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What Are the Different Types of Native American Tribes?

Native American tribes are incredibly diverse, with each possessing unique languages, cultures, and histories. From the Navajo in the Southwest to the Iroquois in the Northeast, these groups reflect a rich tapestry of traditions. The Sioux, Apache, and Cherokee are just a few more examples of the multitude. How does this diversity shape their identities and contributions? Explore with us.
Felicia Dye
Felicia Dye

The term “Native American” refers to the people who are indigenous to North America, and individuals who lived in North America long before European explorers invaded the territory. The people who were native to North America were not a single group, however, and various groups, or tribes, had specific ways of life and generally inhabited specific areas. Examples of Native American tribes include the Tuskegee, Cheyenne, and Arapaho.

The Tuskegee is one of the tribes collectively known as Muskogean. Documentation suggests that this tribe moved around throughout history, but their movement seems to have been confined largely to the area that is now known as Alabama. They were eventually forced to move to Oklahoma.

Native Americans celebrate their heritage with regional gatherings.
Native Americans celebrate their heritage with regional gatherings.

The Apalachee is another of the Native American tribes that belongs to the Muskogean group. This tribe, which was native to Florida, was noted among other things for its size. Their fate was rewritten by both European and Native American forces, first when the Spanish forced them into mission towns, and then when the British influenced two other tribes, the Creeks and the Yuchi, to attack and nearly destroy them.

A teepee is a traditional Native American shelter.
A teepee is a traditional Native American shelter.

The Arapaho are an example of the Native American tribes that are part of Oklahoma’s history. The origins of the Arapaho remain unknown, but some theories suggest they may have descended from Canada. They were Algonkian speaking Native Americans who maintained alliance with the Cheyenne, but who were generally adversaries of the Shoshone, Ute, and Pawnee. In 1861, the Arapaho signed a treaty with the United States (US) resulting in the southern part of the tribe being assigned lands in what is now Oklahoma and the northern part of the tribe being assigned land in what is now Wyoming.

Many traditional Navajo live within the boundaries of Monument Valley Navajo Tribal Park, an area along the Arizona-Utah border than is now for its striking beauty.
Many traditional Navajo live within the boundaries of Monument Valley Navajo Tribal Park, an area along the Arizona-Utah border than is now for its striking beauty.

The Cheyenne are also Algonkian speaking people. This tribe’s roots were traced to an area between the Mississippi and Minnesota rivers. History reveals that at one point the Cheyenne were a stationary tribe, but they became nomadic, like the Arapaho, by force. This tribe had a notable alliance with the Sioux that was often used in war against the whites. This included the historic Battle of Little Bighorn, in which the Teton Sioux and the Cheyenne fought against the US Army to protect their hunting grounds.

Like many Native American groups, the tribes in the Iroquois Confederation used canoes for trading, fishing, and warfare.
Like many Native American groups, the tribes in the Iroquois Confederation used canoes for trading, fishing, and warfare.

Many people are acquainted with the term “Sioux,” but it is important to note, however, that this name does not refer to a single tribe. Rather, it refers to seven closely related tribes that were found by explorers on the land that is now Minnesota: the Mdewakanton, Wahpekute, Wahpeton, Sisitownan, Yankton, Yanktonai, and Teton.

Frequently Asked Questions

How many different types of Native American tribes are there?

"Native American" is the generic term for indigenous North Americans.
"Native American" is the generic term for indigenous North Americans.

There are currently 574 federally recognized Native American tribes in the United States, according to the Bureau of Indian Affairs. Each tribe has its own unique culture, language, and history. Additionally, there are state-recognized tribes and other groups that have not received federal recognition.

What are some of the largest Native American tribes?

Hundreds of federally recognized tribes exist in the U.S.
Hundreds of federally recognized tribes exist in the U.S.

The Navajo Nation is the largest Native American tribe in the United States, with a 2020 population of approximately 399,494 enrolled members, as reported by the Navajo Nation. Other large tribes include the Cherokee Nation, with over 380,000 citizens, and the Choctaw Nation, with over 200,000 members.

Can you name some Native American tribes from the Northeastern United States?

In the Northeastern United States, prominent tribes include the Iroquois Confederacy, which is made up of six nations: the Mohawk, Oneida, Onondaga, Cayuga, Seneca, and Tuscarora. Other tribes from this region are the Wampanoag, Pequot, and the Mohegan.

What are some of the cultural practices that distinguish different Native American tribes?

Different Native American tribes have distinct cultural practices that reflect their diverse histories and environments. For example, the Plains tribes, such as the Sioux and Cheyenne, are known for their horse culture and tipi dwellings. The Pueblo peoples of the Southwest are renowned for their adobe architecture and intricate pottery. Tribes of the Pacific Northwest, like the Haida and Tlingit, are famous for their totem poles and potlatch ceremonies.

How do Native American tribes maintain their cultural heritage today?

Native American tribes maintain their cultural heritage through various means, including language preservation programs, cultural festivals, traditional storytelling, and the practice of ancestral crafts and ceremonies. Many tribes operate museums and cultural centers that educate the public and serve as a repository for historical artifacts. Tribes also engage in political advocacy to protect their rights and lands, which are integral to their cultural identity.

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Discussion Comments

Qohe1et

Many Native Americans have intermarried with African Americans. Many African Americans are therefore more American than European Americans. They can trace their ancestry to local tribes. African slaves were brought over to the states due to the inability of Natives to withstand the European pandemic of smallpox. Africans did not have this problem, and through intermarrying with African slaves, many of the Natives survived.

Armas1313

@BigBloom

This tendency seems to be exhibited most clearly in the European tendency to label all Natives as "Indians," when in fact, Indians live on the other side of the world and are a world of difference from Native Americans. The equivalent would be to have Native Americans discover Europe and call all the Europeans "Chinese."

hangugeo112

Native American languages have influenced various landmark names and state names in the US today. The native populations of England, the Britons, also left their mark on elements in the town names of that island. It is interesting that the longest surviving relics of ancient languages tend to be common names of areas.

BigBloom

The out-group homogeneity bias is a common cognitive bias in which people tend to think that members of a different people group are all the same. Because of this bias, Europeans tend to think that all Asians are simply Asian, and not recognize the various countries they are from. This is also the case with white American perception of Native Americans, and can be offensive. It is important to recognize the difference between people of varying cultures. No Italian would enjoy being called German, for instance. A person's individual tribe is important to them.

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    • Native Americans celebrate their heritage with regional gatherings.
      By: Pascal Huot
      Native Americans celebrate their heritage with regional gatherings.
    • A teepee is a traditional Native American shelter.
      By: aragami
      A teepee is a traditional Native American shelter.
    • Many traditional Navajo live within the boundaries of Monument Valley Navajo Tribal Park, an area along the Arizona-Utah border than is now for its striking beauty.
      By: dade72
      Many traditional Navajo live within the boundaries of Monument Valley Navajo Tribal Park, an area along the Arizona-Utah border than is now for its striking beauty.
    • Like many Native American groups, the tribes in the Iroquois Confederation used canoes for trading, fishing, and warfare.
      By: Shchipkova Elena
      Like many Native American groups, the tribes in the Iroquois Confederation used canoes for trading, fishing, and warfare.
    • "Native American" is the generic term for indigenous North Americans.
      By: monamakela.com
      "Native American" is the generic term for indigenous North Americans.
    • Hundreds of federally recognized tribes exist in the U.S.
      By: ID1974
      Hundreds of federally recognized tribes exist in the U.S.