How did Native Americans’ view of land use differ from that of the Europeans?

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pohnpei397's profile pic

pohnpei397 | College Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

Posted on

Basically, Native Americans viewed land as something that was to be used communally by all the members of a tribe.  There was no idea among the Indians that land was something to be divided up, sold, and owned by individuals.

This view of land ownership can be seen in a speech given by the Indian leader Tecumseh, in which he is addressing William Henry Harrison, who would later be President of the United States.  Tecumseh is quoted as saying that Indians needed to

...unite in claiming a common and equal right in the land, as it was at first, and should be now -- for it was never divided, but belongs to all.

By saying this, Tecumseh is laying out a much different understanding of land use than we have now.  He sees the land as a communal resource that is to be used by all.  He does not see it as Europeans saw it (and as we see it now), as a resource that could and should be owned by individuals who could keep it as their own and exclude others from using it.

This tension between Native American and European views of land use and ownership was a major source of conflict between Natives and Europeans for much of the history of what is now the United States.

mkoren's profile pic

mkoren | Middle School Teacher | (Level 3) Senior Educator

Posted on

Native Americans had different views about land than the Europeans had. The Europeans believed that land could be owned. They believed that people should develop the land to provide for personal and economic growth. According to the European perspective, it was acceptable to extract minerals from the land in order to make money. Land could be bought and sold, and it could be used for any purpose. If a person wanted to sell land to a company to build a railroad, the Europeans believed this would be considered an acceptable use of the land.

The Native Americans didn’t believe in personal land ownership. They believed that people could live off of the land. However, because many of the Native Americans were somewhat nomadic before being placed on reservations, they felt the land was present for all to use. The Native Americans believed that the land was sacred and should be treated with respect.

These differences in opinion often led to clashes with the Europeans over land. The Native Americans lost many of these clashes and were eventually put on reservations.


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