The Native American people have endured their own long journey throughout time as their original homelands gave way to the development of North America and the United States. Though much of the original freedoms associated with the Native American way of life have been lost in time, much of their culture, traditions, and legends remain in tact.
Indigenous people within the area that is now the U.S., the Native American people encompass descendants of many distinct tribes and Indian nations. Though there were once many more, today there are just over 500 federally recognized Native American tribes. The earliest interaction between Native American tribes and the European when Christopher Columbus arrived in 1492 resulted in a significant change in the Native American population.
As European colonization got underway, many tribes experienced both hardship and improvement. The Europeans brought horses to the New World, many of which escaped captivity and bred in the wild, making it possible for many Native American tribes to acquire an easier way to travel and hunt. But the new settlers also brought diseases that were foreign to the land and with no immunity, the Native American people suffered vast illness and death.
At the onset of the Revolutionary War, the Native American people were forced to choose sides, many sided with the British and few attempted to remain neutral. The end of the war resulted in many agreements between the British and the newly formed colonies that had a profound impact on the Native American way of life. They lost land and life and were forced further west to make room for colonial development.
By the 19th century, many policies were being enforced to remove the Native Americans from land east of the Mississippi in exchange for land further west. Several sporadic battles ensued until ultimately, reservations became the Native American people’s homes. The Indian Citizenship Act of 1924 gave Native American people United States citizenship.
Today, federally recognized tribes retain the right to govern their own tribes. They establish their own laws and enforcement of said laws, determine taxes if any, and retain the right to control membership, residency and zoning. These rights are comparable to the rights of an individual state and do not outweigh federal laws. Many tribes have established a fully functioning society with law enforcement, judicial systems, civil service, and schools. Casino gambling is legal on Indian Reservations and provides much of their funding.
While the Native American people have undergone a long, hard journey and many have integrated with traditional American mainstream customs, just as many have kept the sacred customs and legends of their people alive and well. The majority of Native Americans live west of the Mississippi with approximately one-third of Native Americans living in California, Arizona and Oklahoma today.
Joseph Paige © 2006