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Classification of indigenous peoples of the Americas


Classification of indigenous peoples of the Americas

Cultural regions of North American people at the time of European contact.
Early indigenous languages in the US
Early indigenous languages in Alaska

Classification of indigenous peoples of the Americas is based upon cultural regions, geography, and linguistics. Anthropologists have named various cultural regions, with fluid boundaries, that are generally agreed upon with some variation. These cultural regions are broadly based upon the locations of indigenous peoples of the Americas from early European and African contact beginning in the late 15th century. When indigenous peoples have been forcibly removed by nation-states, they retain their original geographic classification. Some groups span multiple cultural regions.


  • Canada, Greenland, United States, and northern Mexico 1
    • Arctic 1.1
    • Subarctic 1.2
    • California 1.3
    • Eastern Woodlands 1.4
      • Northeastern Woodlands 1.4.1
      • Southeastern Woodlands 1.4.2
    • Great Basin 1.5
    • Northwest Plateau 1.6
      • Chinook peoples 1.6.1
      • Interior Salish 1.6.2
      • Sahaptin people 1.6.3
      • Other or both 1.6.4
    • Pacific Northwest Coast 1.7
    • Great Plains 1.8
    • Southwest 1.9
  • Mexico and Mesoamerica 2
    • Aridoamerica 2.1
    • Mesoamerica 2.2
  • Circum-Caribbean 3
    • Caribbean 3.1
    • Central America 3.2
    • Colombia and Venezuela 3.3
  • Guianas 4
  • Eastern Brazil 5
  • Andes 6
    • Pacific lowlands 6.1
  • Amazon 7
    • Northwestern Amazon 7.1
    • Eastern Amazon 7.2
    • Southern Amazon 7.3
    • Southwestern Amazon 7.4
  • Gran Chaco 8
  • Southern Cone 9
  • Languages 10
  • Genetic classification 11
  • See also 12
  • Notes 13
  • References 14

Canada, Greenland, United States, and northern Mexico

In the United States and Canada, ethnographers commonly classify indigenous peoples into ten geographical regions with shared cultural traits, called cultural areas.[1] Greenland is part of the Arctic region. Some scholars combine the Plateau and Great Basin regions into the Intermontane West, some separate Prairie peoples from Great Plains peoples, while some separate Great Lakes tribes from the Northeastern Woodlands.


Inuktitut dialect map


Distribution of Cree peoples


Nota bene: The California cultural area does not exactly conform to the state of California's boundaries, and many tribes on the eastern border with Nevada are classified as Great Basin tribes and some tribes on the Oregon border are classified as Plateau tribes.[2]

Eastern Woodlands

Northeastern Woodlands

Southeastern Woodlands

Great Basin

Northwest Plateau

Yakama woman, photographed by Edward Curtis
Sherman Alexie, Spokane/Coeur d'Alene novelist, screenwriter, and poet[51]

Plateau tribes include the following:

Chinook peoples

Interior Salish

Sahaptin people

Other or both

Pacific Northwest Coast

Great Plains

Indigenous peoples of the Great Plains are often separated into Northern and Southern Plains tribes.


This region is sometimes called Oasisamerica and includes parts of what is now Arizona, Colorado, New Mexico, Utah, Chihuahua, and Sonora

Mexico and Mesoamerica

The indigenous peoples of Mexico, Central America and the Caribbean are generally classified by language, environment, and cultural similarities.




Partially organized per Handbook of South American Indians.[54]


Anthropologist Julian Steward defined the Antilles cultural area, which includes all of the Antilles and Bahamas, except for Trinidad and Tobago.[54]

Central America

The Central American culture area includes part of El Salvador, most of Honduras, all of Nicaragua, Costa Rica, and Panama, and some peoples on or near the Pacific coasts of Colombia and Ecuador.[54]

Colombia and Venezuela

The Colombia and Venezuela culture area includes most of Colombia and Venezuela. Southern Colombia is in the Andean culture area, as are some peoples of central and northeastern Colombia, who are surrounded by peoples of the Colombia and Venezuela culture. Eastern Venezuela is in the Guianas culture area, and southeastern Colombia and southwestern Venezuela are in the Amazonia culture area.[54]


This region includes northern parts Colombia, French Guiana, Guyana, Suriname, Venezuela, and parts of the Amazonas, Amapá, Pará, and Roraima States in Brazil.

Eastern Brazil

This region includes parts of the Ceará, Goiás, Espírito Santo, Mato Grosso, Mato Grosso do Sul, Pará, and Santa Catarina states of Brazil


Pacific lowlands


Northwestern Amazon

This region includes Amazonas in Brazil; the Amazonas and Putumayo Departments in Colombia; Cotopaxi, Los Rios, Morona-Santiago, Napo, and Pastaza Provinces and the Oriente Region in Ecuador; and the Loreto Region in Peru.

Eastern Amazon

This region includes Amazonas, Maranhão, and parts of Pará States in Brazil.

Southern Amazon

This region includes southern Brazil (Mato Grosso, Mato Grosso do Sul, parts of Pará, and Rondônia) and Eastern Bolivia (Beni Department).

Southwestern Amazon

This region includes the Cuzco, Huánuco Junín, Loreto, Madre de Dios, and Ucayali Regions of eastern Peru, parts of Acre, Amazonas, and Rondônia, Brazil, and parts of the La Paz and Beni Departments of Bolivia.

Gran Chaco

Southern Cone

Patagonian languages at the time of European/African contact


Indigenous languages of the Americas (or Amerindian Languages) are spoken by indigenous peoples from the southern tip of South America to Alaska and Greenland, encompassing the land masses which constitute the Americas. These indigenous languages consist of dozens of distinct language families as well as many language isolates and unclassified languages. Many proposals to group these into higher-level families have been made. According to UNESCO, most of the indigenous American languages in North America are critically endangered and many of them are already extinct.[62]

Genetic classification

genetic groups according to DNA Tribes
  1. Arctic
  2. Salishan
  3. Athabaskan
  4. North Amerindian
  5. Ojibwa
  6. Mexican
  7. Mayan
  9. Andean
  10. Amazonian
  11. Gran Chaco
  12. Patagonian

The haplogroup most commonly associated with Indigenous Americans is Haplogroup Q1a3a (Y-DNA).[63] Y-DNA, like (mtDNA), differs from other nuclear chromosomes in that the majority of the Y chromosome is unique and does not recombine during meiosis. This has the effect that the historical pattern of mutations can easily be studied.[64] The pattern indicates Indigenous Amerindians experienced two very distinctive genetic episodes; first with the initial-peopling of the Americas, and secondly with European colonization of the Americas.[65][66] The former is the determinant factor for the number of gene lineages and founding haplotypes present in today's Indigenous Amerindian populations.[65]

Human settlement of the Americas occurred in stages from the Bering sea coast line, with an initial 20,000-year layover on Beringia for the founding population.[67][68] The micro-satellite diversity and distributions of the Y lineage specific to South America indicates that certain Amerindian populations have been isolated since the initial colonization of the region..[69] The Na-Dené, Inuit and Indigenous Alaskan populations exhibit haplogroup Q (Y-DNA) mutations, however are distinct from other indigenous Amerindians with various mtDNA mutations.[70][71][72] This suggests that the earliest migrants into the northern extremes of North America and Greenland derived from later populations.[73]

See also


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  2. ^ Pritzker 112
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  4. ^ Heizer 205-7
  5. ^ Heizer 190
  6. ^ Heizer 593
  7. ^ Heizer 769
  8. ^ Heizer 249
  9. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t u v w x y z aa ab ac ad ae af ag ah ai Sturtevant and Trigger ix
  10. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t u v w x y z aa ab ac ad ae af "Cultural Thesaurus". National Museum of the American Indian. Accessed 8 April 2014.
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  12. ^ a b c d Sturtevant and Trigger 198
  13. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n Sturtevant and Trigger 161
  14. ^ Sturtevant and Trigger 96
  15. ^ Sturtevant and Trigger 255
  16. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t u v w x y z aa ab ac ad ae af ag ah ai aj ak al am Sturtevant and Fogelson, 69
  17. ^ a b c d e f Sturtevant and Fogelson, 205
  18. ^ a b c d e f g h i j Sturtevant and Fogelson, 374
  19. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t u v w x Sturtevant and Fogelson, ix
  20. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m Sturtevant and Fogelson, 214
  21. ^ Sturtevant and Fogelson, 673
  22. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k Sturtevant and Fogelson, 81-82
  23. ^ a b c Sturtevant and Fogelson, 315
  24. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t Sturtevant, 617
  25. ^ a b c d Frank, Andrew K. Indian Removal. Oklahoma Historical Society's Encyclopedia of Oklahoma History and Culture. Retrieved 10 July 2009.
  26. ^ a b Sturtevant and Fogelson, 188
  27. ^ a b Sturtevant and Fogelson, 598-9
  28. ^ a b Sturtevant and Fogelson, 290
  29. ^ a b c d e f g h i Sturtevant and Fogelson, 293
  30. ^ a b Sturtevant and Fogelson, 291
  31. ^ a b c Sturtevant and Fogelson, 302
  32. ^ Haliwa-Saponi Tribe. . Retrieved 10 July 2009.
  33. ^ Hann 1993
  34. ^ Sturtevant and Fogelson, 78, 668
  35. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o Hann 1996, 5-13
  36. ^ Milanich 1999, p. 49.
  37. ^ Milanich 1996, p. 46.
  38. ^ Hann 2003:11
  39. ^ Sturtevant and Fogelson, 190
  40. ^ a b c d e f D'Azevedo, ix
  41. ^ a b c d e f g Pritzker, 230
  42. ^ D'Azevedo, 161-2
  43. ^ a b c Loether, Christopher. "Shoshones". Encyclopedia of the Great Plains. Retrieved 20 Oct 2013.
  44. ^ a b c Shimkin 335
  45. ^ a b c d e f g Murphy and Murphy 306
  46. ^ a b c Murphy and Murphy 287
  47. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n Thomas, Pendleton, and Cappannari 280–283
  48. ^ a b c d e f D'Azevedo, 339
  49. ^ a b c d D'Azevedo, 340
  50. ^ Nicholas, Walter S. "A Short History of Johnsondale". Retrieved 2010-06-04. 
  51. ^ "Official Sherman Alexie Biography". Falls Apart. 2009 (retrieved 23 Dec 2009)
  52. ^ a b c d "Preamble." Constitution of the Pawnee Nation of Oklahoma .Retrieved 5 Dec 2012.
  53. ^ "Paipai Language (Akwa'ala)". Native Languages of the Americas. . Retrieved 10 Sept 2010.
  54. ^ a b c d Steward, Julian H. (1948) Editor. Handbook of South American Indians. Volume 4 The Circum-Caribbean Tribes. Smithsonian Institution Bureau of American Ethnology Bulletin 143.
  55. ^ "Aboriginal Roots of Cuban Culture". (retrieved 9 July 2011)
  56. ^ a b c d "Prehistory of the Caribbean Culture Area". Southeast Archaeological Center. (retrieved 9 July 2011)
  57. ^ "Cacaopera". UNESCO World Heritage Centre. (retrieved 1 Dec 2011)
  58. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t u v w x "Languages of Bolivia". Ethnologue. Retrieved 23 Oct 2012.
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  60. ^ "Huachipaeri". Ethnologue. Retrieved 18 Feb 2012.
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  62. ^ Gordon, Raymond G., Jr. (Ed.). (2005). Ethnologue: Languages of the world (15th ed.). Dallas, TX: SIL International. ISBN 1-55671-159-X. (Online version:
  63. ^ "Y-Chromosome Evidence for Differing Ancient Demographic Histories in the Americas" (PDF). Department of Biology, University College, London; Departamento de Gene´tica, Universidade Federal do Rio Grande do Sul, Porto Alegre, Brazil; Instituto Venezolano de Investigaciones Cientı´ficas, Caracas, Venezuela; Departamento de Gene´tica, Universidade Federal do Parana´, Curitiba, Brazil; 5Department of Anthropology, University of New Mexico, Albuquerque; 6Laboratorio de Gene´tica Humana, Universidad de los Andes, Bogota´; Victoria Hospital, Prince Albert, Canada; Subassembly of Medical Sciences, Mongolian Academy of Sciences, Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia; Laboratorio de Gene´tica Molecular, Facultad de Medicina, Universidad de Antioquia, Medellı´n, Colombia; Université de Montréal. University College London 73:524–539. 2003. Retrieved 2010-01-22. 
  64. ^ Orgel L (2004). "Prebiotic chemistry and the origin of the RNA world" (PDF). Crit Rev Biochem Mol Biol 39 (2): 99–123.  
  65. ^ a b "Learn about Y-DNA Haplogroup Q" (Verbal tutorial possible). Genebase Systems. 2008. Retrieved 2009-11-21. Haplogroups are defined by unique mutation events such as single nucleotide polymorphisms, or SNPs. These SNPs mark the branch of a haplogroup, and indicate that all descendents of that haplogroup at one time shared a common ancestor. The Y-DNA SNP mutations were passed from father to son over thousands of years. Over time, additional SNPs occur within a haplogroup, leading to new lineages. These new lineages are considered subclades of the haplogroup. Each time a new mutation occurs, there is a new branch in the haplogroup, and therefore a new subclade. Haplogroup Q, possibly the youngest of the 20 Y-chromosome haplogroups, originated with the SNP mutation M242 in a man from Haplogroup P that likely lived in Siberia approximately 15,000 to 20,000 years before present 
  66. ^ Wells, Spencer; Read, Mark (2002). The Journey of Man – A Genetic Odyssey (Digitised online by Google books). Random House.  
  67. ^ "First Americans Endured 20,000-Year Layover – Jennifer Viegas, Discovery News". Retrieved 2009-11-18. Archaeological evidence, in fact, recognizes that people started to leave Beringia for the New World around 40,000 years ago, but rapid expansion into North America didn't occur until about 15,000 years ago, when the ice had literally broken  page 2
  68. ^ Than, Ker (2008). "New World Settlers Took 20,000-Year Pit Stop". National Geographic Society. Retrieved 2010-01-23. Over time descendants developed a unique culture—one that was different from the original migrants' way of life in Asia but which contained seeds of the new cultures that would eventually appear throughout the Americas 
  69. ^ "Summary of knowledge on the subclades of Haplogroup Q". Genebase Systems. 2009. Retrieved 2009-11-22. 
  70. ^ Ruhlen M (November 1998). "The origin of the Na-Dene". Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America 95 (23): 13994–6.  
  71. ^ Zegura SL, Karafet TM, Zhivotovsky LA, Hammer MF; Karafet; Zhivotovsky; Hammer (January 2004). "High-resolution SNPs and microsatellite haplotypes point to a single, recent entry of Native American Y chromosomes into the Americas". Molecular Biology and Evolution 21 (1): 164–75.  
  72. ^ "mtDNA Variation among Greenland Eskimos. The Edge of the Beringian Expansion". Laboratory of Biological Anthropology, Institute of Forensic Medicine, University of Copenhagen, Copenhagen, McDonald Institute for Archaeological Research,University of Cambridge, Cambridge, University of Hamburg, Hamburg. 2000. Retrieved 2009-11-22. The relatively lower coalescence time of the entire haplogroup A2 including the shared sub-arctic branches A2b (Siberians and Inuit) and A2a (Eskimos and Na-Dené) is probably due to secondary expansions of haplogroup A2 from the Beringia area, which would have averaged the overall internal variation of haplogroup A2 in North America. 
  73. ^ "Native American Mitochondrial DNA Analysis Indicates That the Amerind and the Nadene Populations Were Founded by Two Independent Migrations". Center for Genetics and Molecular Medicine and Departments of Biochemistry and Anthropology, Emory University School of Medicine, Atlanta, Georgia. Genetics Society of America. Vol 130, 153-162. Retrieved 2009-11-28. The divergence time for the Nadene portion of the HaeIII np 663 lineage was about 6,000-10,000 years. Hence, the ancestral Nadene migrated from Asia independently and considerably more recently than the progenitors of the Amerinds 


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