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The indigenous peoples of the Americas are the pre-Columbian inhabitants of North, Central, and South America, their descendants, and many ethnic groups who identify with those peoples. They are often also referred to as Native Americans, Aboriginals, First Nations, Amerigine, and by Christopher Columbus' geographical and historical mistake, Indians, now disambiguated as the American Indian race, American Indians, Amerindians, Amerinds, or Red Indians.

According to the still-debated New World migration model, a migration of humans from Eurasia to the Americas took place via Beringia, a land bridge which connected the two continents across what is now the Bering Straitmarker. The most recent point at which this migration could have taken place is c. 12,000 years ago, with the earliest period remaining a matter of some unresolved contention. These early Paleo-Indians soon spread throughout the Americas, diversifying into many hundreds of culturally distinct nations and tribes. According to the oral histories of many of the indigenous peoples of the Americas, they have been living there since their genesis, described by a wide range of traditional creation accounts.

Application of the term "Indian" originated with Christopher Columbus, who thought that he had arrived in the East Indies, while seeking Asia. This has served to imagine a kind of racial or cultural unity for the aboriginal peoples of the Americas. Once created, the unified "Indian" was codified in law, religion, and politics. The unitary idea of "Indians" was not originally shared by indigenous peoples, but many over the last two centuries have embraced the identity.

While some indigenous peoples of the Americas were historically hunter-gatherers, many practiced aquaculture and agriculture. The impact of their agricultural endowment to the world is a testament to their time and work in reshaping, taming, and cultivating the flora indigenous to the Americas. Some societies depended heavily on agriculture while others practiced a mix of farming, hunting, and gathering. In some regions the indigenous peoples created monumental architecture, large-scale organized cities, chiefdoms, states, and massive empires.

Many parts of the Americas are still populated by indigenous Americans; some countries have sizeable populations, such as Boliviamarker, Perumarker, Paraguaymarker, Mexicomarker, Guatemalamarker, Colombiamarker, and Ecuadormarker. At least a thousand different indigenous languages are spoken in the Americas. Some, such as Quechua, Guaraní, Mayan languages, and Nahuatl, count their speakers in millions. Most indigenous peoples have largely adopted the lifestyle of the western world, but many also maintain aspects of indigenous cultural practices to varying degrees, including religion, social organization and subsistence practices. Some indigenous peoples still live in relative isolation from Western society, and a few are still counted as uncontacted peoples.



Scholars who follow the Bering Strait theory agree that most indigenous peoples of the Americas descended from people who probably migrated from Siberiamarker across the Bering Straitmarker, anywhere between 9,000 and 50,000 years ago. The time frame and exact routes are still matters of debate, and the model faces continuous challenges. A 2006 study reported that DNA-based research had linked DNA retrieved from a 10,000-year-old fossilized tooth from the Prince of Wales Islandmarker in Alaska with specific coastal tribes in Tierra del Fuegomarker, Ecuadormarker, Mexicomarker, and Californiamarker. Unique DNA markers found in the fossilized tooth were found only in these specific coastal tribes and were not comparable to markers found in any other indigenous peoples in the Americas. This finding lends substantial credence to a migration theory that at least one set of early peoples moved south along the west coast of the Americas in boats. It also suggests there may have been waves of migration, which numerous scholars believe. But, these results may be ambiguous, as there are other issues with DNA research and trying to affiliate biological and cultural groups.

One result of these waves of migration is that large groups of peoples with similar languages and perhaps physical characteristics as well, moved into various geographic areas of North, and then Central and South America. While these peoples have traditionally remained primarily loyal to their individual tribes, ethnologists have variously sought to group the myriad of tribes into larger entities which reflect common geographic origins, linguistic similarities, and lifestyles.

Pre-Columbian era

Language families of North American indigenous peoples
Remnants of a human settlement in Monte Verdemarker, Chilemarker dated to 12,500 years B.P. (another layer at Monte Verde has been tentatively dated to 33,000–35,000 years B.P.) suggests that southern Chile was settled by peoples who entered the Americas before the peoples associated with the Bering Strait migrations. It is suggested that a coastal route via canoes could have allowed rapid migration into the Americas.

The traditional view of a relatively recent migration has also been challenged by older findings of human remains in South America; some dating to perhaps even 30,000 years old or more. Some recent finds (notably the Luzia Woman in Lagoa Santamarker, Brazil) are claimed to be morphologically distinct from most Asians and are more similar to Africans, Melanesians and Australian Aborigines. These American Aborigines would have been later displaced or absorbed by the Siberian immigrants. The distinctive Fuegian natives of Tierra del Fuegomarker, the southernmost tip of the American continent, are speculated to be partial remnants of those Aboriginal populations. These early immigrants would have either crossed the ocean by boat or traveled north along the Asian coast and entered America through the Northwest, well before the Siberian waves. This theory is currently viewed by many scholars as conjecture, as many areas along the proposed routes now lie underwater, making research difficult. Some scholars believe the earliest forensic evidence for early populations appears to more closely resemble Southeast Asians and Pacific Islanders, and not those of Northeast Asia.

Scholars' estimates of the total population of the Americas before European contact vary enormously, from a low of 10 million to a high of 112 million. Some scholars believe that most of the indigenous population resided in Mesoamerica and South America, with approximately 10 percent residing in North America, prior to European colonization.

The Solutrean hypothesis suggests an early European migration into the Americas and that stone tool technology of the Solutrean culture in prehistoric Europe may have later influenced the development of the Clovis tool-making culture in the Americas. Some of its key proponents include Dr. Dennis Stanford of the Smithsonian Institutionmarker and Dr. Bruce Bradley of the University of Exetermarker. In this hypothesis, peoples associated with the Solutrean culture migrated from Ice Age Europe to North America, bringing their methods of making stone tools with them and providing the basis for later Clovis technology found throughout North America. The hypothesis rests upon particular similarities in Solutrean and Clovis toolmaking styles, and the fact that no predecessors of Clovis technology have been found in Eastern Asia, Siberiamarker or Beringia, areas from which or through which early Americans are thought to have migrated.

American Indian creation myths tell of a variety of originations of their respective peoples. Some were "always there" or were created by gods or animals, some migrated from a specified compass point, and others came from "across the ocean".

Vine Deloria, Jr., author and Nakota activist, cites some of the oral histories that claim an in situ origin in his book Red Earth, White Lies, rejecting the Bering Strait land bridge route. Deloria takes a Young Earth creationism position, arguing that Native Americans actually originated in the Americas.

European colonization

Cultural areas of North America at time of European contact
The European colonization of the Americas forever changed the lives, bloodlines and cultures of the peoples of the continent. The population history of American indigenous peoples postulates that infectious disease exposure, displacement, and warfare diminished populations, with the first the most significant cause. The first indigenous group encountered by Columbus were the 250,000 Taínos of Hispaniolamarker who were the dominant culture in the Greater Antilles and the Bahamas. In thirty years, about 70% of the Tainos died. Enslaved, forced to labour in the mines, mistreated, the Tainos began to adopt suicidal behaviors, with women aborting or killing their infants, men jumping from the cliffs or ingesting manioc, a violent poison. They had no immunity to European diseases, so outbreaks of measles and smallpox ravaged their population.

The Laws of Burgos, 1512-1513 were the first codified set of laws governing the behavior of Spanishmarker settlers in America, particularly with regards to native Indians. They forbade the maltreatment of natives, and endorsed their conversion to Catholicism.

Reasons for the decline of the Native American populations are variously theorized to be from diseases, conflicts with Europeans, and conflicts among warring tribes. Scholars now believe that, among the various contributing factors, epidemic disease was the overwhelming cause of the population decline of the American natives. After first contacts with Europeans and Africans, some believe that the death of 90 to 95% of the native population of the New World was caused by Old World diseases. Half the native population of Hispaniolamarker in 1518 was killed by smallpox. Within a few years smallpox killed between 60% and 90% of the Inca population, with other waves of European disease weakening them further. Smallpox was only the first epidemic. Typhus (probably) in 1546, influenza and smallpox together in 1558, smallpox again in 1589, diphtheria in 1614, measles in 1618—all ravaged the remains of Inca culture. Smallpox had killed millions of native inhabitants of Mexicomarker. Unintentionally introduced at Veracruz with the arrival of Pánfilo de Narváez on April 23, 1520, smallpox ravaged Mexico in the 1520s, killing 150,000 in Tenochtitlan alone, including the emperor, and was credited with the victory of Hernán Cortés over the Aztec empire at Tenochtitlan (present-day Mexico Citymarker) in 1521.

Over the centuries, the Europeans had developed high degrees of immunity to these diseases, while the Native Americans had no such immunity. Europeans had been ravaged in their own turn by such diseases as bubonic plague and Asian flu that moved west from Asia to Europe. In addition, when they went to some territories, such as Africa and Asia, they were more vulnerable to malaria.

The repeated outbreaks of influenza, measles and smallpox probably resulted in a decline of between one-half and two-thirds of the Aboriginal population of eastern North America during the first 100 years of European contact. In 1617–1619, smallpox reportedly killed 90% of the Massachusetts Baymarker Native Americans. In 1633, in Plymouth, Massachusettsmarker, the Native Americans were exposed to smallpox because of contact with Europeans. As it had done elsewhere, the virus wiped out entire population groups of Native Americans. It reached Lake Ontariomarker in 1636, and the lands of the Iroquois by 1679. During the 1770s, smallpox killed at least 30% of the West Coast Native Americans. Smallpox epidemics in 1780–1782 and 1837–1838 brought devastation and drastic population depletion among the Plains Indians. In 1832, the federal government of the United Statesmarker established a smallpox vaccination program for Native Americans (The Indian Vaccination Act of 1832).

In Brazilmarker, the indigenous population has declined from a pre-Columbian high of an estimated 3 million to some 300,000 in 1997.

Later explorations of the Caribbean led to the discovery of the Arawak peoples of the Lesser Antilles. The culture was extinct by 1650. Only 500 had survived by the year 1550, though the bloodlines continued through the modern populace. In Amazonia, indigenous societies weathered centuries of colonization.

The Spaniards and other Europeans brought horses to the Americas. Some of these animals escaped and began to breed and increase their numbers in the wild. The re-introduction of the horse had a profound impact on Native American culture in the Great Plainsmarker of North America and of Patagonia in South America. By domesticating horses, some tribes had great success: they expanded their territories, exchanged many goods with neighboring tribes, and more easily captured game, especially bison.


Over the course of thousands of years, American indigenous peoples domesticated, bred and cultivated a large array of plant species. These species now constitute 50–60% of all crops in cultivation worldwide. In certain cases, the indigenous peoples developed entirely new species and strains through artificial selection, as was the case in the domestication and breeding of maize from wild teosinte grasses in the valleys of southern Mexicomarker. Numerous such agricultural products retain native names in the English and Spanish lexicons.

The South American highlands were a center of early agriculture. Genetic testing of the wide variety of cultivars and wild species suggest that the potato has a single origin in the area of southern Perumarker, from a species in the Solanum brevicaule complex. Over 99% of all modern cultivated potatoes worldwide are descendants of a subspecies indigenous to south-central Chilemarker,Solanum tuberosum ssp. tuberosum, where it was cultivated as long as 10,000 years ago.

Natives of North American began practicing farming approximately 4,000 years ago, late in the Archaic period of North American cultures. Technology had advanced to the point that pottery was becoming common, and the small-scale felling of trees became feasible. Concurrently, the Archaic Indians began using fire in a widespread manner. Intentional burning of vegetation was used to mimic the effects of natural fires that tended to clear forest understories. It made travel easier and facilitated the growth of herbs and berry-producing plants, which were important for both food and medicines.

In the Mississippi River valley, Europeans noted Native Americans' managed groves of nut and fruit trees as orchards, not far from villages and towns, in addition to their gardens and agricultural fields. Wildlife competition could be reduced by understory burning. Further away, prescribed burning would have been used in forest and prairie areas.

Many crops first domesticated by indigenous Americans are now produced and/or used globally. Chief among these is maize or "corn", arguably the most important crop in the world. Other significant crops include cassava, chia, squash (pumpkins, zucchini, marrow, acorn squash, butternut squash), the pinto bean, Phaseolus beans including most common beans, tepary beans and lima beans, tomato, potatoes, avocados, peanuts, cocoa beans (used to make chocolate), vanilla, strawberries, pineapples, Peppers (species and varieties of Capsicum, including bell peppers, jalapeños, paprika and chili peppers) sunflower seeds, rubber, brazilwood, chicle, tobacco, coca, manioc and some species of cotton.


Cultural practices in the Americas seem to have been mostly shared within geographical zones where otherwise unrelated peoples might adopt similar technologies and social organizations. An example of such a cultural area could be Mesoamerica, where millennia of coexistence and shared development between the peoples of the region produced a fairly homogeneous culture with complex agricultural and social patterns. Another well-known example could be the North American plains area, where until the 19th century, several different peoples shared traits of nomadic hunter-gatherers primarily based on buffalo hunting. Within the Americas, dozens of larger and hundreds of smaller culture areas can be identified.


The limited distribution of pack animals available for domestication, and the resultant limits of transportation, is certainly one of the factors in the lack of development of certain technologies in pre-Hispanic America. While Eurasia has a predominant east-west orientation that allowed the dissemination of certain technologies and crops along the latitude bands, the orientation of the American continents along the north-south axis made the dissemination of crops from one region to another, even with human migration, difficult and unlikely, given climate change due to altitude and climatic zones. Another factor that distinguished the American continent and Eurasia is the absence of river based cultures due to the configuration of rivers in the Americas.

On the arrival of Europeans in America, the use of metal technology was very limited and most American cultures were lithic based. In Mesoamerica the knowledge of the calendar, based on acute astronomical observation, had reached remarkable levels of development. The Aztecs used intensive agricultural systems based on chinampas, with total food production per hectare possibly much higher than elsewhere in the world.

Writing systems

An independent origin and development of writing is counted among the many achievements and innovations of pre-Columbian American cultures. The Mesoamerican region produced a number of indigenous writing systems from the 1st millennium BCE onwards. What may be the earliest-known example in the Americas of an extensive text thought to be writing is by the Cascajal Block. The Olmec hieroglyphs tablet has been indirectly dated from ceramic shards found in the same context to approximately 900 BCE, around the time that Olmec occupation of San Lorenzo Tenochtitlánmarker began to wane.

The Maya writing system (often called hieroglyphs from a superficial resemblance to the Ancient Egyptian writing) was a combination of phonetic symbols and logograms. It is most often classified as a logographic or (more properly) a logosyllabic writing system, in which syllabic signs play a significant role. It is the only writing system of the Pre-Columbian New World which is known to completely represent the spoken language of its community. In total, the script has more than one thousand different glyphs, although a few are variations of the same sign or meaning, and many appear only rarely or are confined to particular localities. At any one time, no more than around five hundred glyphs were in use, some two hundred of which (including variations) had a phonetic or syllabic interpretation.

Aztec codices (singular codex) are books written by pre-Columbian and colonial-era Aztecs. These codices provide some of the best primary sources for Aztec culture. The pre-Columbian codices differ from European codices in that they are largely pictorial; they were not meant to symbolize spoken or written narratives. The colonial era codices not only contain Aztec pictograms, but also Classical Nahuatl (in the Latin alphabet), Spanish, and occasionally Latin.

The Wiigwaasabak, birch bark scrolls on which the Ojibwa (Anishinaabe) people wrote complex geometrical patterns and shapes, can also be considered a form of writing.

Music and art

Native American music in North America is almost entirely monophonic, but there are notable exceptions. Traditional Native American music often includes drumming but little other instrumentation, although flutes are played by individuals. The tuning of these flutes is not precise and depends on the length of the wood used and the hand span of the intended player, but the finger holes are most often around a whole step apart and, at least in Northern California, a flute was not used if it turned out to have an interval close to a half step.

Music from indigenous peoples of Central Mexico and Central America often was pentatonic. Before the arrival of the Spaniards it was inseparable from religious festivities and included a large variety of percussion and wind instruments such as drums, flutes, sea snail shells (used as a kind of trumpet) and "rain" tubes. No remnants of pre-Columbian stringed instruments were found until archaeologists discovered a jar in Guatemala, attributed to the Maya of the Late Classic Era (600–900 AD), which depicts a stringed musical instrument which has since been reproduced. This instrument is astonishing in at least two respects. First, it is the only string instrument known in the Americas prior to the introduction of European musical instruments. Second, when played, it produces a sound virtually identical to a jaguar's growl. A sample of this sound is available at the Princeton Art Museum website.

Art of the indigenous peoples of the Americas composes a major category in the world art collection. Contributions include pottery, paintings, jewellery, weavings, sculptures, basketry, carvings and hair pipes.

Due to the many artists posing as Native Americans, the United States passed the Indian Arts and Crafts Act of 1990, requiring artists prove that they are enrolled in a state or federally recognized tribe.

Demography of contemporary populations

The following table provides estimates of the per-country populations of indigenous people, and also those with part-indigenous ancestry, expressed as a percentage of the overall country population of each country that is comprised by indigenous peoples, and of people with partly indigenous descent. The total percentage obtained by adding both of these categories is also given.

Note: these categories are inconsistently defined and measured differently from country to country. Some are based on the results of population wide genetic surveys, while others are based on self identification or observational estimation.
Indigenous populations of the Americas

as estimated percentage of total country's population
Country Indigenous Ref. Part Indigenous Ref. Combined total Ref.
North America
Canadamarker 1.8% 3.6% 5.4%
Mexicomarker 30% 60% 90%
USAmarker 0.9% 0.6% 1.5%
Central America
Belizemarker 16.7% 33.8% 50.5%
Costa Ricamarker 1% 15% 16%
El Salvadormarker 8% 90% 98%
Guatemalamarker 40.8% % %
Hondurasmarker 7% 90% 97%
Nicaraguamarker 5% 69% 74%
Panamamarker 6% 84% 90%
Antigua and Barbudamarker % % %
Barbadosmarker % % %
The Bahamasmarker % % %
Cubamarker % % %
Dominicamarker 2.9% % %
Dominican Republicmarker % % %
Grenadamarker ~0% ~0% ~0%
Haitimarker ~0% ~0% ~0%
Jamaicamarker % % %
Puerto Rico 0.4% 84% 84%
Saint Kitts and Nevismarker % % %
Saint Luciamarker % % %
Saint Vincent and

the Grenadines
2% % %
Surinamemarker 2% % %
Trinidad and Tobagomarker 0.8% 88% 80%
South America
Argentinamarker 1.0% 2% 3%
Boliviamarker 55% 30% 85%
Brazilmarker 0.4% % %
Chilemarker 4.6% % %
Colombiamarker 1% 61% 62%
Ecuadormarker 25% 65% 90%
French Guianamarker % % %
Guyanamarker 9.1% % %
Paraguaymarker % 95% %
Perumarker 45% 37% 82%
Uruguaymarker 0% 8% 8%
Venezuelamarker % % %

History and status by country


Argentina's indigenous population is about 403,000 (0.9 percent of total population). Indigenous nations include the Toba, Wichí, Mocoví, Pilagá, Chulupí, Diaguita-Calchaquí, Kolla, Guaraní (Tupí Guaraní and Avá Guaraní in the provinces of Jujuy and Salta, and Mbyá Guaraní in the province of Misiones), Chorote (Iyo'wujwa Chorote and Iyojwa'ja Chorote), Chané, Tapieté, Mapuche (probably the largest indigenous nation in Argentina) and Tehuelche. The Selknam (Ona) people are now virtually extinct in its pure form. The languages of the Diaguita, Tehuelche, and Selknam nations are now extinct or virtually extinct: the Cacán language (spoken by Diaguitas) in the 18th century, the Selknam language in the 20th century; whereas one Tehuelche language (Southern Tehuelche) is still spoken by a small handful of elderly people.


Mestizos (European with indigenous peoples) number about 34 percent of the population; unmixed Maya make up another 10.6 percent (Ketchi, Mopan, and Yucatec). The Garifuna, who came to Belize in the 1800s, originating from Saint Vincent and the Grenadinesmarker, with a mixed African, Carib, and Arawak ancestry make up another 6 percent of the population.


In Boliviamarker, about 2.5 million people speak Quechua, 2.1 million speak Aymara, while Guaraní is only spoken by a few hundred thousand people. Also there are 36 recognized cultures and languages in the country. Although there are no official documents written in these languages, Quechua and Aymara were historically only ever oral languages until fragmented modern attempts at transcription and written standardization. Radio and some television in Quechua and Aymara is produced. However, the constitutional reform in 1997 for the first time recognized Bolivia as a multilingual, pluri-ethnic society and introduced education reform. In 2005, for the first time in the country's history, an indigenous descendant Aymara, Evo Morales, was elected as President.

Morales began work on his “indigenous autonomy” policy which he launched in the eastern lowlands department on 3 August 2009, making Bolivia the first country in the history of South America to declare the right of indigenous people to govern themselves. Speaking in Santa Cruz Departmentmarker, the President called it "a historic day for the peasant and indigenous movement", saying that he might make errors but he would "never betray the fight started by our ancestors and the fight of the Bolivian people". A vote on further autonomy will take place in referendums which are expected to be held in December 2009. The issue has divided the country.


The Amerindians make up 0.4% of Brazilmarker's population, or about 700,000 people. Indigenous peoples are found in the entire territory of Brazil, although the majority of them live in Indian reservations in the North and Centre-Western part of the country. On 18 January 2007, FUNAI reported that it had confirmed the presence of 67 different uncontacted tribes in Brazil, up from 40 in 2005. With this addition Brazil has now overtaken the island of New Guineamarker as the country having the largest number of uncontacted tribes.


The most commonly preferred term for the indigenous peoples of what is now Canadamarker is Aboriginal peoples. Of these Aboriginal peoples who are not Inuit or Métis, "First Nations" is the most commonly preferred term of self-identification. Aboriginal peoples make up approximately 3.8 percent of the Canadian population. Canadian Inuit live in subarctic and arctic Canada, as well as Alaska, Greenland, and Siberia, and maintain their own distinct Inuit culture. First Nations are the American Indian tribes of Canada, while Métis are a distinct group of people descended from First Nations peoples and French traders.

Despite an ancient history of their own, Canadian Aboriginal peoples cultures have sometimes been written about as if their history began with the encroachment of Europeans onto the continent. This is because the First Nations, Inuit and Métis "written" history began with European accounts, as in documentation by trappers, traders, explorers, and missionaries (cf. the Codex canadiensis). Although not without conflict or some slavery, Canada's early interactions with First Nations populations were relatively peaceful, compared to the experience of native peoples in the United Statesmarker. Combined with relatively late economic development in many regions, this peaceful history has allowed Canadian native peoples to have a relatively strong influence on the national culture while preserving their own identity. Nevertheless, explorers and traders brought European diseases, such as smallpox, which killed off entire villages. Relations varied between the settlers and the Natives. Today, a revival of pride in First Nations, Inuit and Métis art and music is taking place, and the beauty created by traditional Aboriginals has become a dominant art style in Canada.


According to the 2002 Census, 4.6% of the Chilean population, including the Rapanui of Easter Islandmarker, was indigenous, although most show varying degrees of miscegenation. Many are descendants of the Mapuche, and live in the country's central valley and lake district. The Mapuche successfully fought off defeat in the first 300–350 years of Spanish rule during the Arauco War. Relation with the new Chilean Republic were good until the Chilean state decided to occupy their lands. During the Occupation of Araucanía the Mapuche surrendered to the country's army in the 1880s. The former land was opened to settlement for Chileans and Europeans. Conflict over Mapuche land rights continued until present days.

Other groups include the Aimara who live mainly in Arica-Parinacotamarker and Tarapacá Region and the Alacalufe survivors who now reside mainly in Puerto Edénmarker.


A small minority today within Colombiamarker's overwhelmingly Mestizo and Afro-Colombian population, Colombia's indigenous peoples nonetheless encompass at least 85 distinct cultures and more than 1,378,884 people. A variety of collective rights for indigenous peoples are recognized in the 1991 Constitution.

One of these is the Muisca culture, a subset of the larger Chibcha ethnic group, famous for their use of gold, which led to the legend of El Dorado. At the time of the Spanish conquest, the Chibchas were the largest native civilization between the Incas and the Aztecs.

Costa Rica

Costa Ricamarker was the site of many indigenous cultures, but only eight remain today: Bribri, Borucamarker, Cabecar, Chorotega, Guaymí, Huetar, Maleku and Terraba, also called Teribemarker or Naso.


Otavaleña girl from Ecuador
Ecuadormarker was the site of many indigenous cultures, and civilizations of different proportions. An early sedentary culture, known as the Valdivia culture, developed in the coastal region, while the Caras and the Quitus unified to form an elaborate civilization that ended at the birth of the Capital Quito. The Cañaris near Cuencamarker were the most advanced, and most feared by the Inca, due to their fierce resistance to the Incan expansion. Their architecture remains were later destroyed by Spaniards and the Incas.

Approximately 96.4% of Ecuador's are Highland Quichuas living in the valleys of the Sierra region. Primarily consisting of the descendents of Incans, they are Kichwa speakers and include the Caranqui, the Otavaleñosmarker, the Cayambi, the Quitu-Caras, the Panzaleo, the Chimbuelo, the Salasacan, the Tugua, the Puruhá, the Cañari, and the Saraguro. Linguistic evidence suggests that the Salascan and the Saraguro may have been the descendants of Bolivian ethnic groups transplanted to Ecuador as mitimaes.

Coastal groups, including the Awá, Chachimarker, and the Tsáchila, make up 24% percent of the indigenous population, while the remaining 3.35 percent live in the Oriente and consist of the Oriente Kichwa (the Canelo and the Quijos), the Shuar, the Huaorani, the Siona-Secoya, the Cofán, and the Achuar.

In 1986, indigenous people formed the first "truly" national political organization. The Confederation of Indigenous Nationalities of Ecuador (CONAIE) has been the primary political institution of the Indigenous since then and is now the second largest political party in the nation. It has been influential in national politics, contributing to the ouster of presidents Abdalá Bucaram in 1997 and Jamil Mahuad in 2000.

El Salvador

Much of El Salvador was home to the Pipil, Lenca, and a number of Maya. The Pipil lived in western El Salvadormarker, spoke Nahuat, and had many settlements there. The Pipil had no treasure but held land that had rich and fertile soil, good for farming. This both disappointed and garnered attention from the Spaniards who were shocked not to find gold or jewels in El Salvadormarker like they did in other lands like Guatemalamarker or Mexicomarker, but later learned of the fertile land El Salvador had to offer and attempted to conquer it. At first the Pipil had repelled Spanish Attacks but after many other attacks they had stopped fighting and many were used for labor by Spaniards. Today many Pipil and Indigenous populations live in small towns of El Salvador like Izalcomarker, Panchimalcomarker, Sacacoyomarker, and Nahuizalcomarker.


Many of the indigenous peoples of Guatemalamarker are of Maya heritage. Other groups are Xinca people and Garifuna.

Pure Maya account for some 40 percent of the population; although around 40 percent of the population speaks an indigenous language, those tongues (of which there are more than 20) enjoy no official status. Guatemala's majority population holds a percentage of 59.4% in White or Mestizo (of mixed White and Amerindian ancestry) people. The area of Livingston, Guatemalamarker is highly influenced by the Caribbean and its population includes a combination of Mestizos and Garifuna people.


About 5 percent of the population are of full-blooded Amerindian descent, but upwards to 80 percent more or the majority of Hondurans are mestizo or part-Amerindian with Caucasian, and about 10 percent are of Amerindian and/or African descent. The main concentration of Amerindians in Hondurasmarker are in the rural westernmost areas facing Guatemala and to the Caribbean Seamarker coastline, as well on the Nicaraguan border.The majority of indigenous people are Lencas, Miskitos to the east, Mayans, Pech, Sumos, and Tolupan.


The territory of modern-day Mexicomarker was home to numerous indigenous civilizations prior to the arrival of the Spanish conquistadores: The Olmecs, who flourished from between 1200 BCE to about 400 BCE in the coastal regions of the Gulf of Mexicomarker; the Zapotecs and the Mixtecs, who held sway in the mountains of Oaxacamarker and the Isthmus of Tehuantepecmarker; the Maya in the Yucatánmarker (and into neighbouring areas of contemporary Central America); the Purepecha or Tarascan in present day Michoacánmarker and surrounding areas, and the Aztecs, who, from their central capital at Tenochtitlan, dominated much of the centre and south of the country (and the non-Aztec inhabitants of those areas) when Hernán Cortés first landed at Veracruzmarker.

In contrast to what was the general rule in the rest of North America, the history of the colony of New Spain was one of racial intermingling (mestizaje). Mestizos quickly came to account for a majority of the colony's population; however, significant numbers and communities of indígenas (as the native peoples are now known) survive to the present day.

In the states of Chiapasmarker and Oaxacamarker and in the interior of the Yucatánmarker peninsula the majority of the population is indigenous. Large indigenous minorities, including Aztecs, P'urhépechas, and Mixtecs are also present in the central regions of Mexico. In Northern Mexico indigenous people are a small minority.

The General Law of Linguistic Rights of the Indigenous Peoples grants all indigenous languages spoken in Mexico, regardless of the number of speakers, the same validity as Spanish in all territories in which they are spoken, and indigenous peoples are entitled to request some public services and documents in their native languages. Along with Spanish, the law has granted them — more than 60 languages — the status of "national languages". The law includes all Amerindian languages regardless of origin; that is, it includes the Amerindian languages of ethnic groups non-native to the territory. As such the National Commission for the Development of Indigenous Peoples recognizes the language of the Kickapoo, who immigrated from the United Statesmarker, and recognizes the languages of the Guatemalanmarker Amerindian refugees. The Mexican government has promoted and established bilingual primary and secondary education in some indigenous rural communities. Nonetheless, of the indigenous peoples in Mexico, only about 67% of them (or 7.1% of the country's population) speak an Amerindian language and about a sixth do not speak Spanish (1.2% of the country's population).

The indigenous peoples in Mexico have the right of free determination under the second article of the constitution. According to this article the indigenous peoples are granted:
  • the right to decide the internal forms of social, economic, political and cultural organization;
the right to apply their own normative systems of regulation as long as human rights and gender equality are respected;
  • the right to preserve and enrich their languages and cultures;
  • the right to elect representatives before the municipal council in which their territories are located;
amongst other rights.


The Miskito are a native people in Central America. Their territory extended from Cape Camarón, Hondurasmarker, to Rio Grandemarker, Nicaraguamarker along the Mosquito Coast. There is a native Miskito language, but large groups speak Miskito Coastal Creole, Spanish, Rama and other languages. The Creole English came about through frequent contact with the British who colonized the area. Many are Christians.

Traditional Miskito society was highly structured with a defined political structure. There was a king, but he did not have total power. Instead, the power was split between himself, a governor, a general, and by the 1750s, an admiral. Historical information on kings is often obscured by the fact that many of the kings were semi-mythical.


Most Peruvians are either indigenous or mestizos (of mixed Indigenous and European ancestry). Peru has the largest indigenous population of South America, and its traditions and customs have shaped the way Peruvians live and see themselves today. Cultural citizenship—or what Renato Rosaldo has called, "the right to be different and to belong, in a democratic, participatory sense" (1996:243)—is not yet very well developed in Peru. This is perhaps no more apparent than in the country's Amazonian regions where indigenous societies continue to struggle against state-sponsored economic abuses, cultural discrimination, and pervasive violence.

United States

Indigenous peoples in what is now the contiguous United States are commonly called "American Indians", or just "Indians" domestically, but are also often referred to as "Native Americans". In Alaska, indigenous peoples, which include Native Americans, Yupik and Inupiat Eskimos, and Aleuts, are referred to collectively as Alaska Natives.

Native Americans and Alaska Natives make up 2 percent of the population, with more than 6 million people identifying themselves as such, although only 1.8 million are recognized as registered tribal members. Tribes have established their own rules for membership, some of which are increasingly exclusive. More people have unrecognized Native American ancestry together with other ethnic groups. A minority of U.S. Native Americans live in land units called Indian reservations. Some southwestern U.S. tribes, such as the Yaqui and Apache, have registered tribal communities in Northern Mexico. Similarly, some northern bands of Blackfoot reside in southern Alberta, Canadamarker, in addition to within US borders.
A number of Kumeyaay communities may be found in Baja California del Norte.


Most Venezuelansmarker have some indigenous heritage, but the indigenous population make up only around 2% of the total population. They speak around 29 different languages and many more dialects, but some of the ethnic groups are very small and their languages are in danger of becoming extinct in the next decades. The most important indigenous groups are the Yekuanas Wayuu, the Pemons and the Waraos. The most advanced native people to have lived in present-day Venezuela is thought to have been the Timoto-cuicas, who mainly lived in the Venezuelan Andes. In total it is estimated that there were between 350 thousand and 500 thousand inhabitants, the most densely populated area being the Andean region (Timoto-cuicas), thanks to the advanced agricultural techniques used.

The 1999 constitution gives them special rights, although the vast majority of them still live in very critical conditions of poverty. The largest groups receive some basic primary education in their languages.

Other parts of the Americas

Indigenous peoples make up the majority of the population in Boliviamarker and Perumarker, and are a significant element in most other former Spanishmarker colonies. Exceptions to this include Costa Ricamarker, Cubamarker, Puerto Rico, Argentinamarker, Dominican Republicmarker, and Uruguaymarker. At least three of the native American languages (Quechua in Peru and Bolivia; Aymara also in Peru, Bolivia and Chile, and Guaraní in Paraguaymarker) are recognized along with Spanish as national languages (or Aymara in Chile, by regional basis).

Native American name controversy

The Native American name controversy is an ongoing dispute over the acceptable ways to refer to the indigenous peoples of the Americas and to broad subsets thereof, such as those living in a specific country or sharing certain cultural attributes. Once-common terms like "Indian" remain in use, despite the introduction of terms such as "Native American" and "Amerindian" during the latter half of the 20th century.

Rise of indigenous movements

In recent years, there has been a rise of indigenous movements in the Americas (mainly South America). These are rights-driven groups that organize themselves in order to achieve some sort of self-determination and the preservation of their culture for their peoples. Organizations like the Coordinator of Indigenous Organizations of the Amazon River Basin and the Indian Council of South America are examples of movements that are breaking the barrier of borders in order to obtain rights for Amazonian indigenous populations everywhere. Similar movements for indigenous rights can also be seen in Canada and the United States, with movements like the International Indian Treaty Council and the accession of native Indian group into the Unrepresented Nations and Peoples Organization.

There has also been a recognition of indigenous movements on an international scale, with the United Nations adopting the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, despite dissent from the stronger countries of the Americas.

Moves towards the rights of the indigenous in Leftist countries of Latin America, led to a surge in activity in historically the most right-winged state in South America. In Colombia various indigenous groups protested the denial of their rights. People organized a march in Cali in October 2008 to demand the government live up to promises to protect indigenous lands, defend the indigenous against violence, and reconsider the free trade pact with the United States.

Legal prerogative

With the rise to power of Leftist governments in Venezuela, Ecuador, Paraguay, and especially Bolivia where Evo Morales was the first indigenous descendant elected president of Bolivia, the indigenous movement gained a strong foothold.

Representatives from indigenous and rural organizations from major South American countries, including Bolivia, Ecuador, Colombia, Chile and Brazil, started a forum in support of Morales' legal process of change. The meeting condemned plans by the European "foreign" power elite to destabilize the country. The forum also expressed solidarity with the Morales and his economic and social changes in the interest of historically marginalized majorities. Furthermore, in a cathartic blow to the US-backed elite, it questioned US interference through diplomats and NGO's. The forum was suspicious of plots against Bolivia and other countries, including Cuba, Venezuela, Ecuador, Paraguay and Nicaragua.

The forum rejected the supposed violent method used by regional civic leaders from the called "Crescent departments" in Bolivia to impose their autonomous statutes, applauded the decision to expel the US ambassador to Bolivia, and reafirmed the sovereignty and independence of the presidency. Amongst others, representatives of CONAIE, the National Indigenous Organization of Colombia, the Chilean Council of All Lands, and the Brazilian Landless Movement participated in the forum.


Molecular genetics study suggests that Amerindian populations derived from a theoretical single founding population, possibly from only 50 to 70 genetic contributors. Preliminary research, restricted to only 9 genomic regions (or loci) have shown a genetic link between original Americas and Asia populations. The study does not address the question of separate migrations for these groups, and excludes other DNA data-sets.

The American Journal of Human Genetics released an article in 2007 stating "Here we show, by using 86 complete mitochondrial genomes, that all Indigenous Americans haplogroups, including haplogroup X, were part of a single founding population." Amerindian groups in the Bering Strait region exhibit perhaps the strongest DNA or mitochondrial DNA relations to Siberian peoples. The genetic diversity of Amerindian indigenous groups increase with distance from the assumed entry point into the Americas. Certain genetic diversity patterns from West to East suggest at least some coastal migration events. Geneticists have variously estimated that peoples of Asia and the Americas were part of the same population from 42,000 to 21,000 years ago.

See also


  1. See also Classification of indigenous peoples of the Americas
  2. Fagundes, Nelson J.R.; Ricardo Kanitz, Roberta Eckert, Ana C.S. Valls, Mauricio R. Bogo, Francisco M. Salzano, David Glenn Smith, Wilson A. Silva, Marco A. Zago, Andrea K. Ribeiro-dos-Santos, Sidney E.B. Santos, Maria Luiza Petzl-Erler, and Sandro L.Bonatto (2008). "Mitochondrial Population Genomics Supports a Single Pre-Clovis Origin with a Coastal Route for the Peopling of the Americas". American Journal of Human Genetics 82 (3): 583-592.
  3. Carey, Bjorn (19 February 2006). First Americans may have been European.Life Science. Retrieved on August 10, 2007.
  4. Conner, Steve, Science Editor, (3 December 2002). Does skull prove that the first Americans came from Europe?. Published in the UK Independent. Retrieved on August 14, 2007.
  5. Hecht, Jeff (4 September 2003). Skulls narrow clues to First AmericansNew Scientist. Retrieved on August 12, 2007.
  6. Gonzalez, Sylvia, C. Jimenez-Lopez, R. Hedges, D. Huddart, J.C. Ohman, A. Turner, J.A. Pompa y Padilla (2003). Earliest humans in the Americas: new evidence from Mexico, Journal of Human Evolution 44, 379–387.
  7. Richard Erdoes, Alfonso Ortiz, (Eds.) "American Indian Myths and Legends." Pantheon, 1985.
  8. Vine Deloria, Jr. "Red Earth, White Lies: Native Americans and the Myth of Scientific Fact." Fulcrum Inc. 1999.
  9. "Native Americans of North America", Microsoft Encarta Online Encyclopedia 2006, Trudy Griffin-Pierce. Retrieved September 14, 2006. Archived 2009-11-01.
  10. "Espagnols-Indiens: le choc des civilisations" in L'Histoire, n°322, July-August 2007, pp.14–21
  11. Laws of Burgos, 1512-1513
  12. Cook, p. 1.
  13. BBC Smallpox: Eradicating the Scourge
  14. The Story Of... Smallpox – and other Deadly Eurasian Germs
  15. American Indian Epidemics
  16. Smallpox: The Disease That Destroyed Two Empires
  17. Epidemics
  18. American plague, New Scientist
  19. Oaxaca
  20. Smallpox's history in the world
  21. Stacy Goodling, "Effects of European Diseases on the Inhabitants of the New World"
  22. " Aboriginal Distributions 1630 to 1653". Natural Resources Canada.
  23. David A. Koplow, Smallpox: The Fight to Eradicate a Global Scourge
  24. Dutch Children's Disease Kills Thousands of Mohawks
  25. Smallpox
  26. Iroquois
  27. Smallpox epidemic ravages Native Americans on the northwest coast of North America in the 1770s.
  28. The first smallpox epidemic on the Canadian Plains: In the fur-traders' words
  29. Mountain Man Plain Indian Fur Trade
  30. Lewis Cass and the Politics of Disease: The Indian Vaccination Act of 1832
  31. Wicazo Sa Review: Vol. 18, No. 2, The Politics of Sovereignty (Autumn, 2003), pp. 9–35
  32. '500 Years of Brazil's Discovery'
  33. Brazil urged to protect Indians
  34. See Varese (2004), as reviewed in Dean (2006).
  35. Ancient Horse (Equus cf. E. complicatus), The Academy of Natural Sciences, Thomas Jefferson Fossil Collection, Philadelphia, PA, (See: species Equus scotti) Others died out at the end of the last ice age with other megafauna.
  36. "Native Americans: The First Farmers." AgExporter October 1 1999
  37. Lay summary
  38. Michael Pollan, The Omnivore's Dilemma
  39. Elizabeth Hill Boone, "Pictorial Documents and Visual Thinking in Postconquest Mexico". p. 158.
  40. Aboriginal Ancestory, 2006 Census
  41. Overview of Race and Hispanic Origin, 2000 US Census (Page 3-4)
  42. Bonilla et al., Ancestral proportions and their association with skin pigmentation and bone mineral density in Puerto Rican women from New York City. Hum Gen (2004) 115: 57-58, and Reconstructing the population history of Puerto Rico by means of mtDNA phylogeographic analysis, Martinez-Cruzado et al, Am J Phys Anthropol. 2005 [1]
  43. Primeros Resultados de la Encuesta Complementaria de Pueblos Indígenas (ECPI)
  44. População residente, por cor ou raça, segundo a situação do domicílio - Instituto Brasileiro de Geografia e Estatística
  45. INDEC: Encuesta Complementaria de Pueblos Indígenas (ECPI) 2004 - 2005
  46. Brazil sees traces of more isolated Amazon tribes
  47. Aboriginal People. Statistics Canada. Release No. 5: 15 Jan 2008 . Retrieved 12 March 2009.
  48. George Woodcock A Social History of Canada, 1988; Eric Wolf, Europe and the People Without History, 1982.
  49. Wolf, chapter 8
  50. El gradiente sociogenético chileno y sus implicaciones ético-sociales.
  51. DANE 2005 national census
  52. " HEALTH EQUITY AND ETHNIC MINORITIES IN EMERGENCY SITUATIONS", Pier Paolo Balladelli, José Milton Guzmán, Marcelo Korc, Paula Moreno, Gabriel Rivera, The Commission on Social Health Determinants, Pan American Health Organization, World Health Organization, Bogotá, Colombia, 2007
  53. . Second article.
  54. Dean, Bartholomew 2009 Urarina Society, Cosmology, and History in Peruvian Amazonia, Gainesville: University Press of Florida ISBN 978-081303378 [2]
  55. Dean, Bartholomew 2009 Urarina Society, Cosmology, and History in Peruvian Amazonia, Gainesville: University Press of Florida ISBN 978-081303378 [3]
  56. The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language. Boston: Houghton Mifflin. 2000. ISBN 0-395-82517-2 (hardcover), ISBN 0-618-08230-1hardcover with CD ROM)
  57. Mandel, Michael. The Charter of Rights and the Legalization of Politics in Canada. Revised, Updated and Expanded Edition. (Toronto: Thompson Educational Publishing, Inc., 1994), pp. 354-356.
  58. ( R.S., 1985, c. I-5 )Canadian Constitution Act, 1982, Section Twenty-five of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms 35.
  59. Reuters


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