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June 20, 2014 5:58 AM   Subscribe

Seizing of America. How United States took over 1.5 billion acres from native peoples.
posted by zeikka (91 comments total) 37 users marked this as a favorite

 
Amazing map. Can anyone figure out what the greyed-out areas mean?
posted by Erasmouse at 6:06 AM on June 20


Very visually arresting. A few smaller groups I happen to be aware of missing but visually very very arresting.
posted by Buttons Bellbottom at 6:07 AM on June 20


I'm thinking the grey is what the Americans considered "settled" lands that belonged to no native nation at the time the maps were produced (1899).
The data are based on the maps produced by the Bureau of American Ethnology in 1899 under the guidance of Charles C. Royce. The maps themselves are available under "Source Maps."
posted by Buttons Bellbottom at 6:10 AM on June 20 [1 favorite]


The greyed out areas are areas seized by the colonists before 1776.
posted by lakersfan1222 at 6:12 AM on June 20 [3 favorites]


America was built, you understand, by stolen labor, on stolen land.
posted by johnnyace at 6:22 AM on June 20 [11 favorites]


If Europeans would have intermarried with the natives more often we wouldn't be having this conversation.
posted by Brian B. at 6:29 AM on June 20 [2 favorites]


The next two elections may very well depend on the issue of immigration, with opposition largely coming from people who are descended from those who participated in the displacement and slaughter of Native Americans, or from more "acceptable" immigrants who benefited from it.
posted by zombieflanders at 6:32 AM on June 20 [1 favorite]


Nooo why didn't they include alaska and hawaii?
posted by elizardbits at 6:43 AM on June 20


Yeah - my Dad this father's day said "you might not wanna come up on the 4th (my next planned visit"... I've been listening to Fox News and I think they're on to something. Then proceeded to talk about "immigrants" (something he hasn't really ... he doesn't really talk politics or hasn't) Dropped the N word a few times (he grew up in segregated Oklahoma, and usually hasn't worn his racism on his sleeve too much, but it's there). I threatened him saying "if you say that one more time I'm hanging up on you"... That threw him for a loop.

I said "if you wanna talk about immigration, I think you and all us white people should go back to Europe".

My favorite is children of "white" immigrants (Eastern Europe, Irish, etc...) who were discriminated against at the time of their immigration, but are now considered white enough for them to hate on the brown skinned people coming from the south.

But yeah, I see Fox is now really pushing the immigration angle hard, and I was browsing some news site, and one of their links led to some right-wing site spewing filth about Obama, mostly from an anti-immigration angle.

God I hate these fuckers. It's funny... Hey dumbasses, you're already the party of the dying white people, make it just a little less inclusive for yourself, why don't you. That's a GREAT way to move into the shifting demographic futures. You stupid fucks. But they're dying so why do they care. Fuck most of 'em are retired. Jesus.
posted by symbioid at 6:45 AM on June 20 [3 favorites]


It must have been like living in a horror movie in the years of first contact. You would go from everything being normal, like it had been for as long as anyone could remember - with historical events and migrations and great leaders or artists and maybe some low-casualty war - and then all of the sudden terrible diseases and everyone dies, and then real war, and people being hunted for the bounty on their scalps, and people starving, and being rounded up into concentration camps like at Fort Snelling.

It's like the idea that all the science fiction with the alien invasions is basically what already happened, but to black people and native people - the ships landed long ago.

The history here in Minnesota is horrible, just horrible, and people still have stories in their families about being herded off their land and being violently abused by whites - boiling water thrown on old women, babies taken and drowned - while they were being marched off their land. People remember. The past didn't go anyway, it's not even past.


Our forefathers weren't Snidely-Whiplash level evil, but they weren't saints either.


I actually think a lot of our forefathers were Snidely Whiplash evil, when the dirty work of getting land had to be done. You look at what people did - they tortured people, right from Columbus's first contact (if you want something horrible, image search "Columbus arawak genocide" and you'll see the engravings from the time) and that didn't stop. It went on happening right here in Minnesota. Our biggest legal rights project here was founded in the eighties because the cops would roll and beat Native men for kicks, and I would be very surprised if that has stopped entirely.

It doesn't stop now, either, I think. A friend of mine who is Native and working class has told me about all the racist harassment he gets, even from other people of color, and it's really, really shocking. It's made so invisible, unless you live in a place with a big native population, but far more people than you realize, people you don't think are racist, will be racist against native people.
posted by Frowner at 6:48 AM on June 20 [53 favorites]


[Folks, you might want to refresh the page; the "why wallow?" comment and responses deleted. Thanks.]
posted by taz at 6:48 AM on June 20


I really would've liked to read the responses.
posted by codswallop at 6:52 AM on June 20 [2 favorites]


Like when you see the winter count records and there's years where it's just basically "catastrophe, everyone died". It would have been bad enough if it were just plague, but at least that would have been an accident - De Soto and those guys, bad as they were, just didn't know at first.

When I was reading that 1491 Americas Before Columbus book, there was a section about how when De Soto (I think it was De Soto) was exploring, they were traveling along a river and you were never out of sight of the smoke of one village before you got to the next - people were settled very densely. And then all that just vanished really fast, because so many people died - the towns weren't made out of stone or anything, so there weren't even ruins when settlers arrived, which is I guess one reason that people don't realize how many native people lived here.
posted by Frowner at 6:53 AM on June 20 [7 favorites]


If Europeans would have intermarried with the natives more often we wouldn't be having this conversation.

Maybe it's just me, but I wish we'd stop using "intermarry" as a euphemism for what was mostly rape and/or sexual relationships based on wildly uneven power and access to resources. I've even seen people using it to describe sex on slave plantations, which makes my brain hurt. (And the use of blood quantums in tribal enrollment is a direct acknowledgement that in fact there was extensive "intermarriage" -- it just happened to go along with near total genocide and epidemics, which kept the percent of the population with native ancestry very low.)

Back to the FPP, I liked the movie version, and the detailed information is accurate for where I lived. We have a national mythology of settlers moving into empty and unutilized landscapes (partly because of the mass deaths from epidemics), and it's important to remember that basically every inch of the continent had existing inhabitants at the time of settlement, not just where there are now reservations.
posted by Dip Flash at 6:53 AM on June 20 [12 favorites]


I don't care about what happened to the Native Americans in the past. I care very much about what's happening to them now.

I've spent the last three years locked in litigation centered in Indian Country as they call it. Its worse than any third world country. We need to fix the problems now. While knowing what happened helps understand things, a short perusal of the history is all that is needed. What people need to spend a lot more time on is what's going on there now. A lot more.
posted by Ironmouth at 7:04 AM on June 20 [12 favorites]


(he grew up in segregated Oklahoma, and usually hasn't worn his racism on his sleeve too much, but it's there)

That's got its own baggage. Race in OK is hard for outsiders to understand because of how native american politics interact with it. When I was a kid my dad's family still referred to the "civilized tribes" (meaning, mostly, Creek & Cherokee, some of whom had some political power in the state -- which power was resented by working class white Okies, AFAICS). One of my cousins dated & later married a Comanche guy, and it was a bit of a scandal.
posted by lodurr at 7:11 AM on June 20


Maybe it's just me, but I wish we'd stop using "intermarry" as a euphemism for what was mostly rape and/or sexual relationships based on wildly uneven power and access to resources

FWIW (and maybe i was reading too much into it), I read the original comment as suggesting a balanced relationship that was less fraught with those issues. I.e., an ironic, wistful comment, rather than naive.
posted by lodurr at 7:12 AM on June 20 [4 favorites]


... when De Soto (I think it was De Soto) was exploring, they were traveling along a river and you were never out of sight of the smoke of one village before you got to the next - people were settled very densely. And then all that just vanished really fast, because so many people died - the towns weren't made out of stone or anything, so there weren't even ruins when settlers arrived, which is I guess one reason that people don't realize how many native people lived here.

I read about this, too. I want to say it wasn't DeSoto, but rather a sequence of two Spanish expeditions into what was later Creek Confederation territory. They were looking for trade partners, and were really encouraged after the first expedition -- then when they got money a few years later to follow up, everyone was dead. Really depressing.
posted by lodurr at 7:15 AM on June 20 [2 favorites]


Every once in a while I will, as innocent and sneaky as possible, ask somebody around me if they happen to know the name of the Indian tribe that once occupied the land where I currently reside. N =~ 50. I have not once encountered a person that knows the name or even recognizes the name of the Karankawas. Reported extinct although surely some of their genetic material lingers on dilutely.

After Matthiessen died recently I re-read In the Spirit of Crazy Horse. Great book although very sad in places.

On my computer the interval from 1891 to 2014 is one step. Are they still loading the database to cover all the action since 1891?
posted by bukvich at 7:16 AM on June 20 [3 favorites]


I actually think a lot of our forefathers were Snidely Whiplash evil, when the dirty work of getting land had to be done.

It depends on perspective. On one hand, the European invaders were much worse, on the genocidal dictator level, simply wiping out people who stood in their way.

On the other hand, most individuals weren't necessarily like that, but they rather benefitted from the dirty work done by the governments and armies. For example, probably most people homesteaders of the late 19th century weren't killing the natives, but it had already been done for them by the Federal government.
posted by CheeseDigestsAll at 7:29 AM on June 20


I read the original comment as suggesting a balanced relationship that was less fraught with those issues. I.e., an ironic, wistful comment, rather than naive.

And I believe I was stating a fact.
posted by Brian B. at 7:32 AM on June 20


To be fair, the germs we brought over did most of the work.
posted by The 10th Regiment of Foot at 7:32 AM on June 20


Maybe it's just me, but I wish we'd stop using "intermarry" as a euphemism for what was mostly rape and/or sexual relationships based on wildly uneven power and access to resources.

Do you realize that this is also an argument against miscegenation? e.g.: women of color are incapable of consenting to sleep with white men, because of the power imbalances involved?
posted by Avenger at 7:35 AM on June 20 [5 favorites]


On my computer the interval from 1891 to 2014 is one step. Are they still loading the database to cover all the action since 1891
The data are based on the maps produced by the Bureau of American Ethnology in 1899 under the guidance of Charles C. Royce. The maps themselves are available under "Source Maps."
posted by Pogo_Fuzzybutt at 7:37 AM on June 20


The map depicts as "Indian homelands" lands that were under legal claim of, and to a greater or lesser extent actively controlled by, Spanish or French colonizers or the colonizer-descended white elite of Mexico, in some cases for centuries.
posted by MattD at 7:40 AM on June 20


Do you realize that this is also an argument against miscegenation? e.g.: women of color are incapable of consenting to sleep with white men, because of the power imbalances involved?

When the 'power imbalance' argument is made in a simplistic way, it often does look like this. That doesn't mean it's not a legitimate concern. But it is also true that intermarriage has traditionally had the resolution or manipulation of power imbalance as one of its uses.

One of the things that gets lost in moral discussions like this is that what we're describing is an extreme and massively upscaled version of something that's gone on for as long as we can have an idea of how human societies worked.
posted by lodurr at 7:42 AM on June 20 [1 favorite]


But it is also true that intermarriage has traditionally had the resolution or manipulation of power imbalance as one of its uses.

FTFM.
posted by lodurr at 7:44 AM on June 20


Does anyone know of a map of lands that were stolen by force or treatise signed on threat of death (i.e. lands that should be returned to native people?)

The UN asked the United States government to do this and there was very little public discussion in the states media about this concept. I wish people would make noise and fight for justice for people here on US soil.
posted by xarnop at 7:45 AM on June 20 [2 favorites]


The progress of the map is like watching some great invisible beast devour the continent and its people in great chunks, its maw leaving bloody red wounds and blank devastation behind. Terrifying.
posted by harujion at 7:46 AM on June 20 [2 favorites]


Does anyone know of a map of lands that were stolen by force or treatise signed on threat of death

Sure, here's one. But then again, this one pretty much does it too.
posted by The 10th Regiment of Foot at 7:48 AM on June 20 [6 favorites]


Every once in a while I will, as innocent and sneaky as possible, ask somebody around me if they happen to know the name of the Indian tribe that once occupied the land where I currently reside.

I was going to say "Chumash" for here and be all proud of myself for knowing, but I googled first and learned it was actually another group of people -- Tongva -- in my part of Southern California.

I also learned this: "Tongva place names continue to be used in California. Examples include: Pacoima, Tujunga, Topanga, Rancho Cucamonga, Azusa, and Cahuenga."
posted by notyou at 7:48 AM on June 20 [1 favorite]


bukvich: "Every once in a while I will, as innocent and sneaky as possible, ask somebody around me if they happen to know the name of the Indian tribe that once occupied the land where I currently reside. N =~ 50. I have not once encountered a person that knows the name or even recognizes the name of the Karankawas. Reported extinct although surely some of their genetic material lingers on dilutely."

Wow, that's terribly sad.

Where I grew up there was definitely at least *some* connection to the native history... Potawatomi Indians, mostly via the state park named after them. But also Ojibwe (when I was growing up, Anglicized to "Chippewa") nearby... The Winnebago (which is what I knew them as, growing up, but in Wisconsin are Ho-Chunk)...

I wonder how much of it has to do with the fact our area was settled originally by a lot of French people... It's my understanding that generally, the French had a more peaceful co-existence with Native Americans than other European powers?

I've always felt an affinity with Native Americans/American Indians (whatever Russell Means et al want to call it is fine with me). When I first heard of the Trail of Tears in school it pissed me off.
posted by symbioid at 7:54 AM on June 20 [1 favorite]


A couple of asides.

Frowner mentions winter counts. Here's a webpage where you can see some Lakota ones.

lodurr mentions Oklahoma and the "civilized tribes." From wikipedia on "The Five Civilized Tribes": The Five Civilized Tribes were the five Native American nations—the Cherokee, Chickasaw, Choctaw, Creek (Muscogee), and Seminole—that were considered civilized by Anglo-European settlers during the colonial and early federal period because they adopted many of the colonists' customs and had generally good relations with their neighbors. The irony is of course that despite their being considered some of the more "civilized" tribes, that did not prevent their forced removal to Oklahoma, see the Trail of Tears.
posted by gudrun at 7:54 AM on June 20


MattD: "The map depicts as "Indian homelands" lands that were under legal claim of, and to a greater or lesser extent actively controlled by, Spanish or French colonizers or the colonizer-descended white elite of Mexico, in some cases for centuries."

I think the point of the map is to show us that these lands weren't empty and hadn't been empty for thousands of years. So there were some Europeans there before Americans took the land. Fine. Knowingly purchasing hot property is still stealing.
posted by caution live frogs at 7:56 AM on June 20 [2 favorites]


Erasmouse: "Can anyone figure out what the greyed-out areas mean?"
You can click them and see what they mean.
posted by brokkr at 7:58 AM on June 20 [2 favorites]


While my understanding is that it's true that most all lands were stolen I think there were a few agreements that are (at least on record) as having taken place without a war situation occurring. The reason this is relevant is that convincing people that MOST lands (and due to power imbalances in terms of agreeing on the concept of "land ownership" vs temporary land use I agree with the concept that the entirety of the US governments claim to ownership is null and void in my opinion) it would be helpful to have a map that shows "These lands were literally taken illegally even by the US's corrupt version of legal" because a majority of the lands were taken by force and a majority of all treatise were signed essentially in surrender by war acts. or threats of such violence.

People in US grow up with these idea all these peaceful treatise were signed and I think it would be helpful to contrast the reality that that very rarely happened (and of course even when they did the differences in language understanding and concepts of land ownership make them void in my and many others opinion) with the scope of how much violence and threat of harm was used to obtain these lands from native inhabitants.

It's just a message I think would be helpful in changing people's false perception with an image of the scope of it.
posted by xarnop at 8:01 AM on June 20 [1 favorite]


A little bit of the story for why those tiny little chunks of blue in Minnesota disappeared between 1860 and 1864 is here.

Which is a nice little reminder that the slaughter and oppression of minorities is so inextricably intertwined in US history that one of the presidents most remembered for his compassion found it politically infeasible not to conduct the largest mass hanging in US history.
posted by saucy_knave at 8:08 AM on June 20


Rhode Island can claim with some degree of authority that as a polity it is not built on stolen land. Roger Williams—a linguist, interestingly enough, who was thrown out of Massachusetts Bay Colony—was originally granted the land by the Narragansett in what appears to have been a consensual transaction (certainly Williams was not in an especially strong negotiating position, being an exile), and then later settlers bought additional land, bringing the state close to its current shape. The surrounding states—Connecticut, Massachusetts, and New York all—cannot make a similar claim.

Of course, the Narragansett presumably gave the land away pretty cheap because the population had recently crashed due to disease, mostly smallpox. In considering some of the land deals that were made which seem nonsensical today, one should keep in mind that the sellers were basically survivors of the apocalypse. Empty land did not seem like an especially dear commodity, I suspect.
posted by Kadin2048 at 8:14 AM on June 20 [5 favorites]


Do you realize that this is also an argument against miscegenation? e.g.: women of color are incapable of consenting to sleep with white men, because of the power imbalances involved?

Pointing out that the conditions of slavery and of early colonization/invasion do not lend themselves to full and enthusiastic consent is not a criticism of miscegenation in any way whatsoever.
posted by Dip Flash at 8:17 AM on June 20 [2 favorites]


If Europeans would have intermarried with the natives more often we wouldn't be having this conversation.

Ever been to Mexico? Lots of intermarriage, combined with good old-fashioned invasion, slaughter, slavery, genocide, servitude & general mayhem.

The conversation might have a different arc, but we'd be having it, alright.
posted by Devils Rancher at 8:31 AM on June 20 [2 favorites]


Ever been to Mexico? Lots of intermarriage, combined with good old-fashioned invasion, slaughter, slavery, genocide, servitude & general mayhem.

Sure, but that's not to say there wasn't plenty of rape and forced marriage in there too for the last 500 years. Hell, Latin America in general still carries some crazy issues with class and status being tied to the percentage of indian vs. euro blood in a person. If we had more intermarriage in the US we'd have all that to contend with in addition to all the baggage we face from our history of genocide and importation of Africans.
posted by The 10th Regiment of Foot at 8:36 AM on June 20


People in US grow up with these idea all these peaceful treatise were signed and I think it would be helpful to contrast the reality that that very rarely happened (and of course even when they did the differences in language understanding and concepts of land ownership make them void in my and many others opinion) with the scope of how much violence and threat of harm was used to obtain these lands from native inhabitants.

I don't think a lot of schools are teaching that there were a lot of peaceful treaties signed. I went to high school in the mid-eighties in a conservative suburban district and we all knew that the treaties had been broken by whites almost every time and that the whites had driven Native Americans off the land and destroyed their societies.
posted by Ironmouth at 8:40 AM on June 20 [1 favorite]


Rhode Island can claim with some degree of authority that as a polity it is not built on stolen land.

Like with all of this stuff, it's complicated.
posted by Slap*Happy at 8:44 AM on June 20


Hell, Latin America in general still carries some crazy issues with class and status being tied to the percentage of indian vs. euro blood in a person. If we had more intermarriage in the US we'd have all that to contend with in addition to all the baggage we face from our history of genocide and importation of Africans.

Yeah, that's kinda what I was trying to say. "Intermarriage" would not have mitigated the plight of the Native Americans in any meaningful way -- it just would have complicated the present situation.
posted by Devils Rancher at 8:44 AM on June 20


While my understanding is that it's true that most all lands were stolen I think there were a few agreements that are (at least on record) as having taken place without a war situation occurring. The reason this is relevant is that convincing people that MOST lands (and due to power imbalances in terms of agreeing on the concept of "land ownership" vs temporary land use I agree with the concept that the entirety of the US governments claim to ownership is null and void in my opinion) it would be helpful to have a map that shows "These lands were literally taken illegally even by the US's corrupt version of legal" because a majority of the lands were taken by force and a majority of all treatise were signed essentially in surrender by war acts. or threats of such violence.

To be technical, for most of the United States, the lands were acquired from other colonial European powers through war or purchase, e.g. the Louisiana Purchase and the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo. However, Americans then entered into treaties with Native Americans and then broke them rather continuously.

Our focus should not be on the technicalities but the result.
posted by Ironmouth at 8:44 AM on June 20


I wish people would make noise and fight for justice for people here on US soil.

Barring packing our bags and leaving, the closest to "justice" would probably be to slice a piece of the US off for Native Americans to annex and create a country with.
posted by FJT at 8:51 AM on June 20


I think I heard this on Backstory a few months back -- that when the whites started landing en masse on American soil, they were amazed at the lushness of the land, where edible crops seemed to be everywhere, and the lands teemed with game. They didn't realize that this was not a natural wonderland, but a land that had been transformed into this verdant treasury by tens of thousands of years of native stewardship. It seemed like this just happened naturally because the country had been depopulated by disease -- before the mass settlement of America by Europeans, 80-95 percent of the Native population had died as a result of diseases brought here during the Columbia Exchange.

In fact, there's a case to be made that without the spread of disease, Europeans could never have settled as successfully, because if you look at continents with large indigenous populations, such as Africa and India, that population is still the majority on their continent and many of them successfully rebuffed European colonization. Many Native American tribes proved to be quick-learning when it came to such European innovations as rifles and horses. They were skilled warriors, as the entire might of the US military took more than a century to end the Indian wars. Imagine that, but with 15 times more people, if they hadn't been eliminated by disease.

I wish we would learn more about the Native history of these lands. I remember being in the Napoleon House in New Orleans, and a local was telling a British traveler about the history of the place, which dates to 1797, and the fellow rather snobbily said "That seems old to you, doesn't it?"

I get it. I lives in England when I was a boy. There was a 14th century church down the street from me, and I lived 15 minutes from Stonehenge. I took my swimming lessons in baths that had originally been built by the Romans.

But then, New Orleans is a short drive from Poverty Point, where there are mounds built between 1650 and 700 BCE. America is filled with this sort of thing. St. Louis is built on the remains of Cahokia -- in 1200, it was one of the largest cities in the world.

We did have a history that stretches back, very far. And because many of us are, in part, descended from the Europeans who migrated here, it tends not to feel like it is part of our history. But not only did Native American culture directly influence the Europeans who moved here, it transformed the entire world -- how many world cuisines rely on corn and potato, how much did chocolate and tobacco change the world?

I wear clothes that borrow from Native designs. A percentage of my language comes from Native sources. I live in a city named after a Native tribe in a state named after an Otoe phrase. My diet consists largely of indigenous foods. And while I do not have any Native blood, a huge number of European Americans do. Our system of government may have been influenced by indigenous political systems. We didn't simply displace the Native tribes that were here, we also absorbed a lot of their culture, and a lot of their worldview.

We do need to recognize that the displacement of the Native population was genocidal. But I think part of that is recognizing the enormous debt that we owe to the Native population. They did as much as anybody to fashion the world we now live in, and we owe it to them to recognize that.

I mean, I may, in part, be a Pict, but who I am owes a lot more to Native Americans than it does to Celts living in Eastern and Northern Scotland during the Iron Age.
posted by maxsparber at 9:00 AM on June 20 [22 favorites]


Barring packing our bags and leaving, the closest to "justice" would probably be to slice a piece of the US off for Native Americans to annex and create a country with.

Well, that opens a whole new can of worms and would certainly create new injustices.
posted by desjardins at 9:10 AM on June 20


Barring packing our bags and leaving

God knows that if the European countries of my ancestors—now basically prosperous utopias of security, freedom, and ease in comparison to almost anywhere else on the planet—would let me back in at this point I would be gone tonight.
posted by enn at 9:45 AM on June 20 [1 favorite]


Ayn Rand on Why It Was OK To Take Private Property From Native American Savages [SPOILER: it's because they're savages]:
Now, I don't care to discuss the alleged complaints American Indians have against this country. I believe, with good reason, the most unsympathetic Hollywood portrayal of Indians and what they did to the white man. They had no right to a country merely because they were born here and then acted like savages. The white man did not conquer this country. And you're a racist if you object, because it means you believe that certain men are entitled to something because of their race. You believe that if someone is born in a magnificent country and doesn't know what to do with it, he still has a property right to it. He does not. Since the Indians did not have the concept of property or property rights--they didn't have a settled society, they had predominantly nomadic tribal "cultures"--they didn't have rights to the land, and there was no reason for anyone to grant them rights that they had not conceived of and were not using. It's wrong to attack a country that respects (or even tries to respect) individual rights. If you do, you're an aggressor and are morally wrong. But if a "country" does not protect rights--if a group of tribesmen are the slaves of their tribal chief--why should you respect the "rights" that they don't have or respect? The same is true for a dictatorship. The citizens in it have individual rights, but the country has no rights and so anyone has the right to invade it, because rights are not recognized in that country; and no individual or country can have its cake and eat it too--that is, you can't claim one should respect the "rights" of Indians, when they had no concept of rights and no respect for rights. But let's suppose they were all beautifully innocent savages--which they certainly were not. What were they fighting for, in opposing the white man on this continent? For their wish to continue a primitive existnece; for their "right" to keep part of the earth untouched--to keep everybody out so they could live like animals or cavemen. Any European who brought with him an element of civilization had the right to take over this continent, and it's great that some of them did. The racist Indians today--those who condemn America--do not respect individual rights.
posted by lodurr at 9:57 AM on June 20


I remember being in the Napoleon House in New Orleans, and a local was telling a British traveler about the history of the place, which dates to 1797, and the fellow rather snobbily said "That seems old to you, doesn't it?"

Americans think 100 years is a long time, Europeans think 100 kilometers is a long way.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 10:03 AM on June 20 [6 favorites]


SPOILER: it's because they're savages

By "they're" I assume you mean Randoids.
posted by The 10th Regiment of Foot at 10:07 AM on June 20 [4 favorites]


yeh, i've been jaded about Rand for decades, but that one just blows my mind. She sets a new bar there for the number of levels on which one can be wrong about something.
posted by lodurr at 10:16 AM on June 20 [7 favorites]



I think I heard this on Backstory a few months back -- that when the whites started landing en masse on American soil, they were amazed at the lushness of the land, where edible crops seemed to be everywhere, and the lands teemed with game. They didn't realize that this was not a natural wonderland, but a land that had been transformed into this verdant treasury by tens of thousands of years of native stewardship. It seemed like this just happened naturally because the country had been depopulated by disease -- before the mass settlement of America by Europeans, 80-95 percent of the Native population had died as a result of diseases brought here during the Columbia Exchange.


Yes, very much so. Both 1491 and an older book called Changes In The Land go into this. IMO, 1491 is kind of disrespectful of many of the native scholars it quotes - which really, really bothers me, as it gets way more readership than work by native scholars - but it has a lot of information on current scholarship on this stuff.

1491 actually talks about the idea that the whole Amazon rainforest is basically a kind of orchard - that it was informally but intentionally stewarded by the people who lived there. That just blew my mind.

If I could unobtrusively travel though time, I would want to go back and meet people from different parts of the Americas in, say, 1200. We know some things about how people's daily lives went, but how did it feel? What kind of jokes did people tell? How did people sing? What kind of "I just got up" activities did people have? You think about the pre-Colonization Americas and these vast trade networks and big settlements and cities, going on for a long, long time, and what is left? So little. I always think of that Smiths song, "All those people, all those lives, where are they now? With loves and hates and passions just like mine, they were born and then they lived and then they died...it seems so unfair."
posted by Frowner at 10:19 AM on June 20 [4 favorites]


1491 actually talks about the idea that the whole Amazon rainforest is basically a kind of orchard - that it was informally but intentionally stewarded by the people who lived there.

I think this idea is oversold, and even slightly orientalist. It's no more true of the Amazon than it is of a lot of other places in the old world, and putting it in that way makes it seem that the intentionality was global, which is pretty hard to conceive of. What it was, was evolved. They were part of a system and they interacted with it in an intenional way -- but the system as observed at contact was the end result of millennia of feedback loops in operation, and the people involved in them couldn't have told you how they worked on a larger scale. (I do believe many of them could tell you locally, though. I'm not arguing, would never argue, that they weren't smart about what they did -- I'm just saying it's wildly improbable that they understood a larger system they had no means, opportunity or reason to understand.)

The reason I argue that it's orientalist is that it basically turns them into magic indians, because it uses them to sell this unrealizable ideal of holistic engagement with the ecosystem. It makes them tools, not peoples.
posted by lodurr at 10:28 AM on June 20 [5 favorites]


1491 actually talks about the idea that the whole Amazon rainforest is basically a kind of orchard - that it was informally but intentionally stewarded by the people who lived there.

I think this idea is oversold, and even slightly orientalist.


Certainly overplayed. While the landscape was certainly manipulated through fire and agriculture in some instances, there were also examples of species driven into extinction, wasteful hunting practices like intentionally setting fires just to drive animals or running entire herds off cliffs in order to harvest a few head and leave the rest to rot, and over farming vast reaches stripping the soil of fertility and leading to the abandonment and decline of large empires.
posted by The 10th Regiment of Foot at 10:34 AM on June 20


As a data point re: the "Five Civilized Tribes" discussion, when I was in elementary school in Oklahoma in the early 90s we still were taught that term when studying Oklahoma history. This was a small private school, so maybe public schools were better, but it's not a relic from the distant past.
posted by downtohisturtles at 10:53 AM on June 20


Not that oversold. Cahokia was as populous as any Asian city in the 13th century, and vastly more populous than any European city. Agronomy isn't "Indian magic" - it's science and technology, and in some cases, much more advanced than that of the Old World. I mean, the Andean civilizations were building massive suspension bridges, ships and lamellar armor from cotton.

Like any technology, some pre-Columbian cultures did agronomy better than others for a variety of reasons - some thought they knew what they were doing but were wiped out by changing climate conditions, others overestimated the fertility of their soil, or cultivated crops that were inappropriate for their use. But when they got it right - Cahokia and the Amazonian cities - they got it really, really right. (While some propose ecological disaster as the reason for Cahokia's decline, modern scholarship inclines towards political collapse due to outside conquest, similar to how Rome collapsed, pieced off once province at a time to the Germanic tribes.)
posted by Slap*Happy at 10:58 AM on June 20 [2 favorites]


The reason I argue that it's orientalist is that it basically turns them into magic indians, because it uses them to sell this unrealizable ideal of holistic engagement with the ecosystem. It makes them tools, not peoples.

I really didn't get that impression from 1491 - and perhaps I used "orchard" loosely. The impression I took from the book was more "here are these people living in a place and planting things in a casual way with the intent that they will return to benefit from the things at some near or yet unplanned point". Not so much "people are thinking of the Amazon as a whole thing", which wouldn't even make sense because it's not homogenous anyway, but that people are not just wandering in a state of nature through Magical Place.

Changes In The Land deals with a variety of ways that native groups managed land. I haven't read it in upwards of ten years, but at the time it struck me as pretty neutral in tone. When I read it, it was getting a lot of pushback because it wasn't uniformly positive about native land management, and because it took the position that native societies were not "timeless" but in fact situated in history, went through changes, etc.
posted by Frowner at 11:00 AM on June 20 [2 favorites]


Just chiming in to recommend 1491 to anyone who hasn't read it. I just finished it and it completely overturned my (limited) understanding of the history of the Americas.
posted by freecellwizard at 11:31 AM on June 20


I think the big mind-blowing message is that the Amazon isn't a pristine wilderness (ripe for exploitation!) populated by a few natives living idyllic harmony with the jungle. It's rather more like a post-apocalyptic farmland.

It's like someone going to the Ohio valley after our civilization falls, and saying "Look at all these marvelous apple trees growing in profusion! Aren't the primitive locals so lucky to live in a land of natural bounty!"
posted by happyroach at 11:56 AM on June 20 [6 favorites]


I have not once encountered a person that knows the name or even recognizes the name of the Karankawas. Reported extinct although surely some of their genetic material lingers on dilutely.

This is why Cabeza de Vaca's first-person account of life along the Texas coast is so important as an historical document. No white people returned to the area for a great many years after his shipwreck & eventual trek to Mexico, & by the time they did, the entire cultural landscape had been utterly altered. Mexican tribes had been pushed north by the Spanish conquest, displacing the tribes that had been in the coastal plains, diseases had wiped out a vast majority of those who remained, & the Comanches & Apaches, having obtained & mastered horses, were beginning to move into the area from the northwest.

(Or George Catlin's journal entries while over-wintering with the Mandans in the early 1830's. The next year, all but 30-something of them were wiped out by smallpox & his was the only first-person written account of any part of their culture.)

Even with the white folks totally absent from south & central Texas, it was still a time of great turmoil in the area.

A thing this map interestingly fails to take into account is the effect of the Spanish occupation of New Mexico along the Rio Grande river & its subjugation of the Pueblo tribes.
posted by Devils Rancher at 12:56 PM on June 20 [7 favorites]


Ayn Rand on Why It Was OK...

2 sentences. 2. That was all I could manage.

Must. Not. Punch. Computer.
posted by Devils Rancher at 1:14 PM on June 20 [2 favorites]


The reason I argue that it's orientalist is that it basically turns them into magic indians, because it uses them to sell this unrealizable ideal of holistic engagement with the ecosystem. It makes them tools, not peoples.

Maybe the real lesson with this is an anti-imperialist one: If you consider the (more or less) native populations of Europe, it seems like in general, Europeans managed to get along pretty well living sustainably in Europe. Maybe that makes sense because the customs they had developed for living on the land had evolved over many, many generations, and so were better balanced.

But when Europeans started spreading out and very rapidly conquering new lands, the timescale was too short for them to develop those kinds of sustainable land use practices and patterns. Maybe its just the default of any non nomadic/conquering populations, left alone, to develop more sustainable models of living with and working their natural resources.

Maybe the tendency of conquering civilizations to disrupt the normal development of local populations is actually down somewhere close to the root cause of the problem of environmental devastation more generally. I mean, today, isn't it the case that most of the world's sensitive habits are threatened either by or for the benefit of non-native populations? I'm thinking of natural resource extraction and the like... (And obviously, I'm just spit-balling here.)
posted by saulgoodman at 1:18 PM on June 20 [2 favorites]


80-95 percent of the Native population had died as a result of diseases brought here during the Columbia Exchange

I keep reading things like this, but can never figure out why this ended up so differently just across the border in Mexico, and everything south of Mexico, including all of South America? All of Americas were colonized at approximately the same time, yet only in the US and Canada (Anglo-Saxon colonies), the Native population is now virtually extinct. But not so for Spaniard colonies!

Miraculously, Mexicans, Brazilians, Bolivians, etc., all have thriving indigenous populations. So what the fuck happened that was so different?
posted by shala at 1:26 PM on June 20


a control-f shows that 'manifest destiny' hasn't been mentioned in the thread. correct me if i'm wrong, but my understanding is that 'manifest destiny' means the Christian god told the white man that genocide was the right thing to do.

i was taught a slightly more nuanced definition of the term in elementary school.
posted by el io at 1:33 PM on June 20


Those thriving indigenous populations survived where the invaders didn't get that far. The people who colonized Latin America were not as relentless as the northerners. So instead of 95% of the natives dying it was only 85% or so.
posted by bukvich at 1:36 PM on June 20


The 85% number has always seemed a little high to me, but it is possible that there was a more virulent strain. The great plague in the southeast, for example, is believed to have been caused by exposure to a particular spanish explorer.

Also, when you have that many people sick, you get collateral damage: crops can't be brought in properly, gathering can't be done, trade can't be carried out, etc., so you have a lot of death from hunger and associated disease. Those are going to be very situational, so they might not affect some populations as badly as others.

It's also conceivable that dangerous viruses mutated and were less virulent as they spread farther.

Disease is a crap shoot. So while my gut reaction to those numbers is to suspect them, as you can see, I can talk myself into them pretty easy with a little brainstorming.
posted by lodurr at 1:46 PM on June 20


el io, 'christian god' is really just a way of rationalizing what they WANTED to do. See e.g. Rand, up thread, who was a staunch and dogmatic atheist.

In practice I think the religious justification was a minor factor in genocide per se, though in most cases it certainly on balance harmed native peoples anywhere that european christians went. ('On balance' being the operative term. Some christians were less harmful than others, and some actually helped to offset the harmful effects of other europeans.)
posted by lodurr at 1:50 PM on June 20


If you consider the (more or less) native populations of Europe, it seems like in general, Europeans managed to get along pretty well living sustainably in Europe. Maybe that makes sense because the customs they had developed for living on the land had evolved over many, many generations, and so were better balanced.

It's an intriguing idea, but I don't think things were actually that sustainable in Old Europe just as colonization was getting underway. They'd already converted much of the forests to farmland and nevertheless famine and the Black Death wiped out scads of Europeans across the 1300s, which had similar (but not as catastrophic) effect on development there (it slowed to a crawl) as disease had upon the locals in the New World.

Europe didn't recover for 200 years -- and were probably fortunate to have access to the resources of New World to feed its growth.
posted by notyou at 1:52 PM on June 20


European farming practices have long been considered the likeliest culprit in creating The Dust Bowl era that had such devastating economic consequences for the US in the earlier part of the 20th century, so there's another bit of evidence it's tempting to see as corroborating the idea...
posted by saulgoodman at 1:58 PM on June 20


At any rate, I kind of like it because it let's us see native populations not so much as "magical indians" but as ordinary humans, doing what ordinary humans do, when people with imperial ambitions don't interfere.
posted by saulgoodman at 1:59 PM on June 20


So what the fuck happened that was so different?

It's not perfect - for every Morales there is a Fujimori - but I agree that it overall it seems to have worked out better than in the US. I mean, can you even imagine living in an AU USA where one or more native languages were an official language next to English?
posted by elizardbits at 2:04 PM on June 20


The people who colonized Latin America were not as relentless as the northerners. So instead of 95% of the natives dying it was only 85% or so.

So, if I go and read a Wikipedia article, it says:

While disease raged swiftly through the densely populated empires of Mesoamerica, the more scattered populations of North America saw a slower spread.

Mesoamerica is composed of Belize, Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras, Nicaragua, and parts of Mexico.

Looking over to another Wikipedia article, we get that modern indigenous and part-indigenous populations of those countries are, respectively: 51%, 41%, 91%, 97%, 74%, and 88%. That is compared to 1.7% for the USA.
posted by shala at 2:05 PM on June 20


The US colonists were more interested in killing natives to get their land whereas the Spanish colonists needed slaves to work in the mines. It's cheaper to work through and kill off your local indigenous population than it is to import slaves from Africa, which is a lesson that the US did not seem to learn. (Not to say that the US colonists didn't try, but the numbers of enslaved native americans compared to imported african slaves are vastly, strikingly different.)

And as with slavery in the US, this system resulted in a large mixed race population that is still evident today.
posted by elizardbits at 2:10 PM on June 20


1491 actually talks about the idea that the whole Amazon rainforest is basically a kind of orchard - that it was informally but intentionally stewarded by the people who lived there.

I think this idea is oversold, and even slightly orientalist.


Yeah, Cahokia was basically abandoned because of disease, waste and deforestation issues.
posted by Ironmouth at 3:01 PM on June 20


Miraculously, Mexicans, Brazilians, Bolivians, etc., all have thriving indigenous populations. So what the fuck happened that was so different?

The Spanish were more willing to enslave local populations and settlers in the US wanted the land for themselves?

On preview, what elizardbits said.
posted by ActingTheGoat at 3:38 PM on June 20


Miraculously, Mexicans, Brazilians, Bolivians, etc., all have thriving indigenous populations. So what the fuck happened that was so different?

I'm struggling to find numbers that are at all comparable, but I'd always understood that the US received far more European settlers, which is going to produce a different pattern of contact, settlement, and impact. If I'm reading correctly, Argentina has the second highest, and has it's own history of anti-indigenous policies.
posted by Dip Flash at 4:02 PM on June 20


The US colonists were more interested in killing natives to get their land whereas the Spanish colonists needed slaves to work in the mines.

Pretty much this, and like other people have noted, the spanish colonies after the initial invasions didn't see the huge influx of subsequent immigration like N. America did in the early-mid 1800's.

Also, nominally, the Catholic church at least acted like they were interested in saving some heathen souls and the protestants in N. America gave much less of a shit about that. Spanish missionaries were often the vanguard of their colonization efforts, whereas in the Wild Wild West, it was trappers & traders & prospectors. Not a lot of churchmen, initially, went out onto the unkown great plains in search of souls for Christ.

There are a number of cultural differences between the British/French invasion of America & the Spanish one. British/Northern European invaders more interested in settling, initially, and Spanish conquistadores was more interested in extracting wealth and returning to Spain with it.

The Italian immigration wave to Argentina is an interesting subject in itself, and occurred late in the game -- mostly around the two world wars. Argentina is actually about half ethnic Italian, but it's a very recent migration compared to the british/Dutch/French that hit the N. American coast in the 1600's.
posted by Devils Rancher at 5:56 PM on June 20


The US colonists were more interested in killing natives to get their land whereas the Spanish colonists needed slaves to work in the mines.

Thanks all! So, I wonder then, whether the "80-95% died from diseases" statistic is just wishful revisionist thinking on part of North American historians, given the fact that some areas which bore the grunt of new diseases (Mesoamerica) still have Native populations of up to 90% of total.
posted by shala at 6:54 PM on June 20


Those are populations of mixed race native americans, though. For example, while the nonwhite population percentage of Mexico is in the 80s, the majority are mestizo. (although usage of this term is imprecise for various cultural reasons)
posted by elizardbits at 7:03 PM on June 20


Yeah, but an image of an average Mexican in my head leans way more toward "Native" than "European". Pure anecdotal evidence, obviously.
posted by shala at 7:12 PM on June 20


This is a really ugly line of history, shala, but the Spanish and Portuguese weren't as eager to emigrate as the English, Dutch and French were - protestantism and its anarchism (to 16th and 17th century sensibilities) didn't take root in the Iberian peninsula the way it did in northwestern Europe. In the Spanish and Portuguese colonies, it was mostly conquistadors taking "wives", while the British and Dutch and French brought their wives with them for religious freedom.

More, when Europeans interbred, they brought with them an immune system geared towards pathogens rather than parasites. (No, not kidding here. Actually true. One of the reasons syphilis was so devastating to Europe.)

To be brutally blunt, the North European colonists chose to repopulate the continent in a different way than the Portuguese and Spanish.
posted by Slap*Happy at 8:39 PM on June 20 [1 favorite]


Uh, weren't population densities in pre-Columbian Mesoamerica much higher than in North America? Certainly that seems to be the case, outside of a few high-density cities in the gulf region.

That would explain why the death toll to smallpox was higher there -- enough to cause the collapse of the empires and really, entire civilizations -- and yet mean that there were many more people left over at the end when the European colonists showed up. In North America the death rate may have been lower, but if the density was lower to begin with, the remaining population might have been a lot fewer in absolute terms, more scattered, less able to resist, and with fewer people around to "intermarry" (or whatever euphemism you prefer for what tended to occur).

The climate in much of North America is simply much more hostile than Mesoamerica, in terms of the ability to produce the sort of crops that allow high-density urban civilization to prosper. Without draft animals brought from Europe, the colonists probably wouldn't have survived. It's a sort of accident of history that the Europeans showed up in North America primed for survival (due to its climactic similarity to Europe) in an area that had recently been depopulated. In Central and South America, their cultural toolset wasn't nearly as useful (northern European draft animals and crops don't do well there), and simultaneously there were a lot more survivors of the disease apocalypse to resist incursions.

I think that pretty much explains the relative indigenous influence in southern latitudes. The argument that the Spanish were more sensitive overlords than the French or English doesn't seem to hold much water.

Also, I would be extremely cautious trying to use the European colonization of the Americas as some sort of pro-immigration argument in a current political discussion. If there is one lesson that the colonization of the Americas ought to teach us, it is that the first thing you should do if strange people land on your shores is to kill them.
posted by Kadin2048 at 9:46 PM on June 20 [6 favorites]


The fact that you read "worked them to death in the mines as slaves instead of slaughtering them out of hand" and thought "hmm, sounds like sensitive overlords to me" is, uh. I'm laughing really hard rn so thanks for that.
posted by elizardbits at 8:12 AM on June 21


The funny thing is, the Spanish invasions all kinda ran out of gas when they realized they had plundered all the easy wealth -- ie the gold that the Aztecs & Incas had already dug up & were wearing around. When they discovered that the "Seven Cities of Gold" was euphemistic, they got kinda meh about the whole operation & the major conquistadores turned tail for Spain. Sure there was mining to be done in Mexico that was lucrative & some Spaniards obviously stuck it out, but the hard-working Protestants to the north were much more willing to wander out into the godforsaken wilderness to scratch a meagre existence from the soil with one hand while holding a carbine in the other -- at least numbers-wise. It's an interesting study in contrasts that I've really just started thinking about in depth.

Maybe it's because Spain became pretty fabulously wealthy for a while after the plunder, and people had less need to emigrate from there & people were escaping poverty in Britain/France. Also, not much obvious gold north of Central Mexico as the northern tribes had no metallurgy at all.

So my impression is there's a couple things at work -- the pre-invasion circumstances of the various American regions, and the cultures of the two major invaders, who had pretty much divvied up the Americas between them along a north-south line that was weirdly coincident with the native acquisition of gold for a while, there.
posted by Devils Rancher at 8:33 AM on June 21


Also, I would be extremely cautious trying to use the European colonization of the Americas as some sort of pro-immigration argument in a current political discussion. If there is one lesson that the colonization of the Americas ought to teach us, it is that the first thing you should do if strange people land on your shores is to kill them.

This is one of the very few comments in the thread that made me rethink my preconceived notions.
posted by zeikka at 8:33 AM on June 21 [1 favorite]


Here is a link to explain differences in European colonizations, beginning with the fact that Spain did not encourage emigration to the New World at all, and encountered many millions more native populations than the English or Dutch:

http://theamericanwestaneclectichistory.blogspot.com/2012/11/differences-between-british-and-spanish.html

Although in both colonial projects inequality played a major role, Spanish construction of race varied greatly from English construction of race in its colonies. Because indigenous peoples, black Africans and Spaniards were all subjects included in colonial society, this led to a rise in racially and culturally mixed populations through the mingling of blood. The outcome was societies composed of a variety of castes, or castas, and shades. In Spanish America, there were many categories of classification to distinguish race. There were creole Spaniards, peninsular Spaniards, blacks, Indians, mestizos, mullatos. Cholos, castizos and mambos. Society was organized based off race, in that Spaniards constituted the elite, and the more black someone was, the lower in society they were. Spanish construction of race is very complicated and is an ideal illustration of the inequality colonial society was based on.

In contrast, the English colonies remained much more Caucasian. By shunning black Africans and Indians from society, the English colonies did not encounter the same racial mixing as was developed in Spanish America. They saw Africans and indigenous peoples as an other group, did not mix with them. Because of this, white racism became much more widespread in the English colonies.

posted by Brian B. at 9:18 AM on June 21 [4 favorites]


Fascinating post and project, I too hope this gets done for Alaska and Hawai'i. Wow. This is a tremendous teaching resource, too. Thank you zeikka for posting it.
posted by spitbull at 7:11 PM on June 21


Ayn Rand on Why It Was OK To Take Private Property From Native American Savages [SPOILER: it's because they're savages]:

FFS. She was a supremely odious person.
posted by homunculus at 1:11 AM on June 23


Related Map by amateur Map Maker
posted by Buttons Bellbottom at 10:44 AM on June 25 [2 favorites]


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