Southeast Native American Groups

Southeast Native American Groups

Native Americans called the land of the southeast their home for thousands of years before European colonization. The settlement of the Carolinas brought about a drastic change to their lives.


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Seminole Braves

The Seminole (like this group of Seminole Braves) were among the southeastern nations called the "Five Civilized Tribes" by European settlers. These nations were considered such because of their adoption of European cultural traits.

Photograph by Buyenlarge
The Seminole (like this group of Seminole Braves) were among the southeastern nations called the "Five Civilized Tribes" by European settlers. These nations were considered such because of their adoption of European cultural traits.

The land along the Atlantic Coast was inhabited long before the first English settlers set foot in North America. There were more than two dozen Native American groups living in the southeast region, loosely defined as spreading from North Carolina to the Gulf of Mexico. These nations included the Chickasaw (CHIK-uh-saw), Choctaw (CHAWK-taw), Creek (CREEK), Cherokee (CHAIR-oh-kee), and Seminole (SEH-min-ohl).

By the time of European contact, most of these Native American tribes had settled in villages of 500 people or fewer, and grew corn, beans, squash, sunflowers, greens, tobacco, and other crops. The southeast Native Americans also gathered berries, nuts, wild plants, and roots from the surrounding forests. For the most part, women tended the fields while men hunted, fished, and engaged in trade with one another, as well as with other groups to the north and west.

Life for the southeastern nations, as for Native Americans throughout the Americas, changed with European exploration and colonization. The Native Americans had no immunity to smallpox or other diseases Europeans carried, and the spread of these diseases killed thousands of Indigenous people. Others were killed or enslaved by the Spanish explorers who led 16thcentury expeditions through the Southeast. These factors weakened the remaining tribes. Many joined with larger or stronger groups, such as the Cherokee and the Creek.

With colonization came a desire to convert Native Americans to Christianity and to encourage (or force) them to adopt European cultures and traditions. These efforts were more successful in the Southeast than most parts of North America; indeed, five southeastern nations (the Creek, Cherokee, Choctaw, Chickasaw, and Seminole) later became known as the “Five Civilized Tribes.” Europeans viewed even the most “civilized” tribes as inferior, however, and waves of European immigrants encroached on the Native Americans’ land. The southeastern tribes signed treaties to cede land to the colonies and moved, only to be followed by new settlers looking for new land. Conflicts between Native Americans and white settlers often erupted into violence. The southeastern Native Americans could not defend themselves against the colonists’ seemingly never-ending demand for land. Like other Native Americans, they were pushed farther west and, eventually, onto reservation land.

Media Credits

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Tyson Brown, National Geographic Society
National Geographic Society
Production Managers
Gina Borgia, National Geographic Society
Jeanna Sullivan, National Geographic Society
Program Specialists
Sarah Appleton, National Geographic Society, National Geographic Society
Margot Willis, National Geographic Society
Clint Parks
Last Updated

July 15, 2022

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