Map showing the approximate location of the ice-free corridor and specific Paleoindian sites (Clovis theory).
“Neolithic” is not generally used to describe indigenous cultures in the Americas, see Archaeology of the Americas.
The usual theory of the settlement of the Americas is that earliest ancestors of the peoples of the Americas came from Eurasia over a land bridge which connected the two continents across what is now the Bering Strait during a period of glaciation, when the sea water level was lower. The number and nature of these migrations is uncertain but the land bridge is believed to have existed only until about 12,000 years ago, when the land bridge was flooded.
Three major migrations occurred, as traced by linguistic and genetic data; the early Paleoamericans soon spread throughout the Americas, diversifying into many hundreds of culturally distinct nations and tribes. By 8000 BCE the North American climate was very similar to today’s.
The Clovis culture, a megafauna hunting culture of about 11,000 B.P., ranged over much of North America and also appeared in South America has been identified by the distinctive Clovis point. Dating of Clovis materials has been by association with animal bones and by the use of carbon datingmethods.
Numerous Paleoindian cultures occupied North America. According to their oral histories they have been living on this continent since their genesis, described by a wide range of traditional creation stories. However, genetic and linguistic data connect the indigenous people of this continent with ancient northeast Asians.
The Folsom Tradition was characterized by use of Folsom points as projectile tips, and data from kill sites, where slaughter and butchering of bison took place. Folsom tools were left behind between 9000 BCE and 8000 BCE.
Na-Dené-speaking peoples entered North America starting around 8000 BCE, reaching the Pacific Northwest by 5000 BCE, and from there migrating along thePacific Coast and into the interior. It is believed that 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. They were the earliest ancestors of the Athabascan- speaking peoples, including the present-day and historical Navajo and Apache.
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 the Americas for such complex construction. Construction of the mounds went on for 500 years until was abandoned about 2800 BCE, probably due to changing environmental conditions. 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. Artifacts show the people traded with other Native Americans located from Georgia to the Great Lakes region. This is one among numerous mound sites of complex indigenous cultures throughout the Mississippi and Ohio valleys. They were one of several succeeding cultures often referred to as mound builders.
The Woodland period of North American pre-Columbian cultures refers to the time period from roughly 1000 BCE to 1,000 CE in the eastern part of North America. The term “Woodland” was coined in the 1930s and refers to prehistoric sites dated between the Archaic period and the Mississippian cultures. The Hopewell tradition is the term for the common aspects of the Native American culture that flourished along rivers in the northeastern and midwestern United States from 200 BCE to 500 CE.
Hohokam is one of the four major prehistoric archaeological traditions of the present-day American Southwest. Living as simple farmers, they raised corn and beans. The early Hohokam founded a series of small villages along the middle Gila River. The communities were located near good arable land, with dry farming common in the earlier years of this period.
The Mississippian culture, which extended throughout the Ohio and Mississippi valleys and built sites throughout the Southeast, created the largestearthworks in North America north of Mexico, most notably at Cahokia, on a tributary of the Mississippi River in present-day Illinois. The society began building at this site about 950 CE, and reached its peak population in 1,250 CE of 20,000–30,000 people, which was not equalled by any city in the present-day United States until after 1800.
Sophisticated pre-Columbian sedentary societies evolved in North America. The rise of the complex cultures was based on the people’s adoption ofmaize agriculture, development of greater population densities, and chiefdom-level complex social organization from 1200 CE to 1650 CE. The introduction of maize from Mesoamerica allowed the accumulation of crop surpluses to support a higher density of population and led to development of specialized skills.
The Iroquois League of Nations or “People of the Long House”, based in present-day upstate and western New York, had a confederacy model from the mid-15th century. It has been suggested that their culture contributed to political thinking during the development of the later United States government. Their system of affiliation was a kind of federation, different from the strong, centralized European monarchies.
Inter-tribal warfare was endemic resulting in displacement and migration of numerous tribes.
European exploration and colonization
Discovery of the Mississippi by William Henry Powell (1823–1879) is a Romanticdepiction of 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.
Impact on native population
From the 16th through the 19th centuries, the population of Indians sharply declined. Most mainstream scholars believe that, among the various contributing factors, epidemic disease was the overwhelming cause of the population decline of the American natives because of their lack ofimmunity to new diseases brought from Europe. It is difficult to estimate the number of Native Americans living in what is today the United States of America. Estimates range from a low of 2.1 million to a high of 18 million (Dobyns 1983). 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. Chicken pox andmeasles, endemic but rarely fatal among Europeans (long after being introduced from Asia), often proved deadly to Native Americans.
Between 1754 and 1763, many Native American tribes were involved in the French and Indian War/Seven Years War. Those involved in the fur tradetended 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.
After European explorers reached the West Coast in the 1770s, smallpox rapidly killed at least 30% of Northwest Coast Native Americans. For the next 80 to 100 years, smallpox and other diseases devastated native populations in the region. 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.
Smallpox epidemics in 1780–1782 and 1837–1838 brought devastation and drastic depopulation among the Plains Indians. 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.
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 theColumbian Exchange. 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 they 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.
King Philip’s War
King Philip’s War, also called Metacom’s War or Metacom’s Rebellion, was an armed 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 Bayin April 1678.
Foundations for freedom
The Treaty of Penn with the Indians byBenjamin West painted in 1771.
Some Europeans considered Native American societies to be representative of a golden age known to them only in folk history. In the 20th century, some writers have credited the Iroquois nations’ political confederacy and democratic government as being influences for the development of the Articles of Confederation and the United States Constitution.
During the American Revolution, the newly proclaimed United States competed with the British for the allegiance of Native American nations east of theMississippi 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. Many native communities were divided over which side to support in the war and others wanted to remain neutral. The first native community to sign a treaty with the new United States Government was theLenape. For the Iroquois Confederacy, based in New York, the American Revolution resulted in civil war. 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.
18th century United States
The United States was eager to expand, to develop farming and settlements in new areas, and to 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.
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. Washington had a six-point plan for civilization which included:
In the late 18th century, reformers starting with Washington and Knox, supported educating native children and adults, in efforts to “civilize” or otherwise assimilate Native Americans to 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 on Native American improvement.
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 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 asTecumseh’s War. 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. Native American nations on the plains in the west continued armed conflicts with the United States throughout the 19th century, through what were called generally “Indian Wars.”
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. Manifest Destiny had serious consequences for Native Americans, since continental expansion for the United States took place at the cost of their occupied land.
Ely Parker was a Union Civil War General who wrote the terms of surrender between the United States and the Confederate States of America.
Many Native Americans served in the military during the Civil War, on both sides.
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 Hopewell Treaty 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 removal of the Cherokee by President Jackson to Indian Territory.
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.” 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”.
In 1871 Congress added a rider to the Indian Appropriations Act ending United States recognition of additional Native American tribes or independent nations, and prohibiting additional treaties.
After the Indian wars in the late 19th century, the United States established Native American boarding schools, initially run primarily by or affiliated with Christian missionaries. At this time American society thought that Native American children needed to be acculturated to the general society. The boarding school experience often proved traumatic to Native American children, who were forbidden to speak their native languages, taught Christianity and denied the right to practice their native religions, and in numerous other ways forced to abandon their Native American identities.
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 tribeshave 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.
On August 29, 1911 Ishi, generally considered to have been the last Native American to live most of his life without contact with European-Americanculture, was discovered near Oroville, California.
On June 2, 1924 U.S. Republican President Calvin Coolidge signed the Indian Citizenship Act, which made citizens of the United States of all Native Americans, who were not already citizens, born in the United States and its territories. Prior to passage of the act, nearly two-thirds of Native Americans were already U.S. citizens.
American Indians today in the U.S. 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.
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 18 to 50 years of age. 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 US 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.
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. 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 inMinneapolis, 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 American Indian Movement (AIM) activists took control of Wounded Knee on February 27, 1973.
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.
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 in the FBI deaths.
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. In 1975 the U.S. government passed the Indian Self-Determination and Education Assistance Act, marking the culmination of 15 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.
By this time, tribes had already started to establish community schools to replace the BIA boarding schools. Led by the Navajo Nation in 1968, tribes started tribal colleges and universities, to build their own models of education on reservations, preserve and revive their cultures, and develop educated workforces. In 1994 the U.S. Congress passed legislation recognizing the tribal colleges as land-grant colleges, which provided opportunities for 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.
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 with prevented arrest or prosecution by tribal police or courts of abusive partners of tribal members who were not native or from another tribe.
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 included Minneapolis, Denver, Phoenix, Tucson, Chicago, Oklahoma City, Houston, New York City, 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.