Extinction of the Native American Indians Research Paper
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Extinction of the Native American
The area of the world that is now known as the United States of America used to belong to various tribes of people which are now known as Native Americans as opposed to their old name, Indians, which was a misnomer based on the erroneous idea that explorers from Europe did not know that such a large land mass existed and that by crossing the Atlantic Ocean, they had made it to the country of India. When Europeans first arrived in this country, they were highly outnumbered by populations of Native Americans. The United States of America is a nation that was built on the ideas of life, liberty, pursuit of happiness, and freedom for all persons. Yet, that freedom has been won only through the genocide of hundreds of thousands of people. In the course of a few centuries, the Native American peoples have been decimated, relegated to a fraction of their original population because of the violence, greed, and cruelty of Europeans and then white Americans.
The Jamestown Colony:
Christopher Columbus arrived in the New World in the year 1492. While there, he encouraged the enslavement of the native persons who he encountered. Enslavement was followed by murder of those who would not be oppressed. Following his successful journey home and widespread reports of a new world with naive, easily manipulated persons, it was only logical that other countries and their leader would desire to take advantage of this unprecedented opportunity. By travelling to the New World, the countries could create colonies, could acquire resources which could then be utilized or sold, and could for a very small financial investment become an even wealthier empire. Among the nations who would create colonies in the Americas were Spain, France, and of course Great Britain.
The Jamestown Colony, named after King James I, was the first one established by the British government. Under the flag of the East India Trading Company, it was hoped that sending young men into the New World could yield a plethora of goods which could increase the wealth of Great Britain and substantially increase the nation's power internationally. Although they never found gold, which was what was initially supposed to be found plentifully in the New World, the lumber and rich soil which was found more than made up for this. The success of this colony led to the creation of many others, all of whom were concerned with bringing financial benefit to the home country and caring very little for what befell the native populations who they were disenfranchising.
One of the first persons to write about white treatment of Native Americans was an Englishman named John Smith. Smith, although far from unsympathetic to the plight of the Native Americans, was still not above the idea that the whites were superior and that they had every right to take lands that were originally belonging to the natives he encountered. Quite the opposite, Smith wrote a history in "A Description of New England" wherein he highlighted the financial benefits that this new land would provide for the English and encouraged fellow explorers to colonize. His primary concerns are about the white culture and how people who look like him can benefit. Given that his experiences with the Native Americans where violent, it is unsurprising that Smith takes this idea. In History of Jamestown (2004), historians remark that Smith was in constant fear of his life and was only saved by 11-year-old Pocahontas. It has been written that her father, Powhattan, disliked the white culture not for its occupation but for the lack of common courtesy the white people showed for the Natives (Colonial 2003). Of course, the founding of the Jamestown Colony, which the Native Americans hoped, if not believed, would be a single white settlement, became only the first of what would eventually become a nation controlled by white people.
The California Mission System:
The California mission system had many positives and negatives for the indigenous people of what would become the United States. The initial purpose of the missionaries was to convert the Native Americans to Christianity. The Spanish perceived the Native Americans as something beneath themselves, although they did accept them as human beings. Needing ways to expand their power into the newly-claimed territory, the Spanish government allowed military unites to enter
into what would become California. At the same time, missionaries spread out through California creating a series of missions which would serve as the central location for the given community. The missions were part farm, part church, and part homestead (California). At the mission, the clergy members would teach the Bible and grow crops which would feed themselves and their Native American residents. They also made crafts and materials which could be used to purchase other necessary items from traders and merchants. Priests who were responsible for running the missions were determined to instruct the Native Americans in the Spanish language, both in how to speak and how to read. This education allowed the Native Americans who accepted the missionaries' religion to have an altogether new way of life. Although the Spaniards were both colonizing and oppressing the indigenous population, it can be argued that the missionaries did have good intentions in their practices. They truly believed that the Native Americans were heavens and that their religious beliefs were wrong. The missionaries wanted to help the natives so that they would be accepted into the kingdom of the Christian Heaven.
Even though the intent of the missionaries may have been to better the lives of the Natives, the Spanish were still determined to more or less destroy the individual cultures of the indigenous population. The Spaniards wanted the Native Americans to accept the Spanish language, the Christian religion, and the Spanish way of life. Missionaries not only expected the natives to convert to Christianity, but also to embrace Spanish culture and forego their own heritages. In accepting Christ and the benefits of living within the mission, the Native Americans had to abandon most of the things that had been passed down to them through generations. The missionaries also used the natives as a slave labor force. Native Americans were to work on the crops that would be grown at the missions and also to cook and to clean. In return, they would be educated by the benevolent Christians. It is difficult for modern people to look back on these incidents and wonder why the missionaries did not see anything ironic in teaching Christian principles and Christian charity while at the same time eradicating traditions of ancient tribes.
Illnesses and Germ Warfare:
Most people understand that one of the primary reasons behind the eradication of the Native American population was relatively unintentional. When a person has lived in an area for a long time, they naturally build up an immunity to certain chemicals, bacteria, and viruses that may be associated with that location. However, when such materials are introduced to a population who has not had the chance to develop such immunity, then the results are extremely detrimental. This, of course, is what happened with the white Europeans and the Spanish monks in California began interacting with the native peoples. According to The Encyclopedia of American Indian History (2008):
The first "systematic" [population] count was compiled during the early twentieth century by James Mooney, who maintained that 1,153,000 people lived in the land area now occupied by the continental United States at first contact. Mooney calculated the 1907 Native population in the same area at 406,000. Dividing the country into regions, he calculated the percentage loss ranging from 61% (in the North Atlantic states) to 93% in California (113).
Diseases such as influenza took out large numbers of Native Americans. Other conditions including measles, bubonic plague, diphtheria, typhus, cholera, and scarlet fever also ended the lives of many Native Americans.
Syphilis also consumed a large number of the Native American population. European men who came to the New World suffering from this disease believed that if a person had sex with a virgin that they would be cured of their own venereal disease (Lewy 2007). Virginal Native American women were most often raped or in some cases they gave themselves willingly, believing they had married the Europeans, and then became infected. The women, now considered spoiled, would sometimes be cast away from the tribe or, determined by the customs of the individual tribe, would have to be married off. Syphilis would then be passed on to the woman's husband and he in turn would pass it to others. Children would be born with physical deformities because of the disease, creating a generation of weak persons unable to survive for long.
Once it became apparent to the white Europeans how susceptible the native population was to European illnesses, they used this against the natives to remove them from certain locations if the group were unwilling to move on their own accord. It would come to pass that…
Sources Used in Documents:
Alexis de Tocqueville. Tocqueville and Beaumont on Race. 1831.
Benjamin Franklin. Remarks Concerning the Savages of North America. The Norton Anthology
of American Literature. 1782.
Bruce Johnson. Encyclopedia of American Indian History. Santa Barbara: ABC-CLIO, 2008.
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