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Native American History

Native Americans were the first Americans. Learn more about Native Americans, their contributions, their leaders, events, and laws and how Native Americans helped shape America.

A brief historical background of the people who first discovered and lived in the Americas, called American Indians or Native Americans. Many thousands of years ago, late in the Ice Age, humans journeyed across the Bering land bridge, from Asia into Alaska. Their descendants explored along the west coast of North America. As early as 1000 BC, they had covered nearly the entire continent. It is not known when the first people arrived in the Americas. Some archaeologists (scientists who study the remains of past human lives) believe it might have been about 12000 BC.

In the United States began in ancient times tens of thousands of years ago with the settlement of the Americas by the Paleo-Indians. Anthropologists and archeologists have identified and studied a wide variety of cultures that existed during this era. Their subsequent contact with Europeans had a profound impact on their history of the people.

British officers, including the top British commanding generals, ordered, sanctioned, paid for and conducted the use of smallpox against the Native Americans. As described by one historian, "there is no doubt that British military authorities approved of attempts to spread smallpox among the enemy", and "it was deliberate British policy to infect the indians with smallpox". In this instance, as recorded in his journal by sundries trader and militia Captain William Trent, on June 24, 1763, dignitaries from the Delaware tribe met with Fort Pitt officials, warned them of "great numbers of Indians" coming to attack the fort, and pleaded with them to leave the fort while there was still time. But the commander of the fort refused to abandon the fort. Instead, the British gave as gifts two blankets, one silk handkerchief and one linen from the smallpox hospital, to two Delaware delegates after the parley, a principal warrior named Turtleheart, and Maumaultee, a Chief. The tainted gifts were, according to their inventory accounts, given to the Indian dignitaries "to Convey the Smallpox to the Indians".

Native American cultures in the United States include a wide array of socially and geographically diverse groups, whose nomadic ancestors are believed to have traveled via a long-gone land bridge across the Bering Strait at least 13,000 years ago. Displaced and often persecuted by European explorers and the settlers that followed, Native Americans have struggled to maintain their ancestral practices, while increasing their representation in American political and cultural life.

The Stuff You Missed in History Class library of podcasts on Native American history includes subjects such as Cahokia, Poverty Point, Maria Tallchief, the Pueblo Revolt, Chief Seattle and more.

Dawn Neptune Adams, Maulian Dana and Adam Mazo

For more than 10,000 years, the Wabanaki peoples have been living in a region called the Dawnland. Captain John Smith rebranded the area “New England” in a map he made in 1614. He and the other colonial settlers renamed rivers and villages to claim the land for themselves and erase Native people from their homelands. But that wasn’t enough. Eventually colonial officials introduced a grisly incentive to hasten that erasure: bounties for dead Native Americans. Yes, the settlers whom many Americans mythologize at Thanksgiving as peace-loving pilgrims were, just a generation later, issuing official government orders putting a price on the scalps of Indigenous children, women and men. more...

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