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European Colonization Impacts on the Native American Population Research Paper

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Updated: Sep 2nd, 2019


An examination of various historical accounts from the 15th to 19th century show that the Native American population was adversely affected by the arrival of European settlers due to various conflicts that arose and the new diseases that the Europeans brought which, in combination, devastated the local population.

Yet, it should be noted that not all interactions between the two civilizations resulted in adverse outcomes for the local population. For example, during the 15th century, Spaniards had introduced horses to the Americas resulting in a profound effect on the local community.

Due to several of these animals escaping and breeding in the wild the end result was a considerable increase in the local horse population, especially in areas such as the Great Plains region in North America.

The end result of this accidental albeit fortunate introduction of a new species enabled Native American tribes to greatly expand their territories, exchange news and various goods with neighboring tribes and even enabled them to hunt local animals a lot easier.

The arrival of Europeans to the Americas can be considered the underpinnings of a significant social, cultural and educational shift that occurred to Native American populations which brought about both positive and negative effects which will be detailed within this paper.

It is based on this that it can be stated that the invasion of Europeans to the New World had a significant impact on the political, social, and economic development of the Native American society.

Origins of European Colonization

The origin of European colonization was actually based on the inherent competitions of the various European countries at the time to expand their individual spheres of power into the “New World” (Pagden, 1-25).

In fact, it was actually the case that expansion was also fueled by their desire to find shorter routes to the India and China in order to gain access to the various spices and silks that were valuable commodities within Europe at the time (Pagden, 1-25).

This is particularly important to take note of since as it can be seen from their intentions, the desire of the Europeans was not so much coexistence as it was the desire to expand and gain more resources.

Encounters Between Europeans and Indians

In the case of the initial European encounters with the Native American population, it can be seen that Europeans considered Indians immortal and uncivilized and, therefore, they strived to impose their culture (Currie 17).

This cultural imposition took on a variety of forms such as the religious conversions attempted by the local parishioners to even direct eradication of “savage” cultural traditions in favor of the “cultured” mannerisms adopt by the Europeans.

Such actions were, of course, met with considerable resistance by the local population and, in fact, can be considered the basis behind the initial enmity between the two cultures since the actions of the European colonists can in effect be considered a form of subversion which the local settlers did not view as a positive turn of events (Trigger, 1195-1215).

It should be noted though that this desire to impose a more “civilized” culture on the native population can actually be considered an early variation of the “white man’s burden” which is a cultural thought process that states that Caucasians have a moral and ethical responsibility to educate the lesser races in order to set them down the correct path of thinking and acting”.

Such is the case when it came to the Native American population wherein the colonizers actually thought that they were doing the natives a favor. It is based on this that it is not so surprising that the relationship between the two cultures was distinctly adversarial given the way in which Europeans viewed the Native Americans.

Native American Culture

Salisbury points out that, “American before Columbus possessed its own particular rich history stretching back centuries into the remote reaches of the past” (3).

This was evidenced by the cultural traditions of the Native American people that placed a particular emphasis on nature spirit worship, the existence of animal spirits as well as a distinct focus on living in harmony with nature rather than oppressing it.

Such attributes have been noted as existing within the Native American culture hundreds of years before the arrival of the colonialists.

Combined with their rich agricultural tradition as well as the numerous rituals and ceremonies they had in place at the time, it can be considered that the Native Americans were not the savages depicted by the European settlers, instead they should have been considered a deeply spiritual people that focused on living off the land.

It is rather unfortunate that the response of the settlers was to impose their culture on such people instead of accepting them for what they were (Guy, 1 – 30).

Mutual Influence Between Native Americans and European Settlers

It is quite interesting to note that there was a substantial degree of cross-cultural influence between the Native Americans and European settlers in the form of a substantial share in practices and products.

What you have to understand is that the Native Americans at the time actually had a reasonably advanced agriculturally-based civilization wherein they utilized techniques such as irrigation, rock funnels and had developed substantial local crops such as corn, beans, squash which they traded for goods among tribes or with the European settlers.

Based on the work of Trigger (1991) it can even be seen that the Native Americans had in fact taught European settlers their agricultural practices and provided the necessary seeds in order to help them raise their own crops (Calloway, 1- 20).

It is based on this that many of the agricultural practices utilized by the early European settlers at the time can, in fact, be connected to the influences of local Native American tribes (Trigger, 1195-1215).

Another factor that should be taken into consideration yet is often overlooked is the fact intermarriage between European settlers and Native Americans often occurred. An examination of population estimates at the time revealed that the male to female ratio for settlers often reached 10 to 1 in favor of the males.

This was especially true for the Spanish colonies and, as a direct result, intermarriages between cultures were often necessary in order to ensure the continued survival of a settlement.

In fact, it can even be stated that it was due to these first intermarriages that resulted in customs and traditions being exchanged between the two cultures in the first place.

Political and Economic Influence of European Colonists on Native Americans

Further research on the political impact of the European colonists on Native American tribes can clearly be seen in the case of tribal reorganizations into new cultural groups.

What must be understood is that the arrival of European colonists brought considerable harm to local populations in the form of diseases that the native tribes had no immunity to (Guy, 1 – 30).

Combined with the various conflicts and skirmishes that occurred between the two cultural groups, this resulted in a considerable decline in the local population.

As such, in order to survive many tribes in the first half of the 18th century actually combined into one tribe as seen in the case of the Seminoles in Florida and the Mission Indians of California.

Not only that, the sheer devastation of the European occupation actually removed the political stratification that used to divide various tribes which created a whole new set of alliances (Calloway, 1- 20). According to Salisbury, North Americans exhibited a variety of languages, beliefs, and political systems (Currie 17).

However, this variety “was less the result of their isolation from one another than of the widely varying natural and social environments with which Indians had interacted over millennia” (5).

It should be noted though that this variety in languages, belief systems and culture created a certain degree of divisiveness among the early Native American tribes.

From a particular perspective, it can be stated that the various Native American tribes within the Americas at the time can be considered a microcosm of the different European powers that existed during the 15th to 19th century wherein there were a variety of rivalries and alliances (Grigg and Mancall, 1 – 15).

With the arrival of the European colonists and the subsequent destruction of various tribes due to disease and conflict, this resulted in several tribes that used to be bitter rivals becoming new allies in order to combat what they perceived as a common threat (Glatthaar, Joseph and Martin, 1-23).

This represents a major political and social shift for the population the equivalent of which would be if the U.S. and Russia had become allies during the height of the Cold War.

Differences in Political Views and Subsequent Conflict

Looking forward towards the birth of the United States, it can be seen that another of the main differences that affected the relationship between Native Americans and the European settlers was the overall difference in political views towards not only the settlement of their territories but the manner in which they were treated by the government (Prucha, 1 – 45).

When examining the case of the early expansion of the U.S. into new territories, it can clearly be seen that this expansion was often done at the expense of local Native American populations (Prucha, 1 – 45).

What the government at the time failed to realize was that despite its efforts in attempting to educate the Native American people as well as provide them with the means to be civilized, in reality, they viewed the continued encroachment on their territories as a direct violation of their traditional culture (Prucha, 1 – 45).

It should also be noted that the supposed purchase of lands or resettlement into new territories was not viewed by the Native Americans in the same conventional sense as the Europeans since in the view of the Native Americans the land itself was owned by them through ancestral right and could not be “bought” in the traditional sense since it was the land that their forefathers had given to them.

One prime example though of the successes the European colonizers had when it came to acculturation came in the form of Samson Occum who is widely recognized as the first Native American who published various papers and books on the issue Ottery, 360-361).

It should be noted though that Occum was also under the opinion that what the settlers were doing was inherently wrong and repressive and is indicative of a problem with the methods utilized in settling within the Americas.

Influence of European Colonies on Native Americans

Overtaking Cultures

It is quite interesting to note that when examining the various countries where European colonization occurred, it can be seen that religious fervor and the proliferation of devout followers is a common theme among such countries at the present.

Various studies explain that this current predilection by stating that in order to overtake the cultures and original religions that used to play essential roles in such cultures, European colonizers utilized religious conversion as a means by which the local populace could be influenced and as a result subvert the practices that were in existence at the time with something more akin to what the European colonizers wanted (Grigg and Mancall, 1 – 15).

Such a case was extensively utilized in the case of Native American populations within the Americas, wherein locals were often forcibly converted towards Christianity by the Europeans.

The economic impact of European colonization can be considered a far more positive outcome as compared to the political and social outcomes that occurred. As a direct result of crossing from the Atlantic, European civilization introduced a variety of domesticated animals to the local population.

Animals such as pigs, sheep, and cows which were not native to the region eventually became a great source of sustenance for the natives.

Combined with an increased amount of trade in manufactured goods (i.e. guns, knives, and various clothing) for animal skins and different types of agricultural products such as local grains and the growing of tobacco, the Europeans had in effect introduced the population to a whole new form of economic mercantilism that did not exist to such a degree in the past (Salisbury, 3-26).

While horses were mentioned earlier in this paper, it should be noted that they acted as almost the primary method by which trade and hunting were done by the Native American population in the Great Plains region where they were introduced.

Overall, it can be seen that through the intentional and inadvertent actions of the European settlers, they had in effect influenced the political, social and economic landscape of the local population to a considerable degree.

Destruction and Replacement of Cultural Practices

Researchers such as Salisbury (2000) have shown that oral tradition played an important role in helping various societies sustain their cultural practices despite the cultural domination instituted by European traders and colonizers. (Salisbury, 3-26)

This due to the fact that while various types of cultural texts and religious iconography can be burned or destroyed, oral traditions can quickly be passed from one generation to the next resulting in the survival of various types of cultural practices.

This was seen in the case of the Philippines wherein various aspects of its ancient cultural traditions involving elemental and idol worship were subtlety incorporated into social convention despite the best efforts of the Catholic priests at the time to stamp out all previous forms of “alternative” cultural or religious practices.

Unfortunately, when it came to the cultural practices of the Native American population many were based on oral traditions and, as such, when the local tribes were decimated as a direct result of European based diseases, many of the oral traditions had died along with the populations.

As such, many of the local inhabitants adopted a variety of Western cultural dispositions in order to survive in their new environment despite the fact that it did not coincide with what their cultural tradition used to be like.

Understanding the Process of European Colonization in the Case of the Native Americans

In the case of empires what occurs is a state of cultural imposition wherein cultural predilection, values, behaviors even methods of speaking are imposed on a local populace resulting in a deterioration of the local culture (Glatthaar, Joseph and Martin, 1-23).

Of particular interest is this particular viewpoint is the focus on the concept of “the White Man” and how the white culture had in effect superimposed itself on various cultures resulting in a strange blending of the two.

Various examples of such a trend can be seen throughout history with the most notable being the Spanish subjugation of the Philippines for 333 years resulting in the assimilation of the Filipino people into the Spanish culture and religion effectively wiping out many traces of their past religion and cultural practices.

Taking this into consideration it can be seen that subjugation can be likened to the near-death experience of a particular culture wherein through imposition and subsequent assimilation old cultural behaviors, values, and various aspects unique to that specific culture are in effect repressed or removed in favor of the ideas, notions and cultural styling of the empire.

Based on this, it is at times questioned whether empires truly benefit the areas and subjects that they in effect conquer. One way of looking at this issue is to take another look at the case of the Native Americans and see the apparently “beneficial” effects of subjugation.

From a particular perspective, it can be seen that through cultural subjugation, empires in effect help cultures become more “inline” with the global perspective of how the world chooses to view them. Not only that, there is also the issue of advances in architecture and technology transfer that also occur as a result of subjugation.

On the other hand, the sheer cultural decay that at times occur does not seem to be entirely as worth it as history has made it out to be.

It is based on this that it can be seen that there are benefits accrued as a result of subjugation by an empire, but such benefits are often clouded by the adverse cultural effects that empires have on local areas and people.


Based on the various findings and arguments presented within this paper, it can clearly be seen that European colonization of the Americas clearly had a significant impact on the Native American population as seen from the subsequent changes that occurred socially, politically and culturally within their respective communities.

It is interesting to note though that the reactions of the early Native Americans to the incursion of European settlers are an essential point of reference to take into consideration since it helps to highlight problems that are occurring within the present-day global environment.

As it can be seen from various news reports at the present, there has been a considerable level of conflict not only in the Middle East but in other parts of the world involving cultural clashes that have been the cause of numerous conflicts.

By understanding the various transitions and changes that occurred to colonial America, an understanding will eventually develop regarding what methods of cultural adaptation and coexistence were implemented which would enable modern-day society to understand better what adaptive policies could possibly be put into action in order to reduce problems related to culture clashes and to allow the development of a more peaceful society.

Works Cited

Calloway, Colin. The American Revolution in Indian County: Crisis and Diversity in Native American Communities. US: Cambridge University Press, 1995. Print.

Currie, Stephen. “First Contact with Europeans.” Cobblestone 24.7 (2003): 17. Print.

Glatthaar, Joseph, T., and James Kirby Martin. Forgotten Allies: The Oneida Indians and the American Revolution. US: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2007. Print.

Grigg, John A., and Peter Mancall. British Colonial America: People and Perspectives. US: ABC-CLIO, 2008. Print.

Guy, Chet. Conquering the American Wilderness: The Triumph of European Warfare in Colonial New England. US: University of Massachusetts Press, 2003. Print.

Ottery, Jim. “Rhetorical Sovereignty”. Wisconsin Indian Literature: Anthropology of Native Voices. Eds. Kathleen Tigerman and Jim Ottery. 360-361. US: University of Wisconsin Press. 2006. Print.

Pagden, Anthony Robin. European Encounters with the New World: From Renaissance to Romanticism. US: Yale University Press. 1993. Print.

Prucha, Francis Paul. Quantum Books: Revolutionary War to Present. US: University of California Press. 1988. Print.

Salisbury, Neal. “The Indians’ Old World: Native Americans and the Coming of Europeans”. American Encounters: Native and Newcomers from European Contact to Indian Removal, 1500-1580. Eds. Peter Mancall and James Hart Merrell. 3-26. New York: Routledge, 2000 Print.

Trigger, Bruce G. “Early Native North American Responses To European Contact: Romantic Versus Rationalistic Interpretations.” Journal Of American History 77.4 (1991): 1195-1215. Print.

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