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The impact of European discovery and colonization on Native American culture


The European discovery and colonization had a profound impact on Native American culture, leading to significant disruptions. Colonization resulted in the loss of native lands, introduction of diseases that decimated populations, and forced assimilation policies that eroded traditional lifestyles and cultural practices. Additionally, European settlers imposed new economic systems and altered the social and political structures of Native American societies.

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How did European discovery and colonization impact Native American culture?

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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What impact did European colonies have on Native Americans?

This is a very broad question.  In general, European colonization had many impacts on Native Americans.  In some cases, these were positive such as the trade relationships that were opened between the French and some Native populations in what is now Canada. In some cases, they were neutral, such as intermarriage and the spread of new cultural ideas in both directions. In some cases, they were negative, bringing epidemic diseases that wiped out Native populations and violence that forced Native populations to relocate or be overtaken by European colonizers. 

There were several factors involved in creating the Spanish empire.  One was gunpowder.  Since many of the Spanish conquerors had guns and by and large the Native populations did not, guns were not only a deadly weapon but also a factor in intimidating and psychologically overpowering populations.  Horses were another factor.  Many of the Spanish warriors were mounted on horseback.  This was both a military advantage and also a tool for manipulation, as some of the Native populations, most notably those in what is now Mexico, had legends that featured heroes or gods on horseback, so there was another tool for psychological conquest. In addition, epidemic diseases also played a role, since diseases that were common in Europe were unheard of in the New World and easily decimated populations.  Once these conquering factors had overwhelmed civilizations, as they did in many places, the tools of religious teaching/conversion and civil government (i.e. taxes and laws) were used to begin to build an empire in the Americas. 

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