500 Nations

500 Nations is an eight-part American documentary television series that was aired on CBS in 1995, about the Native Americans of North and Central America. It documents events from the Pre-Columbian era to the end of the 19th century. Much of the information comes from text, eyewitnesses, pictorials, and computer graphics. The series was hosted by Kevin Costner, narrated by Gregory Harrison, and directed by Jack Leustig. It included the voice talents of Eric Schweig, Gordon Tootoosis, Wes Studi, Cástulo Guerra, Tony Plana, Edward James Olmos, Patrick Stewart, Gary Farmer, Tom Jackson, Tantoo Cardinal, Dante Basco, Sheldon Peters Wolfchild, Tim Bottoms, Michael Horse, Graham Greene, Floyd Red Crow Westerman, Amy Madigan, Frank Salsedo, and Kurtwood Smith. The series was written by Jack Leustig, Roberta Grossman, Lee Miller (head of research), and W. T. Morgan, with John M. D. Pohl.

500 Nations
GenreHistorical documentary
Created byJack Leustig
Presented byKevin Costner
Narrated byGregory Harrison
Country of originUnited States
Original language(s)English
No. of seasons1
No. of episodes8
Original networkCBS

"The truth is, we have a story worth talking about. We have a history worth celebrating. Long before the first Europeans arrived here, there were some 500 nations already in North America. They blanketed the continent from coast to coast, from Central America to the Arctic. There were tens of millions of people here, speaking over 300 languages. Many of them lived in beautiful cities, among the largest and most advanced in the world. In the coming hours, 500 Nations looks back on those ancient cultures, how they lived, and how many survived.... What you're about to see is what happened. It's not all that happened, and it's not always pleasant. We can't change that. We can't turn back the clock. But we can open our eyes and give the first nations of this land the recognition and respect they deserve: their rightful place in the history of the world." Kevin Costner[1]

The documentary series is based on the eponymous 480-page book by Alvin M. Josephy Jr., published in 1994.[2] The documentary re-aired on Discovery Times in 2006.


Episode 1: Wounded Knee Legacy and the AncestorsEdit

The series begins "where our story ends" with eyewitness accounts of Wounded Knee. The Ancestors next offers excerpts from Native American Creation stories, then explores three early North American cultures, including the 800-room Pueblo Bonito in the arid southwest, the Cliff Palace at Mesa Verde and Cahokia, the largest city in the U.S. before 1800. [3]

Episode 2: MexicoEdit

A history of the native nations of Mexico from pre-Columbian times, through the period of European contact and colonization, including the rise and fall of the Toltecs and the growth of Tenochtitlan, the capital of the Aztec empire. [3]

Episode 3: Clash of CulturesEdit

As Native nations defy a plundering advance of Spanish expeditions in the Caribbean and what will become the southeastern United States, two undefeatable attacks, muskets and disease, cause thousands of deaths.[3]

Episode 4: Invasion of the CoastEdit

Tensions rise as more foreigners arrive in North America, and affect the lives of native peoples. In Jamestown, the story of the Powhatan princess, Pocahontas, unfolds. Thanksgiving at Plymouth leads to a bloody colonial Indian war in 1675.[3]

Episode 5: Cauldron of WarEdit

European powers fight to control American resources, turning native homelands into a Cauldron of War. Many indigenous nations side with France, but when the defeated country leaves its native allies vulnerable, a determined leader, Pontiac, rises to prominence.[3]

Episode 6: RemovalEdit

Being forced to follow the Trail of Tears displaces Native Americans even though they adopt American ways. Shawnee leader Tecumseh sparks a return to traditional ways but The Indian Removal Act is enforced in 1830. Many stoically accept; others resist.[3]

Episode 7: Roads Across the PlainsEdit

Lifestyles of native peoples of the Great Plains end as American settlers destroy huge buffalo herds. Though native leaders pursue peace, they are massacred at Sand Creek. The massacre provokes severe repercussions.[3]

Episode 8: Attack on CultureEdit

Legislative attacks on native ways included the disbanding of communal land. Today, native cultures are allowed to renew, and to remember the lifestyles of America's original people, and the hardships they endured.[3]


There was an educational computer game based on the documentary made by Microsoft Home the same year it was released.


  1. ^ 500 Nations, Introduction, Episode 1: Wounded Knee Legacy and The Ancestors (quotation from 2 minutes to 4 minutes after beginning of introduction).
  2. ^ Josephy, Alvin M., Jr. (1994). 500 Nations an Illustrated History of North American Indians. New York, New York: Alfred A, Knopf. p. Title. ISBN 0-679-42930-1.
  3. ^ a b c d Leustig, Jack (2006). "The Documentary Episodes". The 500 NATIONS Encore Venture. Tig Productions Inc. and Katahdin Productions, LLC. Archived from the original on 2008-05-03. Retrieved 2010-03-09.

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