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American-Indian Families

General Points Of Interest, Boarding Schools, Family Life Today, American-indian Child Welfare

American Indians are the indigenous peoples of the United States. According to archeological estimates, bronze-skinned women and men from northern Asia had been exploring and settling the Americas for 10,000 to 50,000 years. By the fifteenth century, descendants of these women and men from northern Asia had spread southward to populate both continents (Nabokov 1999). When Christopher Columbus arrived in 1492, North America had already been home to an estimated two million to ten million people. These Native-American peoples had developed over 300 distinct cultures and had the equivalent of some two hundred distinct languages. The majority of these peoples had settled along the western coastal strip known today as California. The second most populated region was the southwest, followed by regions east of the Mississippi.

By the time Columbus arrived, an array of Native-American civilizations existed, exhibiting a variety of lifestyles and practices among them. For example, the groups had different methods of gathering food, different dwellings, and different cultural and religious patterns, as well as population sizes. All this changed once the Europeans arrived and began to establish their own settlements.

American-Indian groups had established their own forms of tribal or group government for keeping order among themselves and as a means to interrelate among and between each other. When Europeans first arrived in the northeast, they came into contact with the five Iroquoian tribes that had established a permanent political union. Known as the Great League, their style of government was so formidable that the British and French had no choice but to deal with these Indian groups as separate but equal sovereign entities. When Europeans ventured into the southeast, they encountered the Creek Confederacy, which was made up of thousands of Muskogean-speaking Indians (Nabokov 1999). Some of the more well known among the Muskogean-speaking tribes were the Creek, Choctaws, Chickasaws, and the Seminoles (Beach 1910). In Louisiana, European settlers met up with the aristocratic Indian group known as the Natchez. The Natchez had a hierarchical type of society and were ruled by a monarch called The Sun. The Powhatan Confederacy was based in Virginia and consisted of two hundred villages and thirty different tribes, while in California, European settlers found numerous independent and isolated Indian groups who had different dialects and varied greatly in size.

It is important to bear in mind that first contact, a term used by anthropologists, between American Indians and Europeans occurred at different times and in different regions of the country. For example, first contact was earlier in the more eastern and southern locales. Accordingly, the Hopi Indians of Arizona and the Hurons of eastern Canada both had experienced their initial contact with the Europeans by the 1540s. Conversely, the Sioux Indians of the Dakota plains would not have their first encounter with Europeans until the 1690s, about 150 years later than the Hopi and Huron, while the Wintu tribe of northern California did not have their first contact with Europeans until the mid-1700s. Finally, the last known first contact occurred in 1818, when the polar Eskimos encountered a British naval expedition. It was then that the Eskimos learned that they were not the only humans on earth. By this time, virtually every American-Indian tribal group had made some form of contact with and accommodation to the European settlers and traders. Some American-Indian–European relations fared well while others were extremely hostile and ended in tragedy for the American-Indian men, women, and children.

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Marriage and Family EncyclopediaMarriage: Cultural Aspects