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Cathy Robbins Thinking Aloud

American Indians Are Your Neighbors

Do you know where American Indians live? Most Americans think that Indians live on reservations, but they live everywhere. American Indians are your neighbors, as you can see on a census map. At the 500 Nations web site or through your favorite search engine you can find tribal web sites. Tribal sites have historical information, calendars of events that are open to the public, and places to visit on the reservation.

Let's look at a few. We can start with the Great Sioux Nation; the word "Sioux" is what Whites used to describe these Native people. Today, the Sioux are actually 20,000 people in seven groups living across five central and north central states. The Black Hills of South Dakota are their most important sacred site. Traditionally, Plains Indians mainly the Sioux lived in teepees, which is incorrectly associated with all American Indians. The teepee was a perfect technology for the Sioux. They were hunters who followed the buffalo herds, and the teepee was portable and efficient. The stakes for its framework are driven deep into the ground, the coverings are thick hides, and the man of the household decorated the teepee with images and designs. Today, some Indians use a teepee for social and ceremonial purposes, and you can occasionally spot one right next to a modern house.

American Indians are your neighbors in New England too. Most people in the Northeast are familiar with the Mashantucket Pequot Nation in Connecticut, which has one of the country's largest Indian casinos.

Do you know that it also has a spacious museum? You'll interactive exhibits about the region, from the arrival of Native peoples millennia ago to their lives today. (Look for the canoe filled with paddlers!) Also, an extensive research center houses numerous archives and writings as well as two libraries. The Pequots were an agricultural people who built wigwams that were permanent dwellings. Now they live in modern houses.

If you live in the southwest, you can visit the Pueblo Indians. Mostly, their towns are strung out along the Rio Grande from around Albuquerque to Taos, NM, although the Zunis live in western New Mexico and the Hopis in Arizona. The Pueblo people are descendants of the Ancestral Puebloans who built a complex civilization in places like Mesa Verde, CO and Chaco Canyon, NM. Like their ancestors, Puebloans today group their houses, some multi-storied, around a central plaza, which is the center of the village. Many have historic mission churches. Because some villages, like San Felipe or Isleta, are so close to cities like Albuquerque and Santa Fe, the Pueblos commute between home and jobs. Others rely on ranching and tourism for economic development.

The great majority of American Indians, however, live in cities in towns. Los Angeles and New York have the largest populations, but a higher percentage of the population in Anchorage, Albuquerque and Oklahoma City is Native. American Indians in these cities live in regular apartment buildings or houses.

Because American Indians are your neighbors everywhere, you can go to a Pueblo ceremonial, a Bird Dance in California, or a pow wow in Brooklyn-gatherings in towns, cities and on reservations. Each community has its own rules; simple courtesy is the most important one.
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