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Native Americans and European Colonists

By Sillygilley1 Apr 02, 2013 904 Words
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, sacred blue and white shell beads, in exchange from the settlers. “Exchange is meant not only the trading of material goods but also exchanges across community lines of marriage partners, resources, labor, ideas, techniques and religious practices.” Natives generously shared their belongings, supplies, food, and the skills necessary for survival in the New World with the settlers. In exchange, settlers gave Natives disease, death and robbed them of their lands.

Within ten years of the first arrival of European settlers, the Natives' welcome had worn out. The settlers had appeared on the scene with two objectives in mind in regards to the Native Americans: obtain their land and convert them to Christianity. Europeans judged natives for their different language, their lack of clothing, and the absence of government and religion in their society. The Europeans established their own set of laws on native soil and held natives accountable to these laws. Any breach of European law by Natives residing in the area resulted in public humiliation, a practice unfamiliar to Native society.

More complications accumulated due to their vast differences in language, religion and culture, but it was the differing views of land, that caused violent conflict. With more and more Europeans arriving in America, they needed more land to settle and grow crops. Also, at this time, the demand of tobacco was greatly increasing. The tobacco industry amounted for most of the settlers’ exports. To grow tobacco, settlers needed large plots of land. In the Native American’s eyes, the land was to be shared with the European. Natives had no understanding of the selling of land to European settlers. Europeans used this to their advantage, acquiring large plots of land without fully explaining the terms of the negotiation to the natives, or properly paying them. At first, natives sold land to Europeans, believing that this agreement would still allow them to use the land.  Later, they realized that Europeans were rapidly establishing private uses on these lands. Colonists strongly objected to native settlements on the lands that they hoped to establish businesses on.

Many more problems arose since the arrival of Europeans in America. Europeans introduced a variety of deadly diseases to North America that Native Americans had never been exposed to before. 

The colonists and explorers brought measles, smallpox, cholera, and yellow fever, which drastically devastating the Native American population. “The collected wisdom of generations could vanish in a matter of days if sickness struck older members of the community who kept sacred traditions and taught special skills.” Not only did the natives fear for their own lives, they feared for the future generations of native people. They feared that their traditions and culture would be forever lost.

 The relationship between Native Americans and Europeans began as a way for Europeans to learn about the lands they wished to inhabit. Natives can be given credit for teaching the first settlers how to survive in the new land. Due to the greed and arrogance of the European settlers, relations with natives turned sour. This struggle of co-existence would continue into the nineteenth century, resulting in the devastating mistreatment of Native Americans.

[ 1 ]. James H. Marrell, “The Indians New World,” Major Problems in American History, (Boston: Wadsworth Cengage Learning, 2012), 17. [ 2 ]. Samuel de Champlain, The Works of Samuel de Champlain (Toronto, 1925), 89–101. [ 3 ]. Neal Salisbury, “The Indians Old World,” Major Problems in American History, (Boston: Wadsworth Cengage Learning, 2012), 25. [ 4 ]. Collin G. Calloway, “Voices from the Shore,” The World Turned Upside Down, (Boston: Bedford/St. Martin’s, 1994), 21. [ 5 ]. Marrell, “The Indians New World,” 18.

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