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Native American Tribes in the United States: History & Resources

Native American History

Native Americans in the United States

Native American history dates back 25,000-60,000 years ago. Studied extensively by anthropologists and archeologists during the Paleo-Indian or Lithic stage, Native Americans migrated to America sometime between 5000-8000 BCE. During that time, they diversified into hundreds of tribes and culturally distinct nations.

1492 brought European colonists to the Americas, and the lives of Native Americans changed forever. Colonists viewed Native Americans as savages that needed to be tamed and saved through Christianity. Native Americans had their own evolved culture, spiritual beliefs, and laws.

Jean Jacques Rousseau politician theorist idealized Native American life when he wrote “Natural freedom is the only object of the policy of the Native Americans; with this freedom do nature and climate rule alone amongst them … Native Americans maintain their freedom and find abundant nourishment… and are people who live without laws, without police, without religion”.

Native American tribes have been ravaged from the 16th through the 19th centuries from disease, violence, and war. Europeans brought with them smallpox, chickenpox, and measles which is estimated to have killed off 50-70% of the Native American population. Before the colonists, historians estimate between 2.1-18 million Native Americans lived on the continent. By 1890, there were only 250,000 Native Americans left.

After the formation of the United States of American, and under President Andrew Jackson in 1830, Native Americans were forced to sign treaties and then relocated to Indian reservations. It wasn’t until 1817 that the Cherokee were the first Native Americans to be recognized as U.S. citizens. Then the Civil Rights Act of 1866 guaranteed, “that all persons born in the United States, and not subject to any foreign power, excluding Indians not taxed, are hereby declared to be citizens of the United States”, and all Native Americans became U.S. citizens.

Modern Statistics of Native Americans

At the time of the 2008 census, there were 3.08 million Native Americans which equals about 1.01 percent of the total U.S. population. Thirty-two percent of those are under the age of 18. The U.S. government recognizes almost 600 individual tribes throughout 48 contiguous states and Alaska. About 45 percent of Native Americans live on reservations. Government funding assists only about 52 percent of the Native American population’s healthcare needs. Sixty percent of tribes have some type of judicial system and 56 percent a court system. The poverty rate for Native Americans is 23.6 percent. The average AI/AN income is $33,000 a year compared to the national average of $46,200. Almost one-quarter of Native Americans lack healthcare of any kind. Sixty tribes have child support programs.

  • 3.08 mNative Americans
  • 600Tribes
  • 48States
  • 45%Live on reservations
  • 60%Tribes with the judicial system
  • 23.6%Poverty rate

    List of Native American Tribes by State

    American Indians


    American Indians

    American Indians are Native Americans who resided within the 48 contiguous states. These indigenous Americans are spread throughout hundreds of culturally diverse tribes across the country. American Indians have a deep history of culture and diversity among tribes. Their lives were upended with the arrival of the colonists. Many tribes were completely wiped out by disease and violence.

    Modern Statistics of American Indians

    Once a populous race, American Indians now account for about 1% of the total population. American Indians have higher drug abuse rates than any other demographic in the country. Tribal leaders and federal agents are particularly concerned about the Methamphetamine abuse problem on reservations. High school dropout rates for American Indian/Alaska Natives is double the national average. Suicide is the 2nd leading cause of death with American Indians. Only 49.3 percent of American Indian students graduate. Two percent of American Indian children are in foster care. Thirty percent of young adults admit to having binge drank alcohol within the past month. Only one in eight American Indian adults with alcohol or drug issues gets help. Twenty-two percent of American Indian females and twelve percent of males have attempted suicide.

    • 1%Of total population
    • 49.3%Students graduate
    • 2%Children in foster care
    • 1/8Adults with alcohol or drug issues get help
    • 22%Females attempted suicide
    • 12%Males attempted suicide

    Alaskan Natives


    Alaskan Natives

    Alaskan Natives date back to the first contact in 1741 when they controlled all of the 586,400 square miles of the state. At that time Alaskan Natives were separated into geographical tribes: “the Inupiat in the Northeast and the Arctic, the Dene (Athapascan) in the vast Interior, the Yu’pik in the Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta, the Unangan (Aleut) in the Aleutian Islands, the Sugpiaq in Kodiak and the Gulf of Alaska, the Tlingit, and Haida in Southeast Alaska”.

    Russia invaded Alaska, and by 1867 only 30,000 Alaskan Natives were remaining. Russia sold Alaska to the United States for $7.2 million without asking the natives. At that time, only 800 Russians were living in Alaska. It was another 57 years after that before Alaskan Natives became U.S. citizens.

    Modern Statistics of Alaskan Natives

    Approximately 140,000 Alaskan Natives are living in the state. These indigenous people equal about 24 percent of the total population. Alaskan Natives are separated into villages rather than tribes, and currently, there are 229 tribes in the state. Many still hunt and fish for a living.

    • 140,000Alaskan Natives
    • 24%Of total population
    • 229Tribes

    Native Hawaiians


    Native Hawaiians

    Native Hawaiians are also known as Kanaka Maoli. They are the indigenous or aboriginal people of Hawaii and descendants of the Polynesian people who settled there in the 5th century AD.

    When Captain Cook arrived in 1778, the native population was estimated at 800,000. Almost the entire population was wiped out by disease as they had no immunity to influenza, smallpox, measles, or whooping cough. By 1900, there were only about 37,656 Native Hawaiians left.

    Their native language is Olelo Hawai’i, but most speak English due to the law in 1896 requiring English to be the only language taught in Hawaii’s public and private schools.

    In 1978, nearly 200 years after the arrival of Captain Cook, Hawaii’s natives started experiencing a cultural revival as a result of the 1978 Hawai’i State Constitutional Convention.

    Modern Statistics of Native Hawaiians

    As of the 2010 U.S. census, 527,077 people identified as Native Hawaiians or a mixture of some part Native Hawaiian. Two-thirds of all Native Hawaiians reside in the state and the rest scattered throughout the rest of the United States.

    • 527,077Native Hawaiians
    • 2/3Reside in the state

    Tribal Sovereignty

    Tribal Sovereignty

    Tribal sovereignty basically means that indigenous tribes are allowed to make their own laws and govern themselves. According to the Indian Appropriations Act., the U.S. government has statutes granting Native Americans the right to enact, enforce and revise their own laws. The U.S. Constitution draws lines where the tribal, county, state, and federal laws intersect.

    There are currently 573 sovereign tribes in the U.S. who have a legal nation-to-nation relationship with the U.S. government. These nations are sometimes referred to as “federally recognized tribes”. Two-hundred twenty-nine reside in Alaska. The rest are spread among 35 other states. A little over half the tribes have a formal judicial and court system.

    • 573Sovereign tribes in the U.S.
    • 229Tribes reside in Alaska
    • 50%Tribes have a formal judicial and court system

    Tribal Information

    There are vast tribal resources on the internet with specific areas of focus. These links are general resources and libraries for additional research.

    Cultural Resources

    Cultural resources and programs that benefit Native Americans, Native Hawaiians, and Alaskan Natives.

    Native Americans and National Parks

    The U.S. Department of the Interior National Park Service works with Native Americans to preserve and protect the nation’s archeological heritage. For information on their programs and resources visit –

    Housing Resources

    The United States government offers a variety of programs to help Native Americans with housing and assists with relocation and financial assistance.

    The government also provides dozens of legal resources to Native Americans such as:

    Grants and Financial Assistance

    The U.S. government offers Native Americans of all regions benefits and grants. Financial assistance for healthcare, education, home loans, food, other housing, and culture are available.

    Federal Resources

    The federal government sponsors many programs designed to support American Indians, Native Hawaiians, and Alaskan Natives.