Were American Indians used as slaves? Did they resist or help navigate and teach how to live on their land? Both?I'm very interested in the American Indians in the United States (approx. 1650) and...

Were American Indians used as slaves? Did they resist or help navigate and teach how to live on their land? Both?

I'm very interested in the American Indians in the United States (approx. 1650) and how slavery came about.  European interaction, etc. American Indian reaction to the Europeans and--in particular--slavery.

Asked on by loola555

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selah22's profile pic

selah22 | Middle School Teacher | (Level 1) Adjunct Educator

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Native Americans were absolutely used as slaves in the Caribbean and Central/South America as the Spanish established their control of the area by colonizing.  It was during this time that the encomienda system became standard, including the control of Native American villages, and using their population as the workforce for large plantations.  As disease and overwork began to wipe out the indigenous population, the Spainsh looked for another means of labor in the African slave trade.

It should be noted that as the Spanish began to colonized the Americas, one of their stated goals was the spread of Christianity.  It would seem that their understanding of how to enact this evangelism was to first conform the native population to their own way of life - manner of dress, speech, and tradition.  As this conformity was set in place, the general belief was that they would naturally be converting these former "savages" to Christianity.  There are instances of resistance, and several of enslaved people escaping if possible.  There are also records of Spanish colonists experiencing a change of heart upon witnessing the treatment of native peoples first hand.  Some, like Bartolome de Las Casas, devoted themselves to speaking out for reform.

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kodasport | High School Teacher | (Level 2) Adjunct Educator

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The Spaninsh enslaved the natives from the beginning of their time in the new world.  The Aztecs and later the Inca were put into slavery working in gold and silver mines.  The natives were also used on the plantations throughout New Spain. 

In the 13 English Colonies native american slaves were bought and sold until around 1750.  Natives were not easy to maintain because colonists reported many escapes that were successful. 

Native American groups such as the Five Civilized Tribes even became so assimilated that they themselves took part in the African Slave Trade.  But in general native americans were abolitionists.  Groups gave safe harbor to runaways slaves.

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MaudlinStreet's profile pic

MaudlinStreet | High School Teacher | (Level 2) Senior Educator

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You should check out James Loewen's book Lies My Teacher Told Me. The chapter on Columbus, and the chapter entitled "Red Eyes" are a wealth of information regarding native/European interaction. He discusses the native slave trade in great detail, including how the Puritans "sold the survivors of the Pequot War into slavery in Bermuda in 1637." The Spanish missionaries in California had the largest population of enslaved natives, although the encomienda system kept many enslaved in Florida. 

Native tribes also began to enslave each other, to sell to the Europeans for guns and other goods. In addition, settlers began transporting native slaves (who were able to escape while in their native country) to the West Indies in exchange for African slaves. So the native slave trade actually drove and influenced growth of the African slave trade as well. Along with rampant disease, the slave trade was one of the leading factors in decimating the native population soon after European settlement.

There was certainly resistance, although the spread of disease before mass immigration from Europe essentially halved native populations. Combined with differing cultural definitions of property and ownership, this created the idea of American Indian tribes as "savages" who merely roamed the land. In fact, the reason New England especially was described as "park-like" in so many first hand accounts of European arrival in America is because the native tribes had cultivated the land and grown crops there before.

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missrita415 | High School Teacher | eNotes Newbie

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This would be a great thesis statement for a research topic. Recently, I have been working with students who are studying a Survey of U.S. History from 1500. From what I understand of Native American history, the Indians were instrumental in helping to cultivate the land and were able to govern themselves as civilized people. They were very helpful in showing the newcomers how to live and survive here in the U.S. There is evidence that they were actually helpful to runaway slaves as they assisted them with hiding from their white slave masters. Then as the cotton trade grew in the mid 1800's, there was a group of Indians in Oklahoma who were responsible for using black slaves as a means of labor to work the cotton fields. There is much to be gained from studying Native American life and culture to see how much of an influence they have had on the building and economic develoment of America. 

idamus's profile pic

idamus | Student, Undergraduate | eNotes Newbie

Posted on

if i recall correctley, they WERE used as slaves and DID resist however, seeing as how the americans had the more advanced weapons they submited to them.

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