Understanding Native Americans in History

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Within present-day U.S. boundaries, Native Americans including the aboriginal peoples of Hawaii and Alaska are comprised of many distinct ethnic groups and tribes, which survive like integral political communities. In 1783, the U.S. was a newfangled country with about three million people mostly living along Atlantic seaboard. The term referring to them is rather controversial. According to 1995 American Census Bureau, most Native Americans prefer the term ‘Indians’ or ‘American Indians’. While this term has gained currency with some major newspapers and academic groups, it leaves out Native Hawaiians as well as particular Alaskan Natives like Inuit and Yupik peoples. Native Americans who were around 600,000 people controlled lands in Western Appalachian Mountains (Gunther, 2006).

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Discussion of Native Americans

This essay will provide a succinct discussion of Native Americans as well as related developments that mark the period of time from 1865 to date. The paper will be based on eight scholarly sources with two major primary sources. It will trace the history of Native Americans and their indigenous cultures. Additionally, this essay will examine the impacts of European colonization and exploration on Native Americans. It will then delve into Metacom’s War, American Revolution, and freedom foundations. Further, this paper will seek to analyze the 1871 Indian Appropriation Act, the Second World War, and Native Americans’ quest for self-determination as well as their current legal status and contemporary issues.

Most matrilineal Native Americans were hunters and gatherers. At the turn of the 15th century, European migration to America bred conflict and cultural adjustments between New and Old World societies. European immigrants were Christian and proto-industrial. The cultural differences between immigrant Europeans and Native Americans caused extensive ethnic violence, political tension, and social disruption (Rossi, 2004). However, after colonies resisted the Great Britain and established the U.S., the idea of civilizing Native Americans was conceived with the intent of assimilating them into U.S. citizens. The manifest destiny ideology was integrated into U.S. national movement. After the American Revolution, European-American populations moved towards the west piling pressure on lands owned by Native Americans.

The Indian Removal Act Policy

The U.S. Congress in 1830 passed Indian Removal Act that sought to relocate Native Americans to lands in western Mississippi River to accommodate European-American expansion. U.S. agents sought to encourage Native Americans to adopt the European farming style as well as similar pursuits. In 1924, Congress granted those Native Americans who had no U.S. citizenship (Thomas, Ballantine, & Ballantine, 1993). All this began after 1492 when European colonization and exploration of Americas revolutionized the New and Old Worlds perception of themselves. From the 16th to the 19th century, population of Indians declined sharply due to epidemic diseases through biological warfare. Moreover, King Phillip died because of the Metacom’s War in 1675, the armed conflict that pitted English colonists against Native Americans. Some Europeans consider Native American communities as being representatives of the Golden Age (Georgakas, 1973).

The American Revolution saw a competition between the British and the U.S. for Native American nations in eastern Mississippi River. Many Native Americans supported the British due to their trading interests and the hope that such a defeat would halt further expansion onto their land. The Paris Treaty of 1783 saw the British making peace with Americans to further cede Native American territories to the U.S. without consulting or informing Native Americans. In the 18th century, Henry Knox and George Washington designed a policy to civilize Native Americans after the American Revolution (Smith, 2005). The 1851 Indian Appropriation Act bolstered Native Americans position where the Congress sought to allocate funds towards western tribes into reservations because relocation lands were not available (Powell, 2005).

The Indian Removal Act policy initiated by President Jackson led to relocation of many Native Americans. Cherokee were recognized as American citizens in 1817. The 1866 Civil Rights Act excluded untaxed Indians as U.S. citizens. However, it was the rider added by the Congress in 1871 to Indian Appropriation Act that ended U.S. recognition of extra Native American tribes. It proscribed additional treaties and recognition of additional independent nations. At the turn of the 19th century, the U.S. authorities attempted to acculturate children of Native Americans to the generic society and established boarding schools. The children were taught Christianity, were forbidden from speaking native languages and practicing native religions. Education was considered important for Native Americans’ self-determination. In 1924, President Coolidge signed Indian Citizenship Act recognizing every Native American born within the U.S. as well as its territories as American citizen (Conn, 2004).

Today, the rights of Native Americans are guaranteed by the Constitution. They can vote and run for political offices. The controversies only surround federal government’s jurisdiction over cultural practices, sovereignty, and tribal affairs. The 1956 Indian Relocation Act and Indian termination policy sought to assimilate Native Americans into some urban life. During the Second World War, many Native Americans participated. This international conflict was a major turning point for Native Americans’ history. Urban residency and military service heightened Native American political and spiritual activism. In the mid-1970s, there were conflicts between Native Americans and governments resulting into violence (Takaki, 1993).


In conclusion, while most American federal governments claim recognition of Native Americans’ sovereignty, the U.S. wishes to have governance over Native Americans and treat them according to the U.S. law. Their land is also held in trust by the U.S. government. Native Americans continue to struggle amid poverty. Native Americans suffer disproportionate disease rates with low health status compared to other Americans. Within the broader community, Native Americans continue to face inequality, mistreatment, and prejudice.