Islam and Indigenous (Amerindian/Indian) peoples of the Americas (North America, Latin America – Central America and South America, Caribbean and Greenland: The Future Muslims of Americas
Indígenas or pueblos indígenas (lit. “indigenous peoples”) is a common term in Spanish-speaking countries, and pueblos nativos or nativos (lit. “native peoples” in the sense of descendants of non-immigrants) may also be heard, while aborigen (aborigine) is used in Argentina, and pueblos aborígenes (aboriginal peoples) is common in Chile. The term “Amerindian” (short for “‘Indians’ of the Americas)” is used in Quebec, the Guianas, and the English-speaking Caribbean. Indigenous peoples are commonly known in Canada as Aboriginal peoples, which includes not only First Nations and Arctic Inuit, but also the minority population of First Nations-European mixed-race Métis people who identify culturally and ethnically with indigenous peoplehood. This is contrasted, for instance, to the American Indian-European mixed-race mestizos of Hispanic America (caboclos in Brazil) who, with their larger population (in most Latin American countries constituting either outright majorities, pluralities, or at the least large minorities), identify largely as a new ethnic group distinct from both Europeans and Indigenous Americans, but still considering themselves a subset of the European-derived Hispanic peoplehood in culture and ethnicity.
Application of the term “Indian” originated with Christopher Columbus, who, in his search for Asia, thought that he had arrived in the East Indies. Eventually, the Americas came to be known as the “West Indies“, a name still used to refer to the islands of the Caribbean Sea. This led to the blanket term “Indies” and “Indians” (Spanish “indios”) for the indigenous inhabitants, which implied some kind of racial or cultural unity among the indigenous peoples of the Americas. This unifying concept, codified in law, religion, and politics, was not originally accepted by the myriad groups of indigenous peoples themselves, but has since been embraced by many over the last two centuries. Even though the term “Indian” does not include the culturally and linguistically distinct indigenous peoples of the Arctic regions of the Americas—such as the Aleuts, Inuit, or Yupik peoples, who entered the continent as a second more recent wave of migration several thousand years ago, and have much more recent genetic and cultural commonalities with the aboriginal peoples of the Asiatic Arctic Russian Far East—these groups are nonetheless considered “indigenous peoples of the Americas”.
Although some indigenous peoples of the Americas were traditionally hunter-gatherers—and many, especially in Amazonia, still are—many groups practiced aquaculture and agriculture. The impact of their agricultural endowment to the world is a testament to their time and work in reshaping and cultivating the flora indigenous to the Americas. Although some societies depended heavily on agriculture, others practiced a mix of farming, hunting, and gathering. In some regions the indigenous peoples created monumental architecture, large-scale organized cities, chiefdoms, states, and empires.
Many parts of the Americas are still populated by indigenous peoples; some countries have sizable populations, especially Belize, Bolivia, Chile, Ecuador, Greenland, Guatemala, Mexico, and Peru. At least a thousand different indigenous languages are spoken in the Americas. Some, such as the Quechuan languages, 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 culture and a few are still counted as uncontacted peoples.
Current distribution of the indigenous peoples of the Americas
|Approximately 60.5 million|
|Regions with significant populations|
|United States||2.9–5 million|
|El Salvador||c. 70,000|
|Costa Rica||c. 114,000|
|Belize||c. 24,501 (Maya)|
|French Guiana||c. 19,000|
|Trinidad and Tobago||1,460|
|Indigenous languages of the Americas, English, Spanish, Portuguese, French, Danish, Dutch|
History and status by country
In 2005, Argentina’s indigenous population (known as pueblos originarios) numbered about 600,329 (1.6% of total population); this figure includes 457,363 people who self-identified as belonging to an indigenous ethnic group and 142,966 who identified themselves as first-generation descendants of an indigenous people. The ten most populous indigenous peoples are the Mapuche (113,680 people), the Kolla (70,505), the Toba (69,452), the Guaraní (68,454), the Wichi (40,036), the Diaguita–Calchaquí (31,753), the Mocoví (15,837), the Huarpe (14,633), the Comechingón (10,863) and the Tehuelche (10,590). Minor but important peoples are the Quechua (6,739), the Charrúa (4,511), the Pilagá (4,465), the Chané (4,376), and the Chorote (2,613). The Selknam (Ona) people are now virtually extinct in its pure form. The languages of the Diaguita, Tehuelche, and Selknam nations have become extinct or virtually extinct: the Cacán language (spoken by Diaguitas) in the 18th century and the Selknam language in the 20th century; one Tehuelche language (Southern Tehuelche) is still spoken by a handful of elderly people.
Mestizos (mixed European-Indigenous) number about 34% of the population; unmixed Maya make up another 10.6% (Ketchi, Mopan, and Yucatec). The Garifuna, who came to Belize in the 19th century from Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, have mixed African, Carib, and Arawak ancestry make up another 6% of the population.
In Bolivia, the 2001 census reported that 62% of residents over the age of 15 identify as belonging to an indigenous people. Some 3.7% report growing up with an indigenous mother tongue but do not identify as indigenous. When both of these categories are totaled, and children under 15, some 66.4% of Bolivia’s population was recorded as indigenous in the 2001 Census.
The largest indigenous ethnic groups are: Quechua, about 2.5 million people; Aymara, 2.0 million; Chiquitano, 181,000; Guaraní, 126,000; and Mojeño, 69,000. Some 124,000 belong to smaller indigenous groups. The Constitution of Bolivia, enacted in 2009, recognizes 36 cultures, each with its own language, as part of a pluri-national state. Some groups, including CONAMAQ (the National Council of Ayllus and Markas of Qullasuyu), draw ethnic boundaries within the Quechua- and Aymara-speaking population, resulting in a total of 50 indigenous peoples native to Bolivia.
Large numbers of Bolivian highland peasants retained indigenous language, culture, customs, and communal organization throughout the Spanish conquest and the post-independence period. They mobilized to resist various attempts at the dissolution of communal landholdings and used legal recognition of “empowered caciques” to further communal organization. Indigenous revolts took place frequently until 1953. While the National Revolutionary Movement government begun in 1952 discouraged people identifying as indigenous (reclassifying rural people as campesinos, or peasants), renewed ethnic and class militancy re-emerged in the Katarista movement beginning in the 1970s. Many lowland indigenous peoples, mostly in the east, entered national politics through the 1990 March for Territory and Dignity organized by the CIDOB confederation. That march successfully pressured the national government to sign the ILO Convention 169 and to begin the still-ongoing process of recognizing and giving official title to indigenous territories. The 1994 Law of Popular Participation granted “grassroots territorial organizations;” these are recognized by the state and have certain rights to govern local areas.
Some radio and television programs are produced in the Quechua and Aymara languages. The constitutional reform in 1997 recognized Bolivia as a multi-lingual, pluri-ethnic society and introduced education reform. In 2005, for the first time in the country’s history, an indigenous Aymara, Evo Morales, was elected as President.
Morales began work on his “indigenous autonomy” policy, which he launched in the eastern lowlands department on August 3, 2009. Bolivia was the first nation in the history of South America to affirm the right of indigenous people to self-government. Speaking in Santa Cruz Department, the President called it “a historic day for the peasant and indigenous movement,” saying that, though he might make errors, he would “never betray the fight started by our ancestors and the fight of the Bolivian people.” A vote on further autonomy for jurisdictions took place in December 2009, at the same time as general elections to office. The issue divided the country.
At that time, indigenous peoples voted overwhelmingly for more autonomy: five departments that had not already done so voted for it; as did Gran Chaco Province in Taríja, for regional autonomy; and 11 of 12 municipalities that had referendums on this issue.
Indigenous peoples of Brazil make up 0.4% of Brazil‘s population, or about 700,000 people, but millions of Brazilians are mestizo or have some indigenous ancestry. Indigenous peoples are found in the entire territory of Brazil, although in the 21st century, the majority of them live in indigenous territories in the North and Center-Western part of the country. On January 18, 2007, Fundação Nacional do Índio (FUNAI) reported that it had confirmed the presence of 67 different uncontacted tribes in Brazil, up from 40 in 2005. Brazil is now the nation that has the largest number of uncontacted tribes, and the island of New Guinea is second.
The Washington Post reported in 2007, “As has been proved in the past when uncontacted tribes are introduced to other populations and the microbes they carry, maladies as simple as the common cold can be deadly. In the 1970s, 185 members of the Panara tribe died within two years of discovery after contracting such diseases as flu and chickenpox, leaving only 69 survivors.”
Aboriginal peoples in Canada comprise the First Nations, Inuit and Métis; the descriptors “Indian” and “Eskimo” are falling into disuse, other than in neighboring Alaska, United States. “Eskimo” is considered derogatory in many other places because it was given by non-Inuit people and was said to mean “eater of raw meat.” Hundreds of Aboriginal nations evolved trade, spiritual and social hierarchies. The Métis ethnicity developed a culture, especially in the area of the Red River of the North, from the mid-17th century after generations of First Nations and native Inuit married European settlers. They were small farmers, hunters and trappers, and usually Catholic and French-speaking. The Inuit had more limited interaction with European settlers during that early period. Various laws, treaties, and legislation have been enacted between European-Canadians and First Nations across Canada. Aboriginal Right to Self-Government provides the opportunity for First Nations to manage their own historical, cultural, political, health care and economic control within their communities.
Although not without conflict, European/Canadian early interactions in the east with First Nations and Inuit populations were relatively peaceful compared to the later experience of native peoples in the United States. Combined with a late economic development in many regions, this relatively peaceful history resulted in Indigenous peoples having a fairly strong influence on the early national culture, while preserving their own identity. From the late 18th century, European Canadians encouraged Aboriginals to assimilate into the mainstream European-influenced culture, which they referred to as “Canadian culture“. The government attempted forced integration in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. National Aboriginal Day recognises the cultures and contributions of Aboriginal peoples of Canada. There are currently over 600 recognized First Nations governments or bands encompassing 1,172,790 2006 people spread across Canada, with distinctive Aboriginal cultures, languages, art, and music.
According to the 2002 Census, 4.6% of the Chilean population, including the Rapanui (a Polynesian people) of Easter Island, was indigenous, although most show varying degrees of mixed heritage. Many are descendants of the Mapuche, and live in Santiago, Araucanía and the lake district. The Mapuche successfully fought off defeat in the first 300–350 years of Spanish rule during the Arauco War. Relations with the new Chilean Republic were good until the Chilean state decided to occupy their lands. During the Occupation of Araucanía the Mapuche surrendered to the country’s army in the 1880s. Their land was opened to settlement by Chileans and Europeans. Conflict over Mapuche land rights continues to the present.
Other groups include the Aymara, the majority of whom live in Bolivia and Peru, with smaller numbers in the Arica-Parinacota and Tarapacá Regions, and the Atacama people (Atacameños), who reside mainly in El Loa.
A minority today within Colombia‘s overwhelmingly Mestizo and White Colombian population, Colombia’s indigenous peoples consist of around 85 distinct cultures and more than 1,378,884 people. A variety of collective rights for indigenous peoples are recognized in the 1991 Constitution.
One of the influences is the Muisca culture, a subsetof the larger Chibcha ethnic group, famous for their use of gold, which led to the legend of El Dorado. At the time of the Spanish conquest, the Muisca were the largest native civilization geographically between the Incas and the Aztecs empires.
There are over 60,000 inhabitants of Native American origins, representing 1.5% of the population. Most of them live in secluded reservations, distributed among eight ethnic groups: Quitirrisí (In the Central Valley), Matambú or Chorotega (Guanacaste), Maleku (Northern Alajuela), Bribri (Southern Atlantic), Cabécar (Cordillera de Talamanca), Guaymí (Southern Costa Rica, along the Panamá border), Boruca (Southern Costa Rica) and Ngäbe (Southern Costa Rica).
These native groups are characterized for their work in wood, like masks, drums and other artistic figures, as well as fabrics made of cotton.
Their subsistence is based on agriculture, having corn, beans and plantains as the main crops.
In Cuba the population of Amerindians includes 0.1 of the population and 0.2 part Native which is also part of the population. Many are from the Taino people or Arawak people. When the Spanish Empire was in control of the island they used the Natives as slaves and many died from diseases, hence decreasing the population. Presently 0.3 of the population of Cuba consists of part Native and full-blooded Amerindians.
Dominica is home to the Carib Territory, one of the last indigenous communities in the Caribbean. The Carib Territory is home to an estimated 3,000 Kalinago or Carib people.
Ecuador was the site of many indigenous cultures, and civilizations of different proportions. An early sedentary culture, known as the Valdivia culture, developed in the coastal region, while the Caras and the Quitus unified to form an elaborate civilization that ended at the birth of the Capital Quito. The Cañaris near Cuenca were the most advanced, and most feared by the Inca, due to their fierce resistance to the Incan expansion. Their architecture remains were later destroyed by Spaniards and the Incas.
Approximately 96.4% of Ecuador’s Indigenous population are Highland Quichuas living in the valleys of the Sierra region. Primarily consisting of the descendents of Incans, they are Kichwa speakers and include the Caranqui, the Otavalos, the Cayambi, the Quitu-Caras, the Panzaleo, the Chimbuelo, the Salasacan, the Tugua, the Puruhá, the Cañari, and the Saraguro. Linguistic evidence suggests that the Salascan and the Saraguro may have been the descendants of Bolivian ethnic groups transplanted to Ecuador as mitimaes.
Coastal groups, including the Awá, Chachi, and the Tsáchila, make up 0.24% percent of the indigenous population, while the remaining 3.35 percent live in the Oriente and consist of the Oriente Kichwa (the Canelo and the Quijos), the Shuar, the Huaorani, the Siona-Secoya, the Cofán, and the Achuar.
In 1986, indigenous people formed the first “truly” national political organization. The Confederation of Indigenous Nationalities of Ecuador (CONAIE) has been the primary political institution of the Indigenous since then and is now the second largest political party in the nation. It has been influential in national politics, contributing to the ouster of presidents Abdalá Bucaram in 1997 and Jamil Mahuad in 2000.
Much of El Salvador was home to the Pipil, the Lenca, Xinca, and Kakawira. The Pipil lived in western El Salvador, spoke Nawat, and had many settlements there, most noticeably Cuzcatlan. The Pipil had no precious mineral resources, but they did have rich and fertile land that was good for farming. The Spaniards were disappointed not to find gold or jewels in El Salvador as they had in other lands like Guatemala or Mexico, but upon learning of the fertile land in El Salvador, they attempted to conquer it. Noted Meso-American indigenous warriors to rise militarily against the Spanish included Princes Atonal and Atlacatl of the Pipil people in central El Salvador and Princess Antu Silan Ulap of the Lenca people in eastern El Salvador, who saw the Spanish not as gods but as barbaric invaders. After fierce battles, the Pipil successfully fought off the Spanish army led by Pedro de Alvarado along with their Mexican Indian allies (the Tlaxcalas), sending them back to Guatemala. After many other attacks with an army reinforced with Guatemalan Indian allies, the Spanish were able to conquer Cuzcatlan. After further attacks, the Spanish also conquered the Lenca people. Eventually, the Spaniards intermarried with Pipil and Lenca women, resulting in the Mestizo population which would become the majority of the Salvadoran people. Today many Pipil and other indigenous populations live in the many small towns of El Salvador like Izalco, Panchimalco, Sacacoyo, and Nahuizalco.
Pure Maya account for some forty percent of the population; although around forty percent of the population speaks an indigenous language, those tongues (of which there are more than twenty) enjoy no official status. Guatemala’s majority population holds a percentage of 59.4% in White or Mestizo (of mixed European and indigenous ancestry) people. The area of Livingston, Guatemala is highly influenced by the Caribbean and its population includes a combination of Mestizos and Garifuna people.
About five percent of the population are of full-blooded indigenous descent, but upwards to eighty percent more or the majority of Hondurans are mestizo or part-indigenous with European admixture, and about ten percent are of indigenous or African descent. The main concentration of indigenous in Honduras are in the rural westernmost areas facing Guatemala and to the Caribbean Sea coastline, as well on the Nicaraguan border. The majority of indigenous people are Lencas, Miskitos to the east, Mayans, Pech, Sumos, and Tolupan.
The territory of modern-day Mexico was home to numerous indigenous civilizations prior to the arrival of the Spanish conquistadores: The Olmecs, who flourished from between 1200 BCE to about 400 BCE in the coastal regions of the Gulf of Mexico; the Zapotecs and the Mixtecs, who held sway in the mountains of Oaxaca and the Isthmus of Tehuantepec; the Maya in the Yucatan (and into neighbouring areas of contemporary Central America); the Purépecha in present-day Michoacán and surrounding areas, and the Aztecs/Mexica, who, from their central capital at Tenochtitlan, dominated much of the centre and south of the country (and the non-Aztec inhabitants of those areas) when Hernán Cortés first landed at Veracruz.
In contrast to what was the general rule in the rest of North America, the history of the colony of New Spain was one of racial intermingling (mestizaje). Mestizos, which in Mexico designate people who do not identify culturally with any indigenous grouping, quickly came to account for a majority of the colony’s population; but 6% of the Mexican population identify as speakers of one of the indigenous languages. The CDI identifies 62 indigenous groups in Mexico, each with a unique language.
In the states of Chiapas and Oaxaca and in the interior of the Yucatan peninsula the majority of the population is indigenous. Large indigenous minorities, including Aztecs or Nahua, Purépechas, Mazahua, Otomi, and Mixtecs are also present in the central regions of Mexico. In Northern Mexico indigenous people are a small minority.
The “General Law of Linguistic Rights of the Indigenous Peoples” grants all indigenous languages spoken in Mexico, regardless of the number of speakers, the same validity as Spanish in all territories in which they are spoken, and indigenous peoples are entitled to request some public services and documents in their native languages. Along with Spanish, the law has granted them—more than 60 languages—the status of “national languages”. The law includes all indigenous languages of the Americas regardless of origin; that is, it includes the indigenous languages of ethnic groups non-native to the territory. The National Commission for the Development of Indigenous Peoples recognizes the language of the Kickapoo, who immigrated from the United States, and recognizes the languages of the Guatemalan indigenous refugees. The Mexican government has promoted and established bilingual primary and secondary education in some indigenous rural communities. Nonetheless, of the indigenous peoples in Mexico, only about 67% of them (or 5.4% of the country’s population) speak an indigenous language and about a sixth do not speak Spanish (1.2% of the country’s population).
The indigenous peoples in Mexico have the right of free determination under the second article of the constitution. According to this article the indigenous peoples are granted:
- the right to decide the internal forms of social, economic, political and cultural organization;
- the right to apply their own normative systems of regulation as long as human rights and gender equality are respected;
- the right to preserve and enrich their languages and cultures;
- the right to elect representatives before the municipal council in which their territories are located;
amongst other rights.
About 5% of the Nicaraguan population are indigenous. The largest indigenous group in Nicaragua is the Miskito people. Their territory extended from Cape Camarón, Honduras, to Rio Grande, Nicaragua along the Mosquito Coast. There is a native Miskito language, but large groups speak Miskito Coast Creole, Spanish, Rama and other languages. The Creole English came about through frequent contact with the British who colonized the area. Many are Christians. Traditional Miskito society was highly structured with a defined political structure. There was a king, but he did not have total power. Instead, the power was split between himself, a governor, a general, and by the 1750s, an admiral. Historical information on kings is often obscured by the fact that many of the kings were semi-mythical. Another major group is the Mayangna (or Sumu) people, counting some 10,000 people.
Indigenous population in Peru make up around 30-45% approximately. Native Peruvian traditions and customs have shaped the way Peruvians live and see themselves today. Cultural citizenship—or what Renato Rosaldo has called, “the right to be different and to belong, in a democratic, participatory sense” (1996:243)—is not yet very well developed in Peru. This is perhaps no more apparent than in the country’s Amazonian regions where indigenous societies continue to struggle against state-sponsored economic abuses, cultural discrimination, and pervasive violence.
Suriname, and Guyana; Trinidad and Tobago
- Akurio, Tapanahoni and Sipaliwini rivers, Kwamalasamutu
- Arawak (Lokono), Suriname, French Guiana, Guyana, Venezuela
- Kalina, Brazil, Guyana, French Guiana, Suriname, Venezuela
- Sikiana, Kwamalasamutu on Sipaliwini river, Brazil
- Tiriyó, Tapanahoni River, Sipaliwini River, Brazil
- Waiwai (Uapixana, Vapidiana, Wapichan, Wapichana, Wapisana, Wapishshiana, Wapisiana, Wapitxana, Wapixana), Amazonas, Brazil, Suriname and Guyana
- Warao (Guarao, Guarauno, Warau, Warrau), Venezuela, Guyana and Suriname
- Wayana, Southwest Marowijne District, upper Tapanahoni river, Brazil, French Guiana
- Akawaio (Acahuayo, Acewaio, Akawai, Ingariko), Mazaruni River basin and Venezuela
- Atorada, southwest and Brazil
- Auaké, Brazil and Guyana
- Carib (Cariña, Galibi, Kalihna, Kalinya, Kariña, Kari’nja), northeast
- Macushi, southwest border
- Mapidian, southwest
- Patamona, west central
- Ingarikó, Brazil, Guyana and Venezuela
- Jaoi (Yao), Guyana, Trinidad and Venezuela
- Kalina, Brazil, Guyana, French Guiana, Suriname, Venezuela
- Lokono (Arawak), Guyana, Trinidad, Venezuela
- Macushi, Brazil and Guyana
- Nepuyo (Nepoye), Guyana, Trinidad and Venezuela
- Orealla, Guyana
- Pemon (Arecuna), upland savannah, Brazil, Guyana, and Venezuela
- Waiwai (Uapixana, Vapidiana, Wapichan, Wapichana, Wapisana, Wapishshiana, Wapisiana, Wapitxana, Wapixana), Amazonas, Brazil and Guyana
- Wapishana, Brazil and Guyana
- Warao (Guarao, Guarauno, Warau, Warrau), Guyana and Venezuela
Indigenous peoples in Trinidad and Tobago
In the wider Circum-Caribbean region, there are an estimated 100,000 self-identified indigenous persons. According to government censuses, this number includes: 41,000 in Guyana, out of a national population of 756,000; 26,000 in Belize, out of a population of 146,000; 6,000 in St. Vincent, out of a population of 113,000; and, 3,000 Caribs in Dominica, out of a national population of 74,000.
The total population of Trinidad and Tobago is 1.1 million but there is no official census category for indigenous people of Amerindian descent. Estimates range from as few as 12,000 in north-east Trinidad, to as many as 400,000 indigenous people nationwide.
Indigenous peoples in what is now the contiguous United States, including their descendants, were commonly called “American Indians”, or simply “Indians” domestically. Since the late 20th century, when some insisted on using “Native American,” as their preferred term, the United States Census Bureau and other parts of government have also adopted it. In Alaska, indigenous peoples belong to 11 cultures with 11 languages. These include the St. Lawrence Island Yupik, Iñupiat, Athabaskan, Yup’ik, Cup’ik, Unangax, Alutiiq, Eyak, Haida, Tsimshian, and Tlingit, and are collectively called Alaska Natives. They include Native American peoples as well as Inuit, who are distinct but occupy areas of the region. The United States has authority with Indigenous Polynesian peoples, which include Marshallese, Samoan, Tahitian, and Tongan; politically they are classified as Pacific Islands American. They are geographically, genetically, and culturally distinct from indigenous peoples of the mainland continents of the Americas.
Native Americans in the United States make up 0.97% to 2% of the population. In the 2010 census, 2.9 million people identified as Native American, Native Hawaiian, and Alaska Native alone. A total of 5.2 million people identified as U.S. Native Americans, either alone or in combination with one or more ethnicity or other races. 1.8 million are enrolled tribal members. Tribes have established their own criteria for membership, which are often based on blood quantum, lineal descent, or residency. A minority of US Native Americans live in land units called Indian reservations. Some California and Southwestern tribes, such as the Kumeyaay, Cocopa, Pascua Yaqui and Apache, span both sides of the US–Mexican border. By treaty, Haudenosaunee people have the legal right to freely cross the US–Canada border. Athabascan, Tlingit, Haida, Tsimshian, Iñupiat, Blackfeet, Nakota, Cree, Anishinaabe, Huron, Lenape, Mi’kmaq, Penobscot, and Haudenosaunee, among others, live in both Canada and the US. The international border cut through their common cultural territory.