In the fifteenth century, when European settlers began to arrive in North America, the continent was richly populated with Native American communities. Hundreds of thousands of people lived in a wide range of environments from shore to shore, each community or nation with its own distinct culture. The centuries that followed the arrival of Europeans were years of tremendous upheaval, as the expansion of settler territory and the founding and growth of the United States resulted in Native American communities being moved, renamed, combined, dispersed, and, in some cases, destroyed.
These dislocations and changes took place across many centuries, and each individual episode was marked by its own set of unique circumstances, from public negotiations and careful planning to subterfuge and deceit; from declarations of friendship to calls for genocide; from disease, starvation, and bloodshed to perseverance, resistance, and hope in the face of persecution. But all were driven by the relentless expansion of European settlement and U.S. territory, and by U.S. government policies that relegated the independence and well-being of Native Americans to secondary status, if that.
Native American communities today span the continent and continue to grow and change. But the mass relocations and other changes, most notably those of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, shaped many aspects of U.S. society in ways that persist today.