10 Interesting Facts about Native Americans

1The term “Native American” does not usually refer to Native Hawaiians or Alaskan Natives, such as Aleut, Yup’ik, or Inuit peoples.[1

Most indigenous people in the U.S. use “American Indian,” while most indigenous people in Canada use “First Nations.” “Native Americans” or “indigenous Americans” are often used for people in both countries.[2]

  • Ishi (c. 1860–1916) is widely known as the “last wild Indian” in America. He lived most of his life outside modern culture after his tribe, the Yahi (of the Yana group) became extinct in the late 1800s because of the California Gold Rush. He lived alone in the wilderness after his family died. In 1911, starving and with nowhere to go, he walked out of the wilderness into the town of Oroville, where he would be later studied by anthropologists.[14]
  • The Sequoia tree is named in honor of the Cherokee leader Sequoyah, who helped his people develop an alphabet.[14]
Even though more than 500 years have passed, the native people of the Americas are still often referred to as “Indians”


  • The term “Indian” originated with Christopher Columbus who thought he had landed in the East Indies. He called the indigenous people “Indians.”[4]
  • Native Americans and First Nations people speaking a language of the Algonquian group were the first to meet English explorers and, consequently, many words from these languages entered English—for example, caribou (“snow-shoveler”), chipmunk (“red squirrel”), moccasin, moose, muskrat, opossum (“white dog”), papoose (“baby”), pecan (“nut”), powwow (“to dream, to have a vision”), raccoon, skunk (“to urinate” + “fox”), squaw, toboggan, totem, wigwam, and woodchuck.[10]
  • The word “avocado” is Nahuatl, a Central Mexican/Aztec Indian language, for “testicle.”[10]
  • Half of the names of U.S. states are derived from Amerindian words, such as Arizona, Connecticut, Kentucky, and Missouri.[15]
  • Many Native American words have entered the English language, such as chia, chili, chocolate, coyote, guacamole, mesquite, peyote, shack, tamale, tomato, abalone, bayou, cannibal, Chinook, manatee, poncho, and potato.[10]
  • The word “barbecue” is from the Arawakan Indian language meaning “framework of sticks.”[10]
  • The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints believe that Native Americans derive from the Middle East and were Jewish in origin. Native Americans are referred to as “Laminates” in their scripture called The Book of Mormon.[11]
  • The Indian Citizenship Act (Snyder Act) of 1924 granted full U.S. citizenship to America’s indigenous peoples. It was enacted in part due to the recognition of thousands of Native Americans who served in WWI.[15]


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