Updated: Jun 14, 2021
Notice that the end of this title is a hard period, not a question mark. There is no question as to what happened to the indigenous population of America, only smokescreens and withheld information to soften the subject. Because this website is a "homesteading" directed journal, I feel that it is highly important for me to speak on the history of America in relation.
Today, there are about 1,000,000 people who claim Native American descent in the US. I can't speak for them, but I want to help others understand some truths on their behalf. If you are part of a Native American tribe, I would love to have a dialogue with you; please reach out to me.
The full history, with all of its ins and outs could comprise an entire encyclopedia compendium, so I will give a mere watered down version, though important nonetheless. If you are interested in more, I encourage you to do some of your own research. There is countless pieces of American history to be intrigued by. For example, the Native Americans once met and traded pleasantly with vikings! (There are rune stones in Utah!)
Before I go off on a wild tangent, I want to get to the facts.
Let me begin by saying that I am not an apologist, nor a self loathing white man, I am simply someone who cares deeply for all human rights, and has an extreme respect for history. While we cannot change what we have done in the past, we can become better people because of it, or in this case, in spite of.
Upon introduction, the Native American people were immediately known as "savage" by the European settlers of the 16th centuries and beyond. Labeled as such because instead of placing value on monetary things, clothes, gold, furniture, and other such lavishness, the indigenous people placed their value on nature, the processes of the universe and the spirits that imbue them. They survived just fine with this set of morals. Of course there were minor territory and material disputes amongst tribes, as there always are in a society. But for the most part, the Native Americans comprised a peaceful and communal nation.
By the time that European explorers reached the "New World", populations of the indigenous people are estimated to have been over 100 million strong! Yes, you read that correctly. There has been found evidence of immense populations in the Ohio River Valley and all along the banks of the Mississippi. The West Coast and Rocky Mountains were home to major civilized population centers.
So what happened to all the Native Americans? I'll spare the gruesome details, but I must speak on this subject.
Because the Native Americans were seen as "savage", they were viewed as less-than-people and treated as such. From the moment 15th century explorers arrived on their continent, Native American culture was both indirectly and purposefully destroyed. The indigenous people were infected with disease from foreign countries, as well as kidnapped and forced into slavery. In many cases they were outright murdered in a genocidal fashion. The cause for this is the same that of many great tragedies, greed, entitlement, and ignorance.
The story goes, when the founding fathers arrived on Plymouth Rock, they were welcomed by the Native people inhabiting the area with wide and open arms. The "Indians" even prepared a feast with all sorts of amazing fruits and vegetables. Unknown to the English speakers, this was the entire year's harvest.
Misunderstanding the Native Americans intentions, the famished settlers proceeded to eat it. All of it. This is the basis of Thanksgiving, which I find it a highly ironic one. Soon the Native Americans in the area became famished themselves and had to leave the coast in search of new cultivatable land. This left most of the East Coast open for the British refugees to make camp, establish cities, and begin forming a new country of their own. This was the beginning of a pattern that would ultimately destroy the Native American life style as it existed.
Soon after the Constitution was signed and Independence was declared, the people of the U.S. Colonies outgrew their areas and townships. They were urged by the government to travel and settle cross-continent, as part of their "Manifest Destiny".
As if America was a vast and uninhabited land!
For a while, white people did try to live with the Native Americans. But of course they had the guns which gave them the power to force coexistence in the first place. As the American economy grew, however, more was needed from the land. The New Americans began consuming more, and more. This started to become a problem for many Native Americans, who were restricted from hunting in their traditional lands, fishing in their traditional ponds, gathering plants in their traditional forests.
Their people were instructed by law which very specific areas they could stay in, and of course these got smaller as time progressed, and the white population grew. When some tribes fought back, this provided all the justification the American government needed to issue offensive rights to help protect their people. Pioneers were even encouraged to slaughter all the buffalo, known to be the staple food source of native populations!
When silver and gold were struck in the state of California, thousands of people fled across the country to "stake their claim". What ensued was the greatest unrecorded genocide in world history. Millions of people were ruthlessly slaughtered and captured, sold to be slaves or worse. It did not matter that these people had been preserving and cultivating these lands for millennia, what mattered was the price of gold nuggets!
Any time there was a newly discovered commodity, the reservations in the area would be uprooted and moved, or forcefully "removed" if it was easier. So this devastation continued for some time in all parts of the United States. (Look up 'The Trail of Tears'.) That is why so many tribes became nomads on the plains, wandering the previously uninhabited Great American Desert. The tipis that you undoubtably learned were so integral in Native American culture were simply a new necessity for survival, and a credit to the ingenuity of the indigenous people.
Then came the "Homestead Act" of 1862, the reason I write this article.
Simply put, it was a federally mandated piece of legislature constructed to help stimulate the economy and provide more opportunity for its people. All American citizens. Even freed black slaves were encouraged to seek a new start in the unknown Great West!
Families were encouraged to pack up all their belongings, hit the "open" trails and find a generous sized (160 acres!) piece of "property" that was to their liking. If they could prove that they could cultivate and survive on the land chosen for five years, it became theirs. What a dream scenario!
This sent thousands of settlers to all corners of the country in search of their paradise. The dream of the homesteader turned into a nightmare for others, as most of these corners were the only places Native Americans were allowed to live. Being that the indigenous population had no access to guns or ammo, they were seriously outmatched. Many times, tribes were raided and murdered in the middle of the night to allow a family of pioneers to settle. After months of travel and near death themselves, the homesteaders would stop at nothing to make their journey come to a fruitful end.
This is what happened to the Native Americans.
Over the course of thousands of years, the tribes of America had gained an immense grasp on all of the truly important concepts in life. How to heal the sick, how to establish community, how to give back more than you take, and even how to celebrate and give true thanks.
Unfortunately due to the ruthless and careless destruction of such people, most of this ancient wisdom and knowledge has been lost. As a means of retribution, tribal leaders even swore oaths to each other to withhold their ancestral secrets instead of sharing any of these important practices with the settlers. This is understandable.
I write this article as a modern day homesteader, who will never murder people or steal property. Sadly this is something that I feel indirectly responsible for, despite my ancestors not yet arriving in America until the late 19th century!
Nevertheless. I believe it is the responsibility of every person to know their own history and to learn everything they can from it. Because of the immense tragedy and destruction that the American settlers caused, it is now our duty to embody the honor of the noble Native American. It is vital to restore the sanctity of nature and learn to respect the very real spirits all around us. If we do not heed the lessons of our history then Mother Earth may end up having the last laugh.