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First Nations of the Americas

The study of the history of North America typically begins with a review of its physical features and political geography. What is just as vital is the study of the human beings that have lived there for thousands of years, the first Americans, the Indigenous peoples of North America.

The Indigenous Peoples in North America are extremely diverse. Each First Nation or Native American group has a rich history, language, technologies and culture that were influenced by the environment in which they lived. Many historians agree on cultural regions that resulted in similar characteristics that were adapted from the environment: the Arctic and Subarctic, Northwest Coast, California-Intermountain Region, Southwest, Plateau, Great Plains, Eastern Woodlands, Southeast and the Caribbean. Despite a history of forced removal and genocide after the arrival of Europeans, First Nations continue to thrive today, honoring their history by carrying on their cultural traditions as well as contributing to every facet of our shared modern society.


Indigenous Peoples Day falls on the second Monday in October in the United States on what is usually known as Columbus Day. The aim is to reclaim the day from glorifying the explorer that decimated Indigenous communities in the Caribbean and instead honor Indigenous Peoples, their culture, heritage, and resilience. In 1492, Christopher Columbus began a wave of European exploration, exploitation, and conquest of North and South America, which massacred Indigenous communities with diseases, forced removal, enslavement, genocide, and war.

Indigenous Peoples Day was first proposed in 1977 and has gained more momentum in recent years having been officially adopted by at least 18 states and 130 cities across the United States by October 2021. Indigenous Peoples Day is a chance for teachers to educate students about the rich history of Indigenous Peoples who have lived in the Americas for thousands of years while also acknowledging the tragic realities of colonialism and dismantling misconceptions and stereotypes. Indigenous Peoples Day is celebrated across the country with parades and festivals that include food tastings, films, art, music, storytelling, dancing, and land acknowledgement statements. It is a day to honor, celebrate, and educate about the long and storied history, rich culture, and beautiful traditions of the Indigenous peoples of the Americas.


Indigenous Peoples Resources


First Migrations into the Americas
First Migrations into North America
Indigenous Peoples of the Arctic
Arctic Indigenous Peoples
Indigenous Peoples of the California Intermountain
California Intermountain Indigenous Peoples
Indigenous Peoples of the Caribbean
Caribbean Indigenous Peoples
Indigenous Peoples of the Eastern Woodlands
Eastern Woodland Indigenous Peoples
Indigenous Peoples of the Northwest Coast
Northwest Coast Indigenous Peoples
Indigenous Peoples of the Plains
Great Plains Indigenous Peoples
Indigenous Peoples of the Plateau
Plateau Indigenous Peoples
Indigenous Peoples of the Southeast
Indigenous Peoples of the Southeast
Indigenous Peoples of the Southwest
Southwest Indigenous Peoples
Maya, Inca, and Aztec Civilizations
Aztec, Inca, and Maya Civilizations
Métis Nation of Canada
Metis Nation of Canada


There are many places to find supplemental information about Indigenous peoples and their history and culture. Below are some resources we found to be useful in discussing this topic with students of any age. They can also serve as resources students can use as they conduct research for some of the activities in each lesson plan.


  • Native Knowledge 360 is presented by the Smithsonian Institute and has further, in depth materials for education.
  • Native Land lets students see whose land they are occupying and is worldwide.
  • IllumiNative provides resources to illuminate Native Nations and their history in America, including representation, advocacy, and more.
  • The American Indian Library Association collects past winners of their American Indian Youth Literature Award, which makes it easy to find literature to read with students.

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