The Biggest Native American Tribes in the USA

There are 4.5 million Native Americans (including Alaska Natives) living in the USA in 2021, representing 1.5% of the total US population.

In the United States of America today, there are 574 federally recognized Native American tribal nations. They are referred to (and refer to themselves) as nations, tribes, pueblos, bands, communities, and native villages.

These nations are culturally, ethnically, and linguistically diverse. 229 of them are located in Alaska, while the remaining 345 are situated throughout 34 other continental states: Alabama, Arizona, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Florida, Idaho,  Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Louisiana, Maine, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, North Dakota, Oklahoma, Oregon, Rhode Island, South Carolina, South Dakota, Texas, Utah, Virginia, Washington, Wisconsin, and Wyoming.

(Native Hawaiians are not Native Americans. They are genetically descended from the ancient Polynesian people who migrated to Hawaii from the Marquesas Islands 1700 years ago and from Tahiti 1200 years ago.)

Tribal Nations are federally recognized as sovereign, and they have inherent rights as such. Their unique political relationship with the US government is neither ethnically nor racially derived, and members of these tribes are citizens of three individual sovereigns: their tribe, their country (the USA), and their residential state.

Federally recognized tribes have the power to self-govern all matters relating to their tribal members as well as some pertaining to Indian Land. Tribal government seeks to enable the enhancement and protection of the safety, health, and welfare of tribal citizens, to determine citizenship, establish laws, and enforce these through tribal police departments and tribal courts.

Tribal governments are also responsible for certain activities that occur on tribal lands:

  • Law enforcement
  • Judicial systems
  • Health care
  • Education
  • Infrastructure development (housing, roads, public buildings, sewers, telecommunications, bridges, utilities, etc.)
  • Natural resource management
  • Environmental protection

While many modern American Indians live in cities and other areas, a significant number reside on their tribe’s reservation and tribal lands.

The Largest Native American Nations in the USA

  1. Navajo – population more than 332,000. The Navajo Nation occupies parts of northwestern New Mexico, northeastern Arizona, and southwestern Utah. It is the largest land area in the USA that has been retained by an indigenous tribe, almost equal to the combined land area of New Hampshire, Connecticut, New Jersey, Delaware, and Rhode Island. More than 173,000 Navajo live within their reservation. The reservation was established in 1868, and the Navajo Nation is one of very few whose reservation today overlaps their traditional homelands.
  2. Cherokee – the population is almost 300,000. The Cherokee Nation was established in the 1900s and incorporates descendants of the Old Cherokee Nation, Cherokee Freedmen, Natchez Nation, and Absentee Shawnee. Almost 190,000 members of the Cherokee Nation now live in northeastern Oklahoma.
  3. Sioux – population more than 131,000. The Great Sioux Nation is a united confederacy of the Lakota, Nakota, and Dakota Tribes of the Great Plains. The Sioux language has been an official language of South Dakota since 2019.

The Great Sioux Nation includes several federally recognized reservations, including but not limited to Oglala Pine Ridge Indian Reservation, Prairie Island, Hunkpapa Standing Rock Indian Reservation, Cheyenne River Indian Reservation, Rosebud Indian Reservation, and Crow Creek Indian Reservation.

Bison on Rosebud Sioux Lands Bison on Rosebud Sioux Lands, South Dakota

  1. Chippewa – population almost 320,000. Also known as the Ojibwe and Saulteaux, the Chippewa Nation is located in the northern midwest USA and southern Canada. They speak an Algonquin language branch and are traditionally known for copper mining and trade, birch bark canoes and scrolls, and for cultivating maple syrup and wild rice.
  2. Choctaw – population approximately 225,000. The Choctaw Indian Reservation is the second-largest in area in the USA, located in Oklahoma. The reservation, by area, is larger than the combined area of Connecticut, Rhode Island, and Delaware. There are two other federally recognized Choctaw tribes; the Jena Band of Choctaw Indians and the Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians. These two bands historically resisted the forced relocation of the 1800s.
  3. Apache – population almost 65,000. This group of culturally related southwestern tribes includes (but is not limited to) the Mescalero, Jicarilla, Kiowa, and others. The Navajo are distantly related to the Apache.

Historically, the Apache lived in mountainous areas, deserts, deep canyons, and lush valleys, as well as the Great Southern Plains from Southern Colorado to Northern Mexico, and West Texas to New Mexico. Today, many Apache live on reservations and other tribal lands in Oklahoma, New Mexico, and Arizona.

Apache Land, Oak Flat, Arizona Apache Land, Oak Flat, Arizona

  1. Pueblo - population almost 75,000. The Pueblo Indians of the southwest share cultural, spiritual, agricultural, and other practices. They traditionally lived in multistory adobe complexes, and the word “pueblo” derives from the colonial Spanish for “village”. Pueblo communities are located in New Mexico, Texas, and Arizona, and there are 100 inhabited pueblos today. They include the Hopi, Zuni, Taos, Tewa, Jemez, Keres, Laguna, and many more.
  2. Iroquois – population more than 81,000 in the USA. The Iroquois Confederacy comprises the Mohawk, Oneida, Onondaga, Cayuga, Seneca, and Tuscarora tribes, and it’s situated in the woodlands of the US northeast, particularly in upstate New York. The Onondaga reservation is the capital of the Iroquois Confederacy. The Iroquois are distantly related to the Cherokee.
  3. Creek – population more than 44,000. Also known as the Muscogee, this tribe descends from those of the southeastern woodlands. The tribe is headquartered in Oklahoma, where it was relocated to designated Indian Territory in the early 1800s from Creek ancestral lands in the river valleys of present-day Alabama, South Carolina, Georgia, and Florida. The modern Creek Confederacy includes Choctaw, Seminole, Cherokee, Chickasaw, and Creek Nations.
  4. Blackfeet – population more than 25,500. The Blackfeet Indian Reservation is located in northwest Montana and borders Alberta, Canada. The Piegan Blackfeet band is part of the larger Blackfeet Confederacy of the USA and Canada. The reservation is larger than Delaware and incorporates part of Glacier county, adjacent to Glacier

Blackfeet Reservation Lands Blackfeet Reservation Lands

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