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Native American Groups & Societies

Native Americans, or Indigenous Americans, are the people who inhabited the Americas before the European settlers arrived.

Native Americans generally divide themselves into groups of people as nations, tribes or bands.

North American Cultural Areas

Generally, you will see the Indigenous peoples of the Americas referred to as Native Americans, American Indians, Alaska Natives, Indigenous Americans, Indigenous Canadians or First Nations.

Christopher Columbus called groups in the Americas (Native Americans) “Indians” because he set sail for India, only to discover the Americas instead.

Portrait Of A Man Said To Be Christopher Columbus

He thought he had arrived in the East Indies but he had arrived in what is now known as the Caribbean.

The Caribbean islands were called the West Indies for years. Most Native Americans do not wish to be called Indians any longer.

There are so many different groups of Indigenous Americans, all with very different and unique cultures and histories.

Related: More History facts for kids

There are over 1000 different groups of Indigenous Americans in the United States alone. The groups call themselves by different names and these groups often share the same language, ways of life or have a shared history.

Christopher Columbus At The Gates Of The Monastery Of Santa Maria De La Rabida With His Son Diego

A long history

You can take a look at the timeline of Native American history to see for how long people have inhabited the Americas.

People started migrating to the Americas 50,000 years ago but archaeologists are still unsure of the exact dates.


To describe the era before Christopher Columbus arrived to the Americas, people use the term ‘pre-Columbian’. Some societies from the Americas are:

Map Of Subsistence Methods In The Americas

In Meso-America: Olmec, Toltec, Aztec, Mazatec and Maya.

In the Andes: the Inca Empire, Moche Culture, Muisca Confederation and Cañari.

Machu Picchu

In what is now Peru the Norte Chica civilisation was found to have existed at the same time as Ancient Egypt.

Reconstruction Of One Of The Pyramids Of Aspero


Artic and Subarctic: These peoples include the Inuit. They live in extremely cold temperatures in the very north of the Americas.

Kalicho In Left Side And Arnaq And Nutaaq In Right Side

California: Native Americans including the Mohave and the Miwok.

Great Basin and the Great Plains: Washo, Ute, Shoshone live in the Great Basin and in the Great plains were Blackfoot, Cheyenne, and many more.

Northwest and Southeast: the Iroquois , the Wappani and the Shawnee lived in Northeast Woodlands and in the South east, were the Cherokee, the Seminole and the Chickasaw.

The Southwest: the Navajo Nation, the Apache and the Pueblo Indians lived here.

Border Map Changes And Expansions Of The Navajo Reservation

Northwest Coast: The Nez Perce, the Salish and the Tlingit peoples lived on the Northwest coast.

Large Groups of Native Americans

Algonquian: Algonquian is a language and also a large group of over 100 different tribes. The Blackfoot, Cheyenne, Ottawas and the Mohicans live there.

Pre Contact Distribution Of Algonquian Languages

Apache: Apache is also a language spoken by six tribes.

Iroquois: The Iroquois include five nations. These are the Seneca, Onondaga, Mohawk, Oneida and Cayuga.

Iroquois Confederacy Coat Of Arms

Sioux: There are three main groups of Sioux peoples. These are the Lakota, Western Dakota and Eastern Dakota.

Chief Black Tail Deer And His Family

Quiz Time!

How many different Native American groups are there in the United States?

Name one society from Meso America.

Where was the Inca Empire?

Quiz Time

Where did the Cheyenne live?

Where did the Apache live?

Native Americans

Charles Marion Russell The Custer Fight