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Portrait of a Native American

Native Americans (also called Aboriginal Americans, American Indians, Amerindians or indigenous peoples of America) are the people and their descendants, who were in the Americas when Europeans arrived. There are many different tribes of Native American people, with many different languages. There are more than three million Native Americans in Canada and the U.S. combined. About 51 million Native Americans live in Latin America.

Sometimes these people are called Indians, but this may be confusing, because it is the same word used for people from India. When Christopher Columbus explored, he did not know about the Americas. He was in the Caribbean but thought he was in the East Indies, so he called the people Indians.

Many Native Americans died after the Europeans came to the Americas. There were diseases that came with the Europeans but were new to the Native Americans. There were battles with the Europeans. Many native people were hurt, killed, or forced to leave their homes by settlers who took their lands.

Some Native Americans kept jaguars as pets.

Native Americans introduced vanilla and chocolate to the world.


The ancestors of Native Americans came to the Americas from Asia. Some of them may have come to America 15,000 years ago when Alaska was connected to Siberia by the Bering land bridge.

The earliest peoples in the Americas came from Siberia when there was an ice bridge across the Bering Strait. The cold but mainly grassy plain which connected Siberia with Canada is called Beringia. It is reckoned that a few thousand people arrived in Beringia from eastern Siberia during the Last Glacial Maximum before moving into the Americas sometime after 16,500 years before the present (BP).[1] This would have occurred as the American glaciers blocking the way southward melted,[2][3][4][5][6] but before the bridge was covered by the sea about 11,000 years BP.

Before European colonization, Beringia was inhabited by the Yupik peoples on both sides of the straits. This culture remains in the region today, with others. In 2012, the governments of Russia and the United States announced a plan to formally establish "a transboundary area of shared Beringian heritage". Among other things this agreement would establish close ties between the Bering Land Bridge National Preserve and the Cape Krusenstern National Monument in the United States and Beringia National Park in Russia.[7]

Native Americans are divided into many small nations, called First Nations in Canada and tribes elsewhere.


According to the 2010 United States census, 0.9% of Americans say they are Native American, 2.9 million people, and 1.7% of Americans say they are both Native American and something else. They are not evenly spread out through the United States. About a third of the people in Alaska are Native Alaskan and about a sixth of the people in Oklahoma are Native American.[8]

In the United States, most Native Americans live in cities. About 28% of Native Americans live on reservations. Many Native Americans are poor, and 24% are extremely poor. The history of violence against Native Americans persists today in higher rates of violence against Native American people than white people.[9]


  1. "The first people who populated the Americas". 
  2. Wang, Sijia (2007). "Genetic variation and population structure in Native Americans". PLoS Genetics 3 (11): e185. doi:10.1371/journal.pgen.0030185 . PMC 2082466 . PMID 18039031 . 
  3. Goebel, Ted; Waters, Michael R.; O'Rourke, Dennis H. (2008). "The Late Pleistocene dispersal of modern humans in the Americas". Science 319 (5869): 1497–1502. doi:10.1126/science.1153569 . PMID 18339930 . 
  4. Fagundes, Nelson J.R. (2008). "Mitochondrial population genomics supports a single pre-Clovis origin with a coastal route for the peopling of the Americas". American Journal of Human Genetics 82 (3): 583–592. doi:10.1016/j.ajhg.2007.11.013 . PMC 2427228 . PMID 18313026 . 
  5. Tamm, Erika (2007). Carter, Dee. ed. "Beringian standstill and spread of Native American founders". PLoS ONE 2 (9): e829. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0000829 . PMC 1952074 . PMID 17786201 . 
  6. Achilli, A. (2008). MacAulay, Vincent. ed. "The phylogeny of the four Pan-American MtDNA haplogroups: Implications for Evolutionary and Disease Studies". PLoS ONE 3 (3): e1764. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0001764 . PMC 2258150 . PMID 18335039 . 
  7. Llanos, Miguel (21 September 2012). Ancient land of 'Beringia' gets protection from US, Russia. Archived from the original on 23 September 2012. 
  8. "Demographics". National Congress of American Indians. Retrieved June 23, 2020. 
  9. Joe Whittle (September 4, 2017). Most Native Americans live in cities, not reservations. Here are their stories. Guardian. Retrieved June 23, 2020. 

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