Native Americans or American Indians are the people who have been living on the American continent for thousands of years. They migrated to the continent long before Europeans arrived. By the time Columbus discovered Americas in 1492, the Native American tribes were already living all over the continent.
The history of these indigenous people of American continent is a fascinating saga. Following are some of the key events and highlights of this history.
In the Ice Age, Alaska was connected with Asia through a land bridge. This is called the Bering land bridge by researchers today. During the Ice Age, human tribes from Asia started migrating to Alaska by traveling over this land bridge. These migrations probably took place in waves. The last of these waves is estimated to have taken place 12000 years ago.
Different Native American tribes came through this route and settled in different parts of the American continent. At first, they settled along the western coast which was closest to their route. But gradually, they spread all over the American continent.
As Native American tribes settled all over the American continent, they developed their own distinct cultures. Some of them started farming, others took up hunting as their primary source of food. Some tribes also learned to raise animals like turkeys and guinea pigs for meat. The tribes who settled along the coast indulged in fishing and traded their catch with the tribes living inland.
By 2000 B.C., many Native American tribes were large enough to create their own states. In some cases, many tribes banded together to create a unified political front. The tribes established links with each other, developed trade routes and grew significantly in terms of their population.
As time went by, some of the Native American tribes became so powerful that they created their own kingdoms and empires. In Central America, Mayans and Aztecs created great civilizations. In South America, Incas created a vast empire which stretched over an extensive area of South America. The Mayan, Aztec and Inca strongholds still existed when Europeans arrived in 1492.
In 1492, Christopher Columbus set out to reach Asia by going west from Europe. He stumbled across the American continent on his way. This brought the newly-discovered American continent to the attention of the Europeans. European nations like Spain started sending exploratory groups to find out more about the continent.
When the explorers came into contact with the Native Indians, the indigenous people were exposed to new diseases such as smallpox and measles. These diseases wrecked havoc on the population of Native Americans tribes. Large portions of their populations were wiped out as they didn’t have natural immunity towards these new diseases.
Soon after the discovery of the Americas by Columbus, European powers started thinking about conquering these new lands and exploiting its resources. These efforts were led by Spain which was a large and powerful empire at the time. Spain sent many military expeditions led by conquistadors to subdue the Native American tribes and gain control of the region.
The most notable of these was the expedition led by Hernan Cortes. Cortes arrived in the Americas in 1519. By 1521, he had defeated and conquered one of the most powerful political entities in Central America, the Aztec Empire. His efforts led to the slow colonization of the Americas and the end of Mayan states as well.
In the 16th century, the Inca Empire was the largest and mightiest Native American power in the Americas. It stretched across modern-day Peru, Bolivia, Ecuador and parts of Chile. Spanish military expedition under the conquistador Francisco Pizarro arrived at the empire’s borders in 1532.
In a short period of time, the Spanish had captured the emperor and gained control of some of the most important areas of the empire. In subsequent years, the Spanish gradually fought off the resistance and consolidated their conquest of the Inca Empire.
While Spanish Empire was busy conquering the areas in Central America, other European nations started sending groups of settlers to North America. The French arrived first and formed settlements. Then in 1607, the first group of British settlers arrived. These settlers established contact with the indigenous people of American continent.
With the help of the Native Americans, the French established a rich fur trade business in the region. Slowly, the British colonies who were initially situated along the eastern coast began to expand inland. This led to conflicts and battles with the Native Americans.
The British colonies on the east coast wanted to expand so that they could have more land. But most of the land in North America was under the control of the Native American tribes who had been living on it for a long time. When the settlers tried to expand onto their territory, this angered them.
The result was a frequent conflict between settlers and Native Americans. Initially, the Native Americans had some success against the European settlers. But slowly, they were overwhelmed by the superior weapons and technologies of the Europeans and slowly, they were pushed out of their lands.
In 1776, the United States of America was born. This came about after a long fight between Britain and the American colonies. Several Native American tribes had favored the British in the war, so now they had to pay the price. US armies gradually marched on their lands and subdued them.
After many wars and a lot of fighting, nearly all the Native American tribes in North America were removed from their ancestral lands. They were moved to special reservation sites. For most of the 20th century, the Native Americans were given very few rights. But political and social movements in recent decades have led to increased rights for them, such as the right to practice their religion.