Tuesday, June 14, 2005

European Colonization

The European colonization of the Americas forever changed the lives and cultures of the Native Americans. In the 15th to 19th centuries, their populations were ravaged, by the privations of displacement, by disease, and in many cases by warfare with European groups and enslavement by them. The first Native American group encountered by Columbus, the 250,000 Arawaks of Haiti, were enslaved. Only 500 survived by the year 1550, and the group was extinct before 1650.
In the 15th century Spaniards and other Europeans brought horses to the Americas. Some of these animals escaped and began to breed and increase their numbers in the wild. Ironically, the horse had originally evolved in the Americas, but the last American horses, (species Equus Scotti and others died out at the end of the last ice age. The re-introduction of the horse had a profound impact on Native American culture in the Great Plains of North America. This new mode of travel made it possible for some tribes to greatly expand their territories, exchange goods with neighboring tribes, and more easily capture game.
Europeans also brought diseases against which the Native Americans had no immunity. Chicken pox and measles, though common and rarely fatal among Europeans, often proved fatal to Native Americans, and more dangerous diseases such as smallpox were especially deadly to Native American populations. It is difficult to estimate the total percentage of the Native American population killed by these diseases. Epidemics often immediately followed European exploration, sometimes destroying entire villages. Some historians estimate that up to 80% of some Native populations may have died due to European diseases. For more information, see population history of American indigenous peoples.

Forced Relocations

In the 19th century, the Westward expansion of the United States incrementally expelled large numbers of Native Americans from vast areas of their territory, either by forcing them into marginal lands farther and farther west, or by outright massacres. Under President Andrew Jackson, Congress passed the Indian Removal Act of 1830, which forced the Five Civilized Tribes from the east onto western reservations, primarily to take their land for settlement. The forced migration was marked by great hardship and many deaths. Its route is known as the Trail of Tears.
Conflicts generally known at the time as "Indian Wars" broke out between U.S. forces and many different tribes. Authorities entered numerous treaties during this period, but later abrogated many for various reasons. Well-known military engagements include the atypical Native American victory at the Battle of Little Bighorn in 1876, and the massacre of Native Americans at Wounded Knee in 1890. On January 31, 1876 the United States government ordered all remaining Native Americans to move into reservations or reserves. This, together with the near-extinction of the American Bison which many tribes had lived on, set about the downturn of Prairie Culture that had developed around the use of the horse for hunting, travel and trading.

Current status

In the early 21st century, Native American communities remain an enduring fixture on the United States landscape, in the American economy, and in the lives of Native Americans. Communities have consistently formed governments that administer services like firefighting, natural resource management, and law enforcement. Most Native American communities have established court systems to adjudicate matters related to local ordinances, and most also look to various forms of moral and social authority vested in traditional affiliations within the community. To address the housing needs of Native Americans, Congress passed the Native American Housing and Self Determination Act (NAHASDA) in 1996. This legislation replaced public housing, and other 1937 Housing Act programs directed towards Indian Housing Authorities, with a block grant program directed towards Tribes.
Gambling has become a leading industry. Casinos operated by many Native American governments in the United States are creating a stream of gambling revenue that some communities are beginning to use as leverage to build diversified economies. Native American communities have waged and prevailed in legal battles to assure recognition of rights to self-determination and to use of natural resources. Some of those rights, known as treaty rights are enumerated in early treaties signed with the young United States government. Tribal sovereignty has become a cornerstone of American jurisprudence, and at least on the surface, in national legislative policies. Although many Native American tribes have casinos, they are a source of conflict. Most tribes, especially small ones such as the Winnemem Wintu of Redding, California, feel that casinos and their proceeds destroy culture from the inside out. These tribes refuse to participate in the gaming industry.

Native Americans in Mexico

The territory of modern-day Mexico was home to numerous Native American civilizations prior to the arrival of the European conquistadors: The Olmecs, who flourished from between 1200 BC to about 800 BC in the coastal regions of the Gulf of Mexico; the Zapotecs and the Mixtecs, who held sway in the mountains of Oaxaca and the Isthmus of Tehuantepec; the Maya in the Yucatán (and into neighbouring areas of contemporary Central America; and, of course, the Aztecs, who, from their central capital at Tenochtitlan, dominated much of the centre and south of the country (and the non-Aztec inhabitants of those areas) when Hernán Cortés first landed at Veracruz.
In contrast to what was the general rule in the rest of North America, the history of the colony of New Spain was one of racial intermingling (mestizaje). Mestizos quickly came to account for a majority of the colony's population; however, significant pockets of pure-blood indígenas (as the native peoples are now known) have survived to the present day.
With mestizos numbering some 60% of the modern population, estimates for the numbers of unmixed Native Americans vary from a very modest 10% to a more liberal (and probably more accurate) 30% of the population. The reason for this discrepancy may be the Mexican government's policy of using linguistic, rather than racial, criteria as the basis of classification.
In the states of Chiapas and Oaxaca and in the interior of the Yucatán peninsula the majority of the population is indigenous. Large indigenous minorities, including Nahuas, Purépechas, and Mixtecs are also present in the central regions of Mexico. In Northern Mexico indigenous people are a small minority: they are practically absent from the northeast but, in the northwest and central borderlands, include the Tarahumara of Chihuahua and the Yaquis and Seri of Sonora.
While Mexicans are universally proud of their indigenous heritage (generally more so than of their Spanish roots), modern-day indigenous Mexicans are still the target of discrimination and outright racism. In particular, in areas such as Chiapas — most famously, but also in Oaxaca, Puebla, Guerrero, and other remote mountainous parts — indigenous communities have been left on the margins of national development for the past 500 years. Indigenous customs and uses enjoy no official status.

Music And Arts

Native American music is almost entirely monophonic, but there are notable exceptions. Traditional Native American music often includes drumming but little other instrumentation, although flutes are played by individuals. The tuning of these flutes is not precise and depends on the length of the wood used and the hand span of the intended player, but the finger holes are most often around a whole step apart and, at least in Northern California, a flute was not used if it turned out to have an interval close to a half step.
Performers with Native American parentage have occasionally appeared in American popular music, most notably Shania Twain (ethnically European, but raised by a First Nations adoptive father), Robbie Robertson, Rita Coolidge, Wayne Newton, and Redbone (band). Some, such as John Trudell have used music to comment on life in Native America, and others, such as R. Carlos Nakai integrate traditional sounds with modern sounds in instrumental recordings. A variety of small and medium-sized recording companies offer an abundance of recent music by Native American performers young and old, ranging from Pow-wow drum music to hard-driving rock-and-roll.
Artists have at times misrepresented themselves as having native parentage, most notably Johnny Cash, who traced his heritage to Scottish ancestors and admitted he fabricated a story that he was one-quarter Cherokee. The integrity of certain Native American artworks is now protected by an act of Congress that prohibits representation of art as Native American when it is not the product of an enrolled Native American artist.
The Cradle board is used by mothers to carry their baby whilst working or traveling.