American Indians in the United States
American Indians in the United States are the indigenous peoples in North America within the boundaries of the present-day continental United States, parts of Alaska, and the island state of Hawaii. They are composed of numerous, distinct tribes, states, and ethnic groups, many of which survive as intact political communities. The terms used to refer to Native Americans are controversial; according to a 1995 US Census Bureau set of home interviews, most of the respondents with an expressed preference refer to themselves as American Indians or Indians.
In the last 500 years, Afro-Eurasian migration to the Americas has led to centuries of conflict and adjustment between Old and New World societies. Most of the written historical record about Native Americans was made by Europeans after their immigration to the Americas. Many Native Americans lived as hunter-gatherer societies, although in many groups, women carried out sophisticated cultivation of a variety of staples: maize, beans and squash. Their cultures were quite different from those of the agrarian, proto-industrial immigrants from western Eurasia. The differences in culture between the established native Americans and immigrant Europeans, as well as shifting alliances among different nations of each culture, caused a great deal of political tension and ethnic violence. Estimates of the pre-Columbian population of what today constitutes the U.S. vary significantly, ranging from 1 million to 18 million.
After the colonies revolted against Great Britain and established the United States of America, President George Washington and Henry Knox conceived of the idea of “civilizing” Native Americans in preparation for United States citizenship. Assimilation (whether voluntary as with the Choctaw, or forced) became a consistent policy through American administrations. During the 19th century, the ideology of Manifest destiny became integral to the American nationalist movement. Expansion of European-American populations after the American Revolution resulted in increasing pressure on Native American lands, warfare between the groups, and rising tensions. In 1830, the U.S. Congress passed the Indian Removal Act, authorizing the government to relocate most Native Americans of the Deep South east of the Mississippi River from their homelands to accommodate European-American expansion from the United States. Government officials thought that by decreasing the conflict between the groups, they could also help the Indians survive. Remnant groups have descendants living throughout the South. They have organized and been recognized as tribes since the late 20th century by several states and, in some cases, by the federal government.
The first European Americans encountered western tribes as fur traders. As United States expansion reached into the American West, settler and miner migrants came into increasing conflict with the Great Plains tribes. These were complex nomadic cultures based on using horses and traveling seasonally to hunt bison. They carried out strong resistance to American incursions in the decades after the American Civil War, in a series of “Indian Wars”, which were frequent up until the 1890s. The coming of the transcontinental railroad increased pressures on the western tribes. Over time, the U.S. forced a series of treaties and land cessions by the tribes, and established reservations for them in many western states. U.S. agents encouraged Native Americans to adopt European-style farming and similar pursuits, but the lands were often too poor to support such uses.
Contemporary Native Americans today have a unique relationship with the United States because they may be members of nations, tribes, or bands of Native Americans who have sovereignty or independence from the government of the United States. Their societies and cultures flourish within a larger population of descendants of immigrants (both voluntary and slave): African, Asian, Middle Eastern, and European peoples. Native Americans who were not already U.S. citizens were granted citizenship in 1924 by the Congress of the United States.