For many years Native Americans have endured segregation, prejudice, and racism. This has left many with the question of what place the Native Americans hold in the US society. They have struggled for many years to achieve equality. Many have died and the surviving ones are still facing many problems in their lives. This essay will look at how the Native American came to occupy America and also look at some of the injustices and conflicts they have experienced throughout the years and at present.
History of Native Americans
It has not been easy to tell the exact history of the Native Americans, but estimates indicate that close to 90 million Native Americans were living in America by the time Europeans set foot in America. It is widely believed that Native Americans travelled through a land bridge from Serbia into the present Alaska.
They were first called Indians by Christopher Columbus who by mistake, thought he had landed in the Indies. They were later called American Indians, but at present they are simply known as Native Americans. It is believed that the Europeans were the first people to get in touch with the Indians, who warmly received them in their land (Native American, 2011).
With time the Europeans disregarded the hospitality extended to them and disputes arose mostly concerning land. This led to the White settlers considering the Native Americans as their enemy. They saw them to be less human who were not supposed to live at the same societal level as the whites.
They therefore killed those who opposed or tried to stand up against the European invasion of their land. The disregard of the human rights of the Native Americans by the Whites put in place the foundation for racism, prejudice, and discrimination for all the Native Americans for decades in the future. The whites saw Native Americans as a backward people who needed to be civilized. This idea later became an American policy.
The Natives who did not budge to the pressure were removed from their land by force. This led to wars, the famous Indian wars in which many Indians perished. Those who remained were put in reserves where living conditions were poor. In such conditions, the natives were attacked by diseases such as cholera, smallpox and many other deadly diseases that wiped out entire villages (Native Americans, 2011).
Prejudices become explicit when the Spanish labeled Native Americans as brutal and unenlightened. They took all the resources from the Natives land and killed many in the disguise of religious and racial superiority. Soon the Native Americans were reduced to manageable numbers and thus became subordinates to the Europeans.
The nineteenth century experienced widespread segregation of the Native Americans. The US government policies worked to the advantage of the now dominant whites while disregarding the natives. The policies advocated for the relocation of natives to pave the way for the settlement of whites (Digital History, 2006).
When the whites relocated the Native Americans, they put them in special areas that we have already identified as reservations. In doing this, they were going against environmental justice of the native people. The reservations were mostly land that the whites regarded as fruitless and therefore not useful to them.
Those natives living in the western territories were relocated into rocky areas of the desert. These areas were close to deserts that become sites for testing bombs in times of war. At present, there are reservations that are located near oil plants, factories and industries. Such places present many health hazards to these people (Kamps, 2001).
In the 19th century, Native Americans were subjected to dual labor markets. Records show that the natives sometimes willingly undertook to work under these conditions, but the fact will always remain that they had no other choice.
There culture shows that Native Americans were a people who valued trade and their stuff traded. The white traders capitalized on this by willingly putting Native Americans into debt as a way of inducing them to get them more furs. Failure to pay led the natives to work for the whites, a practice that eventually developed into peonage.
Those natives who worked on the farms received varying wages regardless of the amount of work done. Financial institutions in the US are at present using redlining discriminating against neighborhoods occupied by poor Native Americans when making investments. People residing in redlined areas are denied access to loans. This is why Native Americans living in reservations are still poor today. They are denied a chance to develop (Gillespie, n.d.).
These injustices saw the introduction of affirmative action to reduce the oppression meted on Native Americans by the dominant whites. This is whereby women and minority groups are given more consideration in education, jobs and other social privileges over the dominant groups. This also led to enactment of legislations that gave more rights and privileges to the Natives.
Organization advocating for affirmative action were started such as the Native American Career Education in natural Resources, a program that was started in a state university in California.
Its aim is to provide education to Native Americans. The introduction of such programs came with the issue of reverse discrimination where those who are regarded as the dominant group are denied their rights in the name of helping the minority. For instances, some institutions started considering job applications from Native Americans over the other applicants (Boham, 1987).
I grew in Alaska and most of my childhood was spent living with my grandfather, a Native American. He told many stories about American Indians. According to him, Indians valued silence, a virtue they cultivated and was useful in their lives. It helped them in social situations to accommodate anger and discomfort. Many people see this as indifference and therefore, use this indifference to label the natives as unfriendly people.
They also believed in patience, that everything unfolds with time that is why the first Native Americans valued their work which they mutually did. Mutualism was the mainstay of their lives, it promoted a sense of belonging and solidarity to their society. The other groups came into America and disturbed this order.
Although I have grown up hearing all sorts of bad things about Native Americans, I believe that all this bad traits were shaped by the bad influences that came into their lives. Being a Native American, I identify more with the mainstream American culture because I believe that the America of today should not be identified on ethnic lines but by what it stands for, equality for everyone.
This does not mean that minority groups should be pushed to the periphery. We should respect and appreciate everyone, should mutually coexist. We should be proud of our heritage.
Boham, V. R. (1987). Reverse discrimination. What do the figures say? Journal of American Indian Education. [online]. Retrieved from http://jaie.asu.edu/v26/V26S3rev.htm
Digital History. (2006). Native American Voices. Digital History. Retrieved from http://www.digitalhistory.uh.edu/native_voices/nav2.html
Gillespie, D. (n.d). The Plight of the Cherokee Indian. Axia College University of Phoenix. Retrieved from http://www.picolio.com/homework/The_Plight_of_the_Cherokee_Indian.htm
Kamps, K. (2001). Environmental Racism, Tribal Sovereignty and Nuclear Waste. Nuclear Information and Resources Services. Retrieved from http://www.nirs.org/factsheets/pfsejfactsheet.htm
Native American (2011). Native American History-Early History. All About History. Retrieved from http://www.allabouthistory.org/native-american-history.htm