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This entry includes 9 subentries:
Great Basin
Great Plains


Alaska is the traditional home of three major groups of aboriginal people, commonly known as Eskimos, Aleuts, and Indians (Eskimos and Aleuts are non-Indians). Aleuts live along the cold, rocky, treeless Aleutian Island archipelago and the west end of the Alaska Peninsula. Northern Eskimos, properly Inupiat people, who speak a language called Inupiaq, live along the Arctic Coast of Alaska, Canada, and Greenland. Yuit people, speaking Yup'ik, live along the southwest Alaska coast and the lower Kuskokwim and Yukon Rivers. Athapascan Indians live along the interior rivers and around upper Cook Inlet. Tlingit and Haida Indians, who are Pacific Northwest Coast people, live in more than a dozen villages in the Alexander Archipelago in Alaska's southeast panhandle. While the Indian populations are descended from Paleolithic people who entered America via Beringia, the "ice-age" land connection, the Eskimo and Aleut people arrived later than most other groups.


Divided into three language subgroups—western, central, and eastern—the Aleuts lived in villages of about fifty people and ate fish, seal, and other sea mammals, which they hunted using detachable harpoons and one-hatch kayaks made of walrus intestine stretched over a drift-wood frame. Aleut hunters were legendary in kayaking and hunting skills. Kinship was matrilineal, and the basic

social unit was the house-group. Women owned the houses, which were partially subterranean, but the eldest male usually made decisions for the group.

The Aleuts were the first Alaska Natives to encounter Europeans, Russian sea otter hunters who came following Vitus Bering's 1741 voyage. These fur trappers subjugated the Aleut people, and through disease and brutality reduced their population from 20,000 to 2,000. Years later, during World War II, the remaining islanders were evacuated for three years to dilapidated, substandard camps in southeast Alaska, where 80 of 881 died.


Traditionally, the Inupiats lived in semisubterranean houses in communities of from twenty-five to fifty. They relied on mixed fishing and hunting, especially for caribou, and organized whale hunts using an open skin boat called an umiak. The umialik, or boat captain, was a position of leadership and prestige. The Inupiats traced kinship bilaterally. They developed several methods of establishing quasi-kinship relationships, including trading partnerships between men from different groups, short-term spouse exchange, and adoption. Food brought to the community was shared by everyone.

Before contact the Inupiats numbered about 10,000. Widespread European contact did not occur until the middle of the nineteenth century, when Yankee whaling ships began to hunt in the northern Bering Sea and Arctic Ocean. Influenza between 1918 and 1922 and tuberculosis in the 1940s and 1950s took a high toll among the Inupiat. Due partly to local governmental authority and the corporations established by the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act (ANCSA), the remaining Inupiat villages enjoy modestly comfortable material circumstances.

Pacific Yuits

The Pacific Yuits (southern Eskimos), who include the people of Kodiak Island (Alutiiq), lived mostly in partial dugout and framed houses, though the Alutiiqs used Aleut-type underground dwellings. Kinship was matrilineal, except on St. Lawrence Island, where it was patrilineal. All Yuit communities except those on St. Lawrence Island also had a larger dwelling, called a kashim, where a group of matrilineally related men lived in winter and where the women brought them their food. The Yuits relied heavily on salmon, which are prolific along Alaska's southwest coast, though some groups also took caribou and marine mammals. Numbering 30,000 before contact, the Pacific Yuits also were not affected by Europeans in significant numbers until the mid-nineteenth century, when Yankee whalers began to frequent the Bering Sea. Many Yuit hunters joined whaling crews, which often caused hardship in their villages, because they did not hunt for subsistence while engaged in commercial whaling. After World War I, Spanish influenza took a frightful toll on Yuit villages, decimating several. Tuberculosis further afflicted the population before and during World War II. Cultural revival and ANCSA corporations have revitalized most Yuit communities.

Alaskan Athapascans

Alaskan Athapascans are divided into nine ethnic-linguistic groups, each of which is further divided into regional and local bands of from fifteen to seventy-five people. Local bands were usually led by men who had demonstrated special hunting skills. In a few areas, the village was recognized as the primary socialunit, with a designated territory and a chief. The household level of organization was more common, however, with one to three families sharing the same dwelling. Kinship was traced matrilineally.

Riverine villagers relied heavily on migrating salmon while upland villagers took migrating caribou. But all groups moved to summer fish camps to catch and dry salmon, and to upland caribou camps during the fall migration. Most lived in semisubterranean dwellings, sometimes lined with logs, covered with a frame skeleton for holding fur or caribou-hide coverings. A village consisted of ten to twelve such dwellings and a larger kashim. Nearly all the Athapascans had clans, a named descent group into which a person was born based on their mother's membership. The Ahtnas (who lived along the Copper River) and Tanainas (who settled around the upper Cook Inlet) had eleven to eighteen clans, and also divided themselves into two matrilineal moieties (halves) known as Raven and Seagull, probably as a result of contact with the Tlingits.

All Athapascan groups recognized and valued personal accumulation of wealth, which was redistributed through the potlatch, a ceremony in which wealth and status were confirmed through gift giving. Shamans acted as magicians and medical practitioners and could be considered either beneficent or evil. There were probably 10,000 Athapascans living in Alaska at the time of contact with the Russians, before the mid-nineteenth century.

Tlingits and Haidas

The Tlingits and Haidas were the most sophisticated aboriginal groups in Alaska, and likely numbered 15,000 at contact, at the end of the eighteenth century. They were divided into thirteen units to which the name "kwan" was attached, meaning not tribe but a group of a particular region, living in several communities and intermarrying. Matrilineal descent determined group membership and the inheritance of leadership and wealth. The society was

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divided into two moieties: Raven and Eagle or Wolf. Marriage was across moietic lines, and matrilineal clans were found in each moiety; houses were owned by clans. Status was determined through clan competition, carried on through potlatch giving.

The Tlingits and Haidas lived in permanent villages from October to March and in seasonal salmon camps during the summer. The regions they inhabited were abundant with salmon, sea mammals, land mammals, and vegetation. Houses were large and built of split cedar planks, often measured forty by sixty feet, and housed four to six families that functioned as an economic unit.

Modern Tribes and Corporations

None of the Alaskan aboriginal groups was divided into tribes; in most cases, the village was the primary social unit, though the clan was more important among the Tlingits and Haidas. In modern times, however, the federal government has recognized 229 tribal groups in Alaska for purposes of economic and political benefits, and in 2000, the state followed with formal recognition. ANCSA regional and village corporations are as important for Alaska Natives as is the tribal designation, however. Alaska Natives are highly integrated into the state's contemporary economic, political, and social structure.


Drucker, Philip. Indians of the Northwest Coast. New York: American Museum of Natural History, 1955.

Dumas, David. Handbook of North American Indians. Vol. 5: Arctic. Washington, D.C.: Smithsonian Institution, 1984.

Fienup-Riordan, Ann. Culture Change among Alaska Natives: Retaining Control. Anchorage: University of Alaska Anchorage Institute for Social and Economic Research, 1997.

Helm, June. Handbook of North American Indians. Vol. 6: Subarctic. Washington, D.C.: Smithsonian Institution, 1981.

Kizzia, Tom. The Wake of the Unseen Object: Among the Native Cultures of Bush Alaska. New York: Henry Holt, 1991.

Langdon, Stephen Jay. The Native People of Alaska. Anchorage, Alaska: Greatland Graphics, 1987.

Oswalt, Wendell. Alaskan Eskimos. San Francisco: Chandler Publishing, 1967.


See alsoAlaska Native Claims Settlement Act ; Alaskan Pipeline ; Aleuts ; Inuits .


California has the largest American Indian population of any state in the nation, with 628,000 Indian people according to the 2000 census, including both native California Indians and Indians from tribes outside the state. There are 110 federally recognized California tribes and about 40 California Indian groups that are seeking federal recognition. Los Angeles, San Francisco, San Jose, and Oakland have large urban Indian communities.

Before European contact, Native California was home to hundreds of small tribes. Nowhere else in Native North America was there such a variety of cultures. California Indians spoke as many as eighty mutually unintelligible languages from six major language stocks. Most tribes consisted of a few hundred people who lived in permanent villages with a a relatively non-hierarchical social structure, a political structure in which headmen settled disputes, and a stable economy of local resources enriched by an active trade network of exotic materials.

Early Contact: 1542–1848

After 1542 Spanish, Russian, English, and American ships looked for supply harbors and hunting grounds along the California coast. From 1769 to 1820, Spain lay claim to California by building twenty-one missions with presidios (forts) along the coast from San Diego to Sonoma. Soldiers brought local Indians to the missions, where they labored in construction and agriculture. Over 90 percent of the mission Indians died, mostly from epidemic disease. In 1820 California became a territory of Mexico, and in 1834 the mission system was secularized. Russia also colonized northern California from 1812 to 1841 at Fort Ross, an agricultural base for sea otter hunting.

Genocide: 1849–1864

On 2 February 1848, California became a territory of the United States through the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo with Mexico, nine days after gold was discovered in the Sierra Nevada Mountains. Hundreds of thousands of miners rushed to northern California and drove Indian people out of their homes. The early state legislature, governors, and newspaper editors laid out two solutions to the Indian problem: removal or extermination. In 1851–1852 U.S. commissioners negotiated eighteen treaties with the California tribes, setting aside reservation land to which the Indians could be removed. Congress secretly rejected the treaties and sealed its decision until 1905. With no place farther west to remove the Native people, the public rhetoric swiftly changed to an official outcry for extermination. In 1851 Gov. John McDougal stated, "a war of extermination will continue to be waged between the races until the Indian race becomes extinct." Bounties of 50¢–$5 for Indian scalps were advertised in local papers. After massacres wiped out entire Indian villages, financial claims were presented to and paid by the state. Later Congress reimbursed the state for these costs. In 1850 California had been admitted to the union as a free state, yet in the same year the legislature passed the Act for the Government and Protection of Indians, better known as the Indian Indenture Law, which led to widespread kidnapping of Indian women and children for slavery, until the law was repealed in 1867. The slaughter of Native people was met by increasingly organized armed resistance from the tribes. In 1864 Indian warriors surrendered in exchange for reservations in Hoopa Valley and Round Valley. The Modoc War of 1872–1873, which took place in the northeast corner of the state, ended with the surrender and exile of the survivors to Oklahoma.

Survival Strategies: 1865–1900

The American invasion, rapid and massive, had lasting impacts on the ecology of California. Oak trees and native plants were destroyed. Gold mining polluted the rivers and killed the fish. These changes led to starvation among the Indians. They tried to maintain their societies in the dangerous post-war era, when any show of political presence would draw vengeance, some by hiding in the back country, some by living quietly among their white neighbors, and others by purchasing parts of their ancestral lands and establishing small Indian towns. Some moved to cities or married non-Indians. In the late nineteenth century the federalgovernment attempted to assimilate the tribes by dismantling their traditional lifestyles, building western wood frame houses, requiring western dress, discouraging the use of Indian languages, punishing the practice of traditional religions, putting the reservations under the administration of churches, establishing educational programs both on the reservations and in Indian boarding schools, and disbanding reservation tribal lands into parcels of individually owned property under the Dawes Severalty Act of 1887. By 1880 the plight of California's non-reservation Indians was desperate. In the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, welfare organizations, such as the Sequoya League (1901), the Indian Board of Cooperation (1912), and the Mission Indian Federation (1920) were created to improve the economic and social conditions of the homeless Indians. Their advocacy resulted in almost one hundred new California rancherias (reservations with a small residential land base) being created by Congress from 1873 into the 1930s.

Rebuilding: 1900–1950

In the 130 years after contact, from 1769 to 1900, the population of Native California was reduced by 94 percent, from 310,000 to less than 20,000 people. In the early 1900s, the downward spiral of danger, population loss, and deadly poverty began to improve, due to the establishment of additional reservations, increased health care, the reduction in threats of violence, and a slowly growing political voice in tribal affairs. In 1928 the California Indians sued the United States for the unratified treaties. Each person received $150 as payment for the lost treaty land under the 1928 Jurisdictional Act, and another $668 under the 1946 Indian Claims Commission Act.

Relocation, Urban Indians, Demographic Shift, Termination: 1950–1965

In 1917 California Indians were given state citizenship; in 1924, Congress passed the Citizenship Act, granting federal citizenship to all American Indians. In the 1930s the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) strengthened tribal sovereignty by recognizing the authority of tribal councils, and emphasized economic development on reservations. However after World War II, federal policy shifted to terminating the federal relationship to tribes. On 18 August 1958, Congress passed the California Indian Rancheria Act, which allowed tribes to privatize their land by terminating their federal relationship. The BIA targeted the smallest, most remote, and least organized tribes for termination, resulting in poorly educated, poorly employed Indians losing their land by selling or making loans on it, or failing to pay their property taxes. Forty-one California rancherias were terminated. Seventeen of the terminated tribes later sued the federal government, and in 1983 were restored to their pre-termination status.

The second arm of termination was the BIA's urban relocation program. Between 1952 and 1968, half of the Indians relocated in the United States, almost 100,000 people, had been sent to California.

Political Action, Cultural Revitalization, Gaming: 1965–2000

From 1969 to 1971 the Indian civil rights movement gained national visibility with the Indian occupation of Alcatraz. In 1970 there was an Alcatraz-inspired occupation of land outside of the University of California, Davis, which was eventually settled by the creation of California's only tribal college Degonawedah Quetzalcoatl University in 1975.

From the late 1960s until 2002, Native California witnessed its own rising political voice and a movement towards cultural revitalization. In 1967 the California Indian Education Association was formed. In 1968 California Indian Legal Services was created. The California legislature created the California Native American Heritage Commission in 1976 and designated the fourth Friday of each September to be American Indian Day. In the 1980s the annual California Indian Conference and News from Native California were begun. In the 1990s the California Indian Basketweavers Association and the California Indian Storytellers Association began to hold yearly conferences.

Gaming changed the public's perception of California Indians more than any other circumstance. As of 16 May 2000, gaming compacts had been signed by sixty-one California tribes. Within one generation, some tribes that were unbelievably poor had become incredibly rich, yet most California tribes remained rural and profited little from gaming.

In the early twenty-first century, most California tribes still lived on their ancestral lands, recording their native languages and reviving cultural traditions, while also developing modern economies and participating in state and national politics.


Cook, Sherburne Friend. The Conflict between the California Indian and White Civilization. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1976.

Heizer, Robert F., ed. California. Vol. 8. Handbook of North American Indians, edited by William C. Sturtevant. Washington, D.C.: Smithsonian Institution, 1978.

Hurtado, Albert L. Indian Survival on the California Frontier. Yale Western Americana Series 35. New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1988.

Milliken, Randall. A Time of Little Choice: The Disintegration of Tribal Culture in the San Francisco Bay Area, 1769–1810. Menlo Park, Calif.: Ballena, 1995.

Nelson, Byron. Our Home Forever: A Hupa Tribal History. Hoopa, Calif: Hupa Tribe, 1978.

Rawls, James Jabus. Indians of California: The Changing Image. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1984.


See alsoGold Rush, California ; Indian Reservations ; Indian Reorganization Act ; Klamath-Modoc ; Modoc War .

Great Basin

The expansive territory between the Sierra Nevada and Rocky Mountains is commonly referred to as the Great Basin. With no river outlets to the sea, this region was among the last areas of the continental United States explored and settled by Europeans. Hundreds of culturally related but distinct Indian groups inhabited the region's many mountain ranges and river valleys for thousands of years, and all were forced to adapt to the disruptive influences of European contact.

Besides the Washoe Indians of the Sierra Nevada, the Paiute, Shoshone, and Ute groups of the Great Basin speak dialects of the Numic language, a branch of the larger Uto-Aztecan language that stretches south from the Great Basin into northern and central Mexico. Although linguistically related, many economic, political, and cultural differences characterize this region's indigenous peoples. Great Basin Indians have lived in intimate contact with each other and their environment, from the wintry peaks of the Rockies to the depths of Death Valley, for countless generations.

Beginning in the early 1600s, European contact fundamentally altered the worlds of Great Basin Indians in Utah and Colorado. Located directly north of Spanish colonial New Mexico, the bands of Ute Indians in Colorado experienced the first sustained influences of European colonialism in the Great Basin. As the Spanish technologies, economies, and demographic pressures swept out of New Mexico, Ute bands in the eastern Great Basin rapidly incorporated many trade goods into their communities while they increasingly concentrated in highly mobile equestrian bands. Throughout the Spanish colonialera, Utes dominated many northern reaches of the Spanish empire, vying for military, political, and economic supremacy with not only Spanish settlers and armies

but also powerful southwestern Pueblo, Apache, Navajo, and Comanche groups.

The arrival of the Spanish and later the French and British empires in the West similarly transformed the economies of Shoshone bands further north of New Mexico in the northern Great Basin. Whereas some Numicspeaking groups, such as the Comanches, migrated completely onto the Plains with the spread of the horse, Northern and Eastern Shoshone groups in northern Colorado, Wyoming, and Idaho increased their mobility within their traditional homelands while also migrating seasonally onto the northern Plains to hunt and to trade. As with the Utes to their south, the incorporation of the horse dramatically reorganized Shoshone society and culture. Groups now journeyed far greater distances and increasingly came into competition with rival Indian groups.

In the heart of the Great Basin, in Nevada, western Utah, and eastern California, Spanish technologies had less impact on the Northern Paiute, Southern Paiute, and Western Shoshone groups. This region's sparse, arid ecology held limited potential for horses, as smaller patrilineal Indian bands lived in less-concentrated communities. Beginning in the late eighteenth century, however, the Spanish began attempting to solidify control over the lands between New Mexico and their recently settled colony of California. Spanish traders and explorers increasingly traversed and transformed the southern Great Basin. Attempts to link California and New Mexico, such as the Old Spanish Trail, led directly through the homelands of many Paiute and Shoshone groups, and Indian peoples experienced the pressures of European trading, slavery, and resource competition.

In the early nineteenth century, Mexican independence and the erosion of the Spanish empire ushered in an era of rapid change for Great Basin Indians. Where as Spanish authorities had deliberately tried to curb the influence of French, British, and American traders in their empire, Mexican national officials encouraged foreign traders and even settlers. At the same time, the western expansion of the United States following the Louisiana Purchase attracted new waves of white settlement. As a consequence, Native groups throughout the intermountain West faced dramatic increases in foreign traffic, trade, and settlement. In the 1820s, American and British trappers quickly descended into the northern Great Basin along the Snake and Humboldt Rivers and virtually exterminated beaver and other fur-bearing animals. Such escalated foreign trade and traffic altered Great Basin Indian subsistence, as precious game, water, and grasses became consumed by outsiders and their large animal herds.

Such ecological and economic disruptions were exponentially compounded following the American conquest of northern Mexico in 1848. As the United States acquired control of the West, hundreds of thousands of Euro-American migrants moved through the Great Basin, drawn by the prospect of gold during the California gold rush and by lands in western states, such as the Oregon Territory. Western migration came through Indian homelands and initiated conflict, warfare, and impoverishment for Great Basin Indians. As white migrants eventually settled in the region, particularly along fertile rivers, settlers increasingly competed with Indian groups for land, resources, and power. In Utah and southern Idaho, Mormons and other settlers fought a series of wars with Utes and Shoshones, in which hundreds of Indians were often killed in single encounters. More commonly, white migrants and militia deployed indiscriminate violence and terror to consolidate American power throughout the region. From Owens Valley, California, to the Colorado Plateau, Great Basin Indians found their communities and homelands increasingly targeted by institutions of the American state, particularly the federal army and Indian agents.

Beginning in the 1850s and 1860s, the U.S. government negotiated a series of treaties with most Great Basin Indians to isolate Indian groups away from white settlements. In the 1880s and 1890s, the federal government initiated a series of assimilative efforts to divide Indian communal reservation lands under the auspices of the Dawes General Allotment Act while also attempting to "reform" Indian education, religion, and culture. The effects of these government policies were disastrous for many Great Basin groups. In Colorado and Utah the once sizable reservations established for Ute groups were opened to non-Indians, and millions of acres of the Mountain Ute, the Southern Ute, and the Uintah-Ouray reservations passed into non-Indian hands. Meanwhile, the intertwined attacks of assimilation sent Indian children away to boarding schools, outlawed traditional religious practices, and curbed many forms of economic subsistence.

To survive American conquest required that Great Basin Indians make tremendous adjustments. Many Shoshone groups in Nevada and California did not receive federally protected reservation lands as stipulated by government treaties and were forced to work in white communities for survival. Paiute and Shoshone women worked as domestics and cooks, while Indian men labored as ranch hands, miners, and day laborers. The renowned Paiute author and activist Sarah Winnemucca Hopkins noted in her autobiography, Life Among the Piutes (1883), that Indian women throughout the region were often targeted by white men for sexual pleasure. Enduring such challenges taxed many community and individual resources, and many groups suffered bitter poverty throughout the first decades of the twentieth century.

With the Indian policy reforms of the 1930s, many Great Basin Indian communities received federal recognition, and a few scattered reservations, and "colonies," federally recognized urban Indian communities, were established for mainly Shoshone groups in Nevada. The creation of the Indian Claims Commission (ICC) in 1946 offered many groups a new avenue for legal redress. The Western Shoshone, for example, initiated ICC cases that have yet to be fully resolved.

During World War II, many Ute, Shoshone, and Paiute soldiers served their communities and country, often venturing away from their homelands for the first time. Their increasing familiarity with the larger national culture and the continued poverty with in their communities brought many Great Basin Indians to larger regional and urban centers, such as Reno, Nevada, Salt Lake City, Utah, and Denver, Colorado. Indian urbanization coincided with the postwar relocation policies of the Bureau of Indian Affairs, which encouraged Indian youth to move to urban centers for job-training and placement programs. Additionally, during the postwar termination era, the federal government extinguished federal trust status for Indian reservations, including the Southern Paiute reservations in southwestern Utah, and turned matters of Indian affairs over to state and local governments. Only in the 1970s did these assimilation efforts give way to an era of self-determination, in which Indian peoples and tribal governments began formulating more actively the laws and policies under which their communities lived.


Crum, Steven J. The Road on Which We Came: A History of the Western Shoshone. Salt Lake City: University of Utah Press, 1994.

Inter-Tribal Council of Nevada. Newe: A Western Shoshone History. Reno: Inter-Tribal Council of Nevada, 1976.

Madsen, Brigham D. The Shoshoni Frontier and the Bear River Massacre. Salt Lake City: University of Utah Press, 1985.

Stewart, Omer C. Indians of the Great Basin: A Critical Bibliography. Newberry Library Center for the History of the American Indian Bibliography Series. Bloomington: University of Indiana Press, 1982.

Sturtevant, William C., ed. Handbook of North American Indians. Volume 11: Great Basin, edited by Warren L. D'Azevedo. Washington, D.C.: Smithsonian Institution, 1986.

Trenholm, Virginia Cole, and Maurine Carley. The Shoshonis: Sentinels of the Rockies. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1964.


See alsoIndian Land Cessions ; Indian Reservations ; Indian Trade and Traders ; Indian Treaties .

Great Plains

The image of buffalo-hunting, horseback-mounted, teepeedwelling Plains warriors is the dominant stereotype of American Indians. But this static, one-dimensional picture is not an accurate representation of Native Americans as a whole, nor does it reflect the diversity among Plains tribes. Six different linguistic groups are represented among Plains peoples. Their dwellings varied from the earth lodges built by horticulturalists such as the Mandans, Hidatsas, Arikaras, and Pawnees of the central river valleys, to the woven-grass lodges of the Witchitas and other southeastern Plains groups, to the "classic" buffalo-skin lodges of the Blackfeet, Lakotas, Crows, Comanches, and other nomadic peoples. The lives of all, moreover, were dramatically altered by European animals, goods, diseases, and settlers.

The oldest dwellers of the Plains were nomadic Paleo Indian big-game hunters. Occupation of the Plains has been dated as far back as the Clovis Phase (15,000–11,000 before common era) and the Folsom Phase (11,000–8,000 b.c.e.).The disappearance of species such as mammoths and mastodons at the end of the last ice age, combined with a climactic shift from a moist and cool environment to a drier, warmer ecosystem, may have spurred some groups to leave the area. At the time of European contact, two major cultural traditions existed on the Plains. One comprised small bands of nomadic hunters living in buffalo-hide teepees; the other comprised horticulturalists who lived in semi permanent villages in the major river valleys and who raised maize, beans, squash, and other crops. By 1750 horticultural groups included (besides those already mentioned) the Iowas, Kansas (Kaws), Missouris, Omahas, Osages, Otos, Poncas, Quapaws, and Witchitas. Hunters included the Assiniboines, Gros Ventres, Cheyennes Arapahos, Kiowas, Yankton and Yanktonai Sioux, Kiowa-Apaches, and Plains Crees and Ojibwas. Both groups engaged in large communal buffalo hunts and maintained extensive trade networks. Both horticulturalists and hunters developed elaborate ceremonial and religious systems based on the idea of an interconnected universe.

European contact with Plains tribes probably began in 1540, when Francisco Vasquez de Coronados reached the Witchitas in what is now Kansas, but European influences arguably arrived even sooner. Recurring epidemic diseases such as smallpox, cholera, measles, and scarlet

fever both preceded and followed Europeans, and decimated Native communities. Sometime in the seventeenth century, the arrival of horses and European-manufactured trade goods altered the balance of power on the Plains. Initially introduced in the sixteenth century by the Spanish in the Southwest, horses conferred unprecedented power and mobility on their owners. Horses enabled nomadic bands to follow and exploit the buffalo more effectively, and allowed the accumulation and transportation of greater quantities of goods and supplies. Guns obtained from French and British fur traders, meanwhile, enabled groups who had formerly lived on the fringes of the region, including the Lakotas and Yankton Sioux and the Blackfeet and Crees, to push onto the Plains and displace established groups. These new technologies may have also aided the Crow Indians in separating from their Hidatsa relatives and becoming equestrian buffalo hunters. The Cheyennes likewise made a similar shift from horticulture on the prairies of Minnesota and the eastern Dakotas to a nomadic hunting lifestyle. Other groups, such as the Comanches and Kiowas, migrated south from the area of present-day Wyoming to the southern Plains.

In the early nineteenth century other Indian groups entered the Plains following their removal from their homelands in the eastern and southeastern United States. More than two dozen eastern tribes—either in whole or in part—suffered removal to Indian Territory. Portions of other tribes, including Apaches from the southwest and Modocs from northern California, were also relocated to the territory by federal officials before the end of the century.

Prior to the 1840s, belief that the Plains constituted a "Great American Desert" enabled U.S. policymakers to envision a permanent Indian frontier, beyond which Native Americans could live undisturbed. However, the acquisttion quisition of western lands, followed by the discovery of gold in California and the Rocky Mountains, placed Plains tribes under increasing pressure. Although disease killed far more emigrants than did Indians, the destruction of game and other resources, as well as the diseases emigrants brought, heightened tensions. Although agreements such as the 1851 Treaty of Fort Laramie attempted to reduce the level of conflict, the decentralized nature of Plains societies and the speed of American expansion made such agreements difficult to enforce. Continued confrontations soon led to warfare. After the Civil War, pressure increased as settlers pushed onto the Plains. Although Native peoples won some victories, notably in the Bozeman Trail conflict of 1866–1867 and at the Little Bighorn in 1876, continued American military pressure and the destruction of the buffalo eventually forced tribes onto reservations.

Cultural warfare followed military conflict, as government officials, missionaries, and other reformers attempted to impose assimilation upon tribes. Traditional social and religious practices were banned, and children were forbidden from speaking their Native language in schools. Many cultural practices were either lost outright or forced underground. Reservations themselves came under assault in the Dawes General Allotment Act of 1887, which sought to break up reservations and force Indians to accept individual parcels of land. Indians responded to these conditions with a combination of adaptation, resistance, and innovation, including new religious forms such as the Ghost Dance and peyotism. Plains tribes also fought continuing legal battles, commencing early in the twentieth and continuing into the twenty-first century, to protect water and mineral rights and to obtain either compensation for or the return of land taken by the U.S. government. In 1980 the Supreme Court upheld a 1979 Court of Claims decision that awarded the Lakotas $102 million for the illegal taking of the Black Hills, but the Lakotas refused to accept the money, insisting that the land be returned.

In the early 2000s many Plains tribes continued to struggle with issues of poverty, economic under development, and the legacy of decades of cultural genocide. Plains communities also continued to meet these challenges in innovative ways, ranging from the development of tribal colleges and curriculum programs to sustain tribal cultures and provide vocational training, to casino gaming and the restoration of the buffalo. Unlike the static image of the mounted warrior, the strength of Plains tribes has been in their ability to adapt and survive through centuries of change.


Carlson, Paul H. The Plains Indians. College Station: Texas A&M University Press, 1998.

Hoxie, Frederick E. Parading through History: The Making of the Crow Nation in America, 1805–1935. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1995.

Iverson, Peter, ed. The Plains Indians of the Twentieth Century. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1985.

West, Elliot. The Contested Plains: Indians, Gold seekers, and the Rush to Colorado. Lawrence: University Press of Kansas, 1998.


See alsoIndian Policy, U.S.


All the indigenous tribes of New England were speakers of languages belonging to the widespread Algonquian family. The adaptive expansion of the Algonquians into the region was made possible by their possession of the bow and arrow, pottery, and fishing technology that earlier inhabitants of the region seemingly lacked.

Although the Micmac language of New Brunswick and Nova Scotia appears to have diverged earlier, most of the Northeastern Algonquians started to diverge from the main body around a.d. 600. This process was later accelerated by the northward expansion of Iroquoian speakers to the west in the interior of the Northeast, which cut the Eastern Algonquians off from those in the Great Lakes region. The Eastern Algonquians subsequently spread southward along the coast, and were established as far south as North Carolina upon European contact.

The Eastern Algonquians were largely patrilineal in their social organization. They lived in tribal societies dominated by big men (sagamores); only rarely did fragile and short-lived chiefdom organizations emerge over time. Their first well-documented contacts with Europeans resulted from the expedition of Giovanni da Verrazano in 1524. The explorer stopped in both southern and northern New England before sailing home. He noticed, as did later explorers, that New England tribes practiced agriculture in the south but were hunters and gatherers in the north. The division between the two adaptations fell in the vicinity of modern coastal New Hampshire.

Later explorations of the Maine coast by George Weymouth and Samuel Champlain, both in 1605, and John Smith in 1614, left records that provide an unusual wealth of detail about local Indian communities. From these and later sources we know that the tribes of northern New England included the Western Abenaki of New Hampshire and Vermont, the Eastern Abenaki of Maine, the Maliseet of northern Maine and New Brunswick, and the coastal Passamaquoddy, closely related to the Maliseet but resident in eastern Maine. The Penobscot tribe, which survives on a reservation at Old Town, Maine, descends from more general Eastern Abenaki origins.

The people of northern New England lived part of the year in villages of up to four hundred houses. Local leadership tended to be in the hands of one or two big men. While leaders appear to have been chosen for life, leadership was not necessarily hereditary. Homes contained senior men and small extended families. These family units were also the economic units that lived together

at special-purpose camps located away from the main villages. Travel in northern New England was typically by canoe along the coast and inland streams. Dense forests restricted foot travel to portages and the immediate vicinities of villages and camps. A short growing season made horticulture too risky in northern New England, so the people depended mostly upon wild food resources. Coastal camps were used when migratory birds and shellfish could be exploited. Fish runs in the spring and fall took them to key places along major rivers, where their villages were also located. They dispersed to interior hunting camps in the winter. The last became increasingly important in the seventeenth century, when demand for furs by European traders reached a peak. Depletion of furs and competition from intruding English colonists led many Abenakis to move to refugee villages in Canada. Those that remained played out a political balancing act between the colonial English and French until the latter were expelled from Canada in 1763. The Indians subsequently lost land to English colonists at an accelerating rate. Following the American Revolution, the state of Massachusetts (of which Maine was a part until 1820) and later the state of Maine acquired more land by means that were in violation of federal law. Compensation was finally realized in the 1970s and the Penobscots, Maliseets, and Passamaquoddys of Maine have survived into the present century with prosperity and identities intact.

The Eastern Algonquian tribes of southern New England enjoyed a longer growing season, and the native American crops of maize, beans, and squash spread to the region after a.d. 1000. Verrazano noted many fields, often with small summer houses that were occupied by people tending the crops. Travel was by overland trails and dugouts on larger streams. Population densities here were ten or twenty times higher than those of northern New England. There were probably only about 34,000 people in northern New England compared to 108,000 in the smaller southern portion. The lack of suitable fibers from plants or animals meant that the Indians had to rely on hides for clothing here as elsewhere in the Northeast. Deer were the primary source of both hides and protein from meat. However, beans combined with maize provided a partial protein substitute, somewhat relaxing what would have been a severe constraint on population growth.

Little is known about the political and social organization of southern New England tribes. Their social organizations were patrilineal or bilateral and local communities were led informally by big men. The emergence of chiefdoms or other, more complex or more permanent political entities was rare. A severe epidemic involving hepatic failure that began in southeastern New England in 1615 drastically reduced and scattered local populations. Many survivors became dependents in English colonial settlements and others regrouped in new refugee communities, erasing many of the previous social and political patterns. Despite the confusion, ethno historians have settled on a set of generally accepted tribal names for the seventeenth century. The Massachusett lived in what became eastern Massachusetts and Rhode Island. Their subdivisions included the Pawtucket, from northeastern Massachusetts to southern Maine, the Massachusett proper around Boston, the Pokanokets (Wampanoags) of southeastern Massachusetts, and the Narragansetts of Rhode Island. The Nipmucks lived in central Massachusetts and the Pocumtucks resided west of the Connecticut River in western Massachusetts. The Western and Eastern Niantics occupied small coastal enclaves in eastern Connecticut. The Pequot-Mohegans occupied the Thames River drainage north of the Niantics and the coastline between them. Small tribes closely related to the Pequot-Mohegans, namely the Corchaugs, Shinnecocks, and Montauks, lived on eastern Long Island. Western Connecticut and central Long Island were occupied by several related local groups such as the Quiripis, Paugussets, and Unquachogs, which are not covered by a single term. Munsee people, speakers of a Delaware language and related to the Minisinks of New Jersey, occupied western Long Island and the southern Hudson River. The Mahicans, not to be confused with either the Mohegans or the fictional "Mohicans," lived in the middle Hudson Valley.

Political divisions, such as the split between the closely related Pequots and Mohegans, were common and often short-lived in the disruptive context of European colonization. King Philip's War in 1675 and 1676 led to the death, deportation, or dislocation of most communities. Fourteen "praying towns" were established to accommodate missionized Indians. Many others fled to live with the Iroquois nations or to form refugee communities like Schaghticoke and Stockbridge in western Connecticut and Massachusetts. Subsequent intermarriage with people of European or African descent changed the composition of many surviving communities. Notable among them are the Gay Head, Mashpee, Hassanamisco, Schaghticoke, and Mashantucket Pequot communities of southern New England, and the Poospatuck and Shinnecock communities on Long Island.


Feidel, Stuart J. "Correlating Archaeology and Linguistics: The Algonquian Case." Man in the Northeast 41 (1991): 9–32.

———. "Some Inferences Concerning Proto-Algonquian Economy and Society." Northeast Anthropology 48 (1994): 1–11.

Snow, Dean R. The Archaeology of New England. New York: Academic Press, 1980. The archaeology is dated but the historical sections remain useful.

Sturtevant, William C., gen. ed. The Handbook of North American Indians. Vol. 15, Northeast. Edited by Bruce G. Trigger. Washington, D.C.: Smithsonian Institution, 1978.


See alsoAgriculture, American Indian ; French and Indian War ; Indian Economic Life ; Indian Intermarriage ; Indian Land Cessions ; Indian Languages ; Indian Policy, Colonial: English, French ; Indian Policy, U.S., 1775–1830 ; Indian Policy, U.S., 1900–2000 ; Indian Political Life ; Indian Reservations ; Stockbridge Indian Settlement ; Wars with Indian Nations: Colonial Era to 1783 .


The northwestern region is bordered on the north by Yakutat Bay and on the south by Cape Mendocino, on the east by the crest of the Rocky Mountains and on the west by the Pacific Ocean. Four language families dominate the region. Two, Salish and Penutian, incorporate the majority of the inland population, although two Na-Dene groups, the Carriers and Chilcotins, live in the region, as do the Kutenais, whose language is of unknown affiliation. Salish groups—including the Lillooets, Sanpoils, Flatheads, and many others—dominate the northern interior. South of them, Penutian speakers—including the Nez Perces, Cayuses, and Wascoes—are most common. On the coast, the Na-Dene speaking Tlingits and Hupas are respectively the northernmost and southernmost of the Northwestern coastal tribes. Interspersed in between are Salish groups—the Tillamooks, for example—and Penutians such as the Chinooks. Wakashans—including the Nootkas, Makahs, Kwakiutls, and several others—are also interspersed along the coast.

Although useful, these linguistic labels do not indicate hard ethnic distinctions: broad cultural behaviors and values were shared across linguistic lines. Groups throughout the region joined into constantly shifting networks based on economic and ceremonial co-participation. Only

since the mid-nineteenth century, when the Canadian and United States governments denominated a number of discrete tribes in the region, did today's clearly identifiable polities come into existence.

Fishing, hunting, and gathering constituted the primary economic activities throughout the region. Intergroup trade allowed individual groups to engage in maximal exploitation of local resources with assurance that surpluses could be bartered for outside goods. Although disparities in economic power between groups occurred, environmental variability generally corrected inequalities. Still, both coastal and plateau groups adopted ceremonies involving the redistribution of accumulated goods, which was the foundation for the well-known potlatch, through which prestige was earned by giving away material wealth.

The Fur Trade and Accompanying Disruptions

During the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, a series of European intrusions disrupted traditional Northwestern culture. The first of these, the fur trade, arrived in the 1740s with the Russian fur hunters, followed over the next century by Canadian, British, and United States companies. This new trading presence did not immediately disrupt traditional societies as Indian groups consistently marshaled the trade to their own ends. It led, however, to increasing intergroup disparities and a much more elaborate potlatch to address resulting tensions.

Four cultural introductions that accompanied the fur trade—epidemic disease, horses, guns, and Christianity—were more disruptive than the trade itself. Disease was most immediately devastating: estimates suggest a mortality rate of between 80 and 90 percent in areas of sustained contact. Horses and guns had their greatest impact on Plateau groups such as the Nez Perces and Flatheads, whose acquisition of horses from neighboring Shoshones during the mid-eighteenth century embroiled them in the Plains raiding and trading economy, generating a demand for guns among the Plateau groups. This demand for guns and potential allies against aggressive Plains tribes facilitated deeper penetration by fur traders. Coincidentally it also facilitated penetration by missionaries when, in 1825, the Hudson's Bay Company initiated a Christianization policy as a way of cementing trading relations. Perhaps in an effort to thwart a British monopoly, a party of Flatheads and Nez Perces ventured to St. Louis in 1831 to request that American missionaries come to the region.

This 1831 delegation's journey had far-reaching consequences. Steeped in expansionism and a national religious revival, people in the United States responded to the Nez Perce invitation with enthusiasm. Several missionary parties embarked for the Northwest during the 1830s, where their activities were instrumental in creating a fertile environment for American settlement. In fact, missionary Marcus Whitman led the first major overland party along the Oregon Trail in 1843. Thereafter, migrants from the United States would annually flood into the region by the thousands.

U.S. Settlement: Reservation and Allotment Policies

The presence of increasing numbers of settlers and the demand for a transcontinental railroad route through the region pressured government officials to remove Indians from large expanses of land. In a series of treaties drafted between 1843 and 1855, federal authorities synthesized tribal units out of contiguous village groups and relegated them to reservations. This policy often led to reservation communities that had no ethnic coherence. As disease and poverty took their toll, community institutions often disintegrated. Still, large numbers of Indians in western Oregon refused to accede, forcing state authorities to award them small individual enclaves. When Congress failed to ratify these de facto arrangements, it effectively dispossessed those groups. Reaction in the interior was more violent: the Yakimas went to war against the United States following an 1855 treaty cession and in 1877 a band of Nez Perces under Chief Joseph (Heinmot Tooyalakekt) sought to escape to Canada rather than relocate onto a "tribal" reservation to which they felt no kinship.

Federal authorities reversed this process of consolidation in 1887 when the General Allotment Act (Dawes Act) broke up reservations into homesteads assigned to individual Indian heads of household. The government declared all remaining lands, almost 90 percent of reservation territory in the area, "surplus," folding it into the public domain. Some Northwestern Indians lived up to the Dawes Act's expectation by becoming farmers, but most were pushed into casual labor in the logging and fishing industries or into seasonal farm work.

Revival: Reassembling Reservations, Establishing Businesses, and Reclaiming Culture

A period of severe economic, psychological, and cultural depression followed the allotment era. However, a new dawn of hope arose in 1934 when Congress passed the Indian Reorganization Act (Wheeler–Howard Act), which effectively repealed the Dawes Act and provided support for tribal communities to reassemble lost reservation holdings and develop communal businesses. For example, Walla Wallas, Wascoes, and Paiutes used the new federal law in 1937 to incorporate as the Confederated Tribes of the Warm Springs Reservation. Five years later they formed the Warm Springs Lumber Company, using much of the proceeds to support legal action to recover lost properties. A $4 million legal settlement in 1957 capitalized their building of Kah-Nee-Ta, a vacation resort. With this as an economic foundation, the tribal corporation branched out to start several businesses and continue expanding existing ones. Then, after the U.S. Supreme Court in California v. Cabazon Band of Mission Indians (1987) legitimized Indian-owned gambling establishments, they opened the Indian Head Casino in 1996, expanding their economic horizons significantly. Since that time they have increasingly devoted corporate earnings to repurchasing lost lands while expanding their economic self-sufficiency.

Other Northwestern tribes have followed suit, with varying degrees of success. A number of Indian-owned casinos dot the landscape throughout the Northwest and Native corporations have launched lumber businesses, fisheries, and various tourist industries. Much of the money being earned through these operations is being invested in rebuilding tribal land bases and reassembling population lost to dispossession and off-reservation jobs. Much is also being invested in building educational institutions and funding cultural reclamation by reassembling dying languages and recording tribal lore. While such activities suggest a hopeful future for the Northwestern tribes, it should be noted that alcoholism, endemic health problems, and poverty still beset many descendents of the region's aboriginal population and that the vagaries of federal law and whims of Congress still determine the limits of Indian self-sufficiency in the area, lending an air of uncertainty to the future.


Harmon, Alexandra. Indians in the Making: Ethnic Relations and Indian Identities around Puget Sound. Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1998.

Miller, Christopher L. Prophetic Worlds: Indians and Whites on the Columbia Plateau. New Brunswick, N.J.: Rutgers University Press, 1985.

Ruby, Robert H., and John A. Brown. Indians of the Pacific Northwest: A History. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1981.

Sturtevant, William C., gen. ed. Handbook of North American Indians. Vol. 7, Northwest Coast, edited by Wayne Suttles. Washington, D. C.: Smithsonian Institution, 1990.

———, gen. ed. Handbook of North American Indians. Vol. 12, Plateau, edited by Deward E. Walker Jr. Washington, D. C.: Smithsonian Institution, 1998.

Christopher L.Miller

See alsoDawes General Allotment Act ; Fur Trade and Trapping ; Indian Land Cessions ; Indian Languages ; Indian Reorganization Act ; Indian Reservations ; Nez Perce ; Oregon Trail ; Yakima Indian Wars .


Tall-grass prairies interspersed with deciduous forests once stretched from central Indiana to eastern Nebraska. Vast meadows supported big game animals common on the western Plains. In contrast, rivers and streams flowing into the Missouri and Mississippi Rivers attached the land and its people to woodland environments and the white tailed deer and small game animals that thrived there.

The Siouan-and Algonquian-speaking peoples who lived there developed distinctive cultures on these specific prairie environments. Western tribes, such as the Omaha, Ponca, Kansa, and Otoe-Missouria, constructed earth lodges common among the village-dwellers of the Plains. They also used buffalo-hide tepees during buffalo hunts. Rituals, such as the Sun Dance, celebrated both the buffalo hunt and the growth of corn. Eastern prairie tribes, including the Ioways, Sauks, Quapaws, and Osages, built houses reflective of the woodlands. They preferred rectangular and circular lodges made of wooden poles covered with grass, bark, and woven mats. Southeastern prairie tribes, such as the Caddos and Quapaws, incorporated the Green Corn Ceremony, common among their heavily agricultural neighbors to the southeast.

Yet in this conversation across cultures, the prairie tribes developed shared traits that defined them as a people. First, they adhered to a diverse subsistence cycle, based on hunting, horticulture, and gathering. Second, prairie tribes had strong patrilineal descent systems based on clans. Third, tribal clans regulated individual rights and one's rank in society. Finally, most of the prairie tribes became allies with the French and Spanish between the sixteenth and eighteenth centuries, and were relative strangers to the Americans at the dawn of the nineteenth century.

Several different language families made up the prairie tribes. The Dhegiha Sioux (Osages, Quapaws, Kansas, Poncas, and Omahas) were the farthest west and, as such, became closely associated with the Plains tribes. Through oral tradition, the Dhegihas maintain that they were once a single tribe, united in what is now the lower Ohio valley. Between the late seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries they migrated beyond the Mississippi, where they separated and formed independent tribes between eastern South Dakota and Nebraska (Omahas, Poncas), eastern Kansas and western Missouri (Kansas, Osages), and eastern Arkansas (Quapaws).

The Chiwere Sioux (Ioways, Otoes, Missourias, and Winnebagos) migrated from modern Wisconsin during this time period. The Otoes and Missourias settled in southeastern Nebraska and northwestern Missouri, respectively. The Ioways ranged from eastern Iowa to southern Minnesota, where they developed close ties with the Sioux. The Winnebagos remained in their original homeland of Wisconsin until their removal from the state in 1837.

Central Algonquian tribes, including the Illinis, Sauks, Mesquakies (Foxes), Miamis, Prairie Potawatomis, and Kickapoos, occupied the prairies of Indiana and Illinois. The Sauks and Mesquakies lived near the Ioways in northern Illinois and southern Wisconsin. Two closely related tribes, the Kickapoos and Prairie Potawatomis, dominated the Grand Prairie of north-central Illinois, while the Illini confederacy controlled the region below modern St. Louis. The Miamis lived between the attenuated prairies and dense forests of north-central Indiana.

Prairie peoples worked hard to integrate the economic, religious, and political functions of their tribes to insure their survival as a people. Many tribes appointed respected men and subordinates whose responsibilities included organizing the hunt and conducting rituals that affirmed the power of men to take life. In contrast, the more heavily agricultural central Algonquian tribes appointed female elders who organized the planting of corn and spring rituals associated with the feminine powers of renewal and fertility. Since approximately a.d. 900, prairie tribes planted the "three sisters": corn, beans, and squash. Western tribes, such as the Ioways, Omahas, and Poncas, also raised corn, but buffalo hunting sustained them.

The introduction of horses by the Spanish between 1680 and 1750, along with virulent Old World diseases such as smallpox, devastated the prairie tribes. Horses provided the mobility necessary for village dwellers to leave on semi-annual buffalo hunts on the short-grass Plains. Soon thereafter, a genocidal competition for hunting territory and access to European traders with the western Sioux led to the subjugation of the prairie peoples. Farther south, tribes such as the Osages and Caddos became rich for a time through the sale of horses and Indian slaves to the French. Others, such as the Ioways and Mesquakies, were less fortunate. They became embroiled in a series of intertribal wars directed in part by the French that decimated their populations. More importantly, village dwellers living along rivers were particularly hard hit by epidemics, which reduced their populations by between 50 and 95 percent. Some of the heaviest recorded epidemics struck the prairie tribes between 1778 and 1782, 1801 and 1802, and 1837. To cite one example, Omaha populations declined from 2,800 people in 1780 to 800 in 1855.

Prairie tribes then lost the majority of their land to the United States during a narrow band of time between the Louisiana Purchase in 1803 and the creation of the Indian Territory in 1825. More than 60,000 American Indians from the eastern United States were relocated to their former homelands between the Indian Removal Act of 1830 and the 1840s. Most of the prairie tribes were similarly relocated to Indian Territory in modern Kansas and Oklahoma between 1825 (Osages) and 1878 (Poncas).

The Poncas, led by Chief Standing Bear, resisted removal to Oklahoma after one-third of their people, including Standing Bear's son and daughter, died on the trail southward. Standing Bear fought for the right to return to Nebraska to bury his son. The case ultimately reached the federal district court, which ruled in United States ex rel. Standing Bear v. Crook (1879), that "an Indian is a person with in the meaning of the laws of the United States." The court affirmed Standing Bear's rights under the U.S. Constitution and enabled him to remain in Nebraska with a handful of his people. The Poncas are divided into two separate tribes, the "Warm Ponca" of Oklahoma and the "Cold Ponca" of Nebraska. The Sauks, Mesquakies (Foxes), Potawatomis, and Ioways are similarly divided into separate federally recognized tribes.

Since removal, the prairie tribes have adjusted to sweeping changes brought by the Dawes Act (1887), the Indian Reorganization Act (1934), and the Termination and Relocation programs of the 1950s. Pan-Indian religious movements, such as the Native American Church and the Ghost Dance, have also proliferated. New religions and new surroundings have challenged, and sometimes eliminated, more traditional religious practices. Despite these changes, tribal populations continue to recover and many tribal members remain committed to the preservation of their cultures.


DeMallie, Raymond J., ed. Handbook of North American Indians. Volume 13: Plains. Washington, D.C.: Smithsonian Institution, 2001.

Fowler, Loretta. "The Great Plains from the Arrival of the Horse to 1885." In The Cambridge History of the Native Peoples of the Americas. Volume 1: North America, Part 2,edited by Bruce G. Trigger and Wilcomb E. Washburn. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1996.

Tanner, Helen Hornbeck, ed. Atlas of Great Lakes Indian History. Norman: University of Oklahoma, 1987.

White, Richard. The Middle Ground: Indians, Empires, and Republics in the Great Lakes Region, 1650–1815. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1991.


See alsoBuffalo (Bison) ; Grand Prairie ; Illinois (Indians) ; Indian Language ; Indian Reservations ; Prairie ; Sauk Prairie ; Winnebago/Ho-Chunk .


When Europeans and Africans arrived in North America in the 1500s, Southeastern Indians were in the midst of a significant social transformation. Only some two hundred years earlier, they had been living in Mississippian societies, chiefdoms characterized by cities and ceremonial centers. Cahokia, the largest Mississippian city (in present-day East St. Louis), once covered five square miles and contained over one hundred earthen mounds, including one of enormous proportions that spread over sixteen acres and rose one hundred feet high. Cahokia and settlements like it began to decline in the 1300s and 1400s, however, perhaps because of environmental pressures, such as drought, deforestation, and overpopulation. By 1500, some Indians, including the Natchez of present-day Louisiana, lived in the remnants of mound-building centers. Others lived in smaller, scattered settlements. The total population numbered between 600,000 and 1,200,000.

Early Colonization

The arrival of Europeans and Africans completed the destruction of Mississippian societies, for though the colonial presence in the Southeast was small in the 1500s, its impact was great. By introducing smallpox and other European diseases into the region, Spanish explorers—most prominently Pánfilo de Narváez (1527), Hernando de Soto (1539–1543), and Pedro Menéndez (1565)—destabilized native communities. Eventually, Old World epidemics reduced the native population by as much as 90 percent.

Coastal Indians bore the brunt of early European settlement. In Florida, after disease lowered their numbers, the Apalachees, Timucuas, and Guales survived by attaching themselves to the Spanish missions that were constructed in their homelands in the late sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. Further north, the Powhatan chiefdom remained strong enough to contest the settlement of Virginia in 1607. After a series of wars culminated in their defeat in 1644, however, they were confined to a few local reservations.

By the eighteenth century, the survivors of these devastating epidemics and wars had coalesced into new and powerful nations: the Choctaws, Chickasaws, Creeks, Cherokees, and Catawbas. (The Seminoles did not emerge as a separate people until the mid-1700s.) In all, they numbered about 130,000, still nearly twice the black and white population in the South.

The Eighteenth Century

In the early and mid-1700s, these new tribes dominated the Southeast by using the French, Spanish, and English presence to their advantage. The English had their base along the eastern seaboard, while the French centered their power in New Orleans and the Spanish in Florida. Native peoples held the balance of power in the region, and they skillfully played one colonial empire off another. The deerskin trade proved particularly profitable to both Indians and Europeans. So, too, did the trade in Indian slaves. Larger tribes, such as the Creeks, Chickasaws, and Cherokees, regularly sold captives to Carolina plantations. Indian slavery declined significantly after the Yamasee War of 1715, an intertribal uprising against Carolina's practice of enslaving Indians, but the deerskin trade continued to flourish.

In the late eighteenth century, two events converged to reshape the political landscape in the Southeast. First, the Seven Years' War, or French and Indian War (1754–1763), pushed both Spain and France out of the region, leaving indigenous southerners at the mercy of a single colonial power. Second, the American Revolution (1775–1781) produced the ambitious new American Republic. Freed from the moderating influence of their London superiors, victorious Americans moved aggressively onto Indian lands.

At the same time, a new generation of leaders arose among the Choctaws, Chickasaws, Cherokees, and Creeks.

Able diplomats and politicians who were well-versed in the English language, they used their skills to protect their nations' independence. They introduced constitutions and written laws into their tribes, and they also embraced plantation slavery. These adaptations would eventually lead white Americans to refer to the Choctaws, Chickasaws, Cherokees, Creeks, and Seminoles as the Five Civilized Tribes.

Indian Removal

Official U.S. policy in the postwar years called for the "civilization" of Native Americans. Named after its foremost proponent in the White House, Jeffersonian Indian policy schooled Native Americans in the English language, taught them to farm like white Americans, and instructed them in Christianity. As cotton cultivation grew in the South, however, so did white hunger for Indian lands. By 1830, many whites were calling for the removal of all Native peoples from the Southeast, and in that year President Andrew Jackson signed the Indian Removal Act into law. Under this statute, removal was voluntary, but many Native southerners left for Indian Territory (present-day Oklahoma) only after U.S. troops forced them at gunpoint.

In Indian Territory, the nations thrived until the onset of the allotment policy in the 1880s. Many Indians lost their allotments to fraud; others sold them for cash in order to purchase food. In 1934, the Indian Reorganization Act reversed the Dawes General Allotment Act and permitted Indians to reestablish their nations. Today, the Chickasaws, Choctaws, Creeks, Cherokees, and Seminoles each have national governments located in Oklahoma.

Survival and Adaptation in the South

Despite the efforts of U.S. troops, not all native peoples left the Southeast during removal. One thousand Cherokees hid out in the mountains of North Carolina. In 1866, they received state and federal recognition, and are now known as the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians. In Mississippi, hundreds of Choctaws remained behind as well, working as sharecroppers and wage laborers. In 1939, the United States authorized the secretary of the interior to establish a reservation for them in that state. In Florida, thousands of Seminoles fought U.S. soldiers in three separate conflicts: the Seminole Wars of 1817–1818, 1835–1842, and 1855–1858. The Second Seminole War became nineteenth-century America's Vietnam. Defeated by unfamiliar terrain, hostile public opinion, and the tenacity of Seminole warriors, the United States finally conceded permanent Florida reservations to the Seminoles in the 1850s.

Many other Indians, pursuing a different survival strategy, remained in the Southeast by disappearing into the wider population. They worked for white planters, labored in southern cities, or sold their crafts on the streets. Living with other marginalized southerners, they helped build multiracial black, Indian, and white communities that still exist. Some of these peoples proudly embrace their Indian heritage. The Lumbees of North Carolina, for example, numbering 40,000, successfully fought for state recognition as an Indian tribe and were seeking federal recognition as well.


Galloway, Patricia. Choctaw Genesis, 1500–1700. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1995.

McLoughlin, William G. After the Trail of Tears: The Cherokees' Struggle for Sovereignty, 1839–1880. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina, 1993.

Merrell, James H. The Indians' New World: Catawbas and Their Neighbors from European Contact through the Era of Removal. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1989.

Rountree, Helen C. Pocahontas's People: The Powhatan Indians of Virginia through Four Centuries. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1990.

Saunt, Claudio. A New Order of Things: Property, Power, and the Transformation of the Creek Indians, 1733–1816. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1999.

Usner, Daniel H., Jr. American Indians in the Lower Mississippi Valley: Social and Economic Histories. Lincoln: University of Nebraska, 1998.


See alsoCahokia Mounds ; Catawba ; Cherokee ; Chickasaw-Creek War ; Choctaw ; Civilized Tribes, Five ; Creek ; Lumbee ; Natchez ; Seminole ; Seminole Wars .


The original inhabitants of the American Southwest occupied a vast area characterized by striking variations in topography and a sweeping aridity. From the northern plateau country of southern Utah, Nevada, and Colorado, to the rugged mountains of eastern Arizona, western New Mexico and northwestern Mexico, to the deserts of southern California, Arizona, New Mexico, and Texas, the indigenous peoples of the Southwest adapted to a land of little rain and extreme temperatures.

In the period just prior to European contact, two distinct subsistence patterns evolved among the tribes of the Southwest. Some tribes, like the Pueblo people of northeast Arizona and the Rio Grande Valley of New Mexico, developed an agrarian system. Living in permanent villages constructed of adobe or stone, the Pueblos cultivated corn, beans, cotton, squash, and other foodstuffs.

Other tribes, such as the late-arriving Apaches and Navajos, developed seminomadic life styles. Living in small communities of brush-covered wicki-ups or earth-covered hogans, these Athapaskan speakers relied on summer rains to nourish small crops while they roamed traditional hunting territories or raided neighboring agrarian tribes.

In the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, Spanish conquistadors and Jesuit priests were the first Europeans to intrude on the people of the Southwest. In southern Arizona and northern Mexico, Padre Eusebio Kino converted the peaceful, agrarian Tohono O'Odham (formerly known as the Papagos) of the Sonoran desert. Kino

eventually urged the O'Odham into missions scattered throughout southern Arizona. Kino introduced foods such as citrus fruits, grapes, figs, and olives into the O'Odham diet, and taught his neophytes to raise horses, cattle, sheep, and goats. Using native labor, Kino built missions like San Xavier del Bac, known today as the "White Dove of the Desert," southwest of Tucson. Their close cousins to the north, the Piman-speaking Akimel O'Odham, settled along the Gila River; their great fields of crops would one day feed American pioneers on their way to California.

Today, many O'Odham still worship in the old mission and participate in the annual saguaro fruit harvest; wine made from this stately cactus is used in ceremonies to ensure abundant summer rain in an otherwise dry desert. In addition to relying on tourist dollars generated by their world-famous mission, the modern O'Odham economy is augmented by cattle ranching, mineral leases, and a lucrative casino. The Akimel O'Odham farmers are almost completely self-sufficient, accepting little aid from the federal government.

On the high mesas of northeastern Arizona and the fertile valley of the Rio Grande, the descendants of the Anasazi, known today as the Pueblos—residents of western settlements such as Hopi and Zuni, and Rio Grande towns such as Taos and San Juan—first encountered Franciscan priests in 1598. Suffering under repressive Spanish rule, these Pueblos eventually staged a revolt in 1680, driving the foreigners from their lands.

When the Spanish reimposed their rule in 1692, their approach had changed. The Pueblos managed to retain many of their traditional beliefs and they tolerated the presence of the Spanish and their priests. After American acquisition of the Pueblo region in the 1840s, the United States recognized the Pueblo people's historic right to the their traditional lands. In the early twentieth century, traditional Pueblo pottery makers found a market in American tourists, and today, Hopi kachinas, Pueblo pottery, and Zuni jewelry provide income for talented Pueblo artisans.

The Yuman-speaking Pais, another indigenous group occupying the northern reaches of the Southwest, lived relatively undisturbed on the south rim of the Grand Canyon in thatched huts, eking a living from the sage, juniper, piñon, and small game of the high Mojave Desert. They watched as Apaches and Navajos prevented the Spaniards from migrating north of the Gila River or west of the Hopi villages. Originating on the lower Colorado River, the migrating Havasupais eventually occupied a side canyon of the Grand Canyon, where they live today; their cousins, the Hualapais, settled to their west.

The Yavapais migrated south, in time settling in central Arizona, where they warred with the Apaches. Living in mineral-rich lands, by the 1870s they had been invaded by American miners and subdued by the United States military. The Hualapais and Havasupais lived unmolested until the 1850s, when surveying parties for American railroads traversed through their country.

The Uto-Aztecan–speaking Southern Paiutes, who believe they originated near present-day Las Vegas, Nevada, eventually settled north of the Grand Canyon, where they farmed along tributary creeks and developed a spiritual worldview closely tied to the majestic Canyon. When Mormons settled their territory in the mid-nineteenth century, the Paiutes worked as laborers for their new neighbors. Today, the various Pai reservations sustain themselves through a combination of timber harvesting, grazing leases, tourism in the Grand Canyon, and casino gaming.

Back on the Colorado River, the Mojaves remained in the shadow of Spirit Mountain, from which they believe they originally emerged. Below them on the river lived the Quechans, and further south lived the Cocopahs. Along the Colorado, the people lived well, harvesting fish and farming on the rich flood plain of the river. There, in a land of abundance, they lived in rancherías and learned to acquire power through dreams. At death, the Mojaves ceremonially cremated their dead. Today, the Mojaves live on their riverside reservation or on the Colorado River Indian Tribes reservation, where the land is shared with Chemehuevis, as well as Navajos and Hopis who migrated to the reservation in the twentieth century. On these fertile lands, the Colorado River tribes still farm, and in recent years have added gaming to their economic development. In addition, the Cocopahs, straddling the United States–Mexico border, work as laborers on large corporate-owned farms on the lower Colorado River.

The Apaches, who call themselves the Inde, and the Navajos, the Diné, migrated from western Canada sometime after 1000 a.d. While the Navajos settled in the Four Corners region of Arizona, New Mexico, Colorado, and Utah, the Apaches eventually occupied the rugged, piney forests of eastern Arizona and western New Mexico. Additionally, the Mescalero and Jicarilla Apaches occupied land from west Texas to central New Mexico. Fierce warriors and raiders, the Navajos and Apaches harried their agrarian neighbors, battled the Yavapais, and raided Spanish settlements in Mexico, until the arrival of Americans in the region in the 1850s. Soon, wagon trains, stage lines, and the Pony Express crossed their lands. Even so, the Apaches largely refrained from fighting with Americans until the 1860s, when a misunderstanding caused the powerful Chiricahua Apache chief Cochise to declare war on Americans.

By the 1870s, the Western Apaches of central Arizona had joined forces with the American military against the Chiricahuas. Although they fought bitterly under their war chief and shaman Geronimo, the Chiricahuas were defeated in 1886 and exiled to Alabama and Florida. By the end of the nineteenth century, the Chiricahuas had been moved to Fort Sill, Oklahoma, on land given to them by the Comanches. In 1894, many Chiricahuas returned to the Southwest to live with the Mescalero Apaches, but others chose to remain in Oklahoma, where they live today. The Apaches still practice their G'an, or Mountain Spirits dance, and girls' puberty rites. Today, tribal economic development revolves around recreation industries such as hunting, fishing, skiing, and gaming.

The Navajos, settling in the Four Corners region, absorbed many of the agrarian practices of their neighbors, the Pueblos. They fought American incursion until 1864, when American troops forced them to march to Bosque Redondo, New Mexico. Hundreds of Navajos died during the ordeal. Some Navajos filtered back to northeastern Arizona, while others remained in New Mexico and in 1868 signed a treaty with the United States guaranteeing them a reservation on their homeland.

Today, the Navajo reservation includes land in four states, constituting the largest Indian reservation in the United States. Like their ancestors, modern Navajos raise sheep and goats, and maintain spiritual beliefs based on their close relationship to the land. The Navajos matrilineal clan system has absorbed people of many origins—Indian, Mexican, and American—while maintaining cohesiveness as a people. Though Navajos have resisted the gaming industry as a means of economic development, they are well known for their fine silverwork and blanket weaving. In addition to handcrafts, the Navajo economy depends on mineral leases and tourism.

The Pascua Yaqui Indians, or Yoeme, are the most recent arrivals to the Southwest. Originating in Mexico, their homeland encompassed some of the richest land in Sonora. Firmly resisting Spanish conquerors, the Yaquis were eventually missionized by Jesuits. In the early twentieth century, the Mexican government persecuted the Yaquis, killing many and exiling others to Yucatan. Many Yaquis fled north to Arizona, where they settled in Tucson and Phoenix. They received a reservation in the 1970s. Today, the Yaquis practice a mix of Catholicism and traditional beliefs. Their Easter season ceremonies have been practiced uninterrupted for over four hundred years. At their main reservation near Tucson, the Yaqui Nation has prospered in the late twentieth century from casino gaming.


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Victoria A. O.Smith

See alsoApache ; Hopi ; Indian Policy, Colonial ; Navajo ; Pueblo ; Pueblo Revolt ; Zuni .

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