The pattern of land seizure, subjugation, assimilation, and resistance to domination has been repeated
with indigenous peoples in nations throughout the world. Indigenous peoples on almost every continent
are familiar with the patterns of subjugation and the pressure to assimilate.
• The common term American Indians tells us more about the Europeans who explored North America
than it does about the native people. The label reflects the initial explorers’ confusion in believing that
they had arrived in “the Indies” of the Asian continent. The term “Indian” and most other names of
major Native American groups are terms of convenience applied by White Americans. In most history
books, not one of the major Native American groups is recorded under its own name. For example, the
“Navaho” call themselves Dine, meaning “The People.” The renaming of Native Americans by outsiders
is a result of their subordination and suggests one major difference between colonized groups and
European immigrants: Colonized peoples have had little control over the naming process.
• Although they were perceived as homogenous and grouped together as “Indians,” Native Americans
are a culturally diverse group of over 500 tribes, including the Inuit (Eskimos), Cherokee, Dine (Navaho),
Chippewa, and Sioux. Tribes differed substantially in regard to religious beliefs and practices, language,
dress, hairstyles, political organization, social structures, gender roles, world view, and living conditions
in response to the environment, which varied from forests, deserts, mountains, plains, and coasts to
subarctic and arctic areas.
• The 2000 Census showed that there were 2,475,956 Native Americans in the United States—an
increase of 32 percent over the 1990s. In 2000, there were an additional 1.6 million people who
identified themselves as belonging to two or more races that included American Indian. The states with
the largest Native American populations are California, Oklahoma, and Arizona.
Early European Contacts
• The Native Americans have been misunderstood and ill treated by their conquerors for several
centuries. The European immigrants who followed Christopher Columbus did not understand the native
people any more than the Native Americans comprehended their invaders. But the Europeans had
superior weaponry, and the diseases they brought wiped out huge numbers of indigenous people. Thus,
it was the mistakes and misunderstandings of the English, French, Spanish, and Portuguese that
• The first explorers of the Western Hemisphere came long before Columbus and Leif Eriksson. Native
Americans are believed to have migrated to North America from Asia 10,000 to 35,000 years prior to
white settlers. The ancestors of today’s Native Americans were hunters in search of wild game, including
mammoths and long-horned bison. For thousands of years, these people spread through the Western
Hemisphere, adapting to its many physical environments.
• Columbus commented in his diary, “It appears to me that the people [of the New World] are ingenious
and would be good servants. . . . These people are