Published on Nov 6, 2015
In the United States, Native Americans. and Canada. First Nations, are considered to be people whose pre-Columbian ancestors were indigenous to the lands within the nation’s modern boundaries. These peoples were composed of numerous distinct tribes, bands, and ethnic groups, and many of these groups survive intact today as sovereign nations. The terms Native Americans use to refer to themselves vary regionally and generationally, with many older Native Americans self-identifying as “Indians” or “American Indians”, while younger Native Americans often identify as “Indigenous”. Which terms should be used to refer to Native Americans has at times been controversial. The term “Native American” has been adopted by major newspapers and some academic groups, but has not traditionally included Native Hawaiians or certain Alaskan Natives, such as Aleut, Yup’ik, or Inuit peoples. Indigenous American peoples from Canada are known as First Nations.
Since the end of the 15th century, the migration of Europeans to the Americas has led to centuries of exchange and adjustment between Old and New World societies. Most Native American groups had historically lived as hunter-gatherer societies and preserved their histories by oral traditions and artwork, which has resulted in the first written sources on the conflict being authored by Europeans.
At the time of first contact, the indigenous cultures were quite different from those of the proto-industrial and mostly Christian immigrants. Some of the Northeastern and Southwestern cultures in particular were matrilineal and operated on a more collective basis than the Europeans were familiar with. The majority of Indigenous American tribes maintained their hunting grounds and agricultural lands for use of the entire tribe. Europeans at that time had patriarchal cultures and had developed concepts of individual property rights with respect to land that were extremely different. The differences in cultures between the established Native Americans and immigrant Europeans, as well as shifting alliances among different nations in times of war, caused extensive political tension, ethnic violence, and social disruption. Even before the European settlement of what is now the United States, Native Americans suffered high fatalities from contact with European diseases spread throughout the Americas by the Spanish to which they had yet not acquired immunity. Smallpox epidemics are thought to have caused the greatest loss of life for indigenous populations, although estimates of the pre-Columbian population of what today constitutes the U.S. vary significantly, from 1 million to 18 million.
The indigenous peoples of the Americas are the pre-Columbian inhabitants of North and South America, and their descendants. Pueblos indígenas (indigenous peoples) is a common term in Spanish-speaking countries. Aborigen (aboriginal/native) is used in Argentina, whereas “Amerindian” is used in Quebec and The Guianas but not commonly in other countries. Indigenous peoples are commonly known in Canada as Aboriginal peoples, which include First Nations, Inuit, and Métis peoples. Indigenous peoples of the United States are commonly known as Native Americans or American Indians, and Alaska Natives.
According to the prevailing New World migration model, migrations of humans from Asia (in particular North Asia) to the Americas took place via Beringia, a land bridge which connected the two continents across what is now the Bering Strait. The majority of experts agree that the earliest migration via Beringia took place at least 13,500 years ago, with disputed evidence that people had migrated into the Americas much earlier, up to 40,000 years ago. These early Paleo-Indians spread throughout the Americas, diversifying into many hundreds of culturally distinct nations and tribes. According to the oral histories of many of the indigenous peoples of the Americas, they have been living there since their genesis, described by a wide range of creation myths.
Application of the term “Indian” originated with Christopher Columbus, who, in his search for Asia, thought that he had arrived in the East Indies. The Americas came to be known as the “West Indies”, a name still used to refer to the islands of the Caribbean sea. This led to the names “Indies” and “Indian”, which implied some kind of racial or cultural unity among the aboriginal peoples of the Americas. This unifying concept, codified in law, religion, and politics, was not originally accepted by indigenous peoples but has been embraced by many over the last two centuries. Even though the term “Indian” often does not include the Aleuts, Inuit, or Yupik peoples, these groups are considered indigenous peoples of the Americas.