Native North America: an Introduction

The vast geographic and environmental diversity of the North American continent has allowed one of the most culturally diverse regions on the planet to emerge.

Societies across the continent have developed beautiful and complex material worlds that reflect the character and personality of their territories. Native North American peoples have responded to the universal problems of life in individual and ingenious ways, making best use of their natural resources to build strong and expressive communities. Here objects from the Museum’s collection illustrate the ways in which separate Native American cultures have lived through a colonial period of immense social and environmental upheaval over the last three hundred years.

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  • Water jar
  • Model canoe
  • Silver box
  • Warrior shirt

Objects from North America: Mexican water jar, Northwestern model canoe, Navajo silver box, Plains warrior shirt.

Explore all the featured cultures

The Eastern Woodlands

Deerskin moccasins

The peoples of the expansive woodlands of Eastern America live in a large number of tribes, with related religious and linguistic traditions.

More about the Eastern Woodlands 

The Plains

Elk tooth dress

The people of the North American Plains were predominantly nomadic, living in large territories roamed by great herds of buffalo.

More about the Plains 

The Northwest Coast


The societies of the Northwest coast of North America developed in relative isolation between the Coastal Mountains and the Pacific Ocean.

More about the Northwest Coast 

The Arctic

Ulu knife

The people of the farthest northern reaches of the Americas live in a world of scarcity: finite resources and a hostile environment have created a resourceful and resilient people who retain much of their ancestral tradition and lifestyle.

More about the Arctic 

The Southwest

Katsina doll

The peoples of the Southwestern United States have an ancient tradition of life in settled permanent communities reliant on agriculture.

More about the Southwest 

Contemporary North America


Today Native American societies thrive across North America, with traditional practices, languages and religions experiencing resurgence after decades of suppression and neglect.

More about contemporary North America