Long before Christopher Columbus and his entourage sailed into the Bahamas, there were other people already existing in America. Sure, they didn’t sail on in as Christopher did, but they made a great trek over the Asian land bridge into what is now known as Alaska. Of course, this was some 12,000 years ago, so you’ll be forgiven if you don’t know any of this.
By the time the 15th Century A.D. rolled around (when the European adventurers had started arriving in America), some 50 million people were already there. And these, of course, were the Native American Tribes – many of which are still around today.
Take a little peek at the statistics. You will learn that the United States Government deems 574 Indian tribes in the contiguous 48 states and Alaska as worthy of federal recognition (as of April 2022) and 64 state-recognized tribes. In fact, approximately 4.5 million Native Americans are living in the U.S. today – a whopping 1.5% of the entire population. And the U.S. Census predicts that there may be more than 10 million indigenous people in the U.S. by 2060!
Maintaining customs and traditions must have been tough for Native Americans over the years, especially with war and European colonization wreaking the havoc they do. However, many tribes still pay homage to their culture, languages, history, and identity. In addition, many tribes work hard and stay together, whether in business or members of their exclusive “city” or reserve.
As an American, how much do you know about the Native American tribal history, especially in the area where you reside? Who are these tribes? Which tribes are the biggest and the richest? And which tribes no longer exist? How do Native American Tribes contribute to modern American society? Well, that’s what you’re about to find out.
Introducing the USA’s 5 Biggest Native American Tribes
The Cherokee Tribe is probably the most well-known tribe in America. Even if you don’t know anything about their history, the tribe’s name is possibly still familiar to you. With a population of 819,105, this is the biggest Native American tribe in the U.S. When they first existed, this tribe was settled in the North and South Caroline, Alabama, Tennessee and Georgia. They signed over all of their lands in exchange for a plot in Oklahoma plus $5 million in 1835.
The second largest Native American Tribe currently in existence is the Navajo Tribe, with a population of 332,129 and closely related to the Apaches. Originally settled in Utah, New Mexico, Arizona, and Colorado, this tribe is well known for contributing to the military and jewelry and artistry. The Navajo Tribe played a role in defeating the Germans in WWII, and they currently have the largest reservation in the U.S., consisting of more than 16 million acres. The Navajo tribe may not be the largest Native American Tribe, but they certainly have made their mark in the U.S.
The Choctaw Tribe is the third largest Native American Tribe, has a population of 195,764 and its headquarters in Oklahoma. The tribe spans eight counties in Oklahoma and 12 tribal districts. In the early days of the Choctaw tribe, they lived in a matriarchal society. The Choctaw was the first tribe to be relocated under the Indian Removal Act.
The Chippewa Tribe has around 150 bands, including the Kickapoo, Seneca, Huron, Delaware, and Shawnee. The population is currently around 170,742 and resides in Michigan, Minnesota, North Dakota, Wisconsin, and Canada. Originally, the Chippewa Tribe was the biggest and most influential tribe in the Great Lakes area.
The Sioux Indians Tribe
Known as fierce warriors in times gone by, the Sioux Indians are a population of 170,110 strong. The tribe name means “allies,” and you will find seven bands within the tribe, including Oohenumpa, Sihasapa, Sicangu, Miniconjous, Oglala, Hunkpapa, and Itazipacola. They are mostly found in North America in Canada, Minnesota, Nebraska and the Dakotas. Male tribe members wearing a grizzly bear claw necklace are said to have earned the honor through an act of courage.
The next five on the biggest Native American Tribes list include the following:
- Apache Tribe – population: 111,810
- Blackfeet – population: 105,304
- Creek – population: 88,332
- Iroquois – population: 81,002
- Lumbee – population: 73, 691
The Newest Native American Tribe
According to CNN, the most recent or newest Native American Tribe is The Little Shell Tribe. As it turns out, the Little Shell Tribe is part of the Chippewa Indians and has been trying to get federal recognition since the 1930s. Now that the tribe has been recognized, the government will set aside 200 acres of land that will be the reservation of the tribe (and managed by them too).
The Richest Native American Tribe in the U.S.
Interestingly enough, the richest Native American tribe is nowhere near the biggest. The Shakopee Mdewakanton has only 480 members and is said to owe its wealth to the reservation’s thriving casino and resort that expands to the mammoth size of a city on the weekends! According to the tribe’s president, Stanley R. Crooks, the tribe has 99.2% unemployment which is entirely voluntary as each adult tribe member currently receives around $84,000 per month!
Native American Tribe’s Contribution to Society
According to History, inventions and innovations by Native American tribes are commonly used in our daily lives. Here’s a quick overview of some of them:
- Baby bottles
- Pain relievers
- Oral contraceptives
- Raised bed agriculture
- Suspension bridges
- Snow goggles
Nowadays, Native American reservations are known for their casinos, resorts, and same-day money lending.
While the Native American tribes have a long history in the USA, and there are thousands of tribes to familiarize yourself with, the truth remains that Native American tribes and their reservations are contributing elements of American society.