Indigenous cultures of North America
The largest group are American Indians who arrived before 10,000 BC, inhabited most of the continent, and are closely related to the indigenous cultures of South America. In the US they are now usually called Native Americans and in Canada First Nations. Groups that arrived later settled in less hospitable northern areas, the Eskimo or Inuit in Alaska, Northern Canada and Greenland and the Aleuts in the Aleutian Islands.
- Inuit — Predominantly in Alaska, Northwest Territories, Nunavut, and Greenland.
- Northwest Coast — Along the coast of southern Alaska, British Columbia, Washington (state) and Oregon.
- Plateau — Southeastern British Columbia, eastern Washington (state).
- Great Basin — Nevada, Utah, southern Idaho and surrounding states.
- Southwestern — In the Southwestern United States and northern Mexico.
- Great Plains — In the Great Plains and northern Texas.
- Northeastern — In the Mid-Atlantic and eastern Canada.
- Southeastern — In the Southern United States.
- Mesoamerican — In Mexico and Central America.
- Caribbean — on the Caribbean islands
None of these areas were entirely independent, though the tribes were generally quite distinct. There was extensive trade; the high-grade flint from the Niagara region has been found at pre-Columbian Hopi and Navaho sites, and obsidian from Yellowstone was traded as far away as the US Gulf Coast a thousand years before Columbus.
While especially the Mesoamericans and eastern cultures were farmers, most of the continent was populated by hunter-gatherers. They were dependent on the North American wildlife for survival.
There are a group of people in Cuba called the Taino people who are descendants of the indigenous Cubans. However, most Cubans are Hispanic.
MesoamericansThe Mesoamerican civilizations (Mayans, Aztecs, Toltecs, Olmecs, etc.) were the main urban societies, and the only ones in the New World to have writing.
Prehistoric sitesArtifacts have been found at a number of archeological sites dating back many thousands of years. The sites themselves are closed to visitors when excavations are under way, and visiting them at other times is likely to be a bad idea — not much to see and digging on your own would be a crime. However, nearby museums are often worth a visit and there may be opportunities for volunteer work on some sites.
Clovis CultureA site from around 11,000 BCE; many tools and one grave have been found at Blackwater Draw near Clovis. The people were stone age hunters and produced distinctive flint work called Clovis points. Clovis is the "type site" for the culture, first excavated around 1920, but several other sites have since been found. This culture was quite widespread; Clovis artefacts have been found as far east as Ohio and as far south as Venezuela. DNA tests show a close relation to modern Native Americans and some experts think the Clovis people were the ancestors of all the later groups, but this is disputed.
Clovis serves as a sort of benchmark for archaeologists; everyone in the field accepts the notion that this culture was widespread well before 10,000 BCE. Several teams digging in locations from Alaska to Chile have found evidence of even earlier humans, but Clovis is the earliest culture for which there is solidly confirmed evidence at multiple sites.
Triquet IslandSite of a village that appears to have been a refuge from the last ice age, 12,000 BCE or earlier.
On Your Knees CaveHas artifacts from about 8,000 BCE.
Sun RiverThis site is from about 9,500 BCE and has the oldest human remains yet found in the Arctic. Its people are thought to have been descended from Ancient Beringians, the first group to cross the Bering Strait land bridge several thousand years earlier; DNA evidence suggests the Beringians were not closely related to later groups.
Áísínai’pi National Historic Site of Canadaphone: +1 403-647-2364Home to Siksika (Blackfoot) glyphs that date back as much as 9,000 years.
Majorville Medicine WheelA sacred Blackfoot site dating back to about 3200 BCE.
Cahokia Mounds State Historic Site, IllinoisA UNESCO World Heritage Site with a fine museum. At its peak, around 1200 CE, a city of over 15,000.
Effigy Mounds National Monument, IowaEffigy mounds shaped like bears and birds.
Lamoka Site, New YorkDating to around 3500 BCE, the Lamoka Site provides the first clear evidence of a hunter-gatherer culture in the northeastern United States.
Moundsville, West VirginiaBurial mounds from about 200 BCE.
Pipestone National MonumentSite of quarries for stone used in pipes and ornaments; these are still carved for the tourist trade.
Great Serpent MoundThe largest earthworks serpent in the world.
Northwestern US and Western Canada
Wounded KneeSite of a massacre of over 150 Indians, mainly Sioux, by US Cavalry in 1890. Also of an armed standoff between the American Indian Movement and various law enforcement agencies in 1973.
Little Bighorn BattlefieldSite of a major Indian victory over US cavalry in 1876.
Chief Crazy Horse MemorialUnder construction in South Dakota. Crazy Horse was one of the leaders at Little Bighorn.
Standing RockCenter of controversy in 2016 as local Indians tried to block construction of a pipeline that threatened their water supply.
phone: +1 403-553-2731This buffalo jump is a UNESCO World Heritage site. Native hunters would drive a whole herd over a cliff.
Southwest US and Northern Mexico
Aztec Ruins National Monument
Canyons of the Ancients National Monument, Southwestern ColoradoContains more than 6,000 archaeological sites, representing Ancestral Puebloan and other Native American cultures.
Monument Valley Navajo Tribal ParkWhile there are the remnants of Native American dwellings in this Navajo Tribal Park, it is best-known for its rock formations and film-making history.
Pecos National Historical Park
Sermermiut4,000-year-old settlement. Archeological excavations have shown the site being inhabited by the Saqqaq, Early Dorset and Thule cultures.
National Museum of the American Indianaddress: Washington, D.C./National MallThis museum displays the cultural traditions of the Native peoples of North, Central, and South America. It focuses on 20th century and present day culture much more than pre-Columbian and colonial periods. The exhibits can be fascinating, but are not as grandiose as those of other Smithsonian museums in DC. Perhaps the most important attraction is the gorgeous building itself, designed by famous Native Canadian architect Douglas Cardinal of Blackfoot descent, echoing the ancient stone formations of the American Southwest, and surrounded by manifestations both metaphorical and literal of natural North American landscapes.
- Northwest coast Indian art in Vancouver or Seattle
- Inuit art in Ottawa and Montreal (imported from Nunavut)
- Southwestern Indian items including fine silver and turquoise work in Santa Fe.
- Lewis and Clark Trail, route of a US government expedition to what is now Oregon, 1804-1806
- Trail of Tears, route of a forced migration of Cherokee and others in which several thousand died
- The Mohawk Trail, a scenic route in Massachusetts
- Oregon Trail, a route of widespread settler colonization westward which had a severe impact on native communities on the trail