Native American arrival questions

Occasionally, I read/hear about folks saying that Native Americans are the first people to populate the Americas, and therefore the Europeans/Africans or even the Polynesians etc. who came later are some sort of recent interloper that have simply usurped control of the Americas from the original inhabitants.

All of the above I believe to be true.

IMO, thousands of years ago, somebody {Asian} had to be the first person to cross, say, 170 degrees of longitude and therefore enter the “Americas”. I assume that person traversed the Bering Strait {as a grassy plain} or boated along the shoreline. Island hopping so to speak.

Now for my question. Since that person was the absolute “first” person to enter the Americas, was he/she/ or even their tribe therefore able to lay claim to the entire North American continent, Isthmus of Panama and finally the entire South American continent?

If so, were the subsequent Asian colonizers {which conventional wisdom states continued to migrate to North America in waves spanning thousands and thousands of years} the actual interlopers and have no valid claim to the Americas?

If all groups of Asian migrants {separated by thousands of years mind you} can claim ownership/possession of the Americas, why can’t migrants who arrived thousands of years after the Asians, make the same claim?

Each group can make that claim subjectively. There was a really big difference to the European migration though, guns (and the technology they represent, plus disease).

That first individual didn’t settle all of the land on both continents. The Native Americans collectively, however, did.

And of course there were territorial disputes amongst them, too.

Username / OP combo!

Since this is not a factual question, let’s move it to IMHO.

General Questions Moderator

Did they have a flag?

I don’t follow…

I was hoping somebody would chime in on the specific questions I asked in my OP.

I did my level best to pose the questions in such a way so they would not be misconstrued.

Disclaimer: My wife is Meztizo. I would guestimate that she is 50%+ South American Indian.

{a “23 and me” test is in our immediate futures}.


I am not Native American and cannot claim to speak for any Native American group; however, I think the difference is that there are still memories (if only second- and third-hand) of the time when the land was theirs, of the way they were pushed off it, and the way they have been treated ever since.

If there were prior groups in the Americas, they and their stories are dead now. That’s the difference. Yes, many groups have been conquered in the history of the world. But most of them don’t have living descendants still around.

They do. They have flags and government buildings and seats at the UN and everything.

This is inherently a political and social topic, not one that can be analyzed by strict logic. You could use a similar native/colonizer type logic to say that the Anglo-Saxons stole England from the Celts, who probably stole it from some ancient people whose name and language has been lost, who may have taken it from an even older people. Why are there no Celtic reservations where people can play bagpipes and make claddagh rings without being pestered by those durn English people? If we can find the descendants of the “original” population of England scattered across the British Isles and beyond, should they get double-special preferential treatment even beyond that given to Celtic people?

One big issue here is “race”. If Ethnic Group A invades and conquers an area inhabited by Ethnic Group B, then it is ok if they are the same “race” but not ok if they belong to different “races”.


  1. Romans conquer Gaul and impose Roman civilization: OK, because Romans and Gauls were both “white people”.
  2. English conquer Cherokee civilization: Not OK, because English people were “white” and Cherokee were “Mongoloid”.

So, therefore it is ok if Nigeria wants to conquer and colonize Mali, or if Japan tries to grab Korea or Manchuria again, because they would be intra-race struggles (African on African or Asian on Asian), but those Angolan settler ships had better stay away from Samoa, because race!

Another thought along Last Glacial Maximum’s thought lines:

The island of Bermuda (in the Atlantic ocean) is not known to have been inhabited by any people until the arrival of the English in the 1600’s. If Bermuda were to be conquered by Kim Jong-Un and then subject to a long UN-facilitated decolonization process permitting most Korean settlers to stay, would English people in the new post-colonial Bermuda qualify to be considered “Natives” and therefore entitled to whatever preferential treatment is due to “Natives”?

Heck, as the first humanoids to leave Africa, the Neanderthals had a legitimate claim to the entire rest of the world. And look what happened to them!

I have to say no. The original migrants to North America wouldn’t have known the concept of continents, let alone that they were on a new one that they could claim as their own. Even when they were established, they were disparate tribes, each subject to being conquered by other tribes with no regard to land claims. There wasn’t a single polity that could claim the whole continent, and no single tribe could claim it for itself any more than Chicago can lay claim to the entire United States.

Even Europeans came as separate “tribes” who carved out their own territories in the New World and then fought over them. It wasn’t Europe that conquered the Americas; it was England and France and Spain and Portugal, none of which can claim all of America for itself.

Even the Americas can’t claim the Americas. Mexico can’t claim Canada and the United States can’t claim Peru. The question of who the continents belong to is a pointless exercise.

dif, is the cot of land “ownership”. the natives, especially in the less civilized areas (away from the Aztec, Incas, Mayans, Mound Builders, etc.) had a more mobile, less property-oriented way of life. The groups like Mohawks, for example, practiced slash-and-burn agriculture and moved every few years. The OP’s prototypical first people would have been strictly hunter-gatherer nomads.

When the first settlers showed up in North America and wanted to “buy” a few hundred acres, the tribes that dealt with them probably thought “wow, all those beads? And they want a tiny fraction of our hunting lands, about the size of Manhattan? Why the heck not?” (Except maybe the Caribbean, where the locals train of thought was more along the line of “If I don’t find them more gold, they’ll chop off my other hand.”) The concept of staking out a few acres, fencing it off, and squatting there only in perpetuity was alien to them.

The concept of “this is my hunting ground” is likely more what the OP had in mind? Likely that definition was as fluid as the available game and rival hunters, and was more along the lines of “we know this is a good place for us to hunt, you guys go find somewhere else, We were here first” - more a concept of use it or lose it?

But there were different waves, and waves of movement within the settled groups. the Eskimo/Inuit, for example were a much more recent arrival once the group in northern Siberia adapted to an Arctic lifestyle and spread eastward. I think I read somewhere that the first group of Inuit settling the shore of Greenland eventually forgot how to make fire and died off or were displaced by more advanced people of a different ethnic grouping.

Interesting replies. I enjoyed reading them.
I asked the same questions in my Social Studies class back in High School {1978-1982}. IIRC, I didn’t get a very clear answer way back then.

This issue seems to arise again and again with skeletal remains in North America.
“Kennewick man” was dated {IIRC} to 9,000 or 10,000 years ago. I just have a hard time understanding/rationalizing the claims to the remains made by the local modern day Native Americans of the area…

Just to be clear, claiming an entire continent isn’t the same as territorial claims by individual tribes who were displaced by European settlers. That’s a whole other ball game.

For a very large majority of human history, the concept of an abstract claim to some defined territory basically didn’t exist. Your people lived in a certain imprecisely defined area, often moving regularly. If - as not infrequently happened - another group came and tried to push you out, there was rarely any method other than armed conflict by which you could assert ownership rights in any meaningful way.

Apparently not. Nor did they want tea. Or cake.

Under the rules of the time understood by all I would say no.

You and your tribe can claim any land you want. However when the bigger, or better war fighting, tribe comes along and pushes you off it is their land and claim now.

I would say those rules were in effect up until 1900, about.

Earlier, at least within Europe. Westphalina Sovereignty. But you are probably closer to the truth in terms of when dominant powers considered restraining themselves worldwide (or, at least some did).

I don’t think the first arrivals could legitimately claim the whole supercontinent of America. I think they could legitimately claim only as much as they were capable of using for their own gain - that’s only whatever their current hunting range was. The point at which new arrivals become usurpers is the point at which the whole useful area of the Americas is taken up by people, not when the second person arrives.

Because they lost the referendum :slight_smile: