Native American History - Early History
The History of Native Americans is both fascinating and in many ways, tragic. Estimates range from about 10 – 90 million Native Americans inhabited America at the time of the European arrivals. They had lived in the land many, many years before white man set foot on their soil. It is believed that during the ice age, they had traveled a land-bridge across the Bering Sound, from Siberia into what is now Alaska. They had gradually migrated across the land and southward into Mexico and beyond. The name “Indian” was given them by Christopher Columbus who mistakenly believed he had landed in the Indies.
They have been labeled Indians, American Indians, and the now preferred Native Americans. They migrated to all regions of the land and were formed into many different tribes or nations. These were a people who adapted well to their particular regions and made wise use of all natural resources available. They believed in respecting the land and the abundance of gifts it offered. They became proficient fishermen, hunters, farmed crops such as corn, and built homes with whatever available resources their territory provided. Some of these included animal skins, sun-dried brick for adobes, or lumber for long houses depending on the regions.
Native American History - Native Americans and the Europeans
The Native Americans of the east coast met the new 16th and 17th century visitors from Europe with enthusiasm. They regarded these bearded white men as strange but were delighted with the steel knives, mirrors, copper kettles, and other intriguing novelties. The indigenous tribes were more than accommodating and hospitable. Without their aid, the first waves of settlers would not have survived in the land they knew little about.
But in time the Europeans disregarded all respect for the valued land and resources and instead displayed insatiable greed and arrogance. The Europeans soon pursued their intent to conquer this new continent with brutal attacks and invasion. The Native Americans soon realized that the invaders would arrive in overwhelming numbers, as many “as the stars in heaven.” Initially, the people of this land tried to co-exist with the Europeans. But many more problems arose. With all their intriguing gadgets, the white men brought deadly diseases to the Native Americans.
The colonists and explorers brought measles, smallpox, cholera, yellow fever, and many more devastating diseases. This drastically diminished the Native American population and annihilated entire villages. In addition to this, the arrogant attitude of the ever-growing whites led to the Indian Wars, the Indian Removal Act (1830), and in 1890 one of the worst massacres ever -- Wounded Knee, South Dakota. Here warriors, women, and children alike were ferociously slaughtered by the U.S. Cavalry. The U.S, government began Relocation Programs and the now famous Trail of Tears march where hundreds of Cherokee died from starvation, exposure, and illnesses. The Native American peoples were not only reduced in number but taken from their homes, stripped of their customs, and even forbidden to speak their native languages. Their children were taken from them and sent to schools to “civilize” them, forced to abandon every aspect of their heritage. In January 1876, the U.S. government forced them to live on ‘reservations’ where the majority of Native Americans still reside today.
Native American History - The 20th Century Native Americans
Some consider Native Americans as a resilient people. The Indian Citizen Act of 1924 offered official citizenship to the Native American tribes. This was partly due to the heroic service of many of them in World War I. Others like Jim Thorpe, Sequoyah, and Sacajawea have represented their people with greatness. There are well over 500 recognized tribal governments currently in the U.S. They are self-governed and considered to be sovereign nations of people within America. There are currently more than 2.48 million Native Americans, according to the 2000 census bureau.
While most still live on the reservations, they are considered some of the most poverty-ridden areas in the United States. Unemployment is 5 times higher than the general U. S. population, according to the 2002 Bureau of Indian Affairs. As with many defeated, oppressed people, they have suffered tremendously from the plagues of alcoholism and suicide. These were once a vibrant and resourceful people. They have been robbed, humiliated, and removed from all they knew. Though many have tried through the centuries to civilize, Christianize, and Americanize the Native American people, there are organizations today that recognize the important heritage of these nations. For example, Wiconi International says “we want to see Indigenous people come to know and experience ultimate freedom, and deliverance from the powers of darkness that still prevail in lands and communities…”