The Story of the Native Americans
Today there are about 2.4 million people (0.8% of the US population1
) who call themselves Native Americans. Most of them (about 62%) live in cities and small towns. The rest live on reservations – land set aside for them by the government. The largest groups of Native Americans are found in the states of Alaska, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Montana, South Dakota and Arizona.
Before the white man came
When Columbus “discovered” America in 1492 he mistakenly thought he had reached India and called the native people2
“Indians”. There were probably about 1.5 million Native Americans living in North America at that time. They had been living there for a long time – about 35,000 years – and they spoke hundreds of different languages. Some were hunters and fishermen, others were farmers, and some lived in busy villages with large buildings and temples. But different as they were, all were greatly affected3
by the coming of the white man, with his guns, his alcohol, his railways and his diseases4
. The Indian way of life was changed forever.
'The First Thanksgiving' by J. A. Brownscombe. In 1621 the Pilgrim Fathers arranged a feat to give thanks for a good harvest and, incidentally, thank the Indians who had taught them to farm, hunt and fish.
2 Conflicts begin
At first the Indians were quite willing to share their land and food with the new settlers.
But as more and more people came who wanted more and more land, there were conflicts.
The Native Americans were driven off their land. Those Indians who tried to fight back were killed, and many others died from the diseases that the Europeans brought with them – tuberculosis, smallpox and measles5
. Those that survived were placed in
settlements, called reservations, on land that no one else wanted because nothing could be grown there.
FACT BOX: The Sioux
The Sioux were one of the Native American tribes that fought hard against the white settlers and soldiers. Sitting Bull (1831–1890) was one of their leaders, and he once said:
“We lived in our country in the way our fathers and fathers’ fathers lived before us. We sought trouble with no men. But the soldiers came into our country and fired upon us and we fought back. Is it so bad to fight in defense of one’s country and loved ones?”
The Sioux defeated the United States cavalry many times in battle. Their most famous victory came in 1876 at Little Big Horn. Lieutenant-Colonel George Custer and his entire company of 650 soldiers were killed. But the “white men” got their revenge when they won a final victory over the Native Americans at the Battle of Wounded Knee in 1890.
Nearly 300 Indian men, women and children were killed.
Life on the reservations
The result was disastrous6
. On most of these reservations, there was nothing for the Native Americans to do – no way in which they could earn their own living. Many became
dependent on government aid7
, and the levels of poverty, unemployment8
tuberkulose, kopper/koppar og meslingar/meslingar
statlig økonomisk støtte / statleg økonomisk støtte
3 and violence were much higher here than in other parts of the country. On reservations, Native Americans were at first also forbidden to practice their religion. Children were often sent to boarding schools9
away from their families where they were taught to dress, speak, think and even pray like the white man. As a result they lost a lot of their own culture. By 1920, the Indian population had fallen below 350,000. For a time it seemed like the Native Americans would disappear.
Native Americans in modern times
They did not disappear. In 1924, Native Americans were given American citizenship10
. Twenty years later they were allowed to vote in elections. Many tribes have later sued11
the government for the land that was taken from them and large sums of money have been paid out to make up for their loss. This money has made it possible for tribes to invest in new businesses. On some reservations, gambling has become an important source of income12
. Since reservations are ruled by tribal laws13
instead of state laws, casinos have been set up on some reservations in states where gambling is otherwise illegal.
of Native American culture can be found all over the United States today. Many of the names on United States maps are Native American words, such as Massachusetts, Ohio and Michigan. The Native
Americans taught the white man how to grow corn, tomatoes, potatoes and tobacco. Canoes, snowshoes and moccasins are all Native American inventions.
å saksøke / å saksøkje
4 Towards a better future?
Today there are about 300 reservations in the United States and more than 500 recognized tribes. Sadly, Native Americans are the population group in the USA which has the lowest income and the highest rates of unemployment, alcoholism and suicide15
. However, although poverty, discrimination and injustice still exist, Native Americans today are proud of their history and culture. Fred Kaydahzinne, great-grandson of a famous Apache warrior, says:
“My generation spent all our time learning the white man's ways. We mastered them, but we lost a lot of Indian heritage16
. Now we are trying to regain17
what we have lost.”
1 Understanding the text
What happened when? Place the events in the correct chronological order:
Battle of Little Big Horn
Columbus arrives in “The New World”
Native Americans are given the right to vote
Battle of Wounded Knee
Native Americans become US citizens
The Native American population is below 350,000 people