European Colonization of North America

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How did the European and Native American view of land ownership differ? Why would this be a source of conflict between the two groups?

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Generalizing about Native Americans is difficult because when the Europeans landed in North America and began to establish colonies, there were hundreds of different tribes. Many were nomadic; that is, they had no fixed dwelling place, but moved from camp to camp according to the food supplies available in the various seasons. Others, such as the Pueblo Indians of the southwestern area of what is now the United States, a group that the Spanish encountered early on, lived in more fixed villages and practiced agriculture. In general, however, Native Americans did not practice individual ownership of land. In fact, though they lived off the land and had territorial rights from tribe to tribe, the idea of land ownership was alien to them. If they had a concept of ownership at all, they believed that the land was owned by the entire tribe and administered by the chiefs of the tribe.

The differing concepts of ownership became a problem when the Europeans wanted to purchase and take over land from the Indians. Chiefs were able to represent tribal interests and negotiate the sale of land, but Europeans would often buy land from Indians who were not chiefs, so the sales had no validity. Additionally, because the Native American concept of land ownership differed so profoundly from the European model, Europeans were able to deceive the Indians into signing away their land without the Indians realizing what they were doing. The Europeans would then often violently force the Indians off the land that they had obtained by trickery.

Later, the United States government manipulated Native Americans into losing a large portion of their reservation lands through the Dawes Act, also known as the General Allotment Act, and other similar laws. This divided up reservation lands into individual allotments for private ownership. It was a deliberate attempt to abolish the Native American practice of communal land ownership so that white settlers could take most of their land.

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The Europeans and the Native Americans had very different views on the concept of land ownership. This is part of the reason why there was some conflict between these two groups.

The Native Americans didn’t believe in the idea that people could own land. The Native Americans believed that nobody owned the land. Instead, they believed the land belonged to everybody within their tribe.

The Europeans, on the other hand, believed that people had a right to own land. They believed people could buy land, which would then belong to the individual. That individual would then be free to do what he or she wanted to do with the land. Thus, the Europeans believed it was acceptable to fight for land and to take it away from the Native Americans if they won the battle. They also believed they could make or impose treaties on the Native Americans that would give the Europeans control or ownership of the land. This was a concept in which the Native Americans didn’t believe or follow in their culture.

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