Eastern Tribes

What do most people think of when they think of an Indian? 

Well, for most, I believe it is the prototypical visage of a warrior in a buckskin loincloth and war paint. Two long braids and a bow. Sometimes I think Hollywood has made many people believe that only one type of Indian existed. Well, this couldn’t be further from the truth. Sometimes I think people forget that these are stereotypes. And, there were many, many tribes along the Eastern United States that people forget about or haven’t heard of… the Penobscot, Shinnecock, Wampanoag, Nipmuc, Maliseet, and Pequot to name only a fraction.

One Eastern tribe familiar to most Americans is the Cherokee, due to the Trail of Tears that occurred in 1838 and 1839 and was a brutal, tragic chapter in the history of U.S. and Native relations. Yet, many Eastern tribes and other unnamed tribes have simply faded into oblivion, even as people remember the fabled myth of the very first Thanksgiving when Indians and colonists came together in harmony. However, the real truth is that the Wampanoag ended up bringing most of the food to this first feast and the real coming together was that the colonist settlers wanted to negotiate a treaty to secure the lands they were living on from their hosts. Kind of like inviting yourself to dinner and then telling your hosts that you like their house and they need to get out. But I digress…

Prior to European contact, there were dozens and dozens of tribes along the Eastern seaboard. As the Spanish and British explored in the 1500s the coastline of what would become the eastern United States, they brought perils with them. Smallpox and flu and settlers. Disease and treaties faded many of the tribes to extinction; some tribes dwindled so much that they abandoned their culture and assimilated into other tribes or into the settler’s culture simply to survive.

It seems to me that, beginning in the late 1500s, most of the Eastern Tribes had to endure repeated tragedies, similar to the Trail of Tears, as they experienced gentrification of the “New World.” Eastern Tribes were killed, decimated by disease, or forced by treaty and overwhelming pressure from the ever-ballooning number of Europeans plunging forth onto the shores of the Eastern seaboard. The Eastern Tribes endured the brunt of the first waves of Europeans flooding into what became the USA.

Between the late 1600s and 1700s, Eastern coastal tribes all but lost any livable amount of lands to call their own… terrible to consider as, prior to European contact, they lived all across the Eastern seaboard in various distinct groups with distinct cultures, similar languages, and shared values about the land and the ocean. Yet Indians still remain. Indians still exist through everything that happened since a European first bumped into this continent by accident. I exist.

The important thing I want you to take away from this is that an Indian isn’t just a buckskin loin-clothed warrior with two braids or a beautiful maiden on a tub of butter. “Real Indians” come from the Northeast, the Southeast, the Plains, the Mississippi River Valley, and all of its tributaries, the Southwest and the Northwest. From all the places where they existed before those first Spanish and English ships saw the fires along the East Coast of what they called the New World. And, they are human beings with complex stories…just like all of humanity.


Join the discussion and tell us your opinion.

  1. Sharron Williams

    As an African-American/Indian. My grandmother told me this same information years ago when I was 16 years old (1973). My goal this year is to find information on her tribe.

  2. Linde Knighton

    Sharron, do you know her tribe? Or where she was born? Sometimes family names help. Those of us with Native ancestry east of the Mississippi often have to struggle to, "prove" our ancestry to those who have all sorts of written records where people were not afraid to say they were Native, and identify their tribe. They want us to follow the same rules those from the west do, while too many hid away in the woods, mountains and swamps to keep from being rounded up and force marched away.
    BUT, they remembered who they were, and passed as much as they could down to us. Oddly enough, it was safer to be Black than Indian in many situations.

    One thing I want to pass on as you do your search–relax. You can never qualify as a BIA approved Indian, but you are who you are, no matter what they have to say about it. Hold your head up and remember our history is different–and that does not make you a liar, just a Native with different history.

    • Nia

      Your last comment to Sharron (from Linde Knighton) holds much truth. In this day and age it is much harder to “prove” who you are. My Grandfather had moved a lot and his Father as well. Their books, records were moldy and destroyed being kept in damp basements from what my Mother told me. She tries for a long time to find anything else she could about our history. She found some papers and books from 2010, but nothing that gave any more information then what we already had.

  3. Black Ops 3 God Mode

    Excellent way of telling, and nice paragraph to take information concerning my presentation subject matter,
    which i am going to present in school.

  4. Josee Aubin

    If anyone knows what my ancestors trbe was please let me know. Last name Aubin

  5. mon

    There are no fullblooded indians left out east they are either mixed with black or white …. southwest is last of pure tribes.

    • Daniel

      Their are some full bloods still in the east. Not many though. 10 percent of the Penobscot and Passamaquoddy tribes in Maine are full blood although that gives a number of a few hundred to each tribe. Also the Seminole in Florida still have full bloods. Isolated these tribes were until just the last century or so. The New York tribes also have many full bloods on the reservations. But ya, the rest of tribes in the east are mixed bloods now.

  6. Renee McAdams

    Aubin is a French fur trader surname from Quebec (look up the Percheron Emigration from Franch to Quebec, Aubin is one of the surnames listed there, you may be a distant cousin to me on your French to French Canadian lines if you come from the Quebecois Aubins father back). Many of them who became fur traders intermarried or lived with and had children with women from Native tribes (as in my own Osage lines). Follow the fur trader lines.

  7. Gregory Cooper

    What about when they murdered your family from the Narragansett tribe the last of the great war Chiefs

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