This is a politically correct term used to refer to the indigenous people of the American Continents. They are also referred to as American Indians.
Native Americans originally came to the North American continent somewhere around 12,000 years ago from East Asia. It is thought that their migration happened over a number of centuries rather than all at once.
In the Americas they formed many different tribes each with a unique culture and history. Contrary to popular belief, only some were nomadic. Most had developed cities and advanced systems of government, language, and social structure.
The coming of the Spanish had many devastating effects for the Native Americans. Diseases such as plague and smallpox wiped out more than 95% of the indigenous population within the first hundred years of contact.
The Europeans also imposed harsh terms on the Natives. Many were massacred for no apparent reason other than hate and greed. Often the Europeans were controlled by the search for gold. Christopher Columbus himself and many others took them as slaves. The only reason this did not pan out long term is because the Natives died too quickly from exposure to new viruses. It was then that the Europeans decided to use African slaves instead since they already had previous exposure to the diseases of the Old World and were, therefore, less likely to die.
The Natives were forced off their lands as more settlers came to the continent. They were pushed further and further West by the government and the increasing number of settlers who were intolerant of them. Those that refused were either killed or forced into removal -- Trail of Tears
Native Americans have continued to be the victims of racism up into the 20th century. It wasn't until the early 20th century that they earned the right to vote and many were forced into segregation just as other minorities were.
The remaining Native Americans that chose to hold on to their culture reside on reservations. These small tracts of land are usually desolate and have are not capable of being farmed. Most are placed far away from other cities so the occupants exist in a state of isolation.
It wasn't until recently that the development of Indian Gaming
took place. Contrary to popular belief (i.e another poster) these casinos are not provided by the government. Indeed, the tribes pay for the development and maintenance of the casinos all on their own. Furthermore, it is ignorant to generalize all Indians to be profiting off of gaming. Only a few lucky tribes benefit from gambling proceeds. Most are not fortunate enough to be located close enough to other cities for gambling casinos to be profitable.
For instance, Harrah's Cherokee Casino in Cherokee, NC was purchased by the tribe from tribal (not US Government) money. Prior to this, this and other tribes have had to rely mainly on tourism for income since most of their reservations are located in inhospitable places. Cherokee is the exception and with good reason: the land of the NC reservation was purchased by the Cherokee over 100 years ago -- not set aside by the government as a "gift".
Today, many Native American suffer from a variety of social issues. Diabetes plagues them at higher rates than any other minority. Suicide, alcoholism, and murder are also extremely high. Unemployment is high as well -- but this is attributed mainly to the fact that there is usually no outside industry other than tourism. Most reservations are located far away from desirable land so jobs are scarce to be had. Often, a Natives choices are to either remain poor or leave the reservation and their last ties to their culture.
More than any other minority per capita, Natives live in poverty. The idea that they get benefits and tax breaks from the US Government is appalling and a myth. Natives pay federal taxes just like everyone else. True, they do not have to pay state taxes on anything purchased inside the reservation but at the same time they do not receive anything for the reservation that tax money would be used for -- i.e. roads, schools, public services (police, ambulance, etc.) All of these services are provided internally by the tribe out of tribal earned money therefore there is no reason for them to pay state taxes for it.
Perhaps more than any other minority in the nation, Natives stuffer from misunderstanding and stereotypes in the general public. The term, the "Forgotten Race" is very apt ... as one of the other posters to "Native Americans" has made a good example of with their ramblings and misinformed and misdirected anger.
The author encourages each of you to try to understand the TRUE story of the Native people -- not just what you overhear from people who would rather have us forgotten. The common information on the indigenous people that is passed around as truth nowadays is often dead wrong and based on stereotypes from popular culture. In reality, Natives have a rich history and are worthy of more than token recognition.
Native Americans still exist as a minority race today.