People lived on the North American continent long before Christopher Columbus’s voyage. Archaeologists have found evidence that the first settlers came to North America at least 16,000 years ago. They probably followed grazing animals across a land bridge that connected Alaska to Siberia during the Ice Age. This land bridge disappeared when the ice melted; the area is now covered with water and is called the Bering Strait. In 2013, scientists and archaeologists made a surprising discovery. They learned that at least one-third of Native Americans probably descended from people from the Middle East or Europe, rather than East Asia. We still don’t have all the answers, but the history of Native Americans is more complex than archaeologists originally believed.
Questions and Answers
Question: Did Native American tribes have government and leaders?
Answer: Many smaller tribes consisted of only 3 to 5 extended family groups. These tribes had no formal government, although wise women or men might sit on a council and offer suggestions. Larger groups sometimes had a chief. Native Americans believed the land was to be shared and used carefully. Individuals couldn’t claim a piece of land as their own.
Visit the Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian for lesson plans about Native Americans.
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