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Assimilation Not Elimination-Part Three

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Let us go back to the beginning. Why was there a need in the minds of some folk for assimilation? Assimilation was but one phase in the relationship between Europeans and American Indians. The American Indians first encountered by Columbus in 1492 were the Taino [Arawaks] numbering between 250 thousand and one million in Puerto Rico, the Dominican Republic, Cuba and Haiti. It is estimated that only about 500 survived by 1550 and that they were extinct by the year 1650. Europeans brought diseases such as chicken pox, measles and smallpox against which American Indians had no immunity. The result was that up to 80 percent of some American Indians may have died due to European diseases.

Colonization was another phase in the relationship. The early attempts at establishing colonies had mixed results. During these efforts horses were reintroduced to the Americas with the result that some escaped and began to increase their numbers in the wild. Captured by American Indians, they made it possible for some tribes to travel widely, expand trade with other tribes and more easily hunt game such as Bison. It wasn't until 1607 in Jamestown, Virginia that the first permanent English colony was established. In the meantime, several unsuccessful attempts at colonization were undertaken by the Spanish. Encounters with the Hopi, Zuni and several other groups in Florida, Texas, Arizona, New Mexico, Kansas and Oklahoma resulted in some knowledge of Indian cultures including behavior, living situations, dress and the food people ate. In the 1630s and 40s there were many colonies established in North America including English, Dutch, Spanish and French. During this phase there were several battles fought between Indians and colonists, but no major conflicts. In 1609 that began to change with the battle between the French and the Iroquois on the eastern shore of a lake which was to become Lake Champlain. The French won that battle but from that time on the Iroquois distrusted and hated the French who were closely associated with their hereditary enemies. Some historians believe that this little victory cost France a continent.

During the American Revolutionary war The United States competed with the British for the allegiance of Indian tribes east of the Mississippi river. Most who joined the struggle supported the British, hoping the war would stop further colonial expansion into tribal territories. Warfare on the frontier was especially brutal with many atrocities on both sides. At the end of the war the British ceded a vast amount of Indian territory to the United States. The Indians who had fought with the British were initially treated as conquered people who had lost their land. This policy was abandoned when it was found to be unenforceable. The United States then supported expansion by purchasing Indian lands in treaties.

The next phase was characterized by what can be called Removal and Reservations. Westward expansion caused vast numbers of Indians to resettle further west, almost always reluctantly and often by force. Congress passed the Indian Removal Act of 1830 which authorized the President to enter into treaties to exchange Indian lands in the East for lands in the West. The Mississippi river to separate East from West. As many as 100,000 relocated to the West as a result of this removal policy. Relocation was voluntary and many Indians remained in the East. However, great pressure was put upon Indian leaders to sign removal treaties. The most flagrant violation of the intent of the Indian Removal Act was, most likely, the Treaty of New Echota, signed by a dissident group of Cherokees that didn't include even one elected leader. President Martin Van Buren brutally enforced it in a way which resulted in what came to be known as the Trail of Tears because of the many deaths that occurred.

As Indians were forced onto Reservations which were most often unsuitable to their culture and way of life, conflicts broke out wich came to be known as the "Indian Wars". On January 31, 1876, the United States government ordered all remaining Indians onto reservations..This order together with the elimination of vast herds of Bison by hunters, often members of the Army, that many tribes had lived on, effectively ended the prairie culture that rested on the use of the horse for hunting, travel and trading.

Government policy toward the Indians had been an evolving process which reformers, in the late 1800s, turned toward assimilation rather than separation and elimination. The government's major tool in adopting this policy of assimilation was the Indian Boarding School which I discussed in parts one and two of this series. The Indian Citizenship Act of 1924 gave United States citizenship to American Indians, partly because of the interest of many to see them assimilated into the American mainstream.

Ambrose, Stephen E. "Undaunted Courage." Simon & Schuster, 1996
Eckert, Allan W. "A Sorrow in Our Heart: The Life of Tecumseh." Bantam Books, 1992
Henry, Thomas R. "Wilderness Messiah: The Story of Hiawatha and the Iroquois." Bonanza Books, MCMLV
"Native Americans in the United States." Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
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An OEN Editor. Born-03/20/1934, BA Pol. Sci.-U of Washington-1956, MBA-Seattle U-1970, Boeing-Program Control-1957-1971, State of Oregon-Mental Health Division-Deputy Admistrator-1971-1979, llinois Association of Community MH (more...)
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