2282 indigenous peoples

numbers, they should be included in any gen
eral discussion of race or ethnicity, particularly
since the historical treatment and contemporary
status of native peoples are central to national
questions of group rights, nation formation,
justice, group formation, group transformation,
and social change.
The study of indigenous peoples represents
an invaluable opportunity for theory building
and evaluation since indigenous peoples repre
sent a wide variety of social structures that are
not found among immigrant or settler groups.
In the United States, the varieties of indigen
ous languages, kinship structures, political
organization, or cultural formations present
unique opportunities for understanding human
pasts and presents. Further, since the founding
of the United States, Native Americans have
had a unique political and social relationship
with the US government. They are the only
ethnic community with legal rights connected
directly to the federal government, rights that
bypass county, city, and state governmental
authority. This government to government
tribalfederal relationship generates many poli
tically and sociologically interesting interactions
and exceptions that have led to controversies
about gaming, Indian hunting and fishing
rights, or the right to sell gasoline or tobacco
on reservations without charging state taxes (see
Bays & Fouberg 2002).
Finally, consideration of indigenous peoples
is vital to understanding long term social
change and social evolution. On the one hand,
omitting such groups biases the sample. On the
other hand, it is erroneous to assume indigenous
people, even those who live traditionally, are
models or living artifacts of earlier societies.
Contemporary indigenous peoples have sur
vived centuries, and in parts of Asia, millennia
of contact and interaction with state societies.
Their contemporary social structures have been
shaped by their responses to those interactions.
Ferguson and Whitehead (1992) caution against
too much reliance on historical first contact
accounts for information about change in indi
genous societies. This is because intergroup
contacts change both societies so profoundly
that even the earliest first hand accounts must
be approached with considerable skepticism. By
the time a representative of a literate state
society observes an indigenous group, typically
there already has been considerable prior contact
and consequent social change. Thus, while first
hand accounts can be useful, they cannot be
presumed to be unbiased snapshots of the pre
contact past. The rate of change resulting from
intergroup contact in North America, for exam
ple, has led scholars to be cautious about assum
ing the accuracy of early nineteenth century
depictions of western US tribes by Meriwether
Lewis and William Clark (see Fenelon &
Defender Wilson 2004).
CONTEMPORARY INDIGENOUS
AMERICAN ISSUES AND TRENDS

The demography of indigenous peoples is
another complex topic. First is the politics of
numbers and their uses. Stiffarm and Lane
(1992) argue that there is a tendency to under
estimate the population of the Americas prior
to European contact in order to minimize the
decimation of the indigenous population. While
estimates for the indigenous population of
North American (US and Canada) range from
1 million to 30 million, Thornton (1987) argues
for a figure in the neighborhood of 7 million,
based on careful reconstruction of population
densities, early population counts, and the
effects of known epidemics. Native populations
declined drastically, but not exclusively, from
old world diseases. Native populations in the
United States reached a nadir of about one
quarter million around the turn of the twentieth
century. Since then the Native American popu
lation has grown so that, at the beginning of the
twenty first century, it is well over 2 million
between one third and one half of what it was in
1492. It is important to note that more than
disease was involved in the depopulation of
indigenous Americans; colonial and US land
policies, population removals, and wars took on
genocidal proportions and were major factors in
the steep population decline.
Population recovery since World War II has
been considerable: from 1960 to 1970 the num
ber of Americans who reported their race to be
American Indian in the US census grew
51 percent (from 523,591 to 792,730); from
1970 to 1980, the American Indian popula
tion grew faster, 72 percent (to 1,364,033); from
1980 to 1990, the American Indian population