Long before Christopher Columbus’ historic voyage to the New World, ancestors of modern Native Americans inhabited our country. Yet, today, these indigenous dwellers are a minority, therefore, I have decided to research Native Americans, from their interaction with a European explorer to present day.
In 1492, as Christopher Columbus first met native people, Columbus believed these unclad savages could easily be easily manipulated, made to work, do whatever might be needed, while taught to wear clothes and adopt European ways. Fifty years later, New World Spanish colonies imposed “New Laws” giving settlers the right to Indian slave labor. Native Americans befriended the settlers in Jamestown and Plymouth colonies and were eventually exterminated by the colonists and infected from their European diseases, smallpox, cholera, and measles.
The relationship between Native Americans and settlers were “a clash of cultures”, with different views on their land, religion, law and order, and society. European settlers practiced Christian faiths, many coming to the New World to escape religious persecution, yet the religious beliefs of the indigenous natives were considered uncivilized. Native Americans believed the landscape, animals, plants, and other environmental elements played major roles in their religious beliefs along with practices, ceremonies, and traditions enhanced by taking certain hallucinogens to gain greater insight or communicate with the gods.
Native Americans believed white settlers were “devils” who ruined the earth and white settlers believed that the Native Americans were inferior. Many white Americans believed in manifest destiny. They believed that white American people were destined to occupy and govern all the territories of North America and to take over the Plains. They took the land that Native Americans believed belonged to everyone (MRG, 2017).
Injustice to Native Americans continued with the Scalp Act, 1756, when war was declared on the Shawnee Indians, with a bounty on the scalps of Indian men, women, and boys. The first Indian reservation in North America was established in 1758. The egregious treatment of Native Americas continued, the 1830 Indian Removal Act, with the removal of tribes in the east to lands west of the Mississippi. A deadly disease pandemic, in 1835, affecting Great Plains Indians, occurred when Anglo-European settlers began moving westward. The 1838 brutal Trail of Tears, when President Jackson sent federal troops to forcibly remove almost 16,000 Cherokee who had refused to move westward; American soldiers forced most into camps where they remained imprisoned throughout the summer; 1,500 Native Americans died, and the remainder began an 800-mile forced march (Timetoast, 2007).
In, 1866 the Civil Rights Bill, gave equal rights to all persons born in the U.S., except Indians! Ironically, in 1917, when the United States entered World War I, several thousand Choctaw Native Americans enlisted in the armed forces to fight the Central Powers, although Native Americans had not been granted citizenship. However, some progress was made in 1924 with the passing of the Indian Citizenship Act, extending citizenship and voting rights to all American Indians, the original inhabitants of the United States. Again, when the United States entered World War II, a World War I veteran, living on a Navajo reservation, knew of the military’s search for a code that would withstand all attempts to decipher. Navajo language answered the military requirement for an undecipherable code; Navajo is an unwritten language, extremely complex with dialects, unintelligible to anyone without extensive exposure and training. Navajo has no alphabet or symbols and is spoken only on the Navajo lands of the American Southwest, the Navajo Code-Talkers came into existence and 540 Navajos served as Marines and their code was never cracked by the enemy (Naval History and Heritage, 2015). Although the federal government made some attempts to focus on the poverty, poor health, and despair that characterized many Indian communities, there was minimal change, Native Americans were visible but basically ignored.
Sadly, immigration that created the United States manifested in making the indigenous population an “inferior” culture in their own land, while committing atrocities in the name of “progress”; that is until 1979 when the Seminole Tribe of Florida became the first tribe to enter the bingo gaming industry. Their endeavors encouraged other tribes to begin gaming enterprises on reservations, as a step towards greater economic self-sufficiency. Now Indian Gaming is a 100-billion-dollar industry not including gas/oil revenues and leases from fracking on tribal lands. These economic developments have allowed tribes to once again find true self-respect, self-determination, and economic self-sufficiency while enhancing their communities and preserving their cultures after many years of poverty and high unemployment (SD Metro, 2013). Unfortunately, this took 400 plus years to attain.