When the European invaded America in the years between 1492 and 1763, their main aim was to amass wealth and increase their influence in the world. They gradually settled in America and increased their influence and control overtime (Hoxie 39). The Native Americans embraced and welcomed them at first and it was too late for them when they realized that the invader’s intentions were to benefit themselves. The invasion of America by the European colonizers impacted the Native Americans both positively and negatively.
Changes to the Native Americans way of life
Initially, when the European colonizers arrived in America, the Native Americans maintained their traditional way of life. However, as the number of European colonizers rose, they started to demand Native Americans to behave and live in a certain way which they deemed fit. One of the demands that were made to the Native Americans was to convert to Christianity which meant becoming a Catholic or a Protestant. This meant that the Native Americans were no longer supposed to worship under their traditional shrines or observe their beliefs but instead, they had to adopt the invader’s religion.
As a result of the increasing number of European colonizers, some of the confederacies and native people who were well organized and still had control of their lands started waging wars on the newcomers in the seventeenth century (Cameron, Kelton, and Swedlund 30). Due to the fact that the European colonizers had not settled well in America, Native America achieved some degree of success in their rebellion, but eventually the European won. One of the greatest wars in the history of America was between the invaders and the Native Americans, was the French and Indian war (Cameron, Kelton, and Swedlund 35). As the European colonizers came to America, they brought with them European goods which radically transformed the lives of the Native Americans. Some of the goods that the European colonizers brought with them included, metal utensils, copper kettles, and glass beads. These goods which the Native Americans had not seen or used before started gaining favor among them, they even went to an extent to remodify them to fit their needs.
According to Cameron, Kelton, and Swedlund (39), some of the Native Americans remodified the copper kettles by cutting them and using the metal for other purposes such as making new jewelry which when worn rose the status of the wearer in the society. The wearers were perceived as having a connection to the invader’s raw materials. As the number of the European colonizers rose, their influence on the life of the Native Americans increased, as early as1600s the invader’s goods had already flooded indigenous communities. With time, native communities had learned to use most of the newly introduced goods like the colonizers did. For instance, prior to the invasion of America by the Europeans, Indians used animal skin for their clothing, but had abandoned them and adopted the European textiles. Other changes adopted by the native Americans as a result of the influence from the European colonizers were the metallic cooking utensils abandoning the traditional clay cookware, they also adopted European flint that was deemed better at starting a fire when compared to their traditional methods (Cameron, Kelton, and Swedlund 40)
As the abundance of European goods increased new goods came into existence. Cameron, Kelton, and Swedlund (49), ports among the natives of the eastern woodlands, the presence of iron awls made it easy for them to make shell beads. Consequently, wampum and shell beards production increased and was used as a currency and jewelry. Traditionally, Native Americans used to place goods in the graves of their dead ones, with the discovery of new goods this practice increased. Recent archeological excavations have led to the discovery of goods that were traded by the European in the graves of the Native Americans.
As Europeans moved to America, they brought with them weapons that the Native Americans adopted. The Native Americans reengineered the European Brassware to make arrow points. Axes which were meant for wood chopping became weapons. Light, long-barreled European gun and musket were the most prized weapons among the weapons introduced by the Europeans. With the introduction of the European weapons, warfare among the Native Americans changed and became more lethal compared to the preceding period, the authority among the Native Americans also changed favoring those who had European weapons as having more authority. Those Native Communities which were weaker previously became strong after they accessed European weapons and metal, and to some point dominated communities which once dominated them. For example, when the Algonquin became a force to reckon with after they traded the French muskets, they gained power over the traditional enemies the Iroquois who used to dominate them. With time, Native Americans even used the same weapons to fight their colonizers (Cameron, Kelton, and Swedlund 50).
Introduction of diseases
One of the greatest and most negative impacts that the Europeans had on the Native Americans was the introduction of diseases such as smallpox, measles, chicken pox, and influenza. European diseases were caused by microbes which the Native Americans bodies had no immunity against. As a result, wherever the Europeans settled, Native Americans died massively (Oberg 30). Thomas Harriot, an English explorer observed that in 1585, in the North Carolina coastal villages, whenever they visited these North Carolina coastal villages, Native Americans died massively within days of their departure. Thomas Harriot also stated that the natives did not understand the nature of the disease or what caused it or how to treat it since their traditional medicines had no effect against these diseases (Kicza and Horn 234).
Even worse, victims would die within days. In the region of New England, about 75% of Native Americans succumbed to death caused by these diseases between 1616 and 1618. Smallpox claimed half of the Iroquois and Huron in the great lakes region. The mortality rate was high among the old and the young ones. According to Kicza and Horn (234), with the demise of the older generation came the loss of traditions and knowledge, loss of the younger generation’s added injury to the wound. Young generations are tasked with the perpetuation of the community and without them, some of these communities were faced with the threat of extinction. Since Native Americans could not understand the cause of the diseases, they associated them with hostile spiritual forces which they believed were punishing them. As a result, Native Americans went to war amongst themselves leading to more deaths and depletion in their population as an effort to exorcise the hostile spiritual forces. The wars become known as ‘mourning wars’ and were meant to collect captives those who would be adopted in the winning communities or executed or tortured ritually to please the hostile spirits and assuage the grief and anger resulting from the loss of their loved ones. To a great extent, these misfortunes led to the loss of population among the Native Americans while those who survived from the disease succumbed to the wars, and unity that previously existed among the Native Americans dwindled as time went by (Kicza and Horn 280).
As the European colonizers flocked America, they become a catalyst for diverse environmental changes, which affected Native American as well as native animals. In Europe, the popularity of beaver trimmed hats rose, which coupled with the Natives desire for the European weapons resulted in overhunting of the Native beavers. As a result, in regions such as New York, New England, and several other areas the population of the beavers declined alarmingly. As the beavers declined so did the beaver ponds decrease, this led to the loss of habitats for fish that used beaver ponds as their habitats. These beaver ponds also served as sources of water for the moose and deer and without them, these animals suffered in search of water (Salisbury 9).
Additionally, European also brought pigs to America. These pigs roamed in the Native lands consuming whatever they deemed fit; consequently, they ended up consuming foods meant for indigenous animals. With time, native animals started to decline, leading to the scarcity of the very animals that Native Americans hunted traditionally. Native Americans tribes associated landforms and animals to some spiritual significance; loss of these animals led to erosion of these beliefs. As European occupied America, they bought with them new plants which they introduced to the Native Americans (Salisbury 14).
Prior to the European invasion, the Natives perceived land as a public property but with the coming of the Europeans, this understanding changed to private ownership of land. Native communities that led a nomadic life were greatly affected by the new idealism. The new invaders constructed fences and land demarcates to mark their new property. Places which had been set aside as shrines or holy grounds were now owned by the Europeans, as a result, traditions which were held dearly by the Native Americans eroded. For instance, some of the native tribes termed certain grounds as holy as they believed the spirits resided there, however, Europeans did not share the same beliefs, and to them, such lands were just an opportunity to amass wealth. As such, Native Americans lost their traditions. Given that European had superior weapons and the fact that most natives had either died during the outbreak of the disease or during the wars amongst themselves, the European stood a better chance in case of any confrontation with them (Salisbury 20).
Based on the above discussion, it is clear that the arrival of Europeans to America had both positive and negative effects on Native Americans. Despite the fact that what they acquired from the European invaders benefitted them, it also caused them a lot of misery. For instance, the diseases threatened to wipe them out and at the same time weapons changed how wars were fought. Whenever the European colonizers and the Native Americans confronted each other, Native American tribes were on the receiving end in most of the cases; and even in instances where the Natives succeeded, they eventually lost.
Cameron, Catherine M., Paul Kelton, and Alan Swedlund C., eds. Beyond Germs: Native Depopulation in North America. University of Arizona Press, 2015.
Hoxie, Frederick E., ed. The Oxford Handbook of American Indian History. Oxford University Press, 2016.
Kicza, John E., and Horn Rebecca. Resilient Cultures: America’s Native Peoples Confront European Colonialization 1500-1800. Routledge, 2016.
Oberg, Michael Leroy. Native America: A History. John Wiley & Sons, 2017.
Salisbury, Neal. “The Indians’ old world: Native Americans and the coming of Europeans.” Colonial America and the Early Republic, 2017, pp. 1-24.