Puebloan from San Ildefonso Pueblo, New Mexico
Navajo family

The Indigenous peoples of the North American Southwest are those in the current states of Colorado, Arizona, New Mexico, Utah, and Nevada in the western United States, and the states of Sonora and Chihuahua in northern Mexico. An often quoted statement from Erik Reed (1666) defined the Greater Southwest culture area as extending north to south from Durango, Mexico to Durango, Colorado and east to west from Las Vegas, Nevada to Las Vegas, New Mexico.[1] Other names sometimes used to define the region include "American Southwest", "Northern Mexico", "Chichimeca", and "Oasisamerica/Aridoamerica".[1] This region has long been occupied by hunter-gatherers and agricultural people.

Many contemporary cultural traditions exist within the Greater Southwest, including Yuman-speaking peoples inhabiting the Colorado River valley, the uplands, and Baja California, O'odham peoples of Southern Arizona and northern Sonora, and the Pueblo peoples of Arizona and New Mexico. In addition, the Apache and Navajo peoples, whose ancestral roots lie in the Athabaskan-speaking peoples in Canada, entered the Southwest during the 14th and 15th century and are a major modern presence in the area.

List of Indigenous peoples

Main article: Classification of Indigenous peoples of the Americas

List of Indigenous affiliated and related peoples


Main article: Oasisamerica

A map showing the extent of three major cultures within the American Southwest and Northern Mexico with modern borders to provide geographical context

The Pre-Columbian culture of the American Southwest and Northern Mexico evolved into three major archaeological culture areas, sometimes referred to as Oasisamerica.

In addition, three distinct minor cultures inhabited the eastern, western, and northern extremes of the area. From 1200 CE into the historic era a people collectively known as the La Junta Indians lived at the junction of the Conchos River and Rio Grande on the border of Texas and Mexico.[7] Between 700 and 1550 CE, the Patayan culture inhabited parts of modern-day Arizona, California and Baja California. The Fremont culture inhabited sites in what is now Utah and parts of Nevada, Idaho and Colorado from 700 to 1300 CE.

Material Culture

Agriculture in the Southwest was based on the cultivation of maize, beans, squash and sunflower seeds.[8] The Tepary bean Phaseolus acutifolius has been a staple food of Native peoples in the Southwest for thousands of years on account of their tolerance of drought conditions. They require wet soil to germinate but then prefer dry conditions, so they were generally grown on floodplains that would dry out after heavy rains.[9]

Foraging for wild foods also played a major role in the ancient diet of Southwestern peoples. For example, the fruit and seeds of the Saguaro cactus were collected and eaten both fresh and dried, and made into preserves and drinks by tribes such as the Tohono O'odham and Pima.[10] The flower buds of the Cholla cactus have also been collected and roasted in clay lined pits.[11] Another important food for Indigenous peoples living in mountainous areas of the Southwest are the seeds of the Pinyon pine, known as "pine nuts" or "piñóns."[12] The nuts are traditionally a vital source of protein in the winter for the Ute and Paiute peoples.

The agave plant has historically been a vital food source, useful to Indigenous people in many ways.[13] Agave hearts can be roasted and relished for their sweetness, and dried agave eaten during the winter months. The tough fibers of agave are used in making baskets and mats. In addition, agave is famously used for distilled spirits such as tequila and mezcal.

Indigenous peoples of the region have traditionally raised turkey and hunted deer, antelope and rabbit. After European contact they began to keep sheep, goats and cattle.[14]

Society and culture

Main article: Puebloans

Contemporary Pueblo Indians continue to be organized on a clan basis for pueblo activities and curing ceremonies.[15] The clans of the eastern Pueblos are organized into the Summer people and the Winter people (Tanoans) or as the Turquoise people and the Squash people. The western Puebloans are organized into several matrilineal lineages and clans. Many Pueblo peoples continue to practice the kachina (katsina) religion.

See also


  1. ^ a b Cordell, Linda S. and Maxine E. McBrinn 2012 Archaeology of the Southwest, 3rd edition. Left Coast Press, Walnut Creek
  2. ^ Wheelwright, Jeff (February 24, 2012). "Sex, God, and DNA: The Creation of New Mexicans". The Atlantic. Retrieved March 1, 2021.
  3. ^ Torres-Saillant, Silvio (2012). "The Indian in the Latino: Genealogies of ethnicity". Latino Studies. 10 (4). Springer Science and Business Media LLC: 587–607. doi:10.1057/lst.2012.42. ISSN 1476-3435.
  4. ^ Carr, Steve (July 31, 2020). "Hispanic Heritage Month begins". UNM Newsroom. Retrieved March 1, 2021.
  5. ^ Matson, R (2006). "What is Basketmaker II?". Kiva. 72 (2): 149–165. doi:10.1179/kiv.2006.72.2.002. S2CID 129704711.
  6. ^ Clark, Jeffery; Lyons, Patrick (2012). Migrants and Mounds: Classic Period Archaeology of the Lower San Pedro Valley. Tucson, Arizona: Archaeology Southwest.
  7. ^ Miller, Myles R. and Kenmotsu, Nancy A. "Prehistory of the Mogollon and Eastern Trans-Pecos Regions of West Texas." in Perttula, Timothy K. The Prehistory of Texas. College Station: TX A & M Press, 2004, pp. 205–265
  8. ^ "Foods indigenous to the Western Hemisphere - sunflowers". www.aihd.ku.edu. Retrieved 2 March 2021.
  9. ^ Gray, A. (September 2018). "Plant Guide for Tepary Bean, Phaseolus acutifolius" (PDF). USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service.
  10. ^ Little, Elbert L. (1994) [1980]. The Audubon Society Field Guide to North American Trees: Western Region (Chanticleer Press ed.). Knopf. p. 562. ISBN 0394507614.
  11. ^ "Ciolim, Cholla cactus flowers buds". www.localharvest.org. Retrieved 8 March 2021.
  12. ^ "Piñon Nuts: The Manna of the Mountains". Mother Earth News. Retrieved 29 July 2015.
  13. ^ ""Lost Crops Rediscovered": Uncovering an ancient history of agave farming". www.marfapublicradio.org. Retrieved 8 March 2021.
  14. ^ "Southwest-Indians". www.kids.britannica.com. Retrieved 4 May 2021.
  15. ^ "Pueblo Indians". www.britannica.com. Retrieved 11 March 2019.