They were the first people ever to live in north America. Exactly when they came and how they arrived is still a mystery but many scientists believe that as long as 30000 years ago some hunters from Asia walked or sailed along the coast of a land bridge that once connected Russia to Alaska. Their descendants became known as native Americans or American Indians. As they spread out over the vast continent, native Americans adapted to living in different regions and hundreds of unique cultures were born. The plains Indians hunted buffalo by stampeding them over cliffs.
On the northern pacific coast tribes like the Haida and Kwalhioqua sailed the ocean and fished. They cut down giant red cedar trees for their houses dug out canoes and ceremonial totem poles. When the first white settlers arrived in the 1500s about a million native Americans lived north of Mexico but the outsiders changed everything. Diseases from Europe such as smallpox and tuberculosis wiped out entire tribes. Settlers began to claim Indian land for themselves. Some tribes resisted and fought back, others attempted to cooperate. In the end the result was the same. In the late 1800s the US government forced the remaining Indians to leave their traditional homelands and live on tracks of land called reservations. Over the next century native Americans continued the fight for their rights through political activism. Today there are more than 550 federally recognized tribes in the US. Native Americans are working to improve living conditions on the reservations and to preserve their languages, religions and cultural identities. The Potlatch a religious ceremony that was once banned by the Canadian government is being held again by the Kwalhioqua. On the Navaho reservation some ancient ways are blended into modern lives. This sand painting depicts the cloud people. It is being created to pray for the safety of a group traveling by airplane. Other native American artists are reviving their tribe’s traditional art forms, a movement which could help these unique cultures survive into the next century.