Arizona, in 1968 and accredited in 1979. Tensions immediately arose between two philosophies: one that the tribal colleges should have the same criteria, curriculum and procedures for educational quality as mainstream colleges, the other that the faculty and curriculum should be closely adapted to the particular historical culture of the tribe. There was a great deal of turnover, exacerbated by very tight budgets.[142] In 1994, the U.S. Congress passed legislation recognizing the tribal colleges as land-grant colleges, which provided opportunities for large-scale funding. Thirty-two tribal colleges in the United States belong to the American Indian Higher Education Consortium. By the early 21st century, tribal nations had also established numerous language revival programs in their schools.

In addition, Native American activism has led major universities across the country to establish Native American studies programs and departments, increasing awareness of the strengths of Indian cultures, providing opportunities for academics, and deepening research on history and cultures in the United States. Native Americans have entered academia; journalism and media; politics at local, state and federal levels; and public service, for instance, influencing medical research and policy to identify issues related to American Indians.

21st century

Byron Mallott, an Alaskan Native, was the former Democratic lieutenant governor of Alaska.

In 2009, an "apology to Native Peoples of the United States" was included in the Defense Appropriations Act. It stated that the U.S. "apologizes on behalf of the people of the United States to all Native Peoples for the many instances of violence, maltreatment, and neglect inflicted on Native Peoples by citizens of the United States".[143]

In 2013, jurisdiction over persons who were not tribal members under the Violence Against Women Act was extended to Indian Country. This closed a gap which prevented arrest or prosecution by tribal police or courts of abusive partners of tribal members who were not native or from another tribe.[144][145]

Migration to urban areas continued to grow with 70% of Native Americans living in urban areas in 2012, up from 45% in 1970 and 8% in 1940. Urban areas with significant Native American populations include Minneapolis, Denver, Albuquerque, Phoenix, Tucson, Chicago, Oklahoma City, Houston, New York City, Los Angeles, and Rapid City. Many lived in poverty. Racism, unemployment, drugs and gangs were common problems which Indian social service organizations such as the Little Earth housing complex in Minneapolis attempted to address.[146] Grassroots efforts to support urban Indigenous populations have also taken place, as in the case of Bringing the Circle Together in Los Angeles.


The 2010 Census showed that the U.S. population on April 1, 2010, was 308.7 million.[147] Out of the total U.S. population, 2.9 million people, or 0.9 percent, reported American Indian or Alaska Native alone. In addition, 2.3 million people or another 0.7 percent, reported American Indian or Alaska Native in combination with one or more other races. Together, these two groups totaled 5.2 million people. Thus, 1.7 percent of all people in the United States identified as American Indian or Alaska Native, either alone or in combination with one or more other races.[147]

The definition of American Indian or Alaska Native used in the 2010 census:

According to Office of Management and Budget, "American Indian or Alaska Native" refers to a person having origins in any of the original peoples of North and South America (including Central America) and who maintains tribal affiliation or community attachment.[147]

The 2010 census permitted respondents to self-identify as being of one or more races. Self-identification dates from the census of 1960; prior to that the race of the respondent was determined by opinion of the census taker. The option to select more than one race was introduced in 2000.[148] If American Indian or Alaska Native was selected, the form requested the individual provide the name of the "enrolled or principal tribe".

Population since 1890

The census counted 248,000 Native Americans in 1890, 332,000 in 1930 and 334,000 in 1940, including those on and off reservations in the 48 states. Total spending on Native Americans averaged $38 million a year in the late 1920s, dropping to a low of $23 million in 1933, and returning to $38 million in 1940.[134]

American Indian, Inuit, and Aleut as percentage of population by U.S. state (1890–2010) [149]
State/Territory 1890 1900 1910 1920 1930 1940 1950 1960 1970 1980 1990 2000[150] 2010[151]
United States 0.4% 0.3% 0.3% 0.2% 0.3% 0.3% 0.2% 0.3% 0.4% 0.6% 0.8% 0.9% 0.9%
Alabama 0.1% 0.0% 0.0% 0.0% 0.0% 0.0% 0.0% 0.0% 0.1% 0.2% 0.4% 0.5% 0.6%
Alaska 16.0% 15.6% 15.6% 14.8%
Arizona 34.0% 21.5% 14.3% 9.9% 10.0% 11.0% 8.8% 6.4% 5.4% 5.6% 5.6% 5.0% 4.6%
Arkansas 0.0% 0.0% 0.0% 0.0% 0.0% 0.0% 0.0% 0.0% 0.1% 0.4% 0.5% 0.7% 0.8%
California 1.4% 1.0% 0.7% 0.5% 0.3% 0.3% 0.2% 0.2% 0.5% 0.9% 0.8% 1.0% 1.0%
Colorado 0.3% 0.3% 0.2% 0.1% 0.1% 0.1% 0.1% 0.2% 0.4% 0.6% 0.8% 1.0% 1.1%
Connecticut 0.0% 0.0% 0.0% 0.0% 0.0% 0.0% 0.0% 0.0% 0.1% 0.1% 0.2% 0.3% 0.3%
Delaware 0.0% 0.0% 0.0% 0.0% 0.0% 0.0% 0.0% 0.1% 0.1% 0.2% 0.3% 0.3% 0.5%
District of Columbia 0.0% 0.0% 0.0% 0.0% 0.0% 0.0% 0.0% 0.1% 0.1% 0.2% 0.2% 0.3% 0.3%
Florida 0.0% 0.1% 0.0% 0.1% 0.0% 0.0% 0.0% 0.1% 0.1% 0.2% 0.3% 0.3% 0.4%
Georgia 0.0% 0.0% 0.0% 0.0% 0.0% 0.0% 0.0% 0.0% 0.1% 0.1% 0.2% 0.3% 0.3%
Hawaii 0.1% 0.1% 0.3% 0.5% 0.3% 0.3%
Idaho 4.8% 2.6% 1.1% 0.7% 0.8% 0.7% 0.6% 0.8% 0.9% 1.1% 1.4% 1.4% 1.4%
Illinois 0.0% 0.0% 0.0% 0.0% 0.0% 0.0% 0.0% 0.0% 0.1% 0.1% 0.2% 0.2% 0.3%
Indiana 0.0% 0.0% 0.0% 0.0% 0.0% 0.0% 0.0% 0.0% 0.1% 0.1% 0.2% 0.3% 0.3%
Iowa 0.0% 0.0% 0.0% 0.0% 0.0% 0.0% 0.0% 0.1% 0.1% 0.2% 0.3% 0.3% 0.4%
Kansas 0.1% 0.1% 0.1% 0.1% 0.1% 0.1% 0.1% 0.2% 0.4% 0.7% 0.9% 0.9% 1.0%
Kentucky 0.0% 0.0% 0.0% 0.0% 0.0% 0.0% 0.0% 0.0% 0.0% 0.1% 0.2% 0.2% 0.2%
Louisiana 0.1% 0.0% 0.0% 0.1% 0.1% 0.1% 0.0% 0.1% 0.1% 0.3% 0.4% 0.6% 0.7%
Maine 0.1% 0.1% 0.1% 0.1% 0.1% 0.1% 0.2% 0.2% 0.2% 0.4% 0.5% 0.6% 0.6%
Maryland 0.0% 0.0% 0.0% 0.0% 0.0% 0.0% 0.0% 0.0% 0.1% 0.2% 0.3% 0.3% 0.4%
Massachusetts 0.0% 0.0% 0.0% 0.0% 0.0% 0.0% 0.0% 0.0% 0.1% 0.1% 0.2% 0.2% 0.3%
Michigan 0.3% 0.3% 0.3% 0.2% 0.1% 0.1% 0.1% 0.1% 0.2% 0.4% 0.6% 0.6% 0.6%
Minnesota 0.8% 0.5% 0.4% 0.4% 0.4% 0.4% 0.4% 0.5% 0.6% 0.9% 1.1% 1.1% 1.1%
Mississippi 0.2% 0.1% 0.1% 0.1% 0.1% 0.1% 0.1% 0.1% 0.2% 0.2% 0.3% 0.4% 0.5%
Missouri 0.0% 0.0% 0.0% 0.0% 0.0% 0.0% 0.0% 0.0% 0.1% 0.3% 0.4% 0.4% 0.5%
Montana 7.8% 4.7% 0.8% 2.0% 2.8% 3.0% 2.8% 3.1% 3.9% 4.7% 6.0% 6.2% 6.3%
Nebraska 0.6% 0.3% 0.3% 0.2% 0.2% 0.3% 0.3% 0.4% 0.4% 0.6% 0.8% 0.9% 1.2%
Nevada 10.9% 12.3% 6.4% 6.3% 5.3% 4.3% 3.1% 2.3% 1.6% 1.7% 1.6% 1.3% 1.2%
New Hampshire 0.0% 0.0% 0.0% 0.0% 0.0% 0.0% 0.0% 0.0% 0.0% 0.1% 0.2% 0.2% 0.2%
New Jersey 0.0% 0.0% 0.0% 0.0% 0.0% 0.0% 0.0% 0.0% 0.1% 0.1% 0.2% 0.2% 0.3%
New Mexico 9.4% 6.7% 6.3% 5.4% 6.8% 6.5% 6.2% 5.9% 7.2% 8.1% 8.9% 9.5% 9.4%
New York 0.1% 0.1% 0.1% 0.1% 0.1% 0.1% 0.1% 0.1% 0.2% 0.2% 0.3% 0.4% 0.6%
North Carolina 0.1% 0.3% 0.4% 0.5% 0.5% 0.6% 0.1% 0.8% 0.9% 1.1% 1.2% 1.2% 1.3%
North Dakota 4.3% 2.2% 1.1% 1.0% 1.2% 1.6% 1.7% 1.9% 2.3% 3.1% 4.1% 4.9% 5.4%
Ohio 0.0% 0.0% 0.0% 0.0% 0.0% 0.0% 0.0% 0.0% 0.1% 0.1% 0.2% 0.2% 0.2%
Oklahoma 24.9% 8.2% 4.5% 2.8% 3.9% 2.7% 2.4% 2.8% 3.8% 5.6% 8.0% 7.9% 8.6%
Oregon 1.6% 1.2% 0.8% 0.6% 0.5% 0.4% 0.4% 0.5% 0.6% 1.0% 1.4% 1.3% 1.4%
Pennsylvania 0.0% 0.0% 0.0% 0.0% 0.0% 0.0% 0.0% 0.0% 0.0% 0.1% 0.1% 0.1% 0.2%
Rhode Island 0.1% 0.0% 0.1% 0.0% 0.0% 0.0% 0.0% 0.1% 0.1% 0.3% 0.4% 0.5% 0.6%
South Carolina 0.0% 0.0% 0.0% 0.0% 0.1% 0.1% 0.1% 0.2% 0.2% 0.3% 0.4%
South Dakota 5.7% 5.0% 3.3% 2.6% 3.2% 3.6% 3.6% 3.8% 4.9% 6.5% 7.3% 8.3% 8.8%
Tennessee 0.0% 0.0% 0.0% 0.0% 0.0% 0.0% 0.0% 0.0% 0.1% 0.1% 0.2% 0.3% 0.3%
Texas 0.0% 0.0% 0.0% 0.0% 0.0% 0.0% 0.0% 0.1% 0.2% 0.3% 0.4% 0.6% 0.7%
Utah 1.6% 0.9% 0.8% 0.6% 0.6% 0.7% 0.6% 0.8% 1.1% 1.3% 1.4% 1.3% 1.2%
Vermont 0.0% 0.0% 0.0% 0.0% 0.0% 0.0% 0.0% 0.0% 0.1% 0.2% 0.3% 0.4% 0.4%
Virginia 0.0% 0.0% 0.0% 0.0% 0.0% 0.0% 0.0% 0.1% 0.1% 0.2% 0.2% 0.3% 0.4%
Washington 3.1% 1.9% 1.0% 0.7% 0.7% 0.7% 0.6% 0.7% 1.0% 1.5% 1.7% 1.6% 1.5%
West Virginia 0.0% 0.0% 0.0% 0.0% 0.0% 0.0% 0.0% 0.0% 0.0% 0.1% 0.1% 0.2% 0.2%
Wisconsin 0.6% 0.4% 0.4% 0.4% 0.4% 0.4% 0.4% 0.4% 0.4% 0.6% 0.8% 0.9% 1.0%
Wyoming 2.9% 1.8% 1.0% 0.7% 0.8% 0.9% 1.1% 1.2% 1.5% 1.5% 2.1% 2.3% 2.4%
Puerto Rico 0.4% 0.5%

Population distribution

This Census Bureau map depicts the locations of differing Native American groups, including Indian reservations, as of 2000. Note the concentration (blue) in modern-day Oklahoma in the South West, which was once designated as an Indian Territory before statehood in 1907.

78% of Native Americans live outside a reservation. Full-blood individuals are more likely to live on a reservation than mixed-blood individuals. The Navajo, with 286,000 full-blood individuals, is the largest tribe if only full-blood individuals are counted; the Navajo are the tribe with the highest proportion of full-blood individuals, 86.3%. The Cherokee have a different history; it is the largest tribe with 819,000 individuals, and it has 284,000 full-blood individuals.[152]

As of 2012, 70% of Native Americans live in urban areas, up from 45% in 1970 and 8% in 1940. Urban areas with significant Native American populations include Minneapolis, Denver, Phoenix, Tucson, Chicago, Oklahoma City, Houston, New York City, and Los Angeles. Many live in poverty. Racism, unemployment, drugs and gangs are common problems which Indian social service organizations such as the Little Earth housing complex in Minneapolis attempt to address.[146]

According to 2003 United States Census Bureau estimates, a little over one-third of the 2,786,652 Native Americans in the United States live in three states: California (413,382), Arizona (294,137) and Oklahoma (279,559).[153]

In 2010, the U.S. Census Bureau estimated that about 0.8% of the U.S. population was of American Indian or Alaska Native descent. This population is unevenly distributed across the country.[154] Below, all fifty states, as well as the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico, are listed by the proportion of residents citing American Indian or Alaska Native ancestry, based on the 2010 U.S. Census.[155]

2010 Native American population, by state
State Pop. (2010) % pop (2010)
Alabama Alabama 28,218 0.6%
Alaska Alaska 104,871 14.8%
Arizona Arizona 296,529 4.6%
Arkansas Arkansas 22,248 0.8%
California California 362,801 1.0%
Colorado Colorado 56,010 1.1%
Connecticut Connecticut 11,256 0.3%
Delaware Delaware 4,181 0.5%
Washington, D.C. District of Columbia 2,079 0.3%
Florida Florida 71,458 0.4%
Georgia (U.S. state) Georgia 32,151 0.3%
Hawaii Hawaii 4,164 0.3%
Idaho Idaho 21,441 1.4%
Illinois Illinois 43,963 0.3%
Indiana Indiana 18,462 0.3%
Iowa Iowa 11,084 0.4%
Kansas Kansas 28,150 1.0%
Kentucky Kentucky 10,120 0.2%
Louisiana Louisiana 30,579 0.7%
Maine Maine 8,568 0.6%
Maryland Maryland 20,420 0.4%
Massachusetts Massachusetts 18,850 0.3%
Michigan Michigan 62,007 0.6%
Minnesota Minnesota 60,916 1.1%
Mississippi Mississippi 15,030 0.5%
Missouri Missouri 27,376 0.5%
Montana Montana 62,555 6.3%
Nebraska Nebraska 18,427 1.2%
Nevada Nevada 32,062 1.2%
New Hampshire New Hampshire 3,150 0.2%
New Jersey New Jersey 29,026 0.3%
New Mexico New Mexico 193,222 9.4%
New York (state) New York 106,906 0.6%
North Carolina North Carolina 122,110 1.3%
North Dakota North Dakota 36,591 5.4%
Ohio Ohio 25,292 0.2%
Oklahoma Oklahoma 321,687 8.6%
Oregon Oregon 53,203 1.4%
Pennsylvania Pennsylvania 26,843 0.2%
Rhode Island Rhode Island 6,058 0.6%
South Carolina South Carolina 19,524 0.4%
South Dakota South Dakota 71,817 8.8%
Tennessee Tennessee 19,994 0.3%
Texas Texas 170,972 0.7%
Utah Utah 32,927 1.2%
Vermont Vermont 2,207 0.4%
Virginia Virginia 29,225 0.4%
Washington (state) Washington 103,869 1.5%
West Virginia West Virginia 3,787 0.2%
Wisconsin Wisconsin 54,526 1.0%
Wyoming Wyoming 13,336 2.4%
Totals 2,932,248 0.8%

Population by tribal grouping

Below are numbers for U.S. citizens self-identifying to selected tribal groupings, according to the 2010 U.S. census.[156]

2010 Native American distribution by tribal group
Tribal grouping American Indian & Alaska Native Alone one tribal grouping reported American Indian & Alaska Native Alone more than one tribal grouping reported American Indian & Alaska Native Mixed one tribal grouping reported American Indian & Alaska Native Mixed more than one tribal grouping reported American Indian & Alaska Native tribal grouping alone or mixed in any combination
Total 2,879,638 52,610 2,209,267 79,064 5,220,579
Apache 63,193 6,501 33,303 8,813 111,810
Arapaho 8,014 388 2,084 375 10,861
Blackfeet 27,279 4,519 54,109 19,397 105,304
Canadian & French American Indian 6,433 618 6,981 790 14,822
Central American Indian 15,882 572 10,865 525 27,844
Cherokee 284,247 16,216 468,082 50,560 819,105
Cheyenne 11,375 1,118 5,311 1,247 19,051
Chickasaw 27,973 2,233 19,220 2,852 52,278
Chippewa 112,757 2,645 52,091 3,249 170,742
Choctaw 103,910 6,398 72,101 13,355 195,764
Colville 8,114 200 2,148 87 10,549
Comanche 12,284 1,187 8,131 1,728 23,330
Cree 2,211 739 4,023 1,010 7,983
Creek 48,352 4,596 30,618 4,766 88,332
Crow 10,332 528 3,309 1,034 15,203
Delaware (Lenape) 7,843 372 9,439 610 18,264
Hopi 12,580 2,054 3,013 680 18,327
Houma 8,169 71 2,438 90 10,768
Iroquois 40,570 1,891 34,490 4,051 81,002
Kiowa 9,437 918 2,947 485 13,787
Lumbee 62,306 651 10,039 695 73,691
Menominee 8,374 253 2,330 176 11,133
Mexican American Indian 121,221 2,329 49,670 2,274 175,494
Navajo 286,731 8,285 32,918 4,195 332,129
Osage 8,938 1,125 7,090 1,423 18,576
Ottawa 7,272 776 4,274 711 13,033
Paiute[157] 9,340 865 3,135 427 13,767
Pima 22,040 1,165 3,116 334 26,655
Potawatomi 20,412 462 12,249 648 33,771
Pueblo 49,695 2,331 9,568 946 62,540
Puget Sound Salish 14,320 215 5,540 185 20,260
Seminole 14,080 2,368 12,447 3,076 31,971
Shoshone 7,852 610 3,969 571 13,002
Sioux 112,176 4,301 46,964 6,669 170,110
South American Indian 20,901 479 25,015 838 47,233
Spanish American Indian 13,460 298 6,012 181 19,951
Tohono O'odham 19,522 725 3,033 198 23,478
Ute 7,435 785 2,802 469 11,491
Yakama 8,786 310 2,207 224 11,527
Yaqui 21,679 1,516 8,183 1,217 32,595
Yuman 7,727 551 1,642 169 10,089
All other American Indian tribes 270,141 12,606 135,032 11,850 429,629
American Indian tribes, not specified 131,943 117 102,188 72 234,320
Alaska Native tribes, specified 98,892 4,194 32,992 2,772 138,850
Alaskan Athabaskans 15,623 804 5,531 526 22,484
Aleut 11,920 723 6,108 531 19,282
Inupiat 24,859 877 7,051 573 33,360
Tlingit-Haida 15,256 859 9,331 634 26,080
Tsimshian 2,307 240 1,010 198 3,755
Yup'ik 28,927 691 3,961 310 33,889
Alaska Native tribes, not specified 19,731 173 9,896 133 29,933
American Indian or Alaska Native tribes, not specified 693,709 no data 852,253 1 1,545,963

Tribal sovereignty

Indian reservations in the continental United States

There are 573 federally recognized tribal governments[158] and 326 Indian reservations [159] in the United States. These tribes possess the right to form their own governments, to enforce laws (both civil and criminal) within their lands, to tax, to establish requirements for membership, to license and regulate activities, to zone, and to exclude persons from tribal territories. Limitations on tribal powers of self-government include the same limitations applicable to states; for example, neither tribes nor states have the power to make war, engage in foreign relations, or coin money (this includes paper currency).[160] In addition, there are a number of tribes that are recognized by individual states, but not by the federal government. The rights and benefits associated with state recognition vary from state to state.

Many Native Americans and advocates of Native American rights point out that the U.S. federal government's claim to recognize the "sovereignty" of Native American peoples falls short, given that the United States wishes to govern Native American peoples and treat them as subject to U.S. law.[161] Such advocates contend that full respect for Native American sovereignty would require the U.S. government to deal with Native American peoples in the same manner as any other sovereign nation, handling matters related to relations with Native Americans through the Secretary of State, rather than the Bureau of Indian Affairs. The Bureau of Indian Affairs reports on its website that its "responsibility is the administration and management of 55,700,000 acres (225,000 km2) of land held in trust by the United States for American Indians, Indian tribes, and Alaska Natives".[162] Many Native Americans and advocates of Native American rights believe that it is condescending for such lands to be considered "held in trust" and regulated in any fashion by other than their own tribes, whether the U.S. or Canadian governments, or any other non-Native American authority.

Some tribal groups have been unable to document the cultural continuity required for federal recognition. To achieve federal recognition and its benefits, tribes must prove continuous existence since 1900. The federal government has maintained this requirement, in part because through participation on councils and committees, federally recognized tribes have been adamant about groups' satisfying the same requirements as they did.[163] The Muwekma Ohlone of the San Francisco bay area are pursuing litigation in the federal court system to establish recognition.[164] Many of the smaller eastern tribes, long considered remnants of extinct peoples, have been trying to gain official recognition of their tribal status. Several tribes in Virginia and North Carolina have gained state recognition. Federal recognition confers some benefits, including the right to label arts and crafts as Native American and permission to apply for grants that are specifically reserved for Native Americans. But gaining federal recognition as a tribe is extremely difficult; to be established as a tribal group, members have to submit extensive genealogical proof of tribal descent and continuity of the tribe as a culture.

Native peoples are concerned about the effects of abandoned uranium mines on or near their lands.

In July 2000, the Washington State Republican Party adopted a resolution recommending that the federal and legislative branches of the U.S. government terminate tribal governments.[165] In 2007, a group of Democratic Party congressmen and congresswomen introduced a bill in the U.S. House of Representatives to "terminate" the Cherokee Nation.[166] This was related to their voting to exclude Cherokee Freedmen as members of the tribe unless they had a Cherokee ancestor on the Dawes Rolls, although all Cherokee Freedmen and their descendants had been members since 1866.

As of 2004, various Native Americans are wary of attempts by others to gain control of their reservation lands for natural resources, such as coal and uranium in the West.[167][168]

In the state of Virginia, Native Americans face a unique problem. Until 2017 Virginia previously had no federally recognized tribes but the state had recognized eight. This is related historically to the greater impact of disease and warfare on the Virginia Indian populations, as well as their intermarriage with Europeans and Africans. Some people confused the ancestry with culture, but groups of Virginia Indians maintained their cultural continuity. Most of their early reservations were ended under the pressure of early European settlement.

Some historians also note the problems of Virginia Indians in establishing documented continuity of identity, due to the work of Walter Ashby Plecker (1912–1946). As registrar of the state's Bureau of Vital Statistics, he applied his own interpretation of the one-drop rule, enacted in law in 1924 as the state's Racial Integrity Act. It recognized only two races: "white" and "colored".

Plecker, a segregationist, believed that the state's Native Americans had been "mongrelized" by intermarriage with African Americans; to him, ancestry determined identity, rather than culture. He thought that some people of partial black ancestry were trying to "pass" as Native Americans. Plecker thought that anyone with any African heritage had to be classified as colored, regardless of appearance, amount of European or Native American ancestry, and cultural/community identification. Plecker pressured local governments into reclassifying all Native Americans in the state as "colored", and gave them lists of family surnames to examine for reclassification based on his interpretation of data and the law. This led to the state's destruction of accurate records related to families and communities who identified as Native American (as in church records and daily life). By his actions, sometimes different members of the same family were split by being classified as "white" or "colored". He did not allow people to enter their primary identification as Native American in state records.[163] In 2009, the Senate Indian Affairs Committee endorsed a bill that would grant federal recognition to tribes in Virginia.[169]

As of 2000, the largest groups in the United States by population were Navajo, Cherokee, Choctaw, Sioux, Chippewa, Apache, Blackfeet, Iroquois, and Pueblo. In 2000, eight of ten Americans with Native American ancestry were of mixed ancestry. It is estimated that by 2100 that figure will rise to nine out of ten.[170]

Civil rights movement

A group of NIYC demonstrators holding signs in front of the BIA office.
National Indian Youth Council demonstrations, Bureau of Indian Affairs Office

The civil rights movement was a very significant moment for the rights of Native Americans and other people of color. Native Americans faced racism and prejudice for hundreds of years, and this increased after the American Civil War. Native Americans, like African Americans, were subjected to the Jim Crow Laws and segregation in the Deep South especially after they were made citizens through the Indian Citizenship Act of 1924. As a body of law, Jim Crow institutionalized economic, educational, and social disadvantages for Native Americans, and other people of color living in the south.[171][172][173] Native American identity was especially targeted by a system that only wanted to recognize white or colored, and the government began to question the legitimacy of some tribes because they had intermarried with African Americans.[171][172] Native Americans were also discriminated and discouraged from voting in the southern and western states.[173]

In the south segregation was a major problem for Native Americans seeking education, but the NAACP's legal strategy would later change this.[174] Movements such as Brown v. Board of Education was a major victory for the Civil Rights Movement headed by the NAACP, and inspired Native Americans to start participating in the Civil Rights Movement.[175][176] Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. began assisting Native Americans in the south in the late 1950s after they reached out to him.[176] At that time the remaining Creek in Alabama were trying to completely desegregate schools in their area. In this case, light-complexioned Native children were allowed to ride school buses to previously all white schools, while dark-skinned Native children from the same band were barred from riding the same buses.[176] Tribal leaders, upon hearing of King's desegregation campaign in Birmingham, Alabama, contacted him for assistance. He promptly responded and through his intervention the problem was quickly resolved.[176] Dr. King would later make trips to Arizona visiting Native Americans on reservations, and in churches encouraging them to be involved in the Civil Rights Movement.[177] In King's book "Why We Can't Wait" he writes:

Our nation was born in genocide when it embraced the doctrine that the original American, the Indian, was an inferior race. Even before there were large numbers of Negroes on our shores, the scar of racial hatred had already disfigured colonial society. From the sixteenth century forward, blood flowed in battles over racial supremacy. We are perhaps the only nation which tried as a matter of national policy to wipe out its indigenous population. Moreover, we elevated that tragic experience into a noble crusade. Indeed, even today we have not permitted ourselves to reject or to feel remorse for this shameful episode. Our literature, our films, our drama, our folklore all exalt it.[178]

Native Americans would then actively participate and support the NAACP, and the civil rights movement.[179] The National Indian Youth Council (NIYC) would soon rise in 1961 to fight for Native American rights during the Civil Rights Movement, and were strong supporters of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.[180][181] During the 1963 March on Washington there was a sizable Native American contingent, including many from South Dakota, and many from the Navajo nation.[176][182] Native Americans also participated the Poor People's Campaign in 1968.[180] The NIYC were very active supporters of the Poor People's Campaign unlike the National Congress of American Indians (NCAI); the NIYC and other Native organizations met with King in March 1968 but the NCAI disagreed on how to approach the anti-poverty campaign; the NCAI decided against participating in the march.[181] The NCAI wished to pursue their battles in the courts and with Congress, unlike the NIYC.[180][181] The NAACP also inspired the creation of the Native American Rights Fund (NARF) which was patterned after the NAACP's Legal Defense and Education Fund.[176] Furthermore, the NAACP continued to organize to stop mass incarceration and end the criminalization of Native Americans and other communities of people of color.[183] The following is an excerpt from a statement from Mel Thom on May 1, 1968, during a meeting with Secretary of State Dean Rusk:[181] (It was written by members of the Workshop on American Indian Affairs and the NIYC)

We have joined the Poor People's Campaign because most of our families, tribes, and communities number among those suffering most in this country. We are not begging. We are demanding what is rightfully ours. This is no more than the right to have a decent life in our own communities. We need guaranteed jobs, guaranteed income, housing, schools, economic development, but most important- we want them on our own terms. Our chief spokesman in the federal government, the Department of Interior, has failed us. In fact it began failing us from its very beginning. The Interior Department began failing us because it was built upon and operates under a racist, immoral, paternalistic and colonialistic system. There is no way to improve upon racism, immorality and colonialism; it can only be done away with. The system and power structure serving Indian peoples is a sickness which has grown to epidemic proportions. The Indian system is sick. Paternalism is the virus and the secretary of the Interior is the carrier.

Contemporary issues

Native American struggles amid poverty to maintain life on the reservation or in larger society have resulted in a variety of health issues, some related to nutrition and health practices. The community suffers a vulnerability to and disproportionately high rate of alcoholism.[184]

It has long been recognized that Native Americans are dying of diabetes, alcoholism, tuberculosis, suicide, and other health conditions at shocking rates. Beyond disturbingly high mortality rates, Native Americans also suffer a significantly lower health status and disproportionate rates of disease compared with all other Americans.

—  U.S. Commission on Civil Rights[185] (September 2004)

Recent studies also point to rising rates of stroke,[186] heart disease,[187] and diabetes[188] in the Native American population.

Societal discrimination and racism

A discriminatory sign posted above a bar. Birney, Montana, 1941
Chief Plenty Coups and seven Crow prisoners under guard at Crow agency. Montana, 1887

In a study conducted in 2006–2007, non-Native Americans admitted they rarely encountered Native Americans in their daily lives. While sympathetic toward Native Americans and expressing regret over the past, most people had only a vague understanding of the problems facing Native Americans today. For their part, Native Americans told researchers that they believed they continued to face prejudice, mistreatment, and inequality in the broader society.[189]

Federal contractors and subcontractors, such as businesses and educational institutions, are legally required to adopt equal opportunity employment and affirmative action measures intended to prevent discrimination against employees or applicants for employment on the basis of "color, religion, sex, or national origin".[190][191] For this purpose, a Native American is defined as "A person having origins in any of the original peoples of North and South America (including Central America), and who maintains a tribal affiliation or community attachment". The passing of the Indian Relocation Act saw a 56% increase in Native American city dwellers over 40 years.[192] The Native American urban poverty rate exceeds that of reservation poverty rates due to discrimination in hiring processes.[192] However, self-reporting is permitted: "Educational institutions and other recipients should allow students and staff to self-identify their race and ethnicity unless self-identification is not practicable or feasible."[193]

Self-reporting opens the door to "box checking" by people who, despite not having a substantial relationship to Native American culture, innocently or fraudulently check the box for Native American.[194]

The difficulties that Native Americans face in the workforce, for example, a lack of promotions and wrongful terminations are attributed to racial stereotypes and implicit biases. Native American business owners are seldom offered auxiliary resources that are crucial for entrepreneurial success.[192]

Native American mascots in sports

Protest against the name of the Washington Redskins in Minneapolis, November 2014

American Indian activists in the United States and Canada have criticized the use of Native American mascots in sports, as perpetuating stereotypes. This is considered cultural appropriation. There has been a steady decline in the number of secondary school and college teams using such names, images, and mascots. Some tribal team names have been approved by the tribe in question, such as the Seminole Tribe of Florida's approving use of their name for the teams of Florida State University.[195][196]

Among professional teams, the NBA's Golden State Warriors discontinued use of Native American-themed logos in 1971. The NFL's Washington Redskins, whose name was considered to be a racial slur,[197] has recently been removed. They are currently now known as the Washington Football Team. MLB's Cleveland Indians, whose usage of a caricature called Chief Wahoo has also faced protest.[198][199] Starting in 2019, Chief Wahoo ceased to be a logo for Cleveland Indians, though Chief Wahoo merchandise could still be sold in the Cleveland-area.[200][201][202][203]

On December 13, 2020 The New York Times reported that Cleveland would be officially changing their name, set to take affect likely following the 2021 season.[204]

Historical depictions in art

Secotan Indians' dance in North Carolina. Watercolor by John White, 1585

Native Americans have been depicted by American artists in various ways at different periods. A number of 19th- and 20th-century United States and Canadian painters, often motivated by a desire to document and preserve Native culture, specialized in Native American subjects. Among the most prominent of these were Elbridge Ayer Burbank, George Catlin, Seth Eastman,