What are the Most Common Indigenous Groups of North America?

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  • Written By: Sheri Cyprus
  • Edited By: Sara Z. Potter
  • Last Modified Date: 26 September 2019
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Indigenous people from North America are also called original or Native Americans as well as First Nations. Indigenous groups have lived in North America for thousands of years. They inhabited the area long before Europeans "discovered" it in the fifteenth century. North America's indigenous people were popularly and erroneously referred to as "Indians" because Europeans mistakenly thought they had reached India. The Cherokee, Cheyenne, Cree, Haida, Iroquois, Mi'kmaq, Navajo, and Ojibwe are among the most common indigenous groups of North America, although there are numerous others.

The Cherokee are indigenous to parts of the Carolinas, Georgia, Virginia, Tennessee, Kentucky, and Alabama. The Cherokee developed their own elected tribal council system of government and their own newspapers and court and school systems. Some Cherokee became quite wealthy farmers until the United States government created The Indian Removal Act in 1829 when gold was found on Cherokee-owned land in Georgia. Thousands of Cherokee died as they had to leave for the West without enough food, shelter, or supplies.

The Cheyenne originally lived in the Great Plains of the Mississippi River Valley and today live mostly in Oklahoma and Montana. The Cheyenne language is a dialect of the Algonquin family of languages and includes fourteen alphabet letters. The Cheyenne has had to fight government attempts to control their use of their traditional language.


The Cree is the largest nation of indigenous people in Canada. They range from Hudson's Bay to Alberta in Canada and in Montana, North and South Dakota, and Minnesota in the United States. The plains Cree are buffalo hunters, while the woodland Cree are forest dwellers. Wars with the Sioux as well as small pox contracted from European contact greatly reduced the Cree population.

The Haida are First Nations people who live in Northern British Columbia; some Haida live on Alaska's Prince of Wales Island. Potlaches are an important ceremony to the indigenous Haida and are used for many social occasions such as funerals and the building of a new home. The Haida are known for their artistic family crests and totems as well as their high quality red cedar canoes.

The Iroquois people include the Mohawk, Oneida, Onondaga, Cayuga, Seneca, and Tuscarora. They are First Nations people from the Northeastern parts of North America such as the Hudson River and Lake Erie areas. The Iroquois were a strong nation who ate deer meat and also hunted rabbits, bear, beaver, and muskrats. They used bow and arrows as well as traps to hunt animals.

The Mi'kmaq are First Nations people from Eastern Canada and Maine. An important part of Mi'kmaq culture is the Vision Quest, when a person must make a life-changing decision about which life path to take. The Vision Quest is very personal and involves fasting and communicating with the Creator to understand a higher purpose to help find the right direction.

The Navajo are indigenous to parts of New Mexico, Utah, and Arizona. The Navajo language is Athapaskan. The Navajo raised sheep, horses, and goats. A huge economic loss to the Navajo occurred between 1932 and 1936 when the United States Government forced the Navajo to greatly reduce their sheep stock.

The Ojibwe are also called Chippewa, Anishinabe, Ojibwa, Ojibway, and Othipwe. They are indigenous to the Sault Sainte Marie area in Canada and were forced out by French explorers in the 1600s. The Ojibwe moved to Minnesota, Wisconsin, and North Dakota. The Ojibwe are known for their birch bark canoes.


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