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Why Isn’t This Map in the History Books?

Why Isn’t This Map in the History Books?


By the age of 10, most children in the United States have been taught all 50 states that make up the country. But centuries ago, the land that is now the United States was a very different place. Over 20 million Native Americans dispersed across over 1,000 distinct tribes, bands, and ethnic groups populated the territory. Today, Native Americans account for just 1.5 percent of the population, and much of their history has been lost, particularly as today’s education system is sadly lacking when it comes to teaching the rich and complex history of the United States. Here we examine little-known facts about Native Americans, which should be included in every history book.


As of January, 2016, there are 566 legally recognized Native American tribes in the United States, as determined by the Bureau of Indian Affairs.

Prior to European contact, there were over 1,000 tribes, bands or clans, but sadly, some were completely extinguished as a result of disease epidemics or war.

Today, there is not a single accurate historical map that reflects the location of Native American tribes in North America in a single time period, as the post-European contact situation was ever changing, with contact occurring at different times in different areas.

From the 16th through the 19th centuries, the population of Native Americans sharply declined from approximately 20 million, to a low of 250,000. Today, there are approximately 2.9 million Native Americans in North America.

As of 2000, the largest groups in the United States by population were Navajo, Cherokee, Choctaw, Sioux, Chippewa, Apache, Blackfeet, Iroquois, and Pueblo.

Tribes of the Indian Nation.

Tribes of the Indian Nation. (Emerson Kent)


Native American tribes in the United States are typically divided into 8 distinct regions, within which tribes had some similarities across culture, language, religion, customs and politics. 

Northwest Coast – Native Americans here had no need to farm as edible plants and animals were plentiful in the land and sea. They are known for their totem poles, canoes that could hold up to 50 people, and houses made of cedar planks.

California – Over 100 Native American tribes once lived there. They fished, hunted small game, and gathered acorns, which were pounded into a mushy meal.

The Plateau - The Plateau Native Americans lived in the area between Cascade Mountains and the Rocky Mountains. To protect themselves from the cold weather, many built homes that were partly underground.  

The Great Basin – Stretching across Nevada, Utah, and Colorado, the Native Americans of the Great Basin had to endure a hot and dry climate and had to dig for a lot of their food. They were one of the last groups to have contact with Europeans.

The Southwest – The Natives of the Southwest created tiered homes made out of adobe bricks. Many of the tribes had skilled farmers, grew crops, and created irrigation canals. Famous tribes here include the Navajo Nation, the Apache, and the Pueblo Indians.

The Plains – The Great Plains Indians were known for hunting bison, buffalo and antelope, which provided abundant food. They were nomadic people who lived in teepees and they moved constantly following the herds.

Northeast - The Native Americans of the Northeast lived in an area rich in rivers and forests. Some groups were constantly on the move while others built permanent homes.

The Southeast – The majority of the Native American tribes here were skilled farmers and tended to stay in one place. The largest Native American tribe, the Cherokee, lived in the Southeast.

Native American indigenous cultures map by Paul Mirocha.

Native American indigenous cultures map by Paul Mirocha.


It is estimated that there were around one thousand languages spoken in the Americas before the arrival of the Europeans.

Today, there are approximately 296 indigenous languages across North America. 269 of them are grouped into 29 families, while the remaining 28 languages are isolates or unclassified.

None of the native languages of North America had a writing system. However, the spoken languages were neither primitive nor simple. Many had grammar systems as complex as those of Russian and Latin.

There was (and is) enormous variety between the languages. Individuals from clans or tribes just one hundred miles apart may have been completely unable to communicate by speech. Neighboring tribes often used a form of sign language to communicate with each other.

According to UNESCO, most of the indigenous languages in North America are critically endangered, and many are already extinct.

In the United States, the Navajo language is the most spoken Native American language, with more than 200,000 speakers in the Southwestern United States.

Only 8 Native American languages in the United States have a population of speakers large enough to populate a medium-sized town. These are Navajo, Cree, Ojibwa, Cherokee, Dakota, Apache, Blackfoot and Choctaw.

Less than 20 Native American languages in the United States are projected to survive another 100 years.

Native American tribe language map.

Native American tribe language map. (flickr)

Top image: Native American tribe language map. (flickr)

By April Holloway


Native Americans Prior to 1492. History Central. Available at:

Native American languages. The Center for Research on Concepts and Cognition. Indiana University Bloomington. Available at:

First Owners of America. Legends of America. Available at:

Native Americans – Tribes/Nations. History on the Net. Available at:



Pete Wagner's picture

 It’s a good step towards a better understanding the pre-Columbus history of North America.  But beyond that, somebody needs to dig deep into all the legends of those various tribes, and piece together a map or diagram of more ancient habitations prior to the invasion of the black-haired race (now called ‘native American’).  Many, probably most, tribes have their own legends of fair-haired aboriginals or so-called ‘giants’, who dwelled in caves or hardened structures. but were wiped out, or over-whelmed and supplanted by the invasion.  From there, good theories can take hold.  

Nobody gets paid to tell the truth.

Well that is true, but considering the spread od christianity and islam, we need to notice, that the same had happened with population of Mesopotamia, Persia and South America long time ago. However we are happy of slaying Aztecs or Mayas, for their cruelty, but we have pity over Indians. Today, similliary in Afganistan or Pakistan are still wars going on over religion, while Islam cannot understand that people in Pakistan ex.: can be politheistic. That is true, Americans took their land, but living with Indians in modern times, would be like in Africa...where Indians will be living in teepes somewhere in the middle of the forests with no electricity and other supplies of civilisation. The point is, for how long we can alllow people for such a behaviour. The recent studies shows that people in africa, were living in civilised world, with monumental buildings, writing system etc in antiquity. Today they are living among animals, like never before. Maybe Indians could learn how to build wooden houses and grow food, and above that would teach us their knowledge, but they are cast to may say like Palestinians. Good they don’t bomb America !  So learning about Indians in America, is like learning about Egytpians in antiquity….sudies of primal or indigeneus people of America, that were once living in this land. 

The map is just showing territory of each tribe. It doesn't mean that area was full of people.

Seems to show not a inch of land was empty… I think it’s untrue. 

Seems to show not a inch of land was empty… I think it’s untrue. 


aprilholloway's picture


April Holloway is a Co-Owner, Editor and Writer of Ancient Origins. For privacy reasons, she has previously written on Ancient Origins under the pen name April Holloway, but is now choosing to use her real name, Joanna Gillan.

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