This American Life

 Native Americans within the boundaries of the present-day United States are composed of numerous, distinct tribes and ethnic groups, many of which survive as intact political communities. The terms used to refer to Native Americans have been controversial. According to a 1995 U.S. Census Bureau set of home interviews, most of the respondents with an expressed preference refer to themselves as "American Indians" or simply "Indians"; this term has been adopted by major newspapers and some academic groups, but does not traditionally include Native Hawaiians or certain Alaskan Natives, such as Aleut, Yup'ik, or Inuit peoples.

Since the end of the 15th century, the migration of Europeans to the Americas has led to centuries of conflict and adjustment between Old and New World societies. Many Native Americans lived as hunter-gatherer societies and told their histories by oral traditions; Europeans therefore created almost all of the surviving historical record concerning the conflict.

The indigenous cultures were quite different from those of the proto-industrial and mostly Christian immigrants. Many native cultures were matrilineal and occupied hunting grounds and agricultural lands for use of the entire community. Europeans at that time had patriarchal cultures and had developed concepts of individual property rights with respect to land that were extremely different. The differences in cultures between the established Native Americans and immigrant Europeans, as well as shifting alliances among different nations of each culture through the centuries, caused extensive political tension, ethnic violence, and social disruption. Native Americans suffered high fatalities from contact with Eurasian diseases to which they had not acquired immunity. Smallpox epidemics are thought to have caused the greatest loss of life for indigenous populations, although estimates of the pre-Columbian population of what today constitutes the U.S. vary significantly, from 1 million to 18 million.

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