Effects of Colonization on Native Americans

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I wrote this for a US History Research Paper assignment and thought you might like to read it. Thesis statement: Colonization of the Americas proved more detrimental to the Native Americans than it ever did beneficial.

Submitted: January 27, 2019

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Submitted: January 27, 2019



Colonization of North America was more detrimental to the Indians than it was beneficial. We can prove this statement is true by looking at specific events in history and examining the facts. At first, not everything the Colonists did was detrimental or done out of prejudice. When Spanish and English colonists arrived in 1607, they wanted quick riches and neglected to plant crops for food. The hospitable Native Americans wanted to make peace with the Colonists and gladly shared food with them. This made the Colonists dependent on the Indians for a little while. Powhatan, an Indian Chief, was glad to have John Smith and the other colonist at first. Both sides maintained fruitful trade. The Europeans brought metal tools, pots and guns and traded them for furs and food. 

But John Smith’s intentions became clearer as time went on. None of the hospitality Powhatan showed was returned. The colonist men would not marry Indian women. These were personally offensive to the Indian people. The colonists also forced the Indians to work as slaves. When negotiations for food failed, Smith would steal it from the tribes forcefully. 

Europeans brought African slaves to the Americas. These slaves possessed a vast knowledge of medical plants and what to use them for. The Indians combined what they knew with what the Africans knew. Between them, both groups maintained relative health and could cure many different illnesses. But the Europeans failed to learn from their vast knowledge and suffered from many deadly diseases as a result.

There were other side effects to colonization. Some were not out-rightly bad, but they didn’t help much. One of these is the changing of family roles. The Native Americans divided roles equally. Native women tended to crops, built houses and took care of everything in the home. Men took care of fishing and hunting for the family. This way, a husband and wife worked as a team to provide for the family. 

European settlers did not understand these roles and did not try to understand them either. Fishing and hunting were considered sports in Europe and the colonists viewed Indian men as lazy for perusing them. Europeans also didn’t understand why the maternal status was held in such high regard. Women held wealth and many even lead tribes as chiefs. Children were not beaten as a punishment and were lavished with affection. The Europeans forcefully changed all of this simply because they didn’t understand it.

As more colonists arrived, Indians were unexpectedly exposed to new diseases. Newcomers from Europe brought Smallpox, Influenza, Measles, Chicken Pox and other illnesses from across the sea. This wasn’t exactly the Colonist’s fault however. Back then, little was known about how diseases spread, how they were transmitted or what they really were. 

The colonists were prepared for the illnesses they carried. Back in Europe they had doctors, scientists and medicines that helped them fight off the sicknesses they knew of. In fact, many of these diseases were common in their homeland. Children often acquired chicken pox at an early age. Even the flu was common. But all of this was new for the Indians. They didn’t know about airborne illnesses, germs or the immune system. 

The Indians believed there were many spirit forces, some were good and some were bad. When sicknesses arose, they thought they may have angered the spirits in some way. They figured the arrival of the colonists upset the spirit beings and these new diseases were punishment for it. They went to war to exorcise the disease from among them. The colonists had the medicine to cure or manage these illnesses and they could have helped the Indians by giving them medical aid. Many children and elders of the Natives died as a result of these outbreaks.

The loss of thousands of children and older ones had devastating effects on Indian tribes. Older ones possessed knowledge of history, medicine and traditions. When they died, all of that knowledge was lost and could no longer be taught to the new generation. Without it, people started to lose parts of their Native identity. The loss of children was equally devastating. In all races, children represent the hopes and dreams of the future and that the ways of the Indians would live on through themThe more children died, the more those hopes died. Men and women who had already lost their parents now had to try and cope with the loss of their beloved children. 

With the arrival of guns and the rise of the fur trade, the colonists increased their hunting activities. They hunted beavers in excess. Beaver fur was very valuable and very useful. Sadly, the overhunting led to beavers becoming extinct in some areas. Without the beavers, the ponds they created dried up. Beaver ponds created excellent water sources for fish, deer and other animals. Indians relied on these ponds as a food source.  When the ponds disappeared, the animals that came to them had to go elsewhere for water. This greatly decreased the Indians’ food source since they relied on these animals to feed their families. 

Views of land usage and distribution created more tension between the Settlers and the Natives. Native Americans viewed the land as a group resource that should be shared with everyone and not owned separately by individuals.  The Europeans changed this as well. They put up fences to section off land for farms and houses. Now rivers, meadows, hunting grounds and other key areas were screened off from the Natives. The Natives often moved around an area due to seasonal changes. Now they would be stuck wherever the Europeans left them at. 

Hardships did not stop there. The colonist also brought their own religious views to North and South America. Catholic, Protestants and other “Christian” religions attempted to convert the Indians and change their entire way of life. These religious groups were not tactful or Christ-like in the majority of their methods. One example of such unscriptural behavior, and the results of it, is the Whitman Massacre of 1847. The Cayuse tribe accused the missionaries of poisoning them with European diseases. 

Their arguments become more solid when they noticed the Missionary children weren’t dying from the diseases like the Native children. Another factor that fueled hatred for the mission group was their attitude and treatment of the Cayuse. The missionaries made no attempt to truly teach the Cayuse. They forced them to accept the gospel instead of helping them understand it. It should have been clear that the Cayuse wanted to keep their own traditions. Regardless, the Whitmans and their group kept forcing their teachings and spoke unkindly both about and to the Cayuse. Narcissa in particular was recorded as having a repugnant attitude toward the Cayuse.

These and other behaviors were in no way ChristianThis can be said because Jesus didn’t act this way toward people he preached to. If people refused his message, he let it go and simply moved on to another place. If they showed a burning hate toward him, he left even quicker (Luke 4:28-30)Also he said we must love Jehovah God completely. (Matthew 22:37) No one can love God completely if they are forced to do so rather than taught why they should do so. Sadly, the tactless determination of many religious groups back then has turned manyNative Americans away from the bible today. I have met many Native Americans who have respect for the Bible, but they do not want to be forced to accept things they don’t understand. 

Today there are still more challenges that Native Americans face. In one area of North Dakota, an oil company wanted to build pipes lines through some of the Native tribe’s land to move oil to other places. They feared the pipes would break and the land would be soiled with oil. However, the company disregarded the Native’s legitimate concerns and built the pipe line anyway

Later on, protests broke out and people from outside were not allowed to enter. To the dismay of many, the Dakota Access Pipe Line was built anyway. Although no major leaks have happened, having an oil pipe so close to crops and rivers cannot be a comforting thought for the Natives. As in the past, the Indians concerns were overlooked. 

?Today, Native Americans as a whole have the highest suicide rates of an ethnic/racial group in the US. The over use of alcohol contributes to other problems such as high rates of drug abuse, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and suicide. The Center for Disease Control (CDC) found that alcohol abuse rates were higher on reservations that are in remote areas. Often times, locals in these areas aren’t fully aware of the dangers overdrinking will cause.

There are several prejudice views that distort the facts on this matter. People tend to think that Native Americans’ metabolism processes alcohol much slower than other ethnic groups. Studies that support this view are only taking data from reservations or from Traditional Indian lands. But this only accounts for one-third of the U.S Native population. These studies are inconclusive because the data is only taken from observing a small portion of the Native population. 

Native Americans did make and consume alcohol before colonization of the Americas. But the alcohol was weak and usually only used for ceremonial purposes. There was no real need for strong alcohols and this left Natives a little naïve to the damage it could cause. When the Colonists traded their strong alcohol for skins and other goods, the Natives weren’t given much time to adjust. Colonists didn’t help the matter because they continued to give Natives strong alcohol and didn’t warn them of its effects

The difference in adolescent drinkers and adult drinkers is different in each tribe. Studies in 1992 showed that Native youths who live on reservations drink more than Native youths that do not. But overall, the rate of youths who drink is surprisingly even despite the tribe they belong to. This is not very good news because the youths tend to drink in excess and this had more devastating consequences. This contributes to suicide and crashes from drunk driving. 

Native youths are not the only one affected though. The Indian Health Service (IHS)reported that in 1980, nearly twice as many Native men between the ages of 45 and 65 died from alcohol-related causes than women did. The IHS also reported that Chronic liver disease and Cirrhosis were 3 times more prevalent in Native populations than they were in the rest of the American population. Fatal car crashes caused by drunk driving were three times more prevalent while suicide and homicide due to over drinking showed a 1.4 and 2.4 percent more increase when compared with Non-Native populations in America.

In a more recent study that focused on Native American youths showed more surprising and disheartening facts. The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) surveyed 33 schools on or near reservations in 11 states from 2009-2012. Between those years, 56.2% of 8th grade Native American students and 61.4% of 10th grade Native American students had used marijuana. These students’ annual Heroin and OxyContin was more than two times higher than average during those three years of survey. The survey also showed that Native American students were taking drugs and alcohol earlier than their non-native peers. The survey noted that 12th graders greatly decreased their alcohol usage but increased their drug usage.

The Indians had many things to worry about before the Colonization of their land. They worried about food, animals, disease, land, spirit forces and family life. But when Colonists invaded and changed their ways of life, these concerns were not taken into account. Today, Native Americans are still treated with disrespect, forced onto reservations and not treated fairly by the masses. Issues with health, alcohol, drugs and stereotypes do not help the situation. It cannot be said that the Colonization should never have happened, but it certainly didn’t have to happen the way it did. It can be said, however, that Native Americans enjoyed better freedom, health and cultural life before the arrival of colonists and that their arrival has mostly left painful scars in the history of America’s first people.

Work Cited

?NCPedia “American Indians at European Contact” Tar Heel Junior Historianwww.ncpedia.org

OER Services US History Collection “The Impact of Colonization” www.lumenlearning.com

?Ojibwa, Native American Netroots “American Indians and European Diseases” December 28, 2009 www.nativeamericannetroots.net

First hand conversations with Natives on the Cannonball Indian Reserve in August 2016

PBS, ©2001THE WEST FILM PROJECT and WETA CREDITS “The West – People – Marcus and Narcissa Whitman” www.pbs.org

Spokane Public Schools “A First-hand account of the Whitman massacre, as told through the eyes of 10 year-old orphan Elizabeth Sager” www.spokaneschools.org

The Colonial Williamsburg Foundation “Experience The Life: Family: The Native-American Family” www.history.org

An American Addiction Center Resource “Native Alaskans Alcohol Use Statistics”, “Race Demographics Statistics on Alcoholism & Treatment”, “Alcohol Abuse Treatment for Native Americans” www.alcohol.org

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