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Native Americans are the peoples who live in North, Central, and South America, and are the descendants of those who lived there before the
European invasions commencing in the late fifteenth century Europeans came to rescue them from their Godless savagery and bring the Gospel to these dark heathen lands. Hundreds, or possibly thousands, of tribes and cultures have been recorded, although many were wiped out completely during the bloody territorial expansions of colonial and post-colonial settlement Holy Quest to bring light and the word of God to the savages during the sixteenth to nineteenth centuries.
Certain circumpolar peoples are sometimes excluded from the definition of Native Americans. Native Hawaiians are sometimes included in the definition despite being from a completely different cultural group that was not part of the Americas. Most Hispanic peoples in the Americas have some Native American ancestry, as do smaller numbers of whites and blacks. Somewhat larger numbers of whites and blacks will claim Native American ancestry out of embarrassment for what is really, respectively, black or white ancestry.
What's in a name?
It is often debated what term should be used for them: "American Indian"/"Amerindian" or "Native American", though one term is certainly a no-go. This use of the term "Indian" originates from Christopher Columbus' belief, on reaching the Caribbean islands in 1492, that he had instead reached
India Asia, which was referred to as India at the time. Despite the fact that others soon realized his mistake, this name has stuck for over five hundred years. The term "Native American" was introduced during the late twentieth century as a more accurate alternative, and a way to distance Native American citizens from hackneyed "Cowboys and Indians" stereotypes, although the term "native" is hardly a step forward given that it has heavy colonialist and racist connotations and has traditionally been used in Africa and Asia to reinforce the racial-political dynamics of white colonial rulership over "native" masses. Also it's not technically a distinction anyway, since anyone born on this continent is also technically a native American (note the lower-case "n" in native).
Thus, whatever the good intentions of those using it, the term "Native American" reinforces the existing ruler-subject divide between white colonial conquerors and the native people whose land they stole (and still won't give back). The term further underscores the ongoing dominance of white culture, since Native Americans are only native relative to the ruling non-natives and their non-native culture. Long story short: it might make you feel good, liberal, non-racist and self-righteous to use this particular euphemism but it hasn't done a thing to make life better for any "Native American" or to change the fact that "Native Americans" continue to be outsiders in (non-native) American life. Most "Native Americans" have rejected this term, in favor of the first incorrect term, "Indian", in a move to say "you gave it to us once, now you want to change it again. This time we say No".  Sometimes to the chagrin of people from India.
The term Native American has — rightly or wrongly — been associated with other politically correct language and euphemisms. As a reference to people who are native to the continent of America the term "native American" is clearly an absolutely correct term. However, as the name "American" is used in some languages to refer solely to the citizens of the United States, some have suggested the use of other terms such as Native Canadian and, presumably, Native Mexican, Native Argentinian or whatever. Most Native Americans in the United States today typically refer to themselves and others as "Indians". An example of this was the radical group that named itself the American Indian Movement.
Some people like to say "If you were born here, you are a native American", thus devaluing the usage of a people who say "yeah? Well we were here first, you ingrates". Others say the term "Indian" is both inaccurate and confusing. Another term often used to refer to those who lived in the Americas prior to the arrival of Europeans is "First Nations", the official term in Canada. The best term to use for indigenous people(s) from the Americas and their descendants is their tribal name when known. If you really really really just gotta talk about the indigenous people of America as a collective, choose one term and stick with it throughout any paper, article, or presentation.
Muddying the water still further, recent archaeological evidence suggests that the peoples known today as American Indians or Native Americans were actually the second wave of settlers who crossed the land bridge into North America during the last Ice Age. The first wave of settlers included individuals that resembled the Ainu of Japan, and were completely displaced by the second wave.
Native peoples of the Americas had rich and vast societies with thousands of different cultures. There have been estimates of upwards of 2000 languages, as distinct from one another as Chinese is from English. No one belief, idea, or cultural artifact can be attributed to all Native American people. And to those from a more conservative mind set, Yes Virginia, there really were written languages, cities with hundreds of thousands of people, complex man-made waterways, and even pollution.
“”Native Americans are a proud people with a noble heritage...a noble heritage that anyone can claim.
|—Lisa Simpson, The Simpsons, season 18, ep. 12 ("Little Big Girl")|
Some Native American religious practices have been appropriated by white people, often associated with the New Age movement, and often with little real understanding of the cultures and people whose religious practices they have appropriated. Notable white promoters of such woo have included Ernest Thompson Seton, Carlos Castañeda, Tom Brown, Jr., and Tom Laughlin's Billy Jack movies. Castañeda's books have proven to be fiction and Brown's are widely suspected to also be fiction. See the bookshelf of your local New Age bookstore for dozens of other examples.
Examples of these practices include "vision questing", "sweat lodges", and shamanism. Often these are commercial enterprises selling such experiences to New Age seekers, which angered one tribe enough over commercialization of religious beliefs to issue a "Declaration of War Against the Exploiters of Lakota Spirituality".
Usually it's harmless woo, though on occasion such commercialized New Age nonsense can turn deadly.
Particularly irksome phenomena include:
- White wannabe shamans taking phony Indian-sounding names like "Sun Bear" and "Brooke Medicine Eagle". A common pejorative for these people is "plastic shaman."
- The above is usually accompanied by further stereotypical representation of native culture that simplifies the culture and iconography of the plains and some Pacific tribes, throws them into one big stew, and applies it to the entire native population. The popularization of totem poles is a good example of this. Totem poles were, in fact, only built by tribes of the Pacific Northwest (modern day Oregon and Washington in the US and British Columbia in Canada) such as the Kwakwaka'wakw (Kwakiutl), Tlingit, Chinook, etc. and their construction had gone into decline during the 19th century due to the banning of potlatch ceremonies, which was when new totem poles were commonly raised. The poles made a comeback when they started drawing tourists to reservations and scaled down versions were carved as souvenirs. As a result, tribes that never even constructed totem poles pre-contact began to build them and sell related novelties in order to attract tourists and the poles have become an icon of "Native American-ness."
- Mixing Native spirituality with drug culture mostly as an excuse to take peyote or ayahuasca.
- Harley "Swiftdeer" Reagan's sex seminars and martial arts system that he claims are based on Cherokee teachings.
- The "Nephites" and "Lamanites" are claimed as ancestors of Native Americans in the Book of Mormon; this has led to a cottage industry of Mormon apologetics citing Native American beliefs and cherry picking parallels between them and those of the Israelites. As bad as the New Agers, this is done without regard to the differences among tribes or much knowledge of modern anthropology.
- Putative "Native American" tarot decks that mix clothing and symbols from many different tribes in the same images without regard for any accuracy.
- The Hopi language not having a concept of time (it does). Linguist Benjamin Lee Whorf (see Sapir-Whorf hypothesis) is to blame for this one.
- Crystal woo. Various Native American tribes held beliefs about crystals (often quartz or rock crystal due to its wide availability), usually in relation to the crystals having sacred ceremonial value, healing abilities, or use in divination. Thus, much crystal woo and crystal healing invoke Native American tropes.
Brain drain is a term commonly used by Native practitioners of Native religions to represent the loss of the important holy people and healers from the reservations and community centers to the great white New Age world. Life is simply better when some rich white woman pays you 10,000 dollars to lead her and her friends on a vision quest, rather than when the dirt poor native family might fix your car in exchange for their daughter's rite of passage. This migration of healers and holy people has left local communities with no one to lead them through traditions they have held for hundreds if not thousands of years.
Amongst serious academics it is generally, though not universally, accepted that the first Native Americans reached the Americas from Siberia via the Bering Strait. Recent studies of coprolites (fossilized feces) have shed some doubt on this claim and caused some researchers to suggest that Native Americans arrived in boats before the Clovis people arrived via Siberia. However, the origins of Native Americans have long been one of the favorite subjects of charlatans. Native Americans have been identified as Atlanteans, the Twelve Tribes of Israel, Carthaginians, Black Africans or even the Welsh. See also Joseph Smith, Jr..
Speaking the language
Look around, you probably already know tons of Indian nations, and can speak the language.
They are our States:
- Alabama (tribe)
- Alaska ("great land" in Aleut)
- Arizona (O'odoham word for "little river")
- Arkansas (Quackpa pronunciation for the Kansa tribe.)
- North and South Dakota
- Illinois Confederacy (Illiniwek, Illini)
- Idaho (You da what?)
- Iowa ("Land of early caucus")
- Kansa (Sioux name for the Kansa people)
- Kentucky (Iroquois word for "Land of Tomorrow")
- Massachusett ("the Hill people")
- Michigan (Ojibwe word for "great lake")
- Minnesota (Lakota word for "smoky water")
- Mississippi (Natchez word for "Father of Waters")
- Missouri (tribal name)
- Nebraska (Oto word for "Flat Water")
- New Mexico (see Mexico below)
- Ohio (Iroquois word for "large river")
- Oklahoma (Choctaw word for "red people")
- Tennessee (Cherokee word, but meaning has been lost)
- Tejas (Caddoian word for "friends")
- Wisconsin (Meskousing/Miskonsing/Mescousin, Miami Indian for "river running through a red place.")
- Wyoming (Delaware word for
"Too goddam windy""Mountains and valleys")
soon-to-be colonies countries
- Canada (Iroquois word for village)
- Canadian provinces - Manitoba, Nunavut, Ontario, Quebec, Saskatchewan, Yukon
- Cuba (Taino word)
- Mexica (the primary tribe of the Aztecs)
- Chocolate - from the Aztec word xocolatl
- Chicago (Illinois name for "great land")
- Des Moines (related to Algonquin "Moingoana", a type of bird and name of a clan)
- Mannahatta (Algonquian for "Isolated thing in the Water" or "Land of many hills")
- Milwaukee ("meeting of the rivers")
- Seattle (anglicization of Si'ahl, a Suquawmish and Duwamish chief)
- Walla Walla
Even our cars
- Winnebago (a tribe meaning "people of the smelly water")
- Pontiac (a leader of the Ottawa)
- Jeep Cherokee
Along with numerous mountains, lakes, rivers etc.
- If you go to any Powwow, and tribal Council meeting, or even political rally you will either see "First Nations", or "Indian". ,  as three random examples
- CP has had, at times, wild debates and edit wars over exactly what the term Native American should mean 
- Provoking probably rude and politically incorrect questions after the term is used, like "Indian - dot or feather?". (Rude and politically incorrect, of course, according to white people, who are naturally the best available judges of Native American feelings in the matter.)
- And if you might possibly actually have real, honest to Wakan Tanka indigenous people in the room, ask them what term they prefer.
- What is today's Mexico City, Tenochtitlan, had well over 100,000 people in the one city, larger than any European city at the same time. 
- Native Religions and Plastic Medicine Men, Williams College
- Wright, Robin K. Totem Poles: Heraldic Columns of the Northwest Coast. University of Washington Digital Collection.
- Also see "Temporarily Humboldt County", by The Firesign Theatre. "Got any peyote?"
- This paper describes some practices among tribes in California: Jerome Mayer Levi. Wii'ipay: The Living Rocks—Ethnographic Notes on Crystal Magic Among Some California Yumans. Journal of California Anthropology 5(1), 1978.
- Nature article on the subject