The Native Americans were the first people to reach what was to be called America thousands of years before any Europeans got near to 'discovering' America. The Native Americans had to adapt their lifestyle to suit the environment that they lived in ranging from the Artic and snow-bound regions of Canada to the deserts of New Mexico to the forests of the east coast.

For many years the image of the 'Red Indian' was fixed in peoples minds from the films produced in Hollywood - blood thirsty savages who were a plague on the white settlers who were moving across the American West to settle on new land. 

White actors played the part of the 'Red Indians' and the image was fixed - no white person was safe from these savages. Essentially this image all but justified to people the campaign the American government launched against the 'Red Indians' - to herd the various tribes into reservations in the second half of the C19th where they could do no harm and after this happened the white settlers could move west unhindered. 

The Hollywood image was false and it was only in the 1980's that the surviving Native People campaigned for their rights to be restored and for History to present a true representation of what happened to them in the nineteenth century.

The first part of their campaign was to educate people into dropping the title 'Red Indian'. This was a throw-back to the days of Christopher Columbus who  gave the people he first saw in what are now the West Indies this title - more out of ignorance than any malice. The name stuck and went into normal usage. Columbus had sailed west from Europe in the hope of finding Asia and he believed that he had landed on islands just to the west of India (he had no idea that the American continent existed) and the ruddy complexion of the natives he saw condemned them to the title that was to stick for years. 

In recent years, the name changed first to Native Americans and then to its present Native People of America. Native Americans' was seen as a continuation of the insulting title (though an improvement on 'Red Indian') because when the Native People first got to what we now call America, the land had not been called anything. The first Native People to inhabit America probably got there between 10,000 and 40,000 years ago. 

America got its name in honour of the explorer Amerigo Vespucci who is said to have been the first man to discover mainland America - 500 years ago. In fact, he was probably the first European to discover mainland America - the Native People discovered the land a few thousand years before him. The correct title for these people is now Native People of America and not 'Red Indians'.

The second strand of their campaign has been to educate the public at large that the tribes that made up the Native People were not blood thirsty sub-humans but people who had a sophisticated life style perfectly fitted to the environment they lived in. 

The 1940's and 1950's Hollywood image of savages who mercilessly scalped innocent white settlers, has been replaced by a more true image as seen in recent films such as 'The Outlaw Josey Wales' and 'Little Big Man'. To give a greater understanding of their culture, the Native People have successfully introduced educational schemes to publicise their true way of life. The mistruths of the past have slowly been replaced with what was actually true.

As an example of this, books now refer to arguably the most famous of Plains Tribes - the Sioux - by their correct title - the Lakota. "Sioux" was a name given to this tribal nation by the white settlers and means "snake in the grass". This was a derogatory name which related to the fighting tactics of the Lakota which the white settlers considered to be unacceptable but they were also very successful as it was the Lakota tribe who destroyed General George Custer's 7th Cavalry at the Battle of the Little Big Horn in 1876.  

MLA Citation/Reference

"natpeo1". 2014. Web.

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