North American Indigenous Peoples
North American Indigenous Peoples, the term for all indigenous
peoples in North America, also mistakenly called "Indians". The term "Native
American" derives from Christoffer Columbus 's belief that the land he had
discovered belonged to or was close to India.
In many contexts, the term North American indigenous population will
primarily be understood to include people in the United States and Canada,
although North America as a geographical term also includes Mexico, Central
America, and the Caribbean. See
Abbreviationfinder for acronyms related to the continent of North
Anthropologists consider, on the basis of cultural criteria, the Mesoamerican
cultural area (which covers most of Mexico and Central America:
see Mesoamerica ) as belonging to North America, while the indigenous people of
the Caribbean and southern Central America (the east coast
of Honduras and Nicaragua, as well as Costa Rica and Panama ) are part of the
Circum-Caribbean cultural area and in this cultural-geographical context are
more closely associated with South America.
Society, language and identity
Most communities were organized on the basis of kinship. Above all,
the nuclear family (mother, father, and child) existed as a base unit - often as
an independent household, but it was common among hunters and sanctuaries in the
more marginal areas (on the west coast and among indigenous peoples
of tundra, plateau - and desert ) to form collaborative units of
extended-generation families. These large families acted as independent
production and consumption units with little or no contact for much of the
year. However, from time to time several family groups could gather for common
The more settled peoples, i.e. the hunter/fisherman peoples on the northwest
coast and the peasant peoples in the south and east, were usually organized into
more extensive genealogy groups ( clans and the like). Nevertheless, most were
in relatively loosely organized local groups with a recognized cultural and
linguistic community, which sometimes provided the basis for an overall
performance during seasonal events or when an external enemy threatened.
However, in some places, such as in the southeastern forest area, on the
northwest coast and in Mesoamerica, there were ranked and stratified societies
based on hierarchically organized genealogies that could be mobilized for
specific economic, political or ritual purposes.
Leadership among most hunter and sank people was of an informal and temporary
nature. The most skilled hunter and warrior served as an adviser, but he had no
firm or lasting authority ; he had to work by example and by persuasion. Similar
arrangements also applied, in part, in the plain area until the horse was
introduced and pressed by the whites. The new situation led to a stronger
military organization with war orders and a marking of the war chief's dignity.
Actual chief judges with hereditary titles and a centralized organization can
be found in the southeastern area; here also grew larger alliances. After the
arrival of the Europeans, and accelerated by the fur trade that came with them,
extensive political and military alliances also developed in the area around the
Great Lakes. Urban communities, state formation and empires existed during
different historical periods on the American continent - including North
About 500 languages were spoken in North America (including Mesoamerica)
before the European invasion. Many of the original languages have since
disappeared, either because the people who spoke them are gone, or because they
have switched to speaking an Indo-European language. In some cases, loss of
language has also meant loss of identity. In Mexico and Central America, it has
long been common to count groups that have switched to Spanish as " mastiser "
or " ladino, " even in areas where no white marriage has taken place. Mastis and
ladinos are not usually counted as indigenous people.
In the United States and Canada, there have in many ways been the
opposite. There are many nations that stubbornly hold on to identity, even
though their original language is no longer in use. Some have also managed to
maintain their affiliation, even though there has been a significant infighting
with whites. In Canada, there is also a group of mixed French-Indigenous people,
called métis ("mastiser").