American culture destroys Indian culture

Indians / Indigenous peoples of North America

America's first immigrants

When the first ice-free land bridge between Siberia and Alaska was built around 30,000 years ago, this was the popular theory after the colonization of the American continent began.

These first immigrants, later called "Indians" by the Europeans, spread across the continent until the 15th century. In Central and South America in particular, well-known advanced cultures such as the empires of the Inca, Maya and Aztecs developed.

There were no such great empires in the northern part of the continent. More than 400 peoples with their own cultures and languages ​​lived here in small, independent communities that were later referred to as tribes.

The land of the indigenous peoples was communally owned and their leaders, the chiefs, were usually chosen for their exceptional ability, not for family inheritance.

When the whites came

From 1497, five years after Christopher Columbus first set foot on American soil, the English conquered Newfoundland and Labrador. A few years later, trappers started the fur trade here. In the south, the Spaniards reached Florida in search of gold.

The natives, who knew ethnic and cultural diversity, generally received the strangers in a friendly manner. The Europeans, on the other hand, saw only savages and heathens in the indigenous peoples. They made no effort to understand their religion, politics, or society.

Diseases and proselytizing

With the colonization of America by the European invaders, diseases came into the country - with terrible consequences for the indigenous peoples: In the next centuries, many thousands of them died from epidemics such as smallpox because their immune system was not prepared for these pathogens.

In addition, there were increasingly aggressive attempts at proselytizing by the Christian churches and a flood of settlers who took possession of more and more land.

Eventually the indigenous peoples began to rebel, but seldom were they able to prevail against the overwhelming power of firearms. In so-called peace treaties, they lost many of their traditional territories.

Resettlement and Displacement

In 1830, the young United States Congress passed the so-called "Indian Removal Act" to cope with the onslaught of new settlers.

With military force 100,000 indigenous people were expelled from their homeland in the east and south and sent to reservations, thousands died during the long marches. Rebellions, for example by the Navajos, failed. Only a few peoples, like the Sioux or the Seminoles, were able to assert themselves in their homeland for a short time.

In the reservations, an "Indian authority" took care of the so-called re-education of the indigenous people. In special boarding schools, the indigenous children should be taught European values. Their own culture was not on the curriculum.

When the transcontinental railroad was completed in 1869, there was also a massive increase in settlers and adventurers in the west of the continent. Within a short period of time, millions of buffalos were slaughtered and the livelihoods of the prairie peoples were consciously destroyed. In 1883 the buffaloes of North America were almost extinct.

Again and again groups of young warriors left the reservations and fought against the destruction of their homeland. The US responded with bloody punitive expeditions and massacres of entire indigenous peoples.

Little Bighorn

In almost 400 treaties, the US government tried to persuade the indigenous peoples to cede their land. In part, this brought about short-term peace, but the government repeatedly broke its own treaties.

When gold diggers invaded Lakota land in 1874, breaking the Fort Laramie peace treaty of 1868, this led to a bitter war and the legendary defeat of the US Army.

Lieutenant Colonel George Armstrong Custer and his 200-strong 7th Cavalry Regiment were destroyed by the overwhelming forces of a Cheyenne-Sioux coalition led by Sitting Bull and Crazy Horse. The natives had only a few victims to complain about.

The triumph of the Cheyenne and Sioux, however, was to be short-lived. As a result, the US Army hunted down indigenous peoples across North America. Thousands of indigenous people died in bloody massacres in revenge for Custer. Only a few rebels, like the Apache Geronimo, were able to assert themselves against the military superiority of the US government for a short time.


In order to end the smoldering conflicts between whites and indigenous peoples in the reservations, the US government tried from 1880 to break through the traditional way of life of the "Indians". They dissolved the common land ownership of the tribes and distributed the land to individual indigenous families.

During this redistribution, however, large areas of the reserves fell to whites. In school education, the ban on indigenous languages ​​and customs was tightened and men were banned from wearing long hair.

The indigenous people lived like prisoners in their reservations, were under the strict control of the government and were no longer allowed to live out their cultural identity. Often they were dependent on the irregular food rations of the whites due to the redistribution of land and the destruction of the hunting grounds.

Hunger, poverty and misery were the result and led to numerous uprisings on the reservations. After the massacre at Wounded Knee, in which around 350 Lakota were killed, the resistance of the indigenous people died down.

Indian everyday life today

After the use of indigenous soldiers on the side of the USA in World War I, the indigenous people received US citizenship in 1924. In 1934 the Indian Reorganization Act granted them the right to practice their culture.

Nevertheless, the US government tried again and again when economic interests arose to curtail the rights of indigenous peoples, for example by expropriating land.

In 1968 the first indigenous political organization came into being: the "American Indian Movement" (AIM). The organization tried again and again to bring the problems of the indigenous peoples to the public. Today the "Native Americans" are only a minority in their homeland.