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Native Art, History & Culture: Research Strategies


To find resources about North American Indians and Alaska Natives, try the following terms in your searches: 

  • American aborigines
  • American Indians
  • First Nations (North America)
  • Indians of North America
  • Indians of the United States
  • Indigenous peoples
  • Native Americans
  • North American Indians
  • Indian reservations
  • Indian women
  • Native peoples
  • Alaska natives
  • Culture
  • Ethnology
  • Colonization
  • Decolonization
  • Sovereignty
  • Self-determination
  • Genocide
  • Indian art
  • Treaties
  • Voting rights
  • Health care
  • Religion
  • Education
  • Dwellings
  • Work
  • Potlaches
  • Civil rights
  • Christianity
  • Acculturation
  • Assimilation
  • Ethnology
  • Legal status
  • Women
  • Children

Research Topics

The following is a selection of potential Native research topics adapted from Professor Frank Lagana, Queensborough Community College:

History pre-1800s:

  • The first migrations of people into North America. What have archaeologists and other scientists been able to learn about the First Americans: who were they, where did they come from, how did they get here, when did they arrive, etc.
  • First contacts between Europeans and Native peoples (keep in mind that the date of first contact varied depending on the specific part of North America).
  • The impact of the fur trade on Native peoples and cultures (16th through the mid-19th century).

History 1800s:

  • The relocation of American Indians (e.g., Indian Removal Act of 1830, Trail of Tears, etc.).
  • The development of Indian reservations starting in the 1850s.
  • Forced assimilation and ethnocide of American Indians.
  • The wars between the U.S. government and Native peoples during the 19th century (e.g., the Great Sioux War of 1876-77).
  • The impact of gold mining in the 1800s on Native peoples.

Arts and Culture:

  • America Indian performance (e.g., dance, music, and drama).
  • American Indian art (e.g., carving and sculpture [e.g., totem poles], painting, pottery, metalwork, textiles, dress and personal adornment, beadwork and shellwork, embroidery, quillwork, featherwork, hides, basketwork, etc.).
  • American Indian foods.
  • American Indian dwellings.
  • Native languages of North America.
  • American Indian oral traditions.

Religion and the Natural Environment:

  • American Indian religions (e.g., the Native American Church and the practice of peyote religion).
  • American Indian medicine (e.g., Native people's use of plants for medicinal purposes or the Indian Religious Freedom Act of 1978, which gave American Indians the right to practice their spiritual and healing traditions).
  • American Indians' relationship with the natural environment.

Controversial Issues:

  • Representations of Native people in the media: movies, TV, literature, etc.
  • The use of American Indian symbols and images by sports teams in the United States.
  • The legal status of Native peoples in the United States today (i.e., American Indian self-goverment).
  • American Indian education (e.g. The Indian Education Act of 1972, The Indian Self-determination and Educational Act of 1975, etc.).
  • American Indian political activism (e.g., the American Indian Movement of the 1960’s and 1970's)
  • American Indian casinos (e.g., the American Indian Gaming Regulatory Act of 1988)

Research Questions

Research Questions

Once you have determined your research topic and have reviewed some books and encyclopedias to get an overview of your topic, you will need to develop a research question. A research question is a clear, focused, concise, complex, and arguable question around which you center your research. You should ask a question about an issue that you are genuinely curious about. While your research topic may be as simple as "American Indian art" then, your research question should be more specific and focused. The specificity of a well-developed research question helps writers avoid the "all-about" paper and work toward supporting a specific, arguable thesis.

The following is a list of research question examples pertaining to the  "American Indian art"  topic adapted with the permission of Sadie Rosenthal, Cascadia Community College:

  1. On which level in the hierarchy of life do Native American artists tend to focus (e.g., cell, organism, population, community, etc.)?
  2. On which ecosystems do Native American artists' tend to focus?
  3. Do Native American artists tend to have an anthropocentric (humancentric) or an ecocentric (biocentric) view of the natural world?
  4. Does Native American art emphasize sustainability (i.e., viable economies, equity and justice, and ecological integrity)?
  5. How do Native American artists portray humans and how are they affecting the environment?

North American Indian Tribes & Alaska Native Peoples

You may also want to search by specific tribes or peoples.

Click on the image below to see a map of North American Indian Tribes or go to the National Congress of American Indians site for an alpabetical list.

Image from: AAA Native Arts Gallery

For a map of Salish tribes and their territories in British Columbia and Washington, click on the image below.

Image from: Handbook of North American Indians. V.7: Northwest Coast
Edited by Wayne Suttles. Washington: Smithsonian Institution, 1990

The graphic below gives a partial list of Northwest Coast Indian tribes and Alaska Native peoples. For a more complete list visit the Indian Tribes by Region page on the AAA Native Arts Gallery site.