Native Americans are part of the history as well as the present life of America. They are known by a vast group of names but mainly as American Indians, Aboriginal or Red Indians. The Native Americans were the first settlers in America. They initially occupied the vast pieces of land extending north of Mexico. Their arrival in this territory is approximated back to around three thousand years ago when the first Native American crossed to Alaska through a land bridge. They include: Lenape, Sandia, Clovis, Folsom, Iroquois, Cherokees, Chickamauga, and other native tribes.
Their territory included the current United States and extended all the way to Alaska. After the declaration of independence, they remained sidelined by the American government and were only given citizenship in 1924. Christopher Columbus who mistakenly thought that they originated from Asia labeled them as Indians. Today they are scattered allover the United States although they still maintain their unique political systems. Although they have relocated to most parts of the US, they are mainly found in California, Oklahoma, Dakota and Arizona. They form a large chunk of America’s minority communities. The have intermarried with most of the American communities and today, more than half of the American population have Native American roots (Hirschfelder, 2000).
Initially, they welcomed the settling of the more civilized Europeans due to the technological advances which the settlers brought to the community. This welcome was short-lived and intense wrangles began between the two communities, over the different ways of life. These European communities which included the Spanish, the French and the British accessed the American continent at relatively the same time as each sought to increase territory for its inhabitants. They were also competing to establish military bases in different regions all over the world for their trade benefits.
England, through the battle at Trafalgar, conquered the war over the other two empires and was able to establish itself as the most powerful empire in the region controlling trade over the next century. Due to this the Englishmen migrated to America in large numbers and brought in slaves from different regions (Reynoldson, 2000).
The British claimed land ownership over the expanses of land which were originally owned by the pastoralist Native Americans who had no interest in claiming individual land ownership. In the past this community was mainly involved in farming and hunting. After the introduction of horses to their community by the explorers from Europe, they quickly adapted this new practice. The horses allowed them quicker and better means of travel and as a result they were able to increase their territories through increase of trade, transportation and most importantly for warfare. To date they are still associated with the practice of horse rearing and domestication (Hirschfelder, 2000).
The exploration of European sailors in to the territory of the Native Americans was catastrophic to these conservative communities. They were massively displaced from their homelands and were massacred by the Europeans. The Native Americans were uncivilized and had not yet advanced medically. They were not practicing immunization. When the Europeans settled in to their land, they brought along all manners of diseases from Europe including chicken pox and the deadly measles and smallpox. Without vaccination, the Natives died in large numbers. This led to reduced populations and a smaller population which was easier to capture. Historians have dated back the small pox epidemics that destroyed whole communities of Native Americans back to the 17th century. There population remained dwindling throughout the 18th century until the federal government addressed the issue and established a vaccination program against smallpox that was geared specifically towards the Native Americans.
The civil war brought the declaration of independence by the Americans and this brought an end to the British reign. After the British sought peace with the now United States, they handed over the land of native Americans to the United States. All this was done without the consultation of the Native Americans. This brought a feeling of betrayal to the Native Americans who had supported the British and the Americans now viewed them as a burden and more so as landless (Reynoldson, 2000)
Many of the Native Americans gave up the conquest and migrated to Canada although a small number was left in their land. They were relocated and restricted to smaller territories after the declaration of independence by America. During the civil war, these groups supported the British and as a result after America got her independence, the territory which they had previously occupied was taken away. In a bid for America to form an empire that was as powerful as their colonial masters they attempted to civilize the Native Americans so as to assimilate them in the rest of the American society. These attempts were met with a widened expansion of revolts by the natives (Georgakas, 1999)
North America was claimed from the Native Americans by the Europeans who gave it to the Americans. This has given rise to some of the most intensive debates of time with the Native American communities claiming the need to be compensated for the lands that were stolen from them. These differences in the ways of life contributed to the increasing feuds between the two communities over the next century. The major feud of the time was the Indian war which led to the Indian removal act being decreed by the then president of the United States, Andrew Jackson. The Native Americans were however outnumbered and at a disadvantage due to their poor weapons and the unwillingness of the different tribes to unite and fight the enemy as one. The wars culminated in the historical massacre that took place in South Dakota when the US army killed thousands of the Native Americans in an attempt to quell their retaliation.
The Native Americans were and still are a conservative community. They had a central leading body that was comprised of old tribal chiefs. It was a government on its own and after citizenship the insisted on maintaining this system. There has been varied disharmony between the American federal government and the recognized tribal governments over the power that each holds. The majority of the Native Americans feel that they were cheated out of their lands and real freedom that arose from authentic self governance. To date there are five hundred and sixty one Native American tribal governments which are recognized by the federal government. Their sovereignty is however questionable. In writing, these governments possess the rights to form their own government and enforce the relevant legislation. However this is limited and no such government has the right to declare war on another or coin their own currency.
During these revolts, the first two presidents of the United States entered into negotiations with the Iroquois. During the war the Iroquois who were mainly supporting the British were involved in intensive warfare with the Americans. In one of these referred to as the Sullivan expedition, the American soldiers are said to have destroyed more than forty villages occupied by the Iroquois in a bid to quell the attacks they were subjecting the Americans to. This rejuvenated a vigorous tenacity for revenge on the white Americans and the war continued. Tecumseh who was a Native American tried to form a combined force of all the Native American tribes against the United States. Geronimo was also a popular leader of the Apache who defended the territory of the Native Americans for more than twenty years against the expansion by the United States. This forced the United States to enter into conflict resolving treaties with the Native American communities (Georgakas, 1999)
Most of these treaties were not upheld by the US government and they were the onset of much bigger conflicts. The subsequent consequences were annihilations by the Americans soldiers who openly viewed the Native Americans as nothing more than savages (Georgakas, 1999).
The new government of United States was mandated to seek more land for its rapidly growing population and in a bid to increase territory, approached the Native Americans who had been left behind and sold the previously owned land, putting up a reservation for them near Syracuse (Georgakas, 1973). The only way to conduct this expansion was through invading the Native American land. The first attempts of expansion to the west were by annexation of Oregon, Texas and Mexico. Under President Jackson’s reign the Indian removal act was introduced and put into effect. It culminated in the physical relocation of thousands of Native Americans from their land into what looked like smaller expansions of land. Though this was supposed to be voluntary the Indian chiefs and their people were constantly dehumanized and intimidated into signing these treaties (Reynoldson, 2000).
The American leaders had mixed feelings about the Native Americans. George Washington for example believed that though the Native American community was equal to the white community in terms of hierarchy the Native Americans were inferior. To this regard the then president implemented a strategy to civilize the Native American community by promoting their trade efforts, encouraging experiments geared towards civilizing them, giving the community rewards in an effort to encourage them and controlling the sale of their lands. All these efforts were being done so that they would finally integrate in the big American family. White Americans like Benjamin Hawkins were employed by the state to live among this uncivilized community and orient them to the cultured ways of the white Americans.
The disdain and disregard of the American people to the Native Americans way of life was evident in the Allotment Act of 1887. A major attempt involved teaching the children how to read and write in the hope that eventually a civilized community would be created. The government allocated funds to support these attempts and would often sponsor these children in to specially run Native American boarding schools. These were run by Christian missionaries. The uprooting of the children from the rigid and highly conservative tribe life into these institutions where all other forms of religion apart from Christianity were banned was often against the benefit of the Native American’s children (Georgakas, 1973).
Citizenship was not granted to all Native Americans until in1924 when the remaining Native Americans were given full citizen ship. Prior to this under article fourteen of the Dancing Rabbit Creek treaty, a native American would be granted citizenship only if he registered and lived on the specifically designated land for five consecutive years or more. Minor children and all the Native Americans who had served in the American army were also given full citizenship. The Native Americans who successfully converted and adapted civilized ways would also be given full citizenship (Hirschfelder, 2000).
In the nineteenth century, the rapid expansion of the US territory into Native American land continued, pushing and restricting the Native Americans into small peaces of land. The Treaty of New Echota was put into effect during this period. It was signed by a group of Cherokees who were not the legitimate leaders. More than four thousand Cherokees were brutally killed in a revolt and the remaining group was relocated forcefully (Hirschfelder, 2000).
The World War II saw the United States struggle due to a short supply of soldiers. More than forty thousand Native Americans were drafted into the US military. The main role was for combat although they also offered the US army a code which was used in the war and was never compromised to the Japanese since their language was relatively new and unexpected. This increased the contact of the Native Americans to the outside world and their lifestyles which began being influenced by the ways of the people outside the reservations rapidly changed.
The communities of Native Americans have been in rapid protests with the US government over the past years. This has mainly been as a result of territorial claims and claims of wealth stolen by the US government that belonged to the Native Americans including coal and other minerals like uranium (Reynoldson, 2000). The US government which claims to recognize the sovereignty of the Native Americans governments has established a ministry called the bureau of Indian affairs which is restricted to handle the matters which arise from Native American communities (Georgakas, 1999).This institution holds the reservations in trust and a lot of protests by the native communities have been in a bid to revoke this.
Even today the Native American communities are still in wrangles with the US government which refuses to recognize some of the tribes that have come up. In order to be granted the federal recognition and the benefits, the federal government requires these tribes to prove their continuous existence prior to the twentieth century. This has locked out most Native American communities in states like Virginia (Hirschfelder, 2000).
The injustices committed to the Native Americans seem to have created a rift between them and the rest of the American society in all avenues of life. In addition to the historical injustices which have kept them behind the rest of the American society, to date the community remains threatened in their rights to religion and territory though they live in one of the best democracies. There is yet to be found a solution that will place them at par with the American society and try to alleviate the gross atrocities they suffered as a community.
In an effort to reconcile them to the rest of the American society, in 2004, the American congress introduced legislation to apologize to the Native Americans for the disregard of life and myriad atrocities that were performed by the government of the time. Today Native Americans are the most economically impoverished of all ethnic groups in America. The only source of their revenues is through community established gambling. Less than half of the communities have succeeded in establishing casinos (Reynoldson, 2000).
Native American communities have the highest rates of teen suicides, the lowest per capita income and the highest rates of teenage pregnancy. There is need for more efforts by the federal government to assist these Native American governments. In a complaint made by their community leaders, Native Americans complained that their health systems and the education sector were under funded by the federal government. There is also a need for the different tribal chiefs to encourage the rest of the Native American community to appreciate the efforts that are being done by the entire American community to resolve these differences. They should work at integrating with the rest of the society so as to reap the benefits of globalization. The Native American community needs to forge forward and integrate in the rest of the community so as to be able to capture the opportunities that are open to the rest of the American society.
Arlene B. Hirschfelder. (2000). Native Americans. New York: Dorling Kindersley Pub.
Fiona Reynoldson. (2000).Living Through History: The Indigenous Peoples of North America. Oxford: Heinemann publishers.
Dan Georgakas. (1973). Red Shadows: The History of Native Americans from 1600 to 1900, from the Desert to the Pacific Coast. New Plymouth: Zenith Books
Dan Georgakas. (1999).The Broken Hoop: The History of Native Americans from 1600 to 1890, from the Atlantic Coast to the Plains. New Plymouth: Zenith Books.