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Native American Oppression in North America Essay

While many different cultures were and are oppressed around the world, many people tend to forget about the genocide of the Native Americans on the land we call home. In 1492, when Christopher Columbus first sailed across the Atlantic Ocean, he came into contact with the indigenous people of the New World. After returning to Hispaniola, he quickly implemented policies of slavery and mass extermination of the Taino population in the Caribbean. This became the first major impact on Native Americans and eventually led to further oppression of American Indians.

The implication of the population as savages helped in the displacement and genocide of the indigenous peoples. The Native Americans faced a lot of discrimination in North America during colonization, consisting of different forms of propaganda causing short-term and long-term effects in the present day. In 1492, a Spanish expedition headed by Christopher Columbus sailed for India to sell, buy, and trade rich spices and other goods, inadvertently discovering what is today North America. European conquest, large-scale exploration and colonization soon followed.

This first occurred along the Caribbean coasts on the islands of Hispaniola, Puerto Rico and Cuba, and later extended into the interiors of both North and South America. Eventually, the entire Western Hemisphere came under the control of European governments, leading to profound changes to its landscape, population, and plant and animal life. From the 16th through the 19th centuries, the population of Indians declined from epidemic diseases brought from Europe, genocide and warfare at the hands of European explorers and colonists, displacement from their lands, internal warfare, enslavements, and a high rate of intermarriage.

Epidemics of smallpox, typhus, influenza, diphtheria, and measles swept ahead of initial European contact, killing between 10 million and 20 million people, up to 95% of the indigenous population of the Americas. European expansion also caused many Native American tribes to lose their homes as they were forced by the government to live in certain areas called Indian Reservations. They were often poor and on the verge of starvation on these reservations. Many American Indians had to choose to assimilate to the culture of the colonists in order to live.

The phrase “Kill the Indian, Save the Man” coincides with the assimilation. There were many tools to help with the assimilation of the natives such as boarding schools for Native American children, missionaries to introduce Christianity, and the strategic killing of their main food source, the bison. The Dawes Act was introduced in 1887 to get Native Americans to live like white Americans. Reservations were broken up into “allotments” that were given out to individual families and the families were supposed to farm and build homes on their allotment in order to support themselves.

The plan failed due to the fact that some of the land was unsuitable for farming & ranching and some Natives refused to adopt a different way of life. Propaganda was a very powerful tool when it came to the oppression of American Indians. The term propaganda is derived from the Latin propagare, to propagate, to reproduce, to spread, with the meaning, to transmit, to spread from person to person. One form of early propaganda against Native Americans is the painting American Progress by John Gast in 1872.

The painting depicts the iconographic image of Columbia, the American angel floating above the land, leading her pioneers westward. The angel image, intended as a personification of the United States, floats ethereally over the plains, stringing telegraph wire with one hand as she travels, and holding a schoolbook under her other arm. Ahead of her in the West is a great darkness populated by wild animals: bears, wolves, buffalo and Indian people. All are considered wild and savage, and fleeing away from her light.

In her bright-light wake, as the figure progresses across the land, come farms, villages and homesteads and in the back are cities and railroads. The light of “civilization” dispels the darkness of “ignorance and barbarity”. American Indian people are portrayed along with the wild animals as the darkness, all of which have to be removed before Columbia can bring the prosperity promised to the United States. United States covert agencies working with the mainstream media often used “grey and black propaganda” to distort or fabricate information concerning the groups they had targeted.

Grey propaganda efforts often centered upon contentions that the Indians’ main goal was to dispossess non-Indians of the home-owner, small farmer, or rancher type living within various treaty areas. For black propaganda there have been a number of highly publicized allegations of violence which, once disproven, were allowed to die without further fanfare. There were many short-term and long-term effects due to the oppression of American Indians.

Many Native Americans were depicted as marauding, murdering, hellish savages who scalped women and children. They were seen as thieves, drunkards, and beggars, unwilling to work but willing to accept government handouts. The American Indian was often used as the antagonist in old country western films and portrayed in a negative, barbaric manner. Today a majority of the Native American population still resides on reservations. Despite helping shape America in their own way, the oppression of the American Indians is often overlooked in comparison to that of Jews during World War II and African Americans in the U. S.from slavery to the present-day Overall, the Native Americans overcame many things from when Columbus first came across them in the Caribbean in 1492.

In the face of European exploration and colonization, genocide, epidemic diseases, and displacement among other things, American Indians managed to stay strong and hold on too as much of their culture as possible, working hard to dispel the false stereotype created by propaganda so long ago. While the discrimination of the past still affects them to this day, first nation peoples play a strong part in the development of this country.


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