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Native Americans In The Lower 48 States

Updated on November 14, 2015
Patty Inglish, MS profile image

A descendant of Mohawk Nation and trained in anthropology, Patty has researched and reported on Indigenous Peoples for over four decades.

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Learning About Native Americans In the Contiguous 48 States

In elementary school or preschool, children first hear about the American First Thanksgiving with the Pilgrims and the Friendly Indians. The legend is not the complete truth, but an introduction nonetheless to human development, discovery, and migration as well as to Indigenous Peoples in North America. Thanksgiving is often a point at which children learn about Native North Americans.

The legends and propaganda that have grown up around the Plymouth Colony First Thanksgiving are inaccurate when compared to 17th Century white settlers' handwritten diaries held in museums around the Eastern US. They also do not reflect the fact that the Spanish held Thanksgiving in the South before the English attempted it in the Northeastern US. Finally, it does not reflect that the Native Americans held thanksgiving celebrations and ceremonies regularly during many months of every year for thousands of years into the past.

For a special National Geographic film about the harrowing life the settlers of Jamestown led in 1607, please visit this link: The Real Story of Jamestown.

The national Thanksgiving Day was changed to the 4th Thursday in November to allow more Shopping Days Before Christmas by President Franklin D. Roosevelt at the lobbying efforts of the F & R Lazarus company in Columbus OH and others. Soon thereafter, Black Friday boosted seasonal sales, ushered in with Christmas Parades on Thanksgiving Day (Macy's New York) and the day after (Columbus OH and others).

Put it all together and you have America and its interesting assortment of National Symbols, the official and the popular. All are interesting and unknown to most schoolchildren.


Larry Yazzie, with Native Pride Productions, entertains guests through tribal dance at Joint Base-Myer Henderson Hall in celebration of Native American Heritage Month. 11/20/09
Larry Yazzie, with Native Pride Productions, entertains guests through tribal dance at Joint Base-Myer Henderson Hall in celebration of Native American Heritage Month. 11/20/09 | Source

The Settlers' Diaries

  • The settlers of Plymouth Colony were to have been transported elsewhere in the region, but were dropped off at Plymouth, because it was more advantageous to their sea captain.
  • The settlers called themselves Saints and were poor people. They dressed in cheap brightly-colored clothing day to day. No black and white (that came from a retail ad campaign by magazine editor Sarah Hale around 1840).
  • The settlers brought barrels of beer with them, instead of crop seeds, flour, and other staples.

Portions of the First Thanksgiving day were cooperative and happy, but much of it was marred by the fact that the settlers who called themselves Saints and did not know what a Pilgrim was, brought beer to the New World instead of food and agricultural seeds. It was a combination of drunkenness and prejudice among a few that brought the days immediately after our first NE American thanksgiving to a tragic end (see the links below). See a barrel of the beer at this link: Your Thanksgiving Resource - Fact, Fiction, Food, and Fun

The Eastern Woodlands peoples were the first of the Indigenous populations that settlers met when they landed in Eastern Canada and the Northeastern Coast of the future United States of America.

Men from the Mohawk Nation at Kahnawake: Canadian Lacrosse Champions In 1869

Mohawk team, Iroquois Confederacy members ready to play Lacrosse.
Mohawk team, Iroquois Confederacy members ready to play Lacrosse. | Source

Native American Nations and Groups

Many more groups exist than this 304 tally.
Many more groups exist than this 304 tally. | Source

Over 10,000 Years Of History In North America

From about 10,000 - 12,000 BCE, when Indigenous Peoples had entered the New World across the frozen Bering Strait, to about 9,000 or 8,000 BCE, when they had traveled across the continent and took the Eastern Woodlands of what is now the Northeastern US and parts of the Midwest as their homes was a long struggle.

It had been a wilderness struggle, but a wilderness of plenty that they did not waste. When white or Eurocentrist settlers arrived, sought help, received help from, and in 1621 turned against the first Native Americans they met, it was unexpected and tragic.

By the end of the American Civil War some 250 years later, massacres on both sides ended in the slashing of Indigenous populations to a fraction of their former nations, the forced march of natives back to the west, barefoot in the snow during the harshest winter of the century; and more tragedies on both sides.

Southern and Southwestern US Native Nations had already suffered at the hands of other European settlers beginning in the 1500s. The history of US Native Americans is not as happy as our elementary school stage plays for Thanksgiving would suggest.

The best parts of the First Thanksgiving with the Indigenous Peoples can be preserved in our National Holiday, for children, but at some point, they need to know all the facts. Even then, they can celebrate, add their own traditions, and pass them on. For example, The Ohio State University holds an Alternative Thanksgiving dinner with authentic dishes from 1621 every year.

The Eastern Woodlands Is a Large Space

America's Eastern Woodlands is bordered by the Atlantic Ocean all the way to the to the eastern Great Plains at the Mississippi River, and from the Great Lakes Region in the North to the Gulf of Mexico in the South. This land accounts for nearly half of the Lower 48 States today.

The Contiguous United States or the Lower 48 contain many US Federally recognized Native American Nations, some State-recognized-only, and some non-recognized nations. State-only and non-recognized groups regularly apply for State or US Federal recognition in order to gain certain rights and financial benefits like minority scholarships. Regularly, new groups emerge that have not been addressed in historic or written materials anywhere. I find it difficult to stay ahead of the new emergence.

Some US States have approved organizations to seek out the history of Indigenous Peoples in their states and the current status of their descendents. For example, California is famously active in this work. New Mexico, Nevada and other Western and Southwestern States are prominent in this research, possibly because of the higher concentration of Indigenous populations in these staes when compared with the rest of the Lower 48 US.

The National Geographic and Smithsonian Institution in partnership with IBM, along with their human migration work, are gathering stories and other data from Native Americans and other Indigenous Peoples around the world in an effort to eventually document every indigenous group that exists and perhaps some extinct tribes. That is the website to read often for updates and new stories, more so than any book written -- with each edition, new groups emerge and make that edition outdated.

Indigenous Migration

Indigenous Peoples settles North America, including the Lower 48, from West to East.

Kiowa horse mask and martingale
Kiowa horse mask and martingale | Source

Western USA

The Western States include a wide diversity of Native Americans and Metis, from those of the Pacific Northwest to those of the southern pueblo communities. Washington, Oregon, California, Idaho, Nevada, and Utah comprise this block of states. The indigenous peoples of the northernmost states are most like the Canadian Frirst Nations across he border.

In a simplistic comparison, the northern Native American groups tend to be more similar to Asian peoples and the central and southern groups more like those of Mexico, Pacific Islanders, and Indigenous communities in Central and South America.  

A
Washington State:
Washington, USA

get directions

B
Oregon:
Oregon, USA

get directions

C
California:
California, USA

get directions

D
Idaho:
Idaho, USA

get directions

E
Nevada:
Nevada, USA

get directions

F
Utah:
Utah, USA

get directions

Oglala Sioux man known as "Shout At" in 1899.
Oglala Sioux man known as "Shout At" in 1899. | Source

Nations of the North Central States

For this project, the US North Central States include North and South Dakota, Nebraska, Kansas, Montana, Wyoming, and Colorado. Abutting Canada, this block of states share soime of the same First Nations Peoples of the northern plains and prairies.

A
Montana:
Montana, USA

get directions

B
Wyoming:
Wyoming, USA

get directions

C
Colorado:
Colorado, USA

get directions

D
North Dakota:
North Dakota, USA

get directions

E
South Dakota:
South Dakota, USA

get directions

F
Nebraska:
Nebraska, USA

get directions

G
Kansas:
Kansas, USA

get directions

Native Americans in Iraq

Sgt. Mary Ann Bullhead-Chavez, a military police officer with the 720th Convoy Support Battalion out of Albuquerque, N.M., performs a women's northern traditional dance which originated from the Native American Plains tribe at the National Native Ame
Sgt. Mary Ann Bullhead-Chavez, a military police officer with the 720th Convoy Support Battalion out of Albuquerque, N.M., performs a women's northern traditional dance which originated from the Native American Plains tribe at the National Native Ame | Source
The American Southwest
The American Southwest
Arlen Whitebreast, with Native Pride Productions, performs a tribal dance to entertain guests at Joint Base-Myer Henderson Hall in celebration of Native American Indian Heritage Month. 11/20/2009
Arlen Whitebreast, with Native Pride Productions, performs a tribal dance to entertain guests at Joint Base-Myer Henderson Hall in celebration of Native American Indian Heritage Month. 11/20/2009 | Source
Northeastern USA
Northeastern USA
Midwestern USA
Midwestern USA
Southeastern USA
Southeastern USA

© 2010 Patty Inglish MS

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    • Patty Inglish, MS profile imageAUTHOR

      Patty Inglish MS 

      3 years ago from USA. Member of Asgardia, the first space nation, since October 2016

      Thanks very much for reading and wanting to know more facts about Thanksgiving!

    • Blackspaniel1 profile image

      Blackspaniel1 

      3 years ago

      What a detailed story you have here. I had heard tings were not as we were taught about Thanksgiving, but you went way back. I would say you got to the root of things, and it is an interesting read.

    • Patty Inglish, MS profile imageAUTHOR

      Patty Inglish MS 

      6 years ago from USA. Member of Asgardia, the first space nation, since October 2016

      Thanks for the kind words! - I'm always looking for more information, because there is sooooo much - still plenty I do not know and all a great adventure to find.

    • cclitgirl profile image

      Cynthia Calhoun 

      6 years ago from Western NC

      I just came across this hub and I love it! Thank you for paying homage to our First People and calling to light some of the traditions and misnomers about Thanksgiving. Bravo!

    • Patty Inglish, MS profile imageAUTHOR

      Patty Inglish MS 

      7 years ago from USA. Member of Asgardia, the first space nation, since October 2016

      I like two Thanksgivings - Canadian in October and US in November, but I like to have the celebration at least three months - Sept-Oct-Nov.

      WesternHistory - Yes, fascinating and I'll never be done with it, so always something to to look forward to writing!

    • WesternHistory profile image

      WesternHistory 

      7 years ago from California

      Excellent hub. Thanks. The study of Native North Americans is a fascinating subject. One culture that stands out is the pueblo Indians mostly found in New Mexico. These Native Americans differed from many of their cousins by being very settled in one locale. On the other hand there were the Comanches relatively nearby in Texas who led a mostly nomadic life.

    • profile image

      James 

      7 years ago

      Great hub with helpful info, thumbs up :)

    • Support Med. profile image

      Support Med. 

      7 years ago from Michigan

      Seems the Native Americans have the right idea to have thanksgiving celebrations many months of the year. What a way to bring family together, to share and to care. An interesting culture. Voted and rated.

    • Patty Inglish, MS profile imageAUTHOR

      Patty Inglish MS 

      7 years ago from USA. Member of Asgardia, the first space nation, since October 2016

      #daydreamer13 - Thanks very much for reading! This topic will never be complete. So much to find out about.

    • daydreamer13 profile image

      daydreamer13 

      7 years ago

      Great topic! Well written! Well done!

    • Patty Inglish, MS profile imageAUTHOR

      Patty Inglish MS 

      7 years ago from USA. Member of Asgardia, the first space nation, since October 2016

      Here's a piece of the story form National Geographic:

      [In 1846, Sarah Josepha Hale, editor of a magazine called "Godley’s Lady’s Book", campaigned for an annual national thanksgiving holiday after a passage about the harvest gathering of 1621 was discovered and incorrectly labeled as the first Thanksgiving.] -- from "1621 A New Look at Thanksgiving by Catherine O'Neill Grace and Margaret M. Bruchac with Plimoth Plantation", 2001, National Geographic Society.

      >Apparently others added their own views at this time for image management's sake and had the Saints (settlers) dressed in black and white with big shoe buckles and big Bibles, when what they had was big kegs of beer. The Wampanoag Nation today does not celebrate Thanksgiving as a tribe and remembers the bloodshed. Very sad.

    • Hello, hello, profile image

      Hello, hello, 

      7 years ago from London, UK

      Thank you for giving such a feast of information. As you must have realized I can't get enough of it. I think we still should and could have learned an awful lot from these great and proud people. It also shows, according to your hub, how distorted the writing of history is.

    • okmom23 profile image

      Donna Oliver 

      7 years ago from Midwest, U.S.A.

      Thank you for such an accurate history of the Thanksgiving Holiday! I enjoyed reading the research you have collected and written for this hub. The facts are timely for both young and old. Living in Oklahoma for the past few years has had a huge impact on our families Thanksgiving traditions!

    • charkamman profile image

      charkamman 

      7 years ago from portugal

      Wow, that was fun to read!

      Thanksgiving is very much related to the church for us Dutch.

      Last year I had Thanksgiving in Kulyab - Tajikistan (neighbouring country of Afghanistan) with a Canadian friend and my family. Could write a hub about that I guess!

      Charlotte

    • Patty Inglish, MS profile imageAUTHOR

      Patty Inglish MS 

      7 years ago from USA. Member of Asgardia, the first space nation, since October 2016

      @K J Page -- I read the diary pages mentioned; and some other historical materials - these latter suggest that the story of the Pligrims, etc. was devised not too long after, in order to encourage others to move to the New World with the good people of Plymouth. I'll look for that reference again.

    • K J Page profile image

      K J Page 

      7 years ago from Pacific Northwest

      It makes one wonder who sat down and wrote the story of the first Thanksgiving - and why. Did someone envision people so different working and living together in harmony? What would our lives be like without that 'First' Thanksgiving?

      I believe that along with the story we should know and acknowledge the truth as it is.

    • Patty Inglish, MS profile imageAUTHOR

      Patty Inglish MS 

      7 years ago from USA. Member of Asgardia, the first space nation, since October 2016

      It's good to know what really happened on both sides of the question and from that, to form better traditions for Thanksgiving and other Holidays. We can make them what we want them to be! Happy Thanksgiving, all!

    • SteveoMc profile image

      SteveoMc 

      7 years ago from Pacific NorthWest

      Nice hub on different cultures, thanks. I grew up in Alaska and have many friends from diverse cultures, it is great to have a more unbiased look at these cultures.

    • Earth Angel profile image

      Earth Angel 

      7 years ago

      Blessings of Thanksgiving

      to you and for you

      dearest Patty!

      Thank you so much for your clear, in-depth, fair recap of how we came to celebrate one of our largest U.S. Holidays! We should never lose sight of how tragic and unfair the 'saints and settlers' were to our Native brethren!

      Hundreds of years later we still have not learned the lessons! In the U.S. there is an ingrained habit of 'changing the facts to make ourselves look good' and then calling it the 'truth!'

      Thank you dearest Patty!

      Blessings always, Earth Angel!

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