History Podcasts

Native American Cultures

Native American Cultures


Educating America: The Historian's Responsibility to Native Americans and the Public

Slinking down in my chair of the high school classroom, I listen with dread to the discussion about Native Americans. I feel no connection to the hostile, savage, primitive people I am hearing about. How can the words on this paper differ so radically from those of my elders? Where did these historians get their information about Native Americans?

My earliest memory of stories told by my grandmother are those about the United States&ndashDakota conflict of 1862. When I first read historical accounts of that event I excitedly picked out events I knew were true because my grandmother had talked about them. My respect for the author was gauged by how often he or she made mention of stories I'd heard in the oral tradition. Growing up in a Dakota family with a rich oral tradition, I often heard my grandmother end a story with, "that was never written in a history book." It was her account of the Dakota past which fostered my love for history and led to my pursuit of a degree in the discipline. But reconciling differing conceptions of history&mdashthose of my native community and academia&mdashhas been full of challenges and frustrations, the gulf between them often seemingly unbridgeable.

The personal scenario above illustrates some of the basic issues pertaining to the relationship between academic historians writing Native American history and the Native American people about whom they are writing. This relationship has been fraught with mistrust on both sides: historians mistrust the ability of native people to keep accurate accounts of their historical past while Native Americans mistrust the ability of historians to accurately interpret Native American historical realities. At the core of the mistrust is a basic argument about who has the authority to interpret Native American history and on what sources that interpretation should be based.

The fundamental difference between academic Native American history and Native American history from the native perspective is the medium through which the history is interpreted. For the vast majority of native cultures, the primary means of transmitting and understanding history has been through the oral tradition for academic historians, the primary way of transmitting and understanding history is through the written narrative. For many Native American people, whose voices and perspectives are rarely included in written histories, those histories are considered just another form of oppression and continued colonization. For historians, mistrust of the oral tradition is based on the view that all oral history needs to be validated by written sources, without which oral narratives constitute unverifiable legend and are therefore unreliable sources. Overcoming that mistrust will require educating academic historians about native oral traditions and demonstrating to them the value of understanding Native American history through the perspective of those who have lived it. Ultimately, a consensus must be reached within the discipline about the absolute necessity of including Native American voices in the research and writing of Native American history. This would insure a measure of accountability to the living people about whose ancestors we are writing.

Some of the discrepancy between the way native people and academic historians think about Native American history has to do with perceptions of what constitutes important information. For many Native American people, history is important because it establishes our sense of identity and belonging. We understand who we are and how we came to be because of the stories transmitted by our elders. Rarely is Native American history from this perspective concerned with dates and times rather, notions of place and homeland are given primacy, as it is this connection that is closely linked with our sense of identity. However, because many accounts cannot be placed within a chronological framework, it is often impossible to employ academic historians' usual means of corroborating sources. Within Native American oral traditions, different means of validation and verification are utilized. For example, collective memories are often engaged to insure the accuracy of any given account, and those who are known to have been trained well are respected and sought out within the community for their knowledge, skill, and expertise. In terms of establishing credibility or validation, in many native communities, the words and the honor of the elders are sufficient.

Events and details deemed relevant and important enough to transmit within the oral tradition are not necessarily the same as those academic historians feel compelled to write about, nor do they necessarily include those events and circumstances about which non-Native Americans chose to leave records. One of the results of this difference in values means that what is of value in native culture may not make it into the written record, and what does make it into the written record may be seen from the Native American perspective as dry, full of unimportant details about some things, and completely missing the important aspects of others. This is not to say that the oral and the written always conflict, or that native people do not appreciate the research and writing of many non-Native American scholars, but rather that the approach to history is different, making for very different stories and understandings of the past. In addition, Native American oral tradition focuses less on European-Americans, more on Indian&ndashIndian relations, and includes stories of interactions with non-human spiritual beings&mdashall elements which have served to baffle some academic historians.

A growing movement is taking shape within the field of Native American history, however, in which it is recognized that Native American history from the Native American perspective must be included in any solid research in which Native American nations appear. Scholars are recognizing that native language study can shed significant light on historical events, and oral history is being used in ways that suggest it is breaking away from the confines of being simply a "supplementary" source and is now being used in the main bodies of texts.

While the definitions and meanings of Native American history are being argued in the academic context, there are other major issues affecting a much larger population that also deserve attention&mdashsuch as the historian's relationship to native communities, and the lack of outreach to the American public. Nowhere is this more apparent or problematic than in Native American history because no population is more misunderstood and stereotyped than American Indians. Many historians seem to believe in a trickle-down effect in which their theoretical, academic, or enlightened interpretations of the past will slowly, but magically, reach the masses&mdasheven while they direct their writings to other historians or upper-division and elite college students. Because of enormous amounts of misinformation regarding the histories of American Indians, this is particularly dangerous and ineffective, especially considering that many Americans acquire their understanding of Native Americans through Hollywood movies. It is no secret that most high school students believe history is the least useful subject they are required to learn. Historians will have little impact in kindling an interest in history if they continue to write to each other rather than to the masses. In this area historians have fallen extremely short.

In the social studies curriculum at both the elementary and secondary level American Indians are nearly invisible, so the lack of participation by historians in educating a wider audience has detrimental effects. Very rarely do contemporary academic or cutting-edge discussions of Native American history also inform discussion in any classroom outside of a college or university. As a consequence, professors in Native American history spend much time with incoming students not only building on an extremely limited knowledge base, but also attempting to correct the misinformation students have accumulated, either through movies or excerpts in social studies textbooks depicting Native Americans as little more than obstacles to westward expansion. It is no wonder that when contemporary Native American political issues arise, the public shows complete ignorance regarding Native American treaty rights, issues of taxation, government-to-government relationships, Native American law, tribal government operations, and many other topics. While scholars of Native American history understand, for example, the importance of treaty agreements with the United States (though there are often disagreements in interpretation), this knowledge is not reaching the general population, so the public is ill-equipped to understand the treaties to which its own government is obligated. Students entering college are often opening their eyes to Native Americans for the first time. More accurate interpretations of Native American history ought to be tackled in the elementary social studies curriculum and continue through secondary and postsecondary education. If historians do not take on this responsibility, who will?

Besides making writings accessible to those beyond academia, what more might we do? Where does this leave us? Where do the various understandings of Native American history intersect and how can we work together? Historians researching and writing in the arena of Native American history have an ethical obligation to include Native American perspectives in their work, a notion that recognizes the authority and expertise of tribal historians, and in the end will produce more balanced interpretations. The field of Native American history, and by extension American history, will only be enriched by the inclusion of differing perspectives and in the process will broaden and expand the definitions of history.

Angela Cavender Wilson (Wahpetunwan Dakota) is a doctoral candidate in American history at Cornell University. She has accepted a position as assistant professor of American Indian history at Arizona State University and will begin her appointment in August 2000. Her dissertation, "De Kiksuyapo! (Remember This!): The Eli Taylor Narratives and Dakota Conceptions of History," is based on an oral history project with her grandfather from the Sioux Valley Reserve in Manitoba, Canada, which she expects to complete in May 2000.


The Library of Congress Prints & Photographs Division preserves and makes available thousands of pictures related to the history and culture of Indigenous North Americans. The vast majority of these images are photographs. Other material includes drawings, engravings, lithographs, posters, and architectural drawings. Most of these images have documentary importance. Some reflect the artistic development of graphic art and photography.

While pictorial material relating to American Indian and Alaska Native cultures was produced as early as the fifteenth century, the Prints & Photographs Division's holdings in this area are strongest for the period 1860 to 1940. Most of these pictures, particularly those made before the mid-twentieth century, were produced by European Americans. Acquiring works by members of tribal communities is a collecting priority for the Division. Use the links on the left to explore the Prints & Photographs Division's collection material related to American Indian history and culture.

Please note that terminology in historical materials and in Library descriptions does not always match the language preferred by members of Native communities, and may include negative stereotypes. Item descriptions often include direct transcriptions of original captions. The Library includes the historic captions because they can be important for understanding the context in which the images were created.


Native American Cultural History Trail

The Native American Cultural Trail features six individual panels discussing the history and impact of Native Americans on the Great Lakes and is located on M-185, the road the encircles Mackinac Island.

“Native American history and culture was not something we were actively interpreting a great deal on Mackinac Island,” said Phil Porter, Mackinac State Historic Parks Director. “We hope these informational panels have and will continue to educate the public and provide perspective about the pre-contact history, trade, culture and more.”

The panels were drafted by Director of Archives and Records for the Little Traverse Bay Band of Odawa Indians Eric Hemenway with help from Mackinac State Historic Parks staff and were installed by Mackinac Island State Park operations staff.

The Mackinac Island State Park Commission approved the project in late July 2015 and fundraising through Mackinac Associates began soon after.

“This is perfectly aligned with what Mackinac Associates is meant to do,” said Diane Dombroski, membership coordinator for Mackinac Associates. “Our members were so excited about and generous with this opportunity that we were able to exceed the goal.”

In addition to the panels, the areas next to the roadway where they are located have been landscaped and include benches and areas for bicycle parking.

“Biking around the perimeter of the island is a popular activity, but with three-quarters of a million people or more coming to the island every year it can get congested when visitors stop to take photos or admire the scenery,” said Porter. “Hopefully the convenience of these bike parking areas will decrease some of that congestion while simultaneously offering an important educational experience.”

The panels and areas surrounding them were designed to blend with the natural surroundings so as to not be obtrusive to the island’s natural beauty. Utilizing locally familiar products like cedar and limestone help the panels and parking areas blend into the environment.

“We were thrilled to see such terrific support for this worthwhile project,” said Porter.” This formalized interpretation of centuries of Native American culture on Mackinac Island will go a long way in promoting both enjoyment and understanding of the island’s rich history.”


The Clovis and Folsom cultures

In 1908 George McJunkin, ranch foreman and former slave, reported that the bones of an extinct form of giant bison (Bison antiquus) were eroding out of a wash near Folsom, New Mexico an ancient spear point was later found embedded in the animal’s skeleton. In 1929 teenager Ridgley Whiteman found a similar site near Clovis, New Mexico, albeit with mammoth rather than bison remains. The Folsom and Clovis sites yielded the first indisputable evidence that ancient Americans had co-existed with and hunted the megafauna, a possibility that most scholars had previously met with skepticism.

The Clovis culture proved to be the earlier of the two. Clovis projectile points are thin, lanceolate (leaf-shaped), and made of stone one or more longitudinal flakes, or flutes, were removed from the base of each of the point’s two flat faces. Clovis points were affixed to spear handles and are often found on mammoth kill sites, usually accompanied by side scrapers (used to flense the hide) and other artifacts used to process meat. Clovis culture was long believed to have lasted from approximately 9500 to 9000 bce , although early 21st-century analyses suggest it may have been of shorter duration, from approximately 9050 to 8800 bce .

Folsom culture seems to have developed from Clovis culture. Also lanceolate, Folsom points were more carefully manufactured and include much larger flutes than those made by the Clovis people. The Lindenmeier site, a Folsom campsite in northeastern Colorado, has yielded a wide variety of end and side scrapers, gravers (used to engrave bone or wood), and bone artifacts. The Folsom culture is thought to have lasted from approximately 9000 to 8000 bce . Related Paleo-Indian groups, such as the Plano culture, persisted until sometime between 6000 and 4000 bce .


Native American Cultures - HISTORY

Native American culture goes back thousands of years to a time when these indigenous people lived in what is now known as North America. Native American culture revolved heavily around nature, and every aspect of their lives was based around the Earth. The Native American tribes worshipped the spirits of these animals as gods, but they also killed them for food and clothing. They would never waste any part of the animals though, they would eat the meat, wear the hides, they used the skin to make drums and they used the bones for tools and weapons.

They believed the spirit of the animals would live on in spirit within the tribe. They also fashioned totem poles carved out of wood with different animals faces on them, and these faces represented the spirits of family and important tribal figures. In Native American culture they believed that everyone person had the spirit of a certain animal and when they died their spirit would live on inside the animal. The Native Americans also harvested plants and berries that they would use for various things from medicines to dyes. They lived in harmony with the Earth which they lived on and they let nothing go to waste.

Native American Totem Pole

Thousands of years ago there were over ten million Native Americans living within the territory that is now the United States. The Native American cultural traditions varied among the thousands of different tribes that were spread throughout the land. Soon settlers started arriving on the shores of the Native American homelands and started pushing the Native American Indians from their homes and eventually off of their tribes land. The European settlers made their new homes on the Native Americans land and interfered with the Native American culture that had relatively lived in peace until now. When the European settlers arrived here they brought with them many diseases from Europe that killed many Native Americans and many more tribes were forced from their lands. Eventually the United States government set aside land for the Native Americans, and many of these Indian reservations are still around today. There are still signs all over the country of the great Native American culture that once ruled these lands, and Native American art and fashions are more popular than ever.


Visit With Respect

Utah is filled with a variety of different state and federal land designations, all of which share a connection with Native Nations. Whether you're on Tribal lands, in a national park or anywhere outdoors in Utah, it's important to understand that there are strong Native ties, present and past, to these lands, even if it doesn&rsquot fit in an official category. While many Nations welcome visitors for activities and events, each comes with its own set of regulations and etiquette. Do research to understand your destination and the customs of the people who live there. However, some general guidelines on visiting Native lands, reservations and sites include:

  • Avoid taking pictures of people or events unless you have permission. Remember, this is where people live and work.
  • Act respectfully at all times, but particularly at important sites and burial grounds.
  • Do not touch or remove pottery or other artifacts you may find &mdash this is a violation of federal law. (Watch: Voices of Bears Ears &mdash The Archaeologists )
  • You are a guest on the reservation and allowed on site with the permission. Act accordingly.
  • Bears Ears National Monument Day Hiking passes are required year-round for in the Bears Ears National Monument, visit recreation.gov to obtain a pass.
  • Follow all travel guidelines related to COVID-19. Check for updates on Utah&rsquos best travel practices before your trip.

Utah's eight federally-recognized Tribal Nations.


Activity 1. Representing Native Americans Today

Before offering information about Native American Nations and cultural groups, introduce the terms "Indian," "Native American," and "American Indian," and ask students what they know about these terms and about the people they represent. Create two columns on the board or a piece of paper, and write down student responses in the first column. This first column shows students' preconceptions about Indian peoples the second column will reflect information students receive through the lesson.

After students have offered their first impressions about Native Americans, explain to the class that the words "Indian" and "Native American" refer to a diverse set of Native American tribes or nations who lived for centuries across the lands that Europeans claimed later to have "discovered," which are now called the Americas -- the Caribbean islands, Canada, the United States, Mexico, the countries of Central and South America.

Read one or more of the books from the following list of Fiction Books about Contemporary Native American People, recommended by Debbie Reese. American Indian's in Children's Literature is Reese's website that provides lists of the best in children's literature about American Indians.

  • Children of LaLoche & Friends. (1990). Byron through the Seasons. Fifth House Ltd. (Grades: K-1).
  • Harjo, Joy. (2000). The Good Luck Cat. Harcourt Brace (Grades: P-3).
  • Hunter, Sara Hoagland. (1996). The Unbreakable Code. Northland (Grades: 2-3).
  • Keeshig-Tobias, Lenore. (1991). Bird Talk. Sister Vision (Grades: P-K).
  • Sanderson, Esther. (1990). Two Pairs of Shoes. Pemmican Publications (Grades: P-K).
  • Smith, Cynthia. (2000). Jingle Dancer. Morrow Junior (Grades: P-3).
  • Tapahonso, Luci. (1999). Songs of Shiprock Fair. Kiva (Grades: P-3).
  • Waboose, Jan Bourdeau. (1998). Morning on the Lake. Kids Can Press (Grades P-3).
  • Waboose, Jan Bourdeau. (2000). Skysisters. Kids Can Press (Grades P-3).
  • Wheeler, Bernelda. (1995). Where Did You Get Your Moccasins? Peguis Publications (Grades: P-K).

Each of these books portrays Native American characters in a contemporary context in ways that challenge common stereotyping representations. After reading one or more stories, ask students to describe the characters they have heard about. Write their responses in the second column of the board or paper. Ask the class to compare their original ideas about American Indians with the portrayals offered in the book(s). Do the stories and the people represented alter their views about Indian peoples?

You might point out to your students that, through much of the 20th century, Indian peoples came under intense social and economic pressure to assimilate into mainstream American society, and as such had to make difficult choices between identifying with their native communities and finding a livelihood in the larger society. Today, by contrast, increasing numbers of Native Americans are able to participate more fully in traditional community activities, which in many locations are thriving, while at the same time attending college and obtaining jobs in non-traditional settings.


Contents

Many Native-American tribes practiced some form of slavery before the European introduction of African slavery into North America. [2] [3]

Difference in pre- and post-contact slavery Edit

There were differences between slavery as practiced in the pre-colonial era among Native Americans and slavery as practiced by Europeans after colonization. Whereas many Europeans eventually came to look upon slaves of African descent as being racially inferior, Native Americans took slaves from other Native American groups, and therefore viewed them as ethnically inferior. [2] [3]

Another difference was that Native Americans did not buy and sell captives in the pre-colonial era (but see below), although they sometimes exchanged enslaved individuals with other tribes in exchange for redeeming their own members. [4] [5] In some cases, Native American slaves were allowed to live on the fringes of Native American society until they were slowly integrated into the tribe. [3] The word "slave" may not accurately apply to such captive people. [2] [3]

When the Europeans made contact with the Native Americans, they began to participate in the slave trade. [6] Native Americans, in their initial encounters with the Europeans, attempted to use their captives from enemy tribes as a "method of playing one tribe against another" in an unsuccessful game of divide and conquer. [6]

Treatment and function of slaves Edit

Native American groups often enslaved war captives, whom they primarily used for small-scale labor. [2] [3] Others, however, would stake themselves in gambling situations when they had nothing else, which would put them into servitude for a short time, or in some cases for life captives were also sometimes tortured as part of religious rites, which sometimes involved ritual cannibalism. [2] [7] During times of famine, some Native Americans would also temporarily sell their children to obtain food. [2]

The ways in which captives were treated differed widely among Native American groups. Captives could be enslaved for life, killed, or adopted. In some cases, captives were only adopted after a period of slavery. For example, the Iroquoian peoples (not just the Iroquois tribes) often adopted captives, but for religious reasons there was a process, procedures, and many seasons when such adoptions were delayed until the proper spiritual times.

In many cases, new tribes adopted captives to replace warriors killed during a raid. [2] [3] Warrior captives were sometimes made to undergo ritual mutilation or torture that could end in death, as part of a spiritual grief ritual for relatives slain in battle. [2] [3] Adoptees were expected to fill the economic, military, and familial roles of the departed loved ones, to fit into the societal shoes of the dead relative, and maintain the spirit power of the tribe.

Captured individuals were sometimes allowed to assimilate into the tribe, and would later produce a family within the tribe. [2] [3] The Creek, who engaged in this practice and had a matrilineal system, treated children born of slaves and Creek women as full members of their mothers' clans and of the tribe, as property and hereditary leadership passed through the maternal line. In the cultural practices of the Iroquoian peoples, also rooted in a matrilineal system with men and women having equal value, any child would have the status determined by the woman's clan. More typically, tribes took women and children captives for adoption, as they tended to adapt more easily into new ways.

Several tribes held captives as hostages for payment. [2] [3] Various tribes also practiced debt slavery or imposed slavery on tribal members who had committed crimes full tribal status would be restored as the enslaved worked off their obligations to the tribal society. [2] [3] Obtaining prisoners was also a strong interest for Native American warriors as for the qualification of being considered brave this was especially an interest of male warriors in various tribes. [2] Other slave-owning tribes of North America included the Comanche of Texas the Creek of Georgia the fishing societies, such as the Yurok, who lived in Northern California the Pawnee and the Klamath. [8] When St. Augustine, Florida, was founded in 1565, the site already had enslaved Native Americans, whose ancestors had migrated from Cuba. [2]

The Haida and Tlingit, who lived along Alaska's southeast coast, were traditionally known as fierce warriors and slave-traders, raiding as far as California. [9] [10] In their society, slavery was hereditary after slaves were taken as prisoners of war [9] [10] —children of slaves were fated to be slaves themselves. [11] Among a few Pacific Northwest tribes, as many as one-fourth of the population were slaves. [9] [10] They were typically captured by raids on enemy tribes, or purchased on inter-tribal slave markets. Slaves would sometimes be killed in potlatches, to signify the owners' contempt for property.

When Europeans arrived as colonists in North America, Native Americans changed their practice of slavery dramatically. [4] Native Americans began selling war captives to Europeans rather than integrating them into their own societies as some had done before.

Native Americans were enslaved by the Spanish in Florida and the Southwest under various legal tools. [12] One tool was the encomienda system [13] [14] [15] new encomiendas were outlawed in the New Laws of 1542, but old ones continued, and the 1542 restriction was revoked in 1545. [16] [17]

As the demand for labor in the West Indies grew with the cultivation of sugarcane, Europeans exported enslaved Native Americans to the "sugar islands." Historian Alan Gallay estimates that between 1670 and 1715, 24,000 to 51,000 captive Native Americans were exported through Carolina ports, of which more than half, 15,000-30,000, were brought from then-Spanish Florida. [18] These numbers were more than the number of Africans imported to the Carolinas during the same period. [18]

Gallay also says that "the trade in Indian slaves was at the center of the English empire's development in the American South. The trade in Indian slaves was the most important factor affecting the South in the period 1670 to 1715" intertribal wars to capture slaves destabilized English colonies, Florida and Louisiana. [18] Additional enslaved Native Americans were exported from South Carolina to Virginia, Pennsylvania, New York, Rhode Island and Massachusetts. [18]

Starting in 1698, Parliament allowed competition among importers of enslaved Africans, raising purchase prices for slaves in Africa, so they cost more than enslaved Native Americans. [18]

The British settlers, especially those in the southern colonies, purchased or captured Native Americans to use as forced labor in cultivating tobacco, rice, and indigo. Accurate records of the numbers enslaved do not exist. Slaves became a caste of people who were foreign to the English (Native Americans, Africans and their descendants) and non-Christians. The Virginia General Assembly defined some terms of slavery in 1705: [19]

All servants imported and brought into the Country . who were not Christians in their native Country . shall be accounted and be slaves. All Negro, mulatto and Indian slaves within this dominion . shall be held to be real estate. If any slave resists his master . correcting such slave, and shall happen to be killed in such correction . the master shall be free of all punishment . as if such accident never happened.

The slave trade of Native Americans lasted until around 1730. It gave rise to a series of devastating wars among the tribes, including the Yamasee War. The Indian Wars of the early 18th century, combined with the increasing importation of African slaves, effectively ended the Native American slave trade by 1750. Colonists found that Native American slaves could easily escape, as they knew the country. The wars cost the lives of numerous colonial slave traders and disrupted their early societies. The remaining Native American groups banded together to face the Europeans from a position of strength. Many surviving Native American peoples of the southeast strengthened their loose coalitions of language groups and joined confederacies such as the Choctaw, the Creek, and the Catawba for protection.

Native American women were at risk for rape whether they were enslaved or not during the early colonial years, settlers were disproportionately male. They turned to Native women for sexual relationships. [20] Both Native American and African enslaved women suffered rape and sexual harassment by male slaveholders and other white men.

The exact number of Native Americans who were enslaved is unknown because vital statistics and census reports were at best infrequent. [21] Andrés Reséndez estimates that between 147,000 and 340,000 Native Americans were enslaved in North America, excluding Mexico. [22] Linford Fisher's estimates 2.5 million to 5.5 million Natives enslaved in the entire Americas. [23] Even though records became more reliable in the later colonial period, Native American slaves received little to no mention, or they were classed with African slaves with no distinction. [21] For example, in the case of "Sarah Chauqum of Rhode Island", her master listed her as mulatto in the bill of sale to Edward Robinson, but she won her freedom by asserting her Narragansett identity. [24]

Little is known about Native Americans that were forced into labor. [24] Two myths have complicated the history of Native American slavery: that Native Americans were undesirable as servants, and that Native Americans were exterminated or pushed out after King Philip's War. [24] The precise legal status for some Native Americans is at times difficult to establish, as involuntary servitude and slavery were poorly defined in 17th-century British America. [24] Some masters asserted ownership over the children of Native American servants, seeking to turn them into slaves. [24] The historical uniqueness of slavery in America is that European settlers drew a rigid line between insiders, "people like themselves who could never be enslaved", and nonwhite outsiders, "mostly Africans and Native Americans who could be enslaved". [24] A unique feature between natives and colonists was that colonists gradually asserted sovereignty over the native inhabitants during the seventeenth century, ironically transforming them into subjects with collective rights and privileges that Africans could not enjoy. [24] The West Indies developed as plantation societies prior to the Chesapeake Bay region and had a demand for labor.

In the Spanish colonies, the church assigned Spanish surnames to Native Americans and recorded them as servants rather than slaves. [25] Many members of Native American tribes in the Western United States were taken for life as slaves. [25] In some cases, courts served as conduits for enslavement of Indians, as evidenced by the enslavement of the Hopi man Juan Suñi in 1659 by a court in Santa Fe for theft of food and trinkets from the governor's mansion. [26] In the East, Native Americans were recorded as slaves. [27]

Slaves in Indian Territory across the United States were used for many purposes, from work in the plantations of the East, to guides across the wilderness, to work in deserts of the West, or as soldiers in wars. Native American slaves suffered from European diseases and inhumane treatment, and many died while in captivity. [27]

The Indian slave trade Edit

European colonists caused a change in Native American slavery, as they created a new demand market for captives of raids. [3] [21] Especially in the southern colonies, initially developed for resource exploitation rather than settlement, colonists purchased or captured Native Americans to be used as forced labor in cultivating tobacco, and, by the eighteenth century, rice, and indigo. [3] To acquire trade goods, Native Americans began selling war captives to whites rather than integrating them into their own societies. [29] Traded goods, such as axes, bronze kettles, Caribbean rum, European jewelry, needles, and scissors, varied among the tribes, but the most prized were rifles. [29] The English copied the Spanish and Portuguese: they saw the enslavement of Africans and Native Americans as a moral, legal, and socially acceptable institution a rationale for enslavement was "just war" taking captives and using slavery as an alternative to a death sentence. [30] The escape of Native American slaves was frequent, because they had a better understanding of the land, which African slaves did not. Consequently, the Natives who were captured and sold into slavery were often sent to the West Indies, or far away from their home. [3]

The first African slave on record was located in Jamestown. Before the 1630s, indentured servitude was dominant form of bondage in the colonies, but by 1636 only Caucasians could lawfully receive contracts as indentured servants. [31] The oldest known record of a permanent Native American slave was a native man from Massachusetts in 1636. [31] By 1661 slavery had become legal in all of the existing colonies. [31] Virginia would later declare that "Indians, Mulattos, and Negros to be real estate," and in 1682, New York forbade African or Native American slaves from leaving their master's home or plantation without permission. [31]

Europeans also viewed the enslavement of Native Americans differently than the enslavement of Africans in some cases a belief that Africans were "brutish people" was dominant. While both Native Americans and Africans were considered savages, Native Americans were romanticized as noble people that could be elevated into Christian civilization. [30]

New England Edit

The Pequot War of 1636 led to the enslavement of war captives and other members of the Pequot by Europeans, almost immediately after the founding of Connecticut as a colony. The Pequot thus became an important part of New England's culture of slavery. [21] [24] The Pequot War was devastating: the Niantic, Narragansett, and Mohegan tribes were persuaded into helping the Massachusetts, Connecticut, and Plymouth colonists massacre the Pequot, with at least 700 of the Pequot killed. Most enslaved Pequot were noncombatant women and children, with court records indicating that most served as chattel slaves for life. Some court records show bounties on runaway native slaves more than 10 years after the War. [24] What further aided the Indian slave trade throughout New England and the South was that different tribes didn't recognize themselves as members of the same race, dividing the tribes among each other. [29] The Chickasaw and Westos, for example, sold captives of other tribes indiscriminately so as to augment their political and economic power. [29]

Furthermore, Rhode Island also participated in the enslavement of Native Americans, but records are incomplete or non-existent, making the exact number of slaves unknown. [21] The New England governments would promise plunder as part of their payment, and commanders like Israel Stoughton viewed the right to claim Native American women and children as part of their due. [24] Because of lack of records it can only be speculated if the soldiers demanded these captives as sexual slaves or solely as servants. [24] Few colonial leaders questioned the policies of the colonies' treatment of slaves, but Roger Williams, who tried to maintain positive connections with the Narragansett, was conflicted. As a Christian he felt that identifiable Indian murderers "deserved death", but he condemned the murder of Native American women and children, though most of his criticisms were kept private. [24] Massachusetts originally kept peace with the Native American tribes in the region, but that changed, and the enslavement of Native Americans became inevitable. Boston newspapers mention escaped slaves as late as 1750. [21] In 1790, the United States census report indicated that the number of slaves in the state was 6,001, with an unknown proportion of Native Americans, but at least 200 were cited as half-breed Indians (meaning half African). [21] Since Massachusetts took the advance in the fighting of the King Philip's War and the Pequot War it is most likely the Massachusetts colony greatly exceeded that of either Connecticut or Rhode Island in the number of Native American slaves owned. [21] New Hampshire was unique: it had very few slaves, and maintained a somewhat peaceful stance with various tribes during the Pequot War and King Philip's War. [21] Colonists in the South began to capture and enslave Native Americans for sale and export to the "sugar islands" such as Jamaica, as well as to northern colonies. [3] [21] [29] The resulting Native American slave trade devastated the southeastern Native American populations and transformed tribal relations throughout the Southeast. [2] In the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, the English at Charles Town (in modern South Carolina), the Spanish in Florida, and the French in Louisiana sought trading partners and allies among the Native Americans by offering goods such as metal knives, axes, firearms and ammunition, liquor, beads, cloth, and hats in exchange for furs (deerskins) and Native American slaves. [3] [29]

Traders, frontier settlers, and government officials encouraged Native Americans to make war on each other, to reap the profits of the slaves captured in such raids or to weaken the warring tribes. [2] Starting in 1610, the Dutch traders had developed a lucrative trade with the Iroquois. [29] The Iroquois gave the Dutch beaver pelts in exchange the Dutch gave them clothing, tools, and firearms, which gave them more power than neighboring tribes had. [29] The trade allowed the Iroquois to have war campaigns against other tribes, like the Eries, Huron, Petun, Shawnee, and the Susquehannocks. [29] The Iroquois also began to take war captives and sell them. [29] The increased power of the Iroquois, combined with the diseases the Europeans unknowingly brought, devastated many eastern tribes. [29]

American Southeast Edit

Carolina, which originally included today's North Carolina, South Carolina, and Georgia, was unique among the North American English colonies because the colonists thought of slavery as essential to their success. [30] [32] In 1680, proprietors ordered the Carolina government to ensure that enslaved Native Americans had equal justice [ further explanation needed ] and to treat them better than African slaves these regulations were widely publicized, so no one could claim ignorance of them. [30] The change in policy in Carolina was rooted in fear that escaped slaves would inform their tribes, resulting in even more devastating attacks on plantations. [30] The new policy proved almost impossible to enforce, as both colonists and local officials viewed Native Americans and Africans as the same, and the exploitation of both as the easiest way to wealth, though the proprietors continued to attempt to enforce the changes for profit reasons. [ further explanation needed ] [30]

In the other colonies slavery developed into a predominant form of labor over time. [32] It is estimated that Carolina traders operating out of Charles Town exported an estimated 30,000 to 51,000 Native American captives between 1670 and 1715 in a profitable slave trade with the Caribbean, Spanish Hispaniola, and Northern colonies. [33] It was more profitable to have Native American slaves because African slaves had to be shipped and purchased, while native slaves could be captured and immediately taken to plantations whites in the Northern colonies sometimes preferred Native American slaves, especially Native women and children, to Africans because Native American women were agriculturalist and children could be trained more easily. [25] However, Carolinians had more of a preference for African slaves but also capitalized on the Indian slave trade combining both. [32] In December 1675, Carolina's grand council created a written justification of the enslavement and sale of Native Americans, claiming that those who were enemies of tribes the English had befriended were targets, stating those enslaved were not "innocent Indians". [30] The council also claimed it was within the wishes of their "Indian allies" to take their prisoners and that the prisoners were willing to work in the country or be transported elsewhere. [30] The council used this to please the proprietors, and to fulfill the practice of enslaving no one against their wishes or be transported without his own consent out of Carolina, though this is what the colonists did. [30]

In John Norris' "Profitable Advice for Rich and Poor" (1712), he recommends buying 18 native women, 15 African men, and 3 African women. [32] Slave traders preferred captive Native Americans who were under 18 years old, as they were believed to be more easily trained to new work. [25] In the Illinois Country, French colonists baptized the Native American slaves whom they bought for labor. [25] They believed it essential to convert Native Americans to Catholicism. [25] Church baptismal records have thousands of entries for Indian slaves. [25] In the eastern colonies it became common practice to enslave Native American women and African men with a parallel growth of enslavement for both Africans and Native Americans. [32] This practice also lead to large number of unions between Africans and Native Americans. [34] This practice of combining African slave men and Native American women was especially common in South Carolina. [32] Native American women were cheaper to buy than Native American men or Africans. Moreover, it was more efficient to have native women because they were skilled laborers, the primary agriculturalists in their communities. [32] During this era it wasn't uncommon for reward notices in colonial newspapers to mention runaway slaves speaking of Africans, Native Americans, and those of a partial mix between them. [31]

Many early laborers, including Africans, entered the colonies as indentured servants and could be free after paying off their passage. Slavery was associated with people who were non-Christian and non-European. In a Virginia General Assembly declaration of 1705, some terms were defined: [35] [ non-primary source needed ]

And also be in [sic.] enacted, by the authority aforesaid, and it is hereby enacted, That all servants imported and brought into the Country. who were not christians in their native country, (except. Turks and Moors in amity with her majesty, and others that can make due proof of their being free in England, or any other christian country, before they were shipped. ) shall be accounted and be slaves, and such be here bought and sold notwithstanding a conversion to christianity afterward. [Section IV.] And if any slave resists his master, or owner, or other person, by his or her order, correcting such slave, and shall happen to be killed in such correction, it shall not be accounted felony but the master, owner, and every such other person so giving correction, shall be free and acquit of all punishment and accusation for the same, as if such incident had never happened. [Section XXXIV.] [35] [36]

In the mid-18th century, South Carolina colonial governor James Glen began to promote an official policy that aimed to create in Native Americans an "aversion" to African Americans in an attempt to thwart possible alliances between them. [37] [38] In 1758, James Glen wrote: "It has always been the policy of this government to create an aversion in them Indians to Negroes." [39]

The dominance of the Native American slave trade lasted until around 1730, when it led to a series of devastating wars among the tribes. [3] The slave trade created tensions that were not present among different tribes and even large scale abandonment of original homelands to escape the wars and slave trade. [32] The majority of the Indian wars occurred in the south. [40] The Westos originally lived near Lake Erie in the 1640s but relocated to escape the Indian slave trade and Iroquois mourning wars designed to repopulate the Iroquois Confederacy due to European enslavement and large number of deaths due to wars and disease. [32] The Westos eventually moved to Virginia and then South Carolina to take advantage of trading routes. [ which? ] [32] The Westos strongly contributed to the rising involvement of southeastern Native American communities in the Indian slave trade especially with Westos expansion. [32] The increased rise of the gun-slave trade forced the other tribes to participate or their refusal to engage in enslaving meant they would become targets of slavers. [32] Before 1700, the Westos in Carolina dominated much of the Native American slave trade, enslaving natives of southern tribes indiscriminately. [29] The Westos gained power rapidly but the British and plantation owners began to fear them as they were well-armed with a lot of rifle power through trading unremorsefully from 1680 to 1682 the English, allied with the Savannah who resented Westo control of the trade wiped them out killing most of the men and selling most of the women and children that could be captured. [29] As a result, the Westo tribal group was completely eliminated culturally its survivors were scattered or else sold into slavery in Antigua. [3] Those Native Americans nearer the European settlements raided tribes farther into the interior in the quest for slaves to be sold, especially to the British. [32]

In response, the southeastern tribes intensified their warring and hunting, which increasingly challenged their traditional reasons for hunting or warring. [29] [32] The traditional reasoning for war was revenge not for profit. [32] The Chickasaw war parties had pushed the Houmas tribe further south where the tribe struggled to find stability. [29] In 1704, the Chickasaw alliance with the French had weakened and the British used the opportunity to make an alliance with the Chickasaw bringing them 12 Taensa slaves. [29] In Mississippi and Tennessee the Chickasaw played both the French and British against each other, and preyed on the Choctaw, who were traditional allies of the French, as well as the Arkansas, the Tunica, and the Taensa, establishing slave depots throughout their territories. [18] In 1705, the Chickasaw activated their war parties again targeting the unexpected Choctaw since a friendship had been established between the two tribes several Choctaw families were taken into captivity rekindling a war between the two tribes and ending their allegiance. [29] A single Chickasaw raid in 1706 on the Choctaw yielded 300 Native American captives for the English. [18] The warring between them continued through the early 18th century with the worse incident for the Choctaw occurring in 1711 as the British also attacked the Choctaw simultaneously fearing them more because they were allies to the French. [29] It is estimated that this warring mixed with enslavement and epidemics devastated the Chickasaw, it is estimated that in 1685 their population was 7,000 plus but by 1715 it was as low as 4,000. [29] As the southern tribes continued their involvement in slave trade they became more involved economically and began to amass significant debts. [32] The Yamasee amassed a great debt in 1711 for rum, but the General Assembly had voted to forgive their debts, but the tribe replied by stating they were preparing for war to pay their debts. [32] The Indian slave trade began to negatively affect the social organization in many of the southern tribes particularly in gender roles in their communities. [32] As male warriors began to interact more with colonial men and societies which were heavily patriarchal they began to increasingly sought out control over captives to trade with European men. [32] Among the Cherokee the undermining of women's power began to create tensions among their communities e.g. warriors started to undermine women's power to determine when to wage war. [32] In the Cherokee and other tribes' societies "war women" and "beloved women" were those who had proven themselves in battle, and were respected with vested privileges to decide what to do with captives. [32] [41] The incidents led warring women to dress as traders in effort to get captives before warriors. [32] A similar pattern of friendly and then hostile relations among the English and Native Americans followed in the southeastern colonies. [3]

For example, the Creek, a loose confederacy of many different groups who had banded together to defend themselves against slave-raiding, allied with the English and moved on the Apalachee in Spanish Florida, destroying them as a group of people in the quest for slaves. [3] These raids also destroyed several other Florida tribes, including the Timucua. [18] [40] In 1685, the Yamasee were persuaded by Scottish slave traders to attack the Timucuans, the attack was devastating. [29] Most of the colonial-era Native Americans of Florida were killed, enslaved, or scattered. [18] It is estimated that English-Creek raids on Florida yielded 4,000 Native American slaves between 1700 and 1705. [18] A few years later, the Shawnee raided the Cherokee in similar fashion. [18] In North Carolina, the Tuscarora, fearing among other things that the English planned to enslave them as well as take their land, attacked the English in a war that lasted from 1711 to 1713. [18] In this war, Carolina whites, aided by the Yamasee, completely vanquished the Tuscarora, taking thousands of captives as slaves. [18] [40] Within a few years, a similar fate befell the Yuchis and the Yamasee, who had fallen out of favor with the British. [18] The French armed the Natchez tribe, who lived on the banks of the Mississippi, and the Illinois against the Chickasaw. [18] By 1729, the Natchez, along with a number of enslaved and runaway Africans who lived among them, rose up against the French. An army composed of French soldiers, Choctaw warriors, and enslaved Africans defeated them. [18] Trade behavior of several tribes also began to change returning to more traditional ways of adopting war captives instead of immediately selling them to white slave traders or holding them for three days before deciding to sell them or not. [29] This was due to the heavy losses many of the tribes were obtaining in the numerous wars that continued throughout the 18th century. [29]

The lethal combination of slavery, disease, and warfare dramatically decreased the free southern Native American populations it is estimated that the southern tribes numbered around 199,400 in 1685 but decreased to 90,100 in 1715. [29] [32] The Indian wars of the early 18th century, combined with the growing availability of African slaves, essentially ended the Native American slave trade by 1750. [3] [18] Numerous colonial slave traders had been killed in the fighting, and the remaining Native American groups banded together, more determined to face the Europeans from a position of strength rather than be enslaved. [32] [18] During this time records also show that many Native American women bought African men but, unknown to the European sellers, the women freed and married the men into their tribe. [42] Though the Indian slave trade ended the practice of enslaving Native Americans continued, records from June 28, 1771 show Native American children were kept as slaves in Long Island, New York. [21] Native Americans had also married while enslaved creating families both native and some of partial African descent. [31] Occasional mentioning of Native American slaves running away, being bought, or sold along with Africans in newspapers is found throughout the later colonial period. [21] [32] Many of the Native American remnant tribes joined confederacies such as the Choctaw, the Creek, and the Catawba for protection, making them less easy victims of European slavers. [32] There are also many accounts of former slaves mentioning having a parent or grandparent who was Native American or of partial descent. [34]

Records and slave narratives obtained by the WPA (Works Progress Administration) clearly indicate that the enslavement of Native Americans continued in the 1800s, mostly through kidnappings. [34] One example is a documented WPA interview from a former slave, Dennis Grant, whose mother was full-blooded Native American. [34] She was kidnapped as a child near Beaumont, Texas, in the 1850s, and made a slave, later becoming the forced wife of another enslaved person. [34] The abductions showed that even in the 1800s little distinction was still made between African Americans and Native Americans. [34] Both Native American and African-American enslaved people were at risk of sexual abuse by slaveholders and other white men of power. [43] [44] The pressures of slavery also gave way to the creation of colonies of runaway slaves and Native Americans living in Florida, called Maroons. [45]


Related Info – Our favorite Native American movies on Netflix

Public Broadcasting System (PBS) has long been appreciated for its educational TV series and movies. While not everything they produce receives positive acclaim, they are generally thought of as thorough, accurate, and fair in their depiction of people, places, and times throughout history. PBS Native American documentaries follow these expectations. The collection here and the additional ones listed below can give you a more accurate look at the historical, cultural, and current experiences of various people across the United States and other parts of the Americas.

Native America Series

The latest offering from PBS has four episodes that cover many different Native American peoples and historical information about each. It attempts to cover 150 centuries of life from the earliest Mesoamerican civilizations to more current issues and systems still concerning the native population today. Of course, everything cannot get covered fully in that time span, but PBS has received a positive review for this series already.

The unique thing about this collection of documentaries on DVD and offered through streaming episodes is the focus on culture throughout the ages. It has a large selection of origin stories told in unique ‘shadow' style animations for the Choctaw, Inca, Teotihuacan, and Comanche nations among others. To get the full experience, visit the PBS website for more interviews, video clips, and interactive maps.

Ken Burn's The West

This historical series covers more than just Native American history in nine episodes. The “wild west” part of the North America and related expansion and turmoil included a lot of conflict between Europeans and native populations who already lived on the land. The episodes include many topics from Central American “Cities of Gold” to the gold rush, the Trail of Tears to the Civil War, and the building of the transcontinental railroad. As with many other Ken Burn's documentaries, this one is praised for its thoroughness and presentation. He produced it in opposition to what he called the “lily-white version of the West” that had long permeated documentaries and fictional films.

This series, although it does not focus on Native Americans precisely, has a lot of information about how the settlers and early citizens of the United States interacted with and affected the tribal populations. Each disc covers an approximately a 10 to 50 year period from before 1800 up until 1914. It is available on both Netflix and PBS and for sale at other major retailers.

We Still Live Here As Nutayunean

Not every quality Native American documentary on PBS is a grand historical epic that includes prominent time periods and personalities from the past. This story highlights a more modern quest to reclaim lost culture and language by some of the native people in the USA. It is the tale of a Wampanoag social worker who revives a “dead” language of her people with the help of others and hundreds of records of the language almost lost to time. While short and highly specific, this documentary offers a very unique look into how some strive to hold onto the things that make each first nations group unique.


Watch the video: Native American History for Kids. An insightful look into the history of the Native Americans (January 2022).