History of the Native Americans

  By Hope, 2006; Revised
  Category: North America
Contents »


The people presently known as the "Native Americans" emigrated from Asia some 13,000 years ago and settled in every corner of the vast continent  now called "America". Still, they were never isolated. Through trading networks, they kept in contact with each other across the continent, and, some would even say, beyond. The first verified contact between Europeans and Indians, however, took place in the year 1000 A.D. when Vikings landed in Newfoundland.

After the Vikings had vanished from American soil – how and why is still unclear although many different theories have arisen – the Indians had no contact with the peoples of Europe until October 12th, 1492, when Christopher Columbus landed in the Caribbean. That was the beginning of the Conquesta, the Spanish conquest of this New World, which also brought grievance and large amounts of sorrow to the indigenous people living there.

Columbus meets the "Indians"
Columbus meets the "Indians"
Though the Spaniards landed first, other nations of Europe soon followed. Britain, France, Holland and others sailed west to exploit the continent for what it was worth. The Europeans had different ways of approaching the Natives, who were now called "Indians", since Columbus believed he had landed in India. The Europeans forged alliances with some tribes and declared war on others. The political situation of America had now been changed for good, and the new political elements were being forced further into the deep interior of the continent.

Before the colonization of the white man, the Indians had lived in tribes and harvested what they could from nature. They hunted, gathered, planted crops, and fished, depending on where they lived. In the woodlands of the North Eastern America, the tribes – also called nations – lived mostly by agriculture and hunting game. There is little known of wars before the arrival of the white man because the different nations lived in peace and traded with each other. Of course, disputes and quarrels occurred – mostly concerning disagreements of hunting ground borders, or trading matters – but the woodland Indians did not go to war against each other.

However, the Europeans soon brought greed to the woodlands, a most unknown term to the Native peoples. The Europeans wanted beaver skin, and they offered items which were unfamiliar and exciting to the nations. But,  to say that the trade was a just affair is not correct. The whites had a habit of cheating and lying to get more skins for their rifles, blankets or alcohol. Because of the demand for beaver skin, the Iroquois tribe had fights with the French in the borderland of French holdings and Iroquois hunting grounds. 

Everyday Life

Each nation had its own social system. Naturally, those tribes who were related had many aspects in common, but they all differed in some of the details. Religion was very important in their daily lives, because the Natives believed that every dead and living thing was blessed with the spirit of the Creator. The Mother Earth provided the people with food, and the animals sacrificed themselves in order to give food to the humans. Because of this, the animals had to be treated respectfully or else they would not return the next season. It was this understanding of nature that the Europeans lacked when they entered the woodlands. They could not understand how people could equalize themselves with animals.

The Native Americans did not have written laws because they had no system of writing. All knowledge and every story were handed down orally, and so were the laws. I have chosen two quotes I found really describing the mind of the Native Americans:

"Out of the Indian approach to life there came a great freedom, an intense and absorbing respect for life, an enriching faith in a Supreme Power, and principles of truth, honesty, generosity, equity, and brotherhood as a guide to mundane relations. "
-- Black Elk, Holy man of the Oglala Sioux

"Among the Indians there have been no written laws. Customs handed down from generation to generation have been the only laws to guide them. Every one might act different from what was considered right did he choose to do so, but such acts would bring upon him the censure of the Nation... This fear of the Nation's censure acted as a mighty band, binding all in one social, honorable compact. Cheif Pontiac "
-- Tecumseh, Chief of the Shawnee tribe

All in all, there were about 600 tribes throughout North America. They differed in ways of dressing, speaking and so on, but they all had one thing in common: They were the inhabitants of America. Today these people have different names. Aborigines, Indigenous people, First Nation, Indians and Native Americans are all names accepted to be politically correct.