November is Native American Month. Also called the First Peoples, groups of indigenous people lived in the Americas—including North America—before the Europeans arrived and discovered the land for themselves. The Europeans were intent on settling the land and did not understand the cultures of the people who already lived there. Because the indigenous people did not have a culture like the Europeans, many of these foreigners did not recognize the native culture as culture. The Europeans were quick to describe the Native Americans as “savages” because of a lack of understanding.
Unsurprisingly, many native groups fought for their land. As they posed a serious threat to the newcomers, their characterization as “savage” was reinforced. Eventually, the Europeans won the Indian Wars, and native people were forced to relocate to less-valuable land on reservations—land "reserved" for them. Native people had been living on land that was well-suited to agriculture, especially in the southern region. White Europeans wanted to make their fortunes through harvesting and selling crops they found lucrative—cotton, in particular. The Indian Removal Act of 1830, known as the Trail of Tears, under President Andrew Jackson, forcibly removed the native populations of Creeks, Cherokee, and others out of Georgia, Alabama, and Florida. These peoples walked 1,200 miles to land that today is Oklahoma. Tens of thousands of native people were driven off their land onto reservations to the west. Many died along the way from whooping cough, typhus, dysentery, cholera, and starvation.
Today, as of the 2020 U.S. census, Native Americans make up only 2.9 percent of the U.S. population. However, this is an increase from the 2010 census. Then, only 5.2 million people self-identified as Native American and Alaska Native. In the recent census, that number climbed to 9.7 million. This month, encourage students to explore more about Native Americans. The following resources in Maps101 are available with your subscription.