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Native American facts for kids

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Native Americans
Edward S. Curtis Collection People 013.jpg
A picture of a man from the Gros Ventre tribe
Total population
70 million +
Indigenous languages of the Americas, Spanish, Portuguese, English, Dutch, Danish, French
  • Inuit religion
  • Native American religion
  • Mesoamerican religion
  • Christianity

Native Americans (also called Aboriginal Americans, American Indians, Amerindians or indigenous peoples of the Americas) are the indigenous peoples and their descendants, who were in the Americas before Europeans arrived.

Sometimes these people are called Indians, but this may be confusing, because it is the same word used for people from India. When Christopher Columbus explored, he did not know about the Americas. He was in the Caribbean but thought he was in the East Indies, so he called the people Indians. Today, some think that calling a Native American an Indian is racist.

There are many different tribes of Native American people, with many different languages. Some tribes were hunter-gatherers who moved from place to place. Others lived in one place and built cities and kingdoms.

Many Native Americans died after the Europeans came to the Americas. There were diseases that came with the Europeans but were new to the Native Americans. There were battles with the Europeans. Many native people were hurt, killed, or forced to leave their homes by settlers who took their lands.

Today, there are more than three million Native Americans in Canada and the U.S. combined. About 51 million more Native Americans live in Latin America. Many Native Americans still speak native languages and have their own cultural practices, while others have adopted some parts of Western culture. Many Native Americans face problems with discrimination and racism.


The ancestors of Native Americans came to the Americas from Asia. Some of them may have come to America 15,000 years ago when Alaska was connected to Siberia by the Bering land bridge.

The earliest people in the Americas came from Siberia when there was an ice bridge across the Bering Strait. The cold but mainly grassy plain which connected Siberia with Canada is called Beringia. It is reckoned that a few thousand people arrived in Beringia from eastern Siberia during the Last Glacial Maximum before moving into the Americas sometime after 16,500 years before the present (BP). This would have occurred as the American glaciers blocking the way southward melted, but before the bridge was covered by the sea about 11,000 years BP.

Before European colonization, Beringia was inhabited by the Yupik peoples on both sides of the straits. This culture remains in the region today, with others. In 2012, the governments of Russia and the United States announced a plan to formally establish "a transboundary area of shared Beringian heritage". Among other things this agreement would establish close ties between the Bering Land Bridge National Preserve and the Cape Krusenstern National Monument in the United States and Beringia National Park in Russia.

Native Americans are divided into many small nations, called First Nations in Canada and tribes elsewhere.


Each Native American tribe has their own culture. The cultures can be grouped together depending on region. For example, the tribes living in Mesoamerica have similar cultures.


Native Americans ate many different things depending on where they lived.

Native Americans from Mesoamerica introduced vanilla, avocados, and chocolate to the world.


Before Europeans came, the native peoples of the Americans practiced many different religions. Each tribe had their own different beliefs.

Today, many Native Americans practice Christianity, a religion that was brought to the Americas by Europeans. Meanwhile, others still practice their own religions.


Native Americans today speak over a thousand different languages. Some of these languages had writing systems before Europeans came.

Many of these languages are endangered because more people are speaking European languages and not teaching Native American languages to their kids.


Native Americans make musical instruments using the things around them.


Native Americans make a lot of different art.


North America

United States

According to the 2010 United States census, 0.9% of Americans say they are Native American, 2.9 million people, and 0.8% of Americans say they are both Native American and something else. They are not evenly spread out through the United States. About a third of the people in Alaska are Native Alaskan and about a sixth of the people in Oklahoma are Native American.

In the United States, most Native Americans live in cities. About 28% of Native Americans live on reservations. Many Native Americans are poor, and 24% are extremely poor. The history of violence against Native Americans persists today in higher rates of violence against Native American people than white people.


Many Mexicans are of Native American or mestizo ancestry. Mexico has the largest and most diverse Native American population in Latin America.


In the 2016 census, More than 1.67 million people in Canada identified as Indigenous, making them 4.9 per cent of Canada’s population.

Central America


About 40% of the people of Guatemala identify as Native American. Many indigenous groups in the country are descendants of the Maya.

Many Native Americans in Guatemala are poor. Many of them have left the country to find better jobs elsewhere.

South America


The majority of Bolivians belong to indigenous groups. Many are Aymara and Quechua.


Peru has a large indigenous population, around 80% of Peru's population identify as indigenous or mestizo.

Indigenous activism

In the later half of the 20th century, many Native Americans started to protest the unfair treatment they experienced from the societies they lived in.

Some Native Americans have become famous in politics. For example, an Aymara man named Evo Morales was elected as president of Bolivia in 2005. He was the first indigenous presidential candidate in Bolivia and South America.

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