On October 12, 1492, the loud words ring across the deck “Land Ho”. After 70 long days at sea a tattered bunch of sea dogs jump down into a small rowboat and work there way ashore. The man in charged is named Christopher Columbus. Have you ever wondered what the impact was on the Native American population, when they first met the insatiable intruders of the European continent? When I was in high school I remember learning about Christopher Columbus and others who were credited for discovering the New World. I do not recall being told about the many negative impacts that were caused to the Native Americans. Well I always had this nice picture of Chris and the Indians sitting down and enjoying a meal and exchanging gifts. This is what I was taught in high school but is this really what took place? What really happened was the loss of three items that we as American’s hold in high value they were the loss of life, land, and freedom of the Native American’s! I do not know whether they thought we were too young to understand the overall picture of what took place, or if it is meant to be saved for college level history.
During the period of early European settlement there are believed to have been seven different cultural based Native American societies within the present day boundaries of the United States. First you have the Northeast tribes located along the East coast some of which were the Iroquois, Powhatan, Wampanong, Weapemeoc, and there were many more in addition to these. The Southeast Tribes Located around the Florida Coastline was the Cherokee, Chickasaw, and the Choctaw are just a few of them. The Prairies, which consisted of the Wichita, Missouri, and the Omaha and numerous others. The High Plains, which consisted of some of the following tribes Cheyenne, Comanche, Arapaho, Pawnee, and the Tonkawa. The Southwest tribes consisted of Apache, Navajo, and Hopi. The Great Basin you had the Paiute, Shoshone, and the Spokane. And last but not least you had the Northwest tribes, which included the Chinook, Makah, and the Tillamook. Each of these different tribes had engaged in trading networks over vast stretches of the continent for centuries before the Europeans arrived (Nash et al. 13).
The European settlers and explores brought the Native Americans something of unparalleled importance in history, a viral infection that spread like wildfire through a population that had no immunity against it (Nash et al. 5). Everywhere the Europeans landed the natives were infected. It is believed that a 90 to 95% death rate amongst the Native American was caused by these viral infections such as smallpox, measles, and chicken pox (Trickel 32). In most areas where Europeans intruded in the hemisphere for the next three centuries, the catastrophe repeated itself. No matter who came, whether French, English, Spanish, or Dutch, every newcomer from the old world participated accidentally in the spread of disease that typically eliminated, with in a few generations, at least two-thirds of the native population (Nash et al. 26).
I am not trying to say that all European contact was bad for them, take the French involvement with the Native Americans. When the French met with the natives they found it to be better to live amongst them. Trade was also beneficial to the natives. The Indians and the French set up many little trading posts and villages along the interior of the Americas, along the Mississippi river valley, and both prospered from those villages.
The Dutch and British began early buying land, a practice never understood by the Native Americans, who generally believed that they were granting the newcomers rights to use rather than to own the lands. European settlers started putting up fences and claiming land that did not belong to them (Nash et al.12). To the European the owning of land was a show of ones wealth. This was a concept, which the Native Americans were not familiar; with due to the fact that land to them was communal, it belonged to all. There were no rich or poor in Native American villages everyone shared this was something the Europeans did not understand. I am not saying they did not have boundaries, too, because they did amongst different tribes. So this had a great impact because they were being driven from their hunting grounds and roaming spaces.
The Spanish came to the New World looking for gold (Nash et al. 5). Often they married with the Native Americans. French explorers were trappers and traders they often married with the Native Americans and maintained friendly relations based on trade partnership with the Native Americans. The Dutch and British, in contrast with these other European groups, came to the New World with their families to set up colonies most of them were seeking to settle the land (Nash et al. 68).
What was life like in a Native American village before European exploration? I picture a village of many people sharing a land working together for the needs of the village. Some people thought that the Native Americans were savages but is that true? I think not. They had services not as a Christian would believe but they did join as a group and did worship. Who is to say that if you are not a Christian you cannot be saved? They took from the land what they needed to exist; they used every part of what they hunted. They used the skins for blankets, flooring, clothing and they ate the meat and found uses for everything they killed. They believed the people belonged to the land not, as the Europeans held, that the land belonged to people.
In Native American societies, women also held subordinate positions, to men but not to the extreme found amongst the European men and women. In Iroquois villages, men sat in a circle to deliberate and make decisions, but the senior women of the village stood behind them, lobbying and instructing. The chief was often a male; the elder women of their tribe named them to their position. If they moved to far from the will of the women who appointed them, these chiefs were removed. (Nash et al. 12). The women played active rolls in all aspects of the tribal affairs and everyday life, such as planting and harvesting.
The Native Americans were used in many different fashions during the early exploration and colonization of America. They were often used as guides, slaves, traders, and also as allies or enemies to the many different colonizing factions of the European countries. In Latin America many Native Americans surrendered when faced with European domination. Others were enslaved on plantations, where they mixed together with African slaves and survived, mixed in race and culture. The French found them very useful in the trade and allies along the Mississippi river valley and the interior of the Americas. The English found them to be blocking the progress to advancing civilization of the coastal regions, but also found them to be useful allies during the French and Indian war.
The Indian tribes who lived in and near the English colonies seemed natural subjects for enslavement, as had the Indians in Spanish America. Native American slavery was attempted, but the Native Americans did not make as good of slaves as Africans. For one thing, they were less accustomed to the settled agriculture at which they were expected to labor. Perhaps most importantly, Native Americans were not bewildered foreigners, weakened and cowed by the terrible experience of being transported to a new world. Native Americans were in their own homeland, where they were organized into tribes and nations; they were not so few and scattered as the Africans in the early decades of the colonies. By the time the colonists were sufficiently numerous and organized to enforce slavery on the Native Americans, an easier solution was presented by the ever larger number of more helpless Africans put on the block and sold by the slave traders.
The British, who employed them after the British victory in the French and Indian War, started the practice of making treaties with the American Indians in the colonial period. During the American Revolution the U.S. government adopted the treaty system, signing its first treaty with the Delaware. The purposes of a treaty was to obtain tribal land, to determine boundaries between Indian and white lands, and to regulate trade. By adopting the treaty system, the British and U.S. government recognized the prior ownership of land by Native American tribes and status as independent nations. After the American colonists won their independence from England, the American government continued the English practice of treating the tribes as independent nations. Other Indians, particularly throughout the center of America, entered into the economic, religious, and social life of their conquerors and became the lowest class of the U.S. society.
The European colonization of the New World had a great impact on the Native Americans In many ways and the majority of them were negative. I wonder it would have been like if it had been the other way around, if it had been the Native Americans who had colonized Europe. I also wonder why I never knew these facts until I attended a college level history class. I believe that we should be taught the entire truth in high school not given the impression of Chris and the Native Americans sitting down at a table and sharing a nice meal and exchanging gifts.
Nash, Gary B., et al. The American People: Creating a Nation and a Society. Volume One to
1887.4th Edition. Los Angeles: Addison-Wesley Educational Publishers Inc., 1998.
Trickel, John A. Readings In United States History To 1877: Perspectives on America. Volume
1. New York: American Heritage Custom Publishing, 1