QUESTION: Sometimes I read that there are Northwest Coast Indians, or Plains Indians or other kinds. Exactly what do these terms refer to?

ANSWER: Some anthropologists noticed that cultures seem to fit into certain environmental "niches". People who lived on the Plains tended to have a culture which followed the bison (sometimes refered to as a "buffalo") as their primary source of food. The material culture was heavily influenced by that animal.

Different anthropologists came up with different schemes for classifying the geographical areas of the Americas north of the Rio Grande, which is to say of course, the United States of America and Canada. Naturally, these borders were the result of European colonization, and did not exist for the peoples who lived here before their arrival (and to some extent after). The native populations in these two countries now tend to speak English (and/or possibly French) as opposed to those peoples who lived south of the Rio Grande who tended to speak Spanish (often in addition to their native tongues)

The most well known classifications of this type were produced by Clark Wissler, Alfred Kroeber and Harold Driver. For details on the areas, click on the bird.

For general purposes, we can divide the areas into the following general areas. For more information on the area, please click on the bird next to the area.



Northwest Coast


Great Basin

South West

Great Plains

North East

South East

Although the page for each cultural area gives some data about the people who live there, the pages stress more "traditional" forms of the culture. It is important to remember that many of the peoples no longer live in the ways their ancestors did, any more than anyone else in the world. Many of the people live in houses, rather than tents, drive automobiles, rather than ride horses, and wear European/American style clothing much of the time. For more information about contemporary situations, click on the bird.


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