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Biggest Native American tribes in the U.S. today

  • Biggest Native American tribes in the U.S. today

    It's commonly believed that Native American origins reach far back to late in the Ice Age when the first humans ventured across the Bering Strait and into what is now North America. Over time, they dispersed across the continent and into South America, establishing distinct tribes, territories, and cultures. Some Native American tribes believe humans were always here, and many researchers are confident waves of people arrived at different times and by different means.

    When Christopher Columbus and other explorers sailed to North America, they sought to colonize the Native Americans' territory and claim it as their own. Through decades of wars and treaties, Native Americans have had a complicated, painful history with European colonists. As they were experts of the North American landscape and its resources, Native Americans were able to build a strong economy based on trade with the Europeans. But as colonial presence grew and "Manifest Destiny" rhetoric set in, Native Americans had trouble living on the land they had known for generations in the face of widespread westward expansion. In 1830, President Andrew Jackson passed the Indian Removal Act leading to many tribes being forced from their ancestral lands and pushed west onto reservations. Though some customs and traditions have been lost to colonization, war, and missionary efforts, many tribes still maintain a unique identity that honors their rich ancestral history.

    In celebration of the robust history of North America's ancestral people, Stacker used data from the 2010 Census, the most comprehensive recent population report on the United States' Native American population, to compile a list of 42 of the largest Native American tribes in the country today. As of the 2010 Census, there are about 1.6 million Native Americans total living in the United States. The tribes are ranked based on the number of people who identify as a member of this tribe alone or in any combination. For example, someone who is Cherokee and white would be included in the Cherokee population. The list also includes people who identify as each tribe in combination with other Native American groups (e.g., Apache and Navajo) as well as people who identify solely as a member of one Native American tribe. Native American groups unconnected to specific tribes (e.g., Mexican American Indian, Canadian and French American Indian) are not included in this list. Read ahead to dive into the rich culture of the country's most prominent Native American tribes.

    You may also like: How America has changed since the first Census in 1790

  • #42. Tsimshian (Alaska Native)

    - Share of all Native Americans: 0.2%
    - Tribe alone or in any combination: 3,755
    - Tribe alone or in combination with other tribes: 2,547 (#1 smallest)
    - Tribe alone: 2,307 (#2 smallest)

    The Tsimshians reside in the Northwest coast along the Nass and Skeena Rivers as well as in nearby areas of British Columbia. They were heavily involved in the fur trade with Europeans starting in the 1700s, eventually founding the large trade town of Fort Simpson. Today, the tribe relies on salmon fishing as the main form of sustenance and trade.

  • #41. Cree

    - Share of all Native Americans: 0.5%
    - Tribe alone or in any combination: 7,983
    - Tribe alone or in combination with other tribes: 2,950 (#2 smallest)
    - Tribe alone: 2,211 (#1 smallest)

    With a wide reach from northern Ontario to Montana, the Cree were also highly successful in the fur trade. They used their influence to gain economic and political influence amongst other tribes. The tribe is much more populous in Canada than in the U.S.

  • #40. Yuman

    - Share of all Native Americans: 0.6%
    - Tribe alone or in any combination: 10,089
    - Tribe alone or in combination with other tribes: 8,278 (#7 smallest)
    - Tribe alone: 7,727 (#5 smallest)

    The Yuman live primarily in the Southwest United States and western Mexico, spanning from western Arizona to Southern California and down the Baja Peninsula. The origins of the name of their tribe draw from the name of their tribal language: Hokan. Though it's their common language that unites the Yuman's many tribes, they have a combative history and maintain a separate identity from each other.

  • #39. Colville

    - Share of all Native Americans: 0.7%
    - Tribe alone or in any combination: 10,549
    - Tribe alone or in combination with other tribes: 8,314 (#8 smallest)
    - Tribe alone: 8,114 (#9 smallest)

    The Colville are a tribe that make up the Confederated Tribes of the Colville Reservation along with the Lakes, Okanogan, Moses-Columbia, Wenatchi, Entiat, Chelan, Methow, Nespelem, Sanpoil, Chief Joseph Band of Nez Perce, and Palus Indians. The Colville Reservation spans from southwestern Canada to the Idaho/Oregon border. The tribes on this reservation move throughout the land depending on the season in a hunter-gatherer lifestyle.

  • #38. Houma

    - Share of all Native Americans: 0.7%
    - Tribe alone or in any combination: 10,768
    - Tribe alone or in combination with other tribes: 8,240 (#6 smallest)
    - Tribe alone: 8,169 (#10 smallest)

    Closely related to the Choctaw, Chickasaw, and Chakchiuma tribes, the Houma reside mostly in Louisiana. During the French Period (1699–1766), the Houma allied themselves with Louisiana, thriving through trade. However, throughout time, the Houma have had to battle with the effects of environmental change, reclaiming their native language, and maintaining a robust population.

  • #37. Arapaho

    - Share of all Native Americans: 0.7%
    - Tribe alone or in any combination: 10,861
    - Tribe alone or in combination with other tribes: 8,402 (#9 smallest)
    - Tribe alone: 8,014 (#8 smallest)

    The Arapaho comprise two separate tribes: the Northern Arapaho in Wyoming and the Southern Arapaho in Oklahoma. Their home in the plains became a battlefield of conflict for European settlers moving west seeking to strike it big during the gold rush.

  • #36. Menominee

    - Share of all Native Americans: 0.7%
    - Tribe alone or in any combination: 11,133
    - Tribe alone or in combination with other tribes: 8,627 (#11 smallest)
    - Tribe alone: 8,374 (#11 smallest)

    Residing in the Midwest in Wisconsin, Michigan, and Illinois, the Menominee have a legacy of being experts in agriculture and trapping. However, in current times, they have come up against many hardships since the reservation period. With the depletion of government funding leading to a lack of vital resources for the community, the tribe struggles to maintain its robust culture.

  • #35. Ute

    - Share of all Native Americans: 0.7%
    - Tribe alone or in any combination: 11,491
    - Tribe alone or in combination with other tribes: 8,220 (#5 smallest)
    - Tribe alone: 7,435 (#4 smallest)

    The Ute are masters at adapting to the characteristics of their territory. The Western Ute in Utah retained the traditional Great Basin lifestyle, while the Eastern Ute in Colorado and New Mexico took on the equestrian, trade-based plains lifestyle. The infiltration of the Mormons to the Great Basin in 1849 resulted in two wars—the Walker War and the Black Hawk War—that resulted in the displacement of the Western Ute.

  • #34. Yakama

    - Share of all Native Americans: 0.7%
    - Tribe alone or in any combination: 11,527
    - Tribe alone or in combination with other tribes: 9,096 (#12 smallest)
    - Tribe alone: 8,786 (#12 smallest)

    Officially named Confederated Tribes and Bands of the Yakama Nation, the Yakama Nation comprises 14 different bands. The Yakama Nation occupies the Columbia Plateau in south-central Washington. The unique location of the Columbia Plateau provided isolation from European influence, resulting in a well-preserved indigenous culture.

  • #33. Shoshone

    - Share of all Native Americans: 0.8%
    - Tribe alone or in any combination: 13,002
    - Tribe alone or in combination with other tribes: 8,462 (#10 smallest)
    - Tribe alone: 7,852 (#7 smallest)

    The Shoshone have lived primarily by the lifestyle of the plains since their acquisition of horses in the late 1600s. The tribe lives off of hunting both large and small game—from buffalo to fish—and agriculture. As with most plains lifestyle tribes, the Shoshone celebrate the Sun Dance which symbolizes the renewal of the people and the land.

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