Native Americans, also known as American Indians, lived on American soil long before the white man ever arrived in this vast unknown land. They are believed to have occupied America from the time of the Ice Age, crossing a natural land bridge across the Bering Sound into what’s now known as Alaska.
The name Indian was first given to them by Christopher Columbus who mistakenly thought he had landed in the Indies. When the Europeans first came to America, there were around ten million Indians living in the area north of Mexico.
Native Americans at first welcomed their white skinned visitors. Their way of dress, beards, and great ships amazed them. Their technology was welcomed even more. Steel, cannons, guns, mirrors and copper and brass kettles, as well as other items, fascinated and entranced them.
The natives quickly learned their visitors were coming to stay and didn’t have the same respect of nature or the rhythms of the seasons. As more and more Europeans came to their shore, they forced the Native Americans to retreat further and further into the interior of the continent. They began seeing their forests cut down for lumber, their wild animals they killed for food, killed for their pelts. The buffaloes were killed for their robes and their tongues where were a delicacy to eat for the Europeans. The Native Americans soon regarded them as “soulless” that designed tools and weapons for strange and horrible purposes.
The Europeans also brought with them diseases that decimated tribes because they had no immunity to them. They soon discovered the Europeans were determined to conquer their lands and make it their own. They were coming in ever increasing numbers.
Conflicts arose over who owned the land. The Europeans laid claim to the land they lived on because they didn’t consider the Native Americans to have any claim on it. They moved around according to the seasons so were thought to not be interested in claiming their own land. The Indians believed the land to be theirs even if the Europeans didn’t see it that way.
This led to what is known as the Indian Wars. The Indians were at a distinct disadvantage because they were outnumbered and their nomadic life didn’t allow them to be an organized group. They also had a distinct disadvantage when it came to weaponry.
The Wars ended near the end of the century with a massacre at Wounded Knee, South Dakota. Those wars and atrocities by both sides are now history. Hopefully, we will all learn from the pain and not be forced to relive the past in all of its misery.
Both white Americans and the Native Indians use the terms Native American and Indian interchangeably as well.