The indigenous peoples of North America are the tribes and nations whose ancestors were already on the continent when European explorers and colonizers arrived. The largest group are American Indians, whom the Canadian government calls First Nations; they arrived before 10,000 BC, inhabited most of the continent, and are closely related to the indigenous cultures of South America. Groups that arrived later, such as the Eskimo or Inuit in Alaska, Northern Canada and Greenland and the Aleuts in the Aleutian Islands, inhabited less hospitable northern areas.
There have been hundreds of indigenous nations and tribes. Many exist today, though often greatly reduced in numbers and territory, while others were wiped out by the white man and the diseases he brought from Europe or perished for other reasons. Here are some main categories, based on geographic locations.
- Northwest Coast — Along the coast of southern Alaska, British Columbia, Washington (state) and Oregon.
- Plateau — Southeastern British Columbia, eastern Washington (state).
- Northeastern — In the Mid-Atlantic and eastern Canada.
- Southeastern — In the Southern United States.
None of these areas were entirely independent, though the tribes were generally quite distinct. There was extensive trade; for example, the high-grade flint from the Niagara region has been found at pre-Columbian Hopi and Navaho sites.
Natives live all over North America and some native artefacts can be found in many museums all over the country. Various native handicrafts are sold on or near reserves; for example, the Navajo Nation has fine weavings and pottery. They are also often sold in tourist areas, notably Northwest coast Indian art in Vancouver or Seattle, Inuit art in Ottawa and southwestern Indian items including fine silver and turquoise work in Santa Fe.
Artifacts have been found at a number of archeological sites dating back before 10,000 BCE. The sites themselves are closed to visitors when excavations are under way, and visiting them at other times is likely to be a bad idea — not much to see and digging on your own would be a crime. However, nearby museums are often worth a visit and there may be opportunities for volunteer work on some sites.
- 1 Clovis Culture (near Clovis (New Mexico)). A site from around 11,000 BCE; many tools and one grave have been found at Blackwater Draw near Clovis. They were stone age hunters, taking down mammoths and other large game, and producing distintive flint work called Clovis points. DNA tests show a close relation to modern Native Americans and some experts think the Clovis people were the ancestors of all the later groups, but this is disputed.
Clovis is the "type site" for the culture, first excavated around 1920, but several other sites have since been found. This culture was quite widespread; Clovis artefacts have been found as far east as Ohio and as far south as Venezuela.
Clovis serves as a sort of benchmark for archeologists. Several teams digging in locations from Canada to Chile have found evidence of even earlier humans, but Clovis is the earliest widespread culture with solidly confirmed evidence that everyone in the field accepts.
- 2 Triquet Island (off the BC coast). Site of a village that appears to have been a refuge from the last ice age, 12,000 BCE or earlier.
- Truly ancient inhabitants? (near San Diego). One paper claims to have found evidence of hominids using stone tools and hunting mammoths in California around 130,000 BCE. It is not clear what species of hominid was involved; one press report headed their story "Neanderthals in California?".
The authors and the journal (Nature) are quite respectable, but these findings are highly controversial.
- 6 Wounded Knee. Site of a massacre of over 150 Indians, mainly Sioux, by US Cavalry in 1890. Also of an armed standoff between the American Indian Movement and various law enforcement agencies in 1973.
- 7 Little Bighorn Battlefield (Custer's last stand) (near Crow Agency, Montana). Site of a major Indian victory over US cavalry in 1876.
- 8 Standing Rock. Center of controversy in 2016 as local Indians tried to block construction of a pipeline that threatened their water supply.
- Anasazi Heritage Center (near Cortez, Colorado).
- Aztec Ruins National Monument (near Aztec, New Mexico).
- 9 Bandelier National Monument (near Los Alamos, New Mexico).
- Canyons of the Ancients National Monument, Southwestern Colorado. Contains more than 6,000 archaeological sites, representing Ancestral Puebloan and other Native American cultures.
- 10 Copper Canyon (In the Mexican state of Chihuahua).
- 11 Hovenweep National Monument (near Cortez, Colorado).
- 12 Mesa Verde National Park (near Cortez, Colorado).
- Navajo Nation
- Lewis and Clark Trail, route of a US goverment expedition to Oregon, 1804-1806
- Trail of Tears, route of a forced migration of Cherokee and others in which several thousand died
- The Mohawk Trail, a senic route in Massachusetts