It's commonly believed that Native American origins reach far back to late in the Ice Age when the first humans ventured across the Bering Strait and into what is now North America. Over time, they dispersed across the continent and into South America, establishing distinct tribes, territories, and cultures. Some Native American tribes believe humans were always here, and many researchers are confident waves of people arrived at different times and by different means.
When Christopher Columbus and other explorers sailed to North America, they sought to colonize the Native Americans' territory and claim it as their own. Through decades of wars and treaties, Native Americans have had a complicated, painful history with European colonists. As they were experts of the North American landscape and its resources, Native Americans were able to build a strong economy based on trade with the Europeans. But as colonial presence grew and "Manifest Destiny" rhetoric set in, Native Americans had trouble living on the land they had known for generations in the face of widespread westward expansion. In 1830, President Andrew Jackson passed the Indian Removal Act, leading to many tribes being forced from their ancestral lands and pushed west onto reservations. Though some customs and traditions have been lost to colonization, war, and missionary efforts, many tribes still maintain a unique identity that honors their rich ancestral history.
In celebration of the robust history of North America's ancestral people, Stacker used 2019 estimates from the Census, the most comprehensive recent population report on the United States' Native American population, to compile a list of 42 of the largest Native American tribes in the country today. As of the 2010 Census, there are about 1.6 million Native Americans total living in the United States. The tribes are ranked based on the number of people who identify as a member of this tribe alone or in any combination. For example, someone who is Cherokee and white would be included in the Cherokee population. The list also includes people who identify as each tribe in combination with other Native American groups (e.g., Apache and Navajo) as well as people who identify solely as a member of one Native American tribe. Native American groups unconnected to specific tribes (e.g., Mexican American Indian, Canadian and French American Indian) are not included in this list. Read ahead to dive into the rich culture of the country's most prominent Native American tribes.
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