What was the impact of European discovery and colonization on Native American culture from first contact through the closing of the American frontier?

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saintfester | Middle School Teacher | (Level 3) Associate Educator

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Europeans had a tremendous affect on Native American culture. There were some positive influences, but the most notable effects were definitely negative for Native American people and their culture over all.

a)      Population: Historians generally agree that prior to European contact, Native American populations in North American were somewhere around 5 million. Between 85-90% of that number was eventually wiped off the face of the earth through the introduction of European diseases and continual warfare.

b)      Territory: Colonization and the idea of Manifest Destiny forced Native Americans off 95% of their ancestral homelands between 1500 and 1900 when the American Frontier was finally announced to be “closed”. Native were either killed or forced onto reservations where disease, starvation and poverty took a further toll on their culture.

c)       Resources: All Native American tribes had a deep respect for the natural world since they depended on it for their survival. The arrival of Europeans caused the destruction of landforms, the deforestation of large swaths of land and the destruction of food sources, such as the American Bison.

d)      Religion: Native Americans were forcibly converted, most notably by the Spanish early on and the English/Americans in the 1800’s. Replacing traditional tribal spirituality and religious views broke up what little social structure remained after the displacement and death.

e)      Technology: The arrival of European tools and technology did make Native American life easier. Metal tools, guns and especially the arrival of the horse helped tribes to master their environment and control more territory.

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