A detailed set of features & king lists focussing on
these complex peoples.
As the vast majority of native American Indian history is based
in oral tradition, which was only committed to writing many years
later, the histories shown in the king list pages are, for the
most part, incomplete.
What follows there and in these compendium pages,
whilst being a little more than merely 'selective', has yet to
achieve 'exhaustive' status, still less 'definitive' - but it
is heading in the right direction!
A fairly exhaustive list of tribes, sub-tribes,
and bands is or will be included, which will be supplemented with
more details as this section evolves and improves. As our knowledge
grows and we learn more, and additional information regarding tribal
structures, lists of battles, and participating chiefs will be
added. Some tribal groups such as the Apache, Iroquois, Sioux,
Mahican, and the Five Civilised Tribes have a wealth of information
available, so coverage in these areas may be considered exhaustive,
even definitive as far as is possible here.
While the site is easily able to accommodate full
histories of any particular tribal group, the time to write them
is harder to come by. Other tribes have so little written about them
that short of visiting every Indian reservation, giving detailed
histories becomes an almost impossible task. Many of these lesser
entries will be no more than a small paragraph covering the tribe's
name location, and the names of any known notables.
North American Indian languages were first
comprehensive classified into families in 1891, by the American John
Wesley Powell. He based his study on impressionistic resemblances in
vocabulary and managed to identify fifty-eight language families
(called 'stocks'). The principle of nomenclature adopted by him has
been widely used ever since.
North America's complicated native tribal structure under
The areas and corresponding linguistic
groups are as follows:
ARCTIC - Eskimo and Aleut
CALIFORNIA - Penutian, Hokan, Uto-Aztecan,
Ritwan, and Yukian
GREAT BASIN - Uto-Aztecan, Shoshonean,
GREAT FOREST (WOODLAND and EASTERN
SEABOARD) - Algonquian and Iroquoian
GREAT PLAINS - Siouan, Caddoan,
Algonquian, and Uto-Aztecan
NORTH-WEST COAST - Salishan, Wakashan,
Na-Dene, Chinookian, and West Coast Athapascan (seven minor
PLATEAU - Salishan, Ritwan, Kutenai,
and Sahaptin (two minor groups)
SOUTH-EAST (SOUTH-EAST WOODLANDS) -
Muskhogean, Caddoan, Siouan, and Iroquoian (four minor groups)
SOUTH-WEST & MEXICO - Athapascan,
Shoshonean, Uto-Aztecan, Tanoan, Yuman (three minor groups),
Zunian, and Keresan
SUB-ARCTIC - Northern Athapascan,
Algonquian, and Beothuk
In basic terms, there are nine main linguistic stocks
with another forty-six language families (some of which are extinct)
to amend Powell's original fifty eight stocks.
The Athabascan linguistic stock, whilst largely
inhabiting the north, Canada, and the woodlands regions, nonetheless
included the Apache.
Chiefdoms and states
Sedentary peoples and hunters often lived near each
other and shared mutual hostility and disregard, but, in fact, the
categories for sedentary, semi-sedentary, and hunter-gatherers were
never clear-cut and many aspects of life were shared by them all.
To some extent the large imperial states with highly
developed religious and political systems and monumental architecture
(which we call civilisations such as Teotihuacan in Mexico or Chimor
in Peru) were variants of a widely diffused pattern, the chiefdom.
From the Amazon to the Mississippi valley,
populations - sometimes numbering in the tens of thousands - were
governed by hereditary chieftains who ruled over a large territory
from central towns, including smaller towns or villages that paid
tribute to the ruler. The predominant town often had a ceremonial
function, with large temples and a priestly class. Beautiful pottery
and other goods indicate specialisation.
It is generally assumed that the Mesoamerican cultures
were civilised city builders while the native tribes to
the north and south of them were barbarians, but their
cultures may have been far more similar in terms of their
structure, with perhaps only the skill of building in
stone being a real difference
European settlers gradually influenced the natives, including the
custom of morning prayer
The existence of social hierarchy with a class of nobles and commoners
was also a characteristic of many of the chiefdoms. It is sometimes
argued that, in state-building societies, ceremonial centres became
true cities, and clan or family relations were replaced by social
classes. The scale of the society was greater, but the differences are
not always so obvious. Both the Aztecs and the Incas with their complex
social hierarchies maintained aspects of earlier clan organisation.
In fact, in terms of social organisation, warfare,
and ceremonialism, there seems to be little that differentiates the
Maya city states from some of the chiefdoms in South America or
south-eastern North America.
As an example, Cahokia near St Louis, an important
town of the Mississippian culture (around AD 600-1400) with its
great earthen mounds covering an area of five square miles, probably
supported a population of over 30,000, as large as the great cities
of the Maya civilisation.
A distinction between sedentary agriculturists and
nomadic hunters may be more useful than the distinctions between
'civilised' and 'uncivilised'. Building and carving in stone, and
therefore the ability of archaeologists to reconstruct a culture,
seem to have become a major feature in determining the difference
between a state or chiefdom - and by extension between
'civilisations' - and societies that do not seem to merit the
At the same time, we should recognise that the
settled peoples and the hunters themselves recognised the difference
between their ways of life and, when they were in contact, they
often shared a mutual jealousy and hostility towards each other.
The Incas looked down on the peoples of the Amazonian rain forest
and referred to them as Chunchos, or barbarians, but they could
never conquer these peoples. They traded with them from time to
time, and sometimes used them as mercenaries. The Aztecs referred
to the nomads who lived to the north as Chichimecs, which came to
mean 'uncivilised', but the Aztecs themselves may have originated
as one of these groups, which were constantly pushing in on the
wealthier and better-fed settled areas.
To some extent the pattern of tension between the
nomad and the 'civilised' Old World was reproduced in the Americas.
Cahokia was a town of the Mississippian mound-building culture
Johnson, Michael G - Indian Tribes
of the New England Frontier (Osprey No 428 Men-at-Arms
Johnson, Michael G - The Native
Tribes of North America - A Concise Encyclopaedia, 1993
Legay, Gilbert - Atlas of Indians of
North America, 1995
White, Jon Manchip - Everyday Life
of the North American Indian, 1979
Yenne, Bill - The Encyclopaedia
of North American Indian Tribes, 1986
First Nations: Issues of Consequence
(see sidebar link)