chapter  14
28 Pages

Native Americans

The various European words for Native Americans-los indios, the Indians, les Indiens, die Indianer-used in the late fifteenth and sixteenth centuries referred to a people who existed only in the European imagination. Native Americans were a heterogeneous group: nomadic hunters, farmers living in agricultural communities, or fishermen. At the time of European settlement, there were more than six hundred different languages spoken on the North American continent between the Rio Grande and the Arctic Circle.3 Many of the original tribes have disappeared entirely, as a result of warfare, disease, or assimilation. The 1990 U.S. Census Bureau identified 136 different Native American languages. Of these, 47 were spoken in the home by fewer than 100 persons; an additional 22 were spoken by fewer than 200.4 Even though they were native to this land, they were not citizens. Becoming citizens was a gradual process. Some Indians became citizens by specific treaties as early as 1817; others, when they received an allotment of land, and all others born within the territorial limits of the United States became citizens in 1924 by an act of Congress. The Fourteenth Amendment to the Constitution, ratified on July 9, 1868, provided that all citizens of the United States were also citizens of the “state where they reside.”5 The members of each group have retained their own identity and their own culture, never identifying themselves as belonging to a broad, generalized group characterized by the misnomer “Indians.”6