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William Cronon’s Changes in the Land gives insight as to how both the Native Americans and Europeans perceived property in New England in the 1600’s. By showing the different ways in which the two groups used the land, it analyzes why different methods by which conceiving property rights came to be. Differences in values of each of the groups caused more contrast in the ways they viewed conceptions of property.
Additionally, because the uses of land by the Native Americans and the Europeans vary so greatly from one another, Changes in the Land explores cultural stereotypes that can and did emerge, leading to conflict between the groups.
The difference in standards in each society caused dissimilarity in their conceptions of property in seventeenth century New England and led to cultural stereotypes and conflicts between Europeans and Native Americans.
To understand the cultural stereotypes that developed between Natives and Europeans, one must understand the changes in the two separate cultures that led to differing conceptions of property. One predominant difference between the two groups was that the Natives would migrate every winter and not save up food. This was in contrast to the Europeans who conserved food, knowing they would not be able to grow any more and that they needed a nourishment supply for the winter. The Europeans could not understand why the Natives would willingly go hungry throughout the winter. Instead of staying in one place for the whole year, the Natives would go to wherever would benefit them at that point.
However, the Europeans would own one piece of land and stay there, farming their crops to provide for themselves. Since the Natives were fairly migrant, their land laws were less strict. A sachem, or leader, would resolve disputes about property rights. He was brought into power through his relationships with the other native people. This government was an exceedingly loose form of leadership, which contrasted to the European rule. Since the natives moved around so much, a practice called seasonal mobility, a set government was not possible. This difference in the migration and government led to inconsistencies with the two group’s views of property and how to utilize it.
The Native Americans and Europeans had differing ideas on how to use the land in New England. Most Europeans thought the Natives suffered from “Indian poverty” (Cronon 55) because of how they migrated. Instead of farming, the Indians relied heavily on hunting, especially in the winter, as a food source. The Indians used the land for hunting and believed everyone should be able to use an area for hunting. This gave everyone an equal chance to survive and thrive off of the land. . In contrast, the Europeans owned the land that they farmed on. This land was granted to them from the king or was bought from the Natives. The Europeans, moreover, lived in organized villages which was a foreign concept to the natives who moved around more. Because of these differing systems, eventually all land ownership in New England came under the jurisdiction of the English crown, leading to stereotypes and conflict between Europeans and Native Americans.
By taking all land ownership under the control of the English crown, the Europeans thought they were assisting the Native Americans in their farming. European’s goal in farming was to improve their land and make a prosperous harvest and this was different from what the Natives wanted. Under this system, the Natives had little to no control over what land they were granted. When the charter was agreed upon in 1636, “ No fewer than thirteen Indians signed it” (66). Because the Indians had such little input on making the charter, the rules laid out in it were incredibly unfair to the Natives. The Natives had immensely limited rights and little control of land anymore. The Europeans thought they would help the Indians ameliorate their farming and fishing skills by taking over Native Land and redistributing it. However, the Natives did not need to improve their farming skills because, as discussed before, they heavily relied on hunting. However, hunting was only a form of sport in Native American societies and the way the natives would divide the work between genders led to negative cultural stereotypes.
Because most of the Native’s food, especially in the winter came from hunting, the men were predominantly the ones doing this act. Women were more in charge of farming and agriculture. Since hunting was just a sport in European societies and farming was the majority of the work that Europeans did, the English began to view Native American men as lazy. Because they were not willing to do “real work”, which to the English meant farming, Natives were viewed as not as strong or hardworking as European colonizers. Additionally, because of the loose government that the natives had, in which only the Sachem had authority and would settle land disputes, the Europeans thought they were smarter than Native Americans. They thought they could take over all of the land and have the English crown be in charge of it. Because the Native’s were mobile throughout the year, the English thought they were living “impoverished” (55) lives. To try to fix these issues of poverty in the Natives, the Europeans brought all of the land in New England under the control of the crown. However, the Indians “ did not view themselves as poor” (79). They were flourishing in their own way. Because of the negative stereotypes that the Natives were lazy and unintelligent, conflicts broke out between the Indians and Europeans broke out.
The Europeans thought the way that the Indians distributed land, which was by having people sharing land and owning some individual places to hunt, did not work. However, in ealy New England, a lot of Europeans would buy land from Native Americans. However, because the Natives did not own land, they just hunted on it, they would not grant Europeans full ownership of a piece of property. This system did not work and caused issues for the Europeans, which caused them to take all the land in New England under control of the crown. The European takeover of the Native Indians lands led to issues between the two groups.
William Cronon’s Changes in the Land explores the differences in Native American and European societies that caused differences in land conceptions in seventeenth century New England. Because of the discrepancies in the two group’s views of land and government, social stereotypes and conflict emerged. The European takeover of Native American land changed life in New England in perpetuity. These issues were retained by Native American societies and altered their lives forever.
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