What Was the Effect of Westward Expansion on Native Americans?
There are several documented incidents of war between specific Native American tribes and European settlers, but there are no exact or specific numbers that can be presented to describe the toll that warfare had on the Native Americans. Several of the well-known wars include the conflict between the Florida Indians and the Spanish, the Iroquois and the French, and the French and Indian Seven Years War.
The Native Americans’ descendants and traditions can be traced back more than 25,000 years prior to the arrival of the European settlers. The tribes fought to keep their land and defend their freedoms, but their methods of warfare could not withstand the brute force of bullets.
Prior to the arrival of the Europeans, the Native Americans had established their own medical system to treat and cure diseases known to them. However, the Europeans brought new types of diseases into the Native American lands, which wreaked havoc and caused many deaths. These new diseases included influenza, typhus fever and smallpox. The Native Americans also did not have previous contact with cholera, bubonic plague and several sexually transmitted diseases, such as gonorrhea.
The exact death toll is uncertain because there is no way to truly know the number of the Native American population prior to the European conquest. Some estimates put the figure at about 90 to 95 percent of the population between 1492 and 1650.
Not only were the effects devastating with a high death toll, but the essence and history of each tribe were also put at risk. By the end of the 19th century, most Native American tribes had been sequestered into Indian reservations. On these reservations, Native American children were forced into boarding schools. These boarding schools were military-like, and forced children to speak English and distanced them from their true cultural heritage.
Loss of Culture
The Native Americans lost their land to the Europeans, which also meant losing links to their culture. Some tribes were able to preserve their culture as best they could, whereas others were later forgotten. The land that they lived on was intricately tied into their traditions and cultural identity. Also by losing their land, they lost their freedom to live and raise their children as they wished. To this day, proactive efforts to preserve parts of Native American culture are ongoing.
Contemporary Effects of European Conquest
Even in modern times, Native Americans still feel the effects of European conquest from generations ago. For example, a federal assimilation program forced many Native Americans into specific cosmopolitan areas that have high crime and drug abuse rates. Additionally, surveys have found a higher rate of alcohol and drug abuse among Native American teenagers in comparison to non-Native American teenagers.
Remaining tribes must work to keep their culture alive. There are ongoing efforts to preserve Native American languages by linguists. Also, the National Congress of American Indians continues to protect and empower Native Americans to preserve their culture.