Native Americans and the Colonists

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How did Native Americans resist or accommodate European colonialism in North America? How did Native Americans' resistance or accommodation shape the development of the European colonies?

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Native Americans resisted European colonial expansion in many different ways. They sometimes boycotted white settlers by refusing to trade with them or to provide them with relevant information, and they sometimes denounced the Europeans as intruders and criticized their way of life and noxious influence on Native Americans. The many instances of such resistance included the temporary boycott of the Jamestown settlers by the Powhatan federation and the critique of white influence by religious Native American leaders immediately preceding the Pontiac rebellion in 1763.

The ultimate form of Native American resistance was, of course, armed conflict, which sometimes took the form of large scale war or sporadic attacks on enemy settlements. The colonists engaged in brutal revenge attacks, often on innocent populations, as they regarded all Native Americans as guilty for any attack by any Native American. This brutal warfare played an important role in shaping the political positions of the colonists. For example, the Delawares and other Native American peoples attacked white settlements in the Ohio valley during the 1760s and 1770s. They believed that the whites there intended to take away their land, as an earlier group of European settlers had in the seventeenth century. When the British colonial authorities proved unable to protect those white settlers who had defied the official prohibition on white settlement to the west of the Appalachian Mountains by settling in the Ohio Valley, the whites there felt betrayed by their own colonial government. These events contributed to the settlers’ support of the American Revolution.

The ongoing low-grade warfare between the whites and the Native Americans was an integral part of the western frontier experience throughout most of the nineteenth century. It shaped American social and cultural attitudes and contributed to the suspicion and rejection of the “other” on the one hand and to the romanticizing of arms, armed struggle, and the self-reliance of pioneers on the other hand. The ongoing American love of guns may derive from this romanticization; this is a persistent feature of US culture throughout history, despite routine shootings of innocent people, suicides, and gun-related accidents.

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