Top 10 Largest Tribal Groups In The US
Top 10 Largest Tribal Groups In The US. Photo KnowInsiders

The United States federal maintains a government-to-government relationship with the 574 federally recognized Native American Indian tribes and Alaska Native entities. Under U.S. law, Native American tribes are distinct, independent political communities.

When Christopher Columbus and other explorers sailed to North America, they sought to colonize the Native Americans' territory and claim it as their own. Through decades of wars and treaties, Native Americans have had a complicated, painful history with European colonists. As they were experts of the North American landscape and its resources, Native Americans were able to build a strong economy based on trade with the Europeans.

Below is a list of 10 Largest Tribal Groups in the US by population:

1. Navajo

- Tribe alone or in any combination: 399,567

- Tribe alone: 332,389

The Navajo Nation has by far the largest land mass of any Native American tribe in the country. Now, it's boasting the largest enrolled population, too.

The Navajo Nation is almost 25,000 square miles—an area about the size of West Virginia, and more than twice as large as Maryland. The nation extends into Arizona, New Mexico and Utah.

In 2021, the Navajo Nation also surpassed the Cherokee Nation to become the largest tribe by population too, with nearly 400,000 registered members. And as you might expect, Navajo has the most speakers of any Native American language.

Native Americans spoke more than 300 languages

North America was home to a huge number of spoken languages prior to colonization: more than 300, with as many as 500 spoken across the continent.

However, many of these languages have disappeared as a result of assimilation policies by the government. In 1868, President Ulysses S. Grant declared, “In the difference of language today lies two-thirds of our trouble… their barbarous dialect should be blotted out and the English language substituted.”

Beginning in the 1800s, Native Americans were displaced from their communities and moved onto reserves, and children were taken to Indian boarding schools and educated in English. It wasn’t until 1972, when Congress passed the Indian Education Act, that Native American tribes were permitted to teach their own languages.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, as of 2013 there were 169 Native languages spoken in the United States. Many of them have very small numbers of speakers. In 1990, Congress passed the Native American Language Act, which provides support for Native American language preservation and revitalization. This support is critical: all but two Native American languages are in danger of disappearing altogether by 2050.

2. Cherokee

Top 10 Largest Tribal Groups In The US By Population
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- Tribe alone or in any combination: 1,116,990

- Tribe alone: 292,555

It's the Cherokee who hold the place as the largest tribe in the United States. Descendents of the Iroquois, the Cherokee eventually took on a lot of European customs and often intermarried with them. This included adopting European clothes, farming methods, and architecture, which has created a melting-pot culture that the tribe maintains today.

The Cherokee Nation is governed by a constitution and is split across three branches: executive, legislative, and judicial.

The highest-ranking position is the principal chief. Currently, the principal chief is Chief Chuck Hoskin, Jr. The deputy principal chief is Bryan Warner.

On February 21, 1828, the first edition of the Cherokee Phoenix was published in the Cherokee capital of New Echota, Georgia. The first bilingual newspaper in the United States, it was printed in both English and Cherokee.

3. Choctaw

- Tribe alone or in any combination: 255,677

- Tribe alone: 100,605

The Choctaw Nation is the third-largest Indian nation in the United States, with over 200,000 tribal members and more than 11,000 employees. The first tribe over the Trail of Tears, historic boundaries are in the southeast corner of Oklahoma. The Choctaw Nation’s vision, “Living out the Chahta Spirit of faith, family and culture,” is evident as it continues to focus on providing opportunities for growth and prosperity.

4. Chippewa

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- Tribe alone or in any combination: 214,026

- Tribe alone: 119,229

The Chippewa, also known as the Ojibway, Ojibwe, and Anishinaabe, are one of the largest and most powerful nations in North America, having nearly 150 different bands throughout their original homeland in the northern United States — primarily Minnesota, Wisconsin and Michigan; and southern Canada — especially Ontario, Manitoba, and Saskatchewan.

Ojibway means “to roast till puckered up”, referring, to the puckered seam on their moccasins. Formerly, the tribe ranged along both shores of Lakes Huron and Superior, extending across the Minnesota Turtle Mountains and North Dakota. Although strong in numbers and occupying an extensive territory, the Chippewa were never prominent in history, owing to their remoteness from the frontier during the period of the colonial wars.

Native Americans were granted American citizenship in 1924

The Indian Citizenship Act was signed into law by President Calvin Coolidge on June 2, 1924. Some Native Americans were already considered U.S. citizens, because the 1887 Dawes Act, which granted citizenship to those who accepted land grants.

However, even though they had been given full citizenship, many Native Americans were still denied the right to vote. Voting rights were up to states, and many continued to deny them to Native Americans for decades.

5. Sioux

Top 10 Largest Tribal Groups In The US
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- Tribe alone or in any combination: 207,684

- Tribe alone: 118,850

Known for their strong hunting and warrior culture, the Sioux live in North Dakota, South Dakota, Nebraska, Minnesota, and Montana as well as Canada. They are best known in recent times for the protest against the building of the Dakota Access Pipeline at Standing Rock Indian Reservation. The media coverage of the protests mobilized a flood of supporters who made the journey to stand with the Sioux at Standing Rock.

6. Blackfeet

Top 10 Largest Tribal Groups In The US
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- Tribe alone or in any combination: 159,394

- Tribe alone: 29,575

The Blackfeet Indian Reservation is home to the 17,321-member Blackfeet Nation, one of the 10 largest tribes in the United States. Established by treaty in 1855, the reservation is located in northwest Montana.

The Blackfeet band now living on the Blackfeet Reservation are descendants of the Piegan branch of the Blackfeet. Two other bands – the Bloods and the North Blackfeet – now reside on Canadian Indian preserves scattered throughout Alberta.

7. Apache

- Tribe alone or in any combination: 150,120

- Tribe alone: 74,702

Because of constant conflicts with westward settlers, the Apache became well known for their fierce warriors. They were mostly friendly with neighboring tribes and often spent winter seasons with the Pueblos. It was from this relationship with the Pueblos the Apache were introduced to horses and became known as skilled riders that raided neighboring tribes and lived nomadically.

8. Iroquois

Top 10 Largest Tribal Groups In The US
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- Tribe alone or in any combination: 114,568

- Tribe alone: 47,230

The Iroquois people have inhabited the areas of Ontario and upstate New York for well over 4,000 years.

Technically speaking, "Iroquois" refers to a language rather than a particular tribe. In fact, the IROQUOIS consisted of five tribes prior to European colonization. Their society serves as an outstanding example of political and military organization, complex lifestyle, and an elevated role of women.

9. Creek

- Tribe alone or in any combination: 108,368

- Tribe alone: 44,041

The Creek or Muscogee Nation (Este Mvskokvlke) is a modern, federally-recognized Native American tribe in the United States. In the eighteenth-century, though, the Creek Nation was instead the Creek Confederacy, a multi-ethnic coalition of migrant peoples with a territorial expanse that encompassed much of the Deep South: from South Carolina to Alabama.

10. Lumbee

- Tribe alone or in any combination: 94,755

- Tribe alone: 75,903

In southeastern North Carolina, amongst the pines, swamps, and dark waters of the Lumbee River, you will find the heart and homeland of the Lumbee People. The ancestors of the Lumbee came together in the shelter of this land hundreds of years ago - survivors of tribal nations from the Algonquian, Iroquoian, and Siouan language families, including the Hatteras, the Tuscarora, and the Cheraw. The ancestors of the Lumbee were recognized as Indian in 1885 by the State of North Carolina. In 1956, Congress recognized the Lumbee as an Indian tribe while denying the People any federal benefits that are associated with such recognition – an action that the Lumbee continue to fight today.

Lumbee tribal headquarters are located in the small town of Pembroke. The tribal territory and service area is comprised of four adjoining counties: Robeson, Scotland, Hoke and Cumberland. The tribal housing complex, also known as ‘The Turtle’, houses most tribal services.

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