Native Americans and European Colonists

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Risky Relations: A closer look at the relationships between Native Americans and European settlers during the seventeenth century

At the start of the seventeenth century, Native Americans greeted European settlers with much excitement. They regarded settlers as strange, but were interested to learn about the new tools and weapons Europeans brought with them. The native people were more than accommodating to the settlers, but as time passed, Europeans took advantage of their generosity. “Once these newcomers disembarked and began to feel their way across the continent, they forever altered the course and pace of native development.” Native Americans and Europeans faced many conflicts due to their vast differences in language, religion and culture. European settlers’ inability to understand and respect Native Americans lead to many struggles that would eventually erupt into violent warfare.

Many natives thought the armed Europeans would be able to protect them from their more powerful native enemies. In many cases, Europeans did help natives in warfare. Samuel de Champlain, a critical figure in the establishment of the New France colony, aided the Montganais, Algonkaian and Hurons in their fight against the Iroquois. Champlain and his tribes used European firearms to frighten and defeat their enemies. “The Iroquois were much astonished that two men should have been killed so quickly, although they were provided with shields made of cotton thread woven together and wood, which were proof against their arrows.” In decades to come, Europeans were not be so friendly toward Native Americans, using firearms to take native lands and resources.

Native Americans relied on “gift exchange” system that allowed different tribes to specialize in the production of a certain goods. They would trade their goods with other native tribes. Native Americans hoped to incorporate Europeans into this system. For a while, natives did trade skins and hides, receiving wampum,...
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