Primary Source Archives
Gale Primary Sources contains archives and collections that provide researchers with firsthand content that can be used to examine and analyze the evolution of Indians over time.
Learn about Native American cultures in the United States, including the Shoshone and Paiute on the West Coast; the Pueblo, Hopi, and Zuni of the Southwest; the Sioux, Crow, Blackfoot, Cheyenne, and Comanche of the Plains; the Mound Builders of the Mississippi River Valley; the Iroquois, Algonquin, Mohawk, Oneida, Onondaga, Cayuga, and Seneca in the Northeast; and the Cherokee, Creek Choctaw, and Seminole of the Southeast.
Depending on the region, Indians could be primarily hunter-gatherers, farmers, or a combination of the two. Tribes were frequently at war with each other, although several Northeast tribes joined together to form the Iroquois Confederacy, often characterized as one of the world’s oldest participatory democracies.
Researchers estimate that there were 15 million to 20 million American Indians in the territory that would become the United States at the time of first contact with European explorers in the 15th century. The Europeans’ mission was to explore the new area, enrich themselves and their countries with its resources, and convert the native population to Christianity. Bringing with them superior weapons and diseases to which the Native American population had no defense, the European explorers wreaked havoc on the American Indian population.
The negative impact of white settlers continued after the land became the country of the United States. At first concentrated on the East Coast, white Americans desired to settle the open land to the west and viewed the American Indians as obstacles to expansion. U.S. government and military policy throughout the 19th century was to force American Indians farther west either through treaty or by force. The Indian Removal Act of 1830 signed by U.S. President Andrew Jackson resulted in one of the most shameful acts of forced removal: the infamous Trail of Tears that resulted in the deaths of an estimated 4,000 Cherokees due to the hardship of travel over the winter and inadequate supplies.
Some Indians resisted by force, either by allying with Europeans in conflicts with the United States or by taking on the U.S. military directly in skirmishes known as the Indian Wars. By the 1870s, military resistance had been defeated, and Native Americans were largely confined to reservations west of the Mississippi River. Separated from their homelands and under pressure to assimilate with white American society, Indians on reservations struggled to preserve their culture and create a productive society. Reservation life was marked by poverty and social ills like alcoholism. Some Native children were taken from their families to live at boarding schools where they were taught to abandon their Native identities and adopt white Christian culture.
In the 1960s, Native Americans joined the larger civil rights movement in demanding their right to self-determination through protests and even occupations, such as when activists took over Alcatraz Island (1969–1971). While that standoff ended peacefully, others, such as the Wounded Knee incident on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in 1973, ended in violence. The American Indian Movement (AIM) was a powerful force for activism and resistance.
The U.S. government responded by passing the Indian Civil Rights Act of 1968 and Self-Determination and Education Assistance Act of 1975—the latter recognizing the right and need of American Indians to self-determination. Tribes began to administer their own affairs, including establishing their own educational institutions and building their economies through resource management and, frequently, casino gambling. In the 21st century, tribes began to file suits against the U.S. government for its long past of mismanagement of tribal resources and breach of treaties. By 2012, the U.S. government had reached settlements with tribes totaling more than $1 billion.
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