Tribes that now live on the Northern Plains originally spanned an area from the Great Lakes in the north, to western Montana, and as far south and east as the lower Mississippi. These tribes hunted, fished and farmed. Beginning in the 1700s, many of these tribes acquired horses. This new mobility allowed them to become nomadic, and several tribes began following the buffalo herds of the Northern Plains.
Increasing encounters with white explorers, miners and settlers in the early 1800s introduced alcohol and disease to the Native people. A series of smallpox epidemics during this time dealt a heavy blow to many tribes nearly wiping out entire tribes. With dramatically fewer numbers, these tribes were more susceptible to pressure from the white settlers heading west during the Gold Rush of 1849. Mounting friction between the Indian people and expansionist, white settlers pushed the Native Americans out of their traditional lands and led to the first Treaty of Fort Laramie in 1851.
This agreement did not relieve the pressure the Indians felt from the steady influx of white settlers and another Treaty of Fort Laramie was signed in 1868. This second treaty, part of the United States government’s policy of removing the Indians from their traditional lands, forced the Indians to cede large tracts of their lands to the U.S. and assigned all Native Americans to reservations. Removed from their traditional extended family structure and nomadic hunting ways, the Indian people were made to rely on the government for their basic needs. Sadly, these needs -- shelter, food, healthcare, and employment -- have never been adequately met
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Spread throughout harsh and isolated regions of Arizona, New Mexico, Utah and California, the reservations of Southwest Indians tribes are home to a rich diversity of tribes from the artistic Hopis of Arizona to the farming Laguna Pueblo of New Mexico and the sprawling Navajo nation which includes parts of Arizona, Colorado, Utah and New Mexico.
These tribes are ancient inhabitants of North America, and some reservations include villages that have been continuously inhabited for almost a thousand years.
The inhabitants of these reservations are descended from those who fought the Spanish in the 1600s and farmed the Southwest when its climate was wetter and the land was green. They hold tightly to their traditional values and culture and strive to live in dignity despite unceasing economic pressure. Read more about their homeland in this section.