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Native Americans transition from freedom to isolation Term Paper


Introduction

The American civil war, which begun in 1861and ended in 1865 is regarded as one of the most violent wars experienced in the history of United States of America. At least 620,000 soldiers died during this war, which was estimated to be 2% of the American population by then.

The war caused havoc and destruction in the south wiping off about two thirds of the appraised value of the southern wealth, destroying more than half of the regions farm machinery, consuming two-fifths of southern livestock and killing one quarter of southern white males between the ages of 20 and 40 (David 1996).

In the mid nineteenth century, America as a nation had conflicting ideological and cultural indifferences as it attempted to adopt the agrarian revolution traditions. Although the country had enjoyed unity for more than 60 years, political, cultural economic and social differences were the cause of the crisis in 1861 that erupted into a civil war.

The consequences of the war were termed as being more positive rather than negative to the country as a whole. According to Abraham Lincoln, the civil war brought to America a new birth of freedom as the war enlightened the people about slavery and destroying slavery paved way to freedom. Reconstruction after the war was an opportunity to adopt and embrace new changes in the southern society placing Native Americans in a new redefined society life.

Lifestyle of natives American

The period between 1862 and 1865 was a time during which all Native Americans all over the continent were struggling for sovereignty. The civil war attracted many people dwelling in America especially the Native Americans who comprised of various tribe’s, bands and nations.

During the civil war, the Native Americans served in both federal government and the confederate states of America military. Even though they participated in the war, they did so knowing very well that, they could be putting at risk their freedom, inimitable cultures and ancestral lands if at all they lost in the war. Most of the American natives lived in the west of Mississippi river. About 360,000 of the American natives were American Indians who were confined in an Indian Territory what is today known as Oklahoma.

The American Indians are said to have occupied and lived in America 9,500 years before the arrival of the first Europeans explorers. From the arguments of many anthropologists and archeologist, the first people to arrive in America most probably arrived during the last ice age period of about 20,000-30,000 years ago when they used the bridge at Bering Sound in the northeastern part of Siberia to cross over to Alaska.

“The name “Indian” was first referred to them by Christopher Columbus, an European explorer, who while in search of a shorter route to India mistakenly came across the islands of America which were part of the Indies in Asia hence the name Indians” (James et al 2010).

Native Americans lived in small groups and tribes. Since they were not domesticated and primitive, the American Indians used their hunting skills to kill their prey which they would later bring back to their families as a source of food. Their houses were known as longhouses, which had a rectangular shape and constructed using barks covering.

These homes had one thing in common, they had smoke hole in the roof, and the entrance doors were low and covered with animal’s skins, while fires in their homes burned inside their houses all the time both day and night. Everyone in these communities had specific work entitled to them in accordance to gender and age.

Men were the head of the families and for this reason they were responsible for bringing food they hunted, protect their families from animals and enemies and cure diseases while the women gathered forest foods and reaped corn in preparation to serve a meal for their families. Women were also responsible of nurturing their children while children helped when necessary as a way of preparing themselves for adulthood.

Coming of the Europeans

In the late fifteenth and early sixteenth centuries, the Europeans started to stream immigrants into the northern and eastern parts of America. This is where they discovered a new kind of society that was very different compared to theirs (Larry, 1986). The natives themselves were amazed by the physical appearances of the Europeans since they were white in complexion compared to their reddish natural skin colour complexion.

They also had a very differently mode of dressing from the natives which was deerskins with decors from shell beads or porcupine quills, feathers and other unique ornaments. Apart from that, Europeans had a unique kind of technology with them that made them even more perplexed. This wonderful technology comprised of the fire-belching harquebus and cannon, steel knives, mirrors, hawk bells, earrings swords, copper and brass kettles, and much more wonderful things.

In American history, the European exploration is termed as one of the greatest event with ecological impacts since it led to the increase in population of the Americans. The increase in population is as a result of the mass movement of people to embrace ‘new world’. The movement caused conflicts between the Europeans and the natives of the American land (Bowles 2011).

Impact of European settlement

For a long time since their arrival, the Europeans and the natives coexisted peacefully as they learned different things from each other since they both had totally different lifestyles. The two societies were able to trade food, fur coats, and beads for weapons, glass while the Indian children enjoyed playing with European toys.

The two societies had very contrasting ideas in relation to personal wealth and ownership. According to the Europeans, only those who were rich had the opportunity to own land and strongly believed that once this rich person dies, the land is to passed on to family signifying honor and pride this was contrary to Indians beliefs.

Indians believed that property is owned by a tribe, land was a sacred asset and it belonged to no individual person but to a family as a whole. The Indians had a rule that states that ‘everything on the earth is given to all, and each person deserves their own share’. Thereafter, conflicts erupted.

Europeans appeared to be oblivious to the culture and traditions of the Indians. They were arrogant and materialist in terms of land, animals and plants in presence, a gesture that was not appealing to the Indians. This was the beginning of indifferences among the two societies.

Conflicts among Native American brought about wars and desperate struggles between the native people and white people for the rich lands that became the United States (Larry, 1986). Europeans desired to conquer the new continent because of what they viewed as materialist opportunity. Their main aim was to force out the natives from their own land compelling them to relocate in order to acquire and own these rich lands for profit.

The Europeans perceived this new land as a land of great opportunities hence the motive for pushing the Native Americans into the west to where the Indians were. Their arrival brought about agricultural revolution and several other environmental changes as the Europeans colonies established new and permanent settlements in the Indian country.

There was a transformed world as Europeans arrival accelerated already manifested practices of the native community (James et al 2010). These practices included; gradual collapse of chiefdoms, steady coalescence of smaller groups to large communities and introduction of new diseases.

On the onset of the ‘new Indian world’ people become aware that they was scarce resources and therefore it resulted to war between themselves in order to acquire what they thought was of value to build and maintain a viable community this was the ‘human asset’.

One of the main reason for the war erupting is the introduction of new technology with no way of defeating the Europeans so the natives watched helplessly their society crumble down slowly. Once the Europeans destroyed the way of life of the natives, it was difficult for many indigenous groups to maintain their traditional methods even if they wanted to.

The American Indian had no powerful incentive to dream up new technologies to assist human survival. Since their arrival, the Europeans impact toward the natives was negative. The Native Americans suffered in the arms of the Europeans whereby the Native Americans were treated badly as Europeans did whatever they wished with them.

At first the natives were determined to defeat their visitors but as soon as a group of the Native Americans rose to challenge the Europeans and stand up for themselves, the Europeans with their advanced technology would quickly put them down. Comparing the native’s weapons which comprised of bows and arrows and the Europeans weapons which comprised of canons and guns, the natives had a hard time battling with the Europeans.

It was rare for the Native Americans to fall ill and they had built sweathouses that they used to purify themselves of ills and evil spirits. Richard (2000) notes that, “the natives had not come into contact with these kinds of diseases from the old world since they were separated from Asia, Africa and Europe by vast water bodies and ice.” Diseases like measles, pneumonia, influenza, malaria and small pox were new to these people.

The Europeans are to be held responsible for bringing these diseases to the native’s lands and infecting the native people. Since the diseases were introduced into America, the population of the native people dropped significantly since these people were not immune to such kind of diseases.

In just a span of twenty years, about 50% of the American native population had been wiped out many of them dying because of the diseases. The increased number of deaths sparked rage among the natives as they started doubting and questioning their beliefs and religion since they could not understand why their people were dying as they had never experienced anything like these deadly diseases before the arrival of the Europeans. These made them believe that Europeans had the ability to kill and give life to people.

Europeans way of life was very different from the natives. They were used to owning land and claiming its ownership arguing that Indians had no land value and no interest to owning any part of the land hence they decided to evacuate them. These conflicts brought about Indian wars, signing of an act ‘Indian Removal Act’ that permitted the removal of Indians from their own land signed by President Andrew Jackson in 1830, including passing of several acts that favored European interest at that time.

The war was a great disadvantage to Native Americans since they were few in numbers due to deaths brought about by lack of immunity to new diseases, their nomadic way of life prevented them from having advanced weapons, their weapons were blunt clubs and could only manage to wound and not kill their enemies. They also lacked unified of cooperation among themselves to enhance their defense.

On the other hand, Europeans succeeded in conquering the natives due to their advanced weapons like the canons and guns which were considered to have played a major role. But the fact was that they only instilled fear, a psychological effect on the Native Americans as they were also well armed with Spaniards steel swords and daggers which were very sharp with the ability to slaughter the Indians.

They also possessed horses and horsemen who could override the Indians before they could inform their fellow Indians of an invasion. These horses provided the Europeans with speed of surprise attack and a platform where Europeans could protect themselves during a fight as they could flee before their enemies could succeed in attempting to retaliate.

The once peaceful community was now being faced with harsh treatment from colonialists. They had to endure several new and deadly diseases, enslavement and wars. Europeans took advantage during these wars and killed Native Americans indiscriminately. A major setback for the natives was an inconsistency in cooperation among themselves in order to build a strong defense group.

This was due to the fact that there were a number of American Indians who were in support of European actions while others did not approve any of what the Europeans were doing. During the American revolutionary war, war between various American Indians tribes accelerated (Celia, 2003).

The new American settlers were struggling with the British people to support the native Americans and the nations in the east of Mississippi therefore many native Americans supported the early European settlers with the expectation of stopping the expansion of colonization in the continent. Unfortunately, the European settlers continued to expand the horizons in which they colonized either forcefully or through mutual understanding.

The isolation and concentration of Indian Americans can be traced to this period after the justification of the Indian removal act in 1830. Most of the Indians who were located in the eastern parts of the Mississippi river were relocated to the western part of the river.

Some of the groups relocated include: “Seneca, a group that was evicted from the state of New York and later settled in northeastern part of Oklahoma; the Sauk Indians who were evicted from Midwest and settled in a small area northern central Oklahoma; the Cherokee who were evicted from Southeast to Oklahoma.

Those Indians who refused to move west were forced to give up large tracks of their lands, which they had control over and were concentrated on increasingly small and geographically isolated areas” (Alvin, Joane & Troy 1999). The population of European origin in the United States continued to increase in the late 1800 mounting more pressure on the Native Americans to give up more of their new land. The expulsion process was accomplished mostly through peaceful treaties while at times it involved violence.

These new lands given to the Indians were regarded by the whites as undesirable and were located far from major population centers, trails and transportation routes. During the 19th century, United States government policies aimed at isolating and concentrating Indians in areas with scarce natural resources, detached from the emergent United States wealth.

Conclusion

The act signed by President Andrew Jackson in 1830, ‘the Indian Removal Act,’ essentially could be blamed for taking away any remaining opportunity of sovereignty and freedom for the Native Americans. Literature has constantly shown that these Americans left their original land by choice though this has raised a lot of criticism. Celia (2003) claimed that Native Americans endured immense pressure from European settlers to move away and due to their marginal numbers they had to concede the pressure.

Since the European arrival they had been alienated mentally from their beliefs, cultures and practices as the Europeans tried to convince them to adopt to the ‘new culture’ so that they do not feel isolated but rather feel like Americans. Unfortunately, the Native American practices have been erased in an effort to make people believe that Europeans were the first people to settle in America.

Towards the end of the 19th century, due to the sub-standard way of life in the isolated reservation, the federal government changed its primary approach to the “Indian problem” from a forced isolation to forced assimilation and now concerns about the reservation problems were resembled in many aspects.

Native Americans living on reservations disproportionately lacked access to both basic and advanced technologies because poor infrastructure makes the cost of obtaining new modern technology equipment very expensive.

The assimilation was achieved through allotment policy and the first allotment legislation (the Dawes Act) that was first enacted in 1887 and required that the land be sub-divided into smaller pieces so as to give the Indians an opportunity to do farming or ranching since they were the main occupations in the areas where Indians occupied.

References

Alvin M. J., Joane N., & Troy R. J. (1999). Red power: the American Indians’ fight for freedom. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press.

Bowles, M. (2011). A history of the United States since 1865. San Diego, CA: Bridgepoint.

Celia, B. (2003). Native American power in the United States, 1783-1795. Madison, NJ: Farleigh Dickinson University Press.

David, L. V. (1996). Native American Economic Development on Selected Reservations a Comparative Analysis, American journal of Economics and Sociology. Vol 4 (9) p. 9-45.

James, S. O. et al (2010).The Ethnic Dimension in American History. New York, NY: John Wiley and Sons.

Larry, W. B. (1986). Roots of the Native American urban experience relocation policy in the 1950s. Journal of American Indian Quarterly. Vol-10, 45.

Richard, F. (2000). Native Americans: the indigenous peoples of North America Living through history. Mankato, MN; Heinemann.

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IvyPanda. 2019. "Native Americans transition from freedom to isolation." December 4, 2019. https://ivypanda.com/essays/native-americans-transition-from-freedom-to-isolation/.

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IvyPanda. (2019) 'Native Americans transition from freedom to isolation'. 4 December.

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