Natives, North American

Contemporary Life

In the 1890s the long struggle between the expanding white population and the indigenous peoples, which had begun soon after the coming of the Spanish in the 16th cent. and the British and French in the 17th cent., was brought to an end. Native American life in the United States in the 20th cent. has been marked to a large degree by poverty, inadequate health care, poor education, and unemployment. However, the situation is changing for some groups. New economic opportunities have arisen from an upswing in tourism and the development of natural resources and other businesses on many reservations. With the passage of the 1988 Indian Gaming Regulatory Act, many tribes began operating full-scale casinos, providing much-needed revenue and employment. An increasing interest among the general population in Native American arts and crafts, music, and customs has also brought new income to many individuals and groups.

The first tribal college opened on the Navajo reservation in 1968; by 1995 there were 29 such colleges. A number of Native American radio stations now broadcast in English and native languages. Although there have been Native American newspapers since the early 1800s, there has been an increase in all types of native periodicals since the 1970s, including academic journals, professional publications, and the first national weekly, Indian Country Today. Many of these publications are now produced in cities as more Native Americans move off reservations and into urban centers. Over the years many Native Americans have bitterly objected to the disturbing of the bones of their ancestors in archaeological digs carried out across the country. These concerns brought about the passage of the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act (1990). Under its terms some 10,000 skeletons had been returned to their tribes by the end of the 20th cent., and efforts to repatriate and rebury other remains were ongoing. In 1990 the Native American population in the United States was some 1.9 million, an increase of almost 38% since 1980. Oklahoma, California, Arizona, and New Mexico have the most Native American inhabitants; most Eskimos and Aleuts live in Alaska.

The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.

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