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Notably, some scholars prefer to combine the Northeast and Southeast into one Eastern Woodlands culture area or the Plateau and Great Basin into a single Intermontane culture area.Each section below considers the location, climate, environment, languages, tribes, and common cultural characteristics of the area before it was heavily colonized.At the dawn of the 16th century AD, as the European conquest of the Americas began, indigenous peoples resided throughout the Western Hemisphere.They were soon decimated by the effects of epidemic disease, military conquest, and enslavement, and, as with other colonized peoples, they were subject to discriminatory political and legal policies well into the 20th, and even the 21st, century.Small kin-based bands were the predominant form of social organization, although seasonal gatherings of larger groups occurred at favoured fishing locales.Moose, caribou, beavers, waterfowl, and fish were taken, and plant foods such as berries, roots, and sap were gathered.

Many Alaskan groups prefer to be called Native Alaskans rather than Native Americans; Canada's Arctic peoples generally prefer the referent Inuit.On the coasts, sea mammals and fish formed the bulk of the diet.Small mobile bands (band) were the predominant form of social organization; band membership was generally based on kinship and marriage ( Sidebar: The Difference Between a Tribe and a Band).The culture area approach was delineated at the turn of the 20th century and continued to frame discussions of peoples and cultures into the 21st century.A culture area is a geographic region where certain cultural traits have generally co-occurred; for instance, in North America between the 16th and 19th centuries, the Northwest Coast culture area was characterized by traits such as salmon fishing, woodworking, large villages or towns, and hierarchical social organization.

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Nonetheless, they have been among the most active and successful native peoples in effecting political change and regaining their autonomy in areas such as education, land ownership, religious freedom, the law, and the revitalization of traditional culture.