- Native Americans or American Indians?
The native peoples of America were given the name Indians by the explorer Christopher Columbus, who thought he had reached a place called the Indies. At that time, each group of native peoples in the Americas had a name for itself. But the Indians did not have a name for themselves as a whole. Over time, the terms American Indian and Indian became widely used. Some Indians say that Native Americans is misleading because any person born in America is a native American.
- A Plentiful Population
Estimates of the Indian population of the New World when Columbus arrived vary. Many scholars estimate that there may have been 30 million, with some estimates running as high as 118 million.
- New Foods
The Indians grew many foods that Europeans who came to America had never heard of, such as avocados, corn, peanuts, peppers, pineapples, potatoes, squash, and tomatoes. They also introduced the Europeans to tobacco.
- Modern Inventions
In turn, the Europeans brought many goods that were new to the Indians. These goods included metal tools, guns, and liquor. The Europeans also brought cattle and horses, which were unknown to the Indians.
- “The Five Civilized Tribes”
After the Revolutionary War, the Cherokee and some other Southeastern Indians tried to adopt the ways of white Americans. They began to dress, speak, and act like whites. White people sometimes called the Cherokee, Creek, Choctaw, Chickasaw, and Seminole the Five Civilized Tribes because whites considered their own ways more civilized than Indian customs.
- Indian Citizenship Act
In 1924, Congress passed the Indian Citizenship Act, which gave citizenship to every Indian born within the territorial limits of the United States. Indians who live on reservations pay most federal and state taxes, but they pay no taxes on reservation lands and property or on income earned from them.
- Return of the Black Hills
In 1980, the Supreme Court of the United States ordered the federal government to pay about $105 million to eight tribes of Sioux Indians. The money was payment for Indian land in South Dakota that the government seized illegally in 1877. The tribes refused the settlement and sought the return of part of the Black Hills in South Dakota as well as a cash payment.
- Lost Languages
When Europeans arrived in North America, at least 300 languages were spoken by Indians. Today, fewer than 200 languages are still spoken, and many of them are used little or only by a few older members of a tribe. Only about 40 of the languages are spoken by people of all ages.
- Indians Today
Today, a number of tribes operate successful industries. For example, the Navajo make electronic parts for missiles; the Choctaw manufacture parts for automobiles; and the Cherokee produce a variety of horticultural products.
Be sure to read about the Lives of America’s Original Inhabitants Before Europeans Arrived
These fun facts—and much more—can be found in World Book Online, your answer for fast, reliable information.
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This article is part of our Native American Heritage Month Blog Series