When Columbus landed in America in 1492, thinking he was in India, he called the native people who lived there Indians. Native Americans once lived throughout the USA, in groups known as tribes. Each tribe was distinguished by its language, culture, customs and religion and lived in one particular area. Some of the most important tribes were the Apache, the Navajo and the Cherokee. Names like that of the Sioux chief, Sitting Bull, and the Apace, Geronimo, are still known today and are remembered for their courage and strength. Before the Europeans arrived there were hundreds of tribes who mainly lived peacefully together.
Nowadays there are over 500 officially recognised tribes in the USA. Many of them are very small, apart from the Cherokee and Navajo which both have more than 300,000 members. About 30% of Native Americans live on reservations; special areas of land reserved for tribes which, in theory, help protect their heritage and culture. Unfortunately they often have problems of housing, unemployment and poverty and it is difficult for native people to maintain a good standard of living. As a result many have abandoned their cultural roots and moved away, leaving a heritage which is slowly disappearing.