Portal:Indigenous peoples of the Americas

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Welcome to the indigenous peoples of the Americas portal

Otomi people

Otomi dancers from San Jeronimo Acazulco in Mexico state performing the traditional Danza de los Arrieros


The indigenous peoples of the Americas are the pre-Columbian inhabitants of North and South, and Central America, and their descendants. Pueblos indígenas (indigenous peoples) is a common term in Spanish-speaking countries. Aborigen (aboriginal/native) is used in Argentina, whereas "Amerindian" is used in Guyana but not commonly in other countries. Indigenous peoples are commonly known in Canada as Aboriginal peoples, which include First Nations, Inuit, and Métis peoples. Indigenous peoples of the United States are commonly known as Native Americans or American Indians, and Alaska Natives.

According to the prevailing New World migration model, migrations of humans from Eurasia to the Americas took place via Beringia, a land bridge which connected the two continents across what is now the Bering Strait. The majority of authorities agree that the earliest migration via Beringia took place at least 13,500 years ago, These early Paleo-Indians spread throughout the Americas, diversifying into many hundreds of culturally distinct nations and tribes. According to the oral histories of many of the indigenous peoples of the Americas, they have been living there since their genesis, described by a wide range of traditional creation accounts.

Many parts of the Americas are still populated by indigenous Americans; some countries have sizable populations, especially Belize, Bolivia, Colombia, Ecuador, Greenland, Guatemala, Mexico, and Peru. At least a thousand different indigenous languages are spoken in the Americas. Some, such as Quechua, Aymara, Guaraní, Mayan languages, and Nahuatl, count their speakers in millions. Many also maintain aspects of indigenous cultural practices to varying degrees, including religion, social organization, and subsistence practices. Like most cultures, over time, cultures specific to many Indigenous peoples have evolved to incorporate traditional aspects, but also cater to modern needs. Some indigenous peoples still live in relative isolation from Western society, and a few are still counted as uncontacted peoples. (Full article...)

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Location of Mayan speaking populations

The Mayan languages form a language family spoken in Mesoamerica and northern Central America. Mayan languages are spoken by at least 6 million Maya peoples, primarily in Guatemala, Mexico, Belize and Honduras. In 1996, Guatemala formally recognized 21 Mayan languages by name,and Mexico recognizes eight more within their territory.

The Mayan language family is one of the best-documented and most studied in the Americas.Modern Mayan languages descend from the Proto-Mayan language, thought to have been spoken at least 5000 years ago; it has been partially reconstructed using the comparative method. The proto-Mayan language diversified into at least 6 different branches, the Huastecan, Quichean, Yucatecan, Qanjobalan, Mamean and Ch'olan-Tzeltalan branches.

Mayan languages form part of the Mesoamerican language area, an area of linguistic convergence developed throughout millennia of interaction between the peoples of Mesoamerica. All Mayan languages display the basic diagnostic traits of this linguistic area. For example, all use relational nouns instead of prepositions to indicate spatial relationships. They also possess grammatical and typological features that set them apart from other languages of Mesoamerica, such as the use of ergativity in the grammatical treatment of verbs and their subjects and objects, specific inflectional categories on verbs, and a special word class of "positionals" which is typical of all Mayan languages.

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Cultures précolombiennes MRAH Chimu Hergé 02 10 2011 B.jpg
Pre-Columbian figure, Peru
image credit: Vassil

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Ishi portrait.jpg

Ishi (c. 1860 – March 25, 1916) was the last member of the Yahi, a group of the Yana people of the U.S. state of California. Widely acclaimed in his time as the "last wild Indian" in America, Ishi lived most of his life completely outside modern culture. At about 49 years of age, in 1911, he emerged from "the wild" near Oroville, California, leaving his ancestral homeland, present-day Tehama County, near the foothills of Lassen Peak, known to Ishi as Wa ganu p'a.

Ishi means "man" in the Yana language. The anthropologist Alfred Kroeber gave this name to the man because it was rude to ask someone's name in the Yahi culture. When asked his name, he said: "I have none, because there were no people to name me," meaning that no Yahi had ever spoken his name. He was taken in by anthropologists at the University of California, who both studied him and hired him as a research assistant. He lived most of his remaining five years in a university building in San Francisco.

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Native village of Chipitiere, in the Cultural Zone of Manu National Park, Peru
image credit: Martin St-Amant

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