AP Lang Pd. 2
What is an American?
One subject of American history which is possibly the most widely debated topic amongst American historians is that of the Native Americans. Young children know them as the friendly caretakers of the early English settlers, but as students grow older they begin to see them as the poor victims of cruelty and mistreatment. While Europe was establishing itself in the new world, the Native Americans were forced to stand by and watch as their own people, land, and culture were stripped away from them. Either friends, or enemies, no Native Americans found themselves in neutrality between settlers. When colonization began and the development of America became a possibility, Native Americans were seen as sub-human creatures who today, are still not entirely associated with the founding of America. However because of their attitudes in trying times, and their actions under harsh circumstances, they are the definition of what it means to be an American by today's standards.
Throughout the era of colonization that took place in the Americas, Native Americans were put through many tests of their character. In the Southwest they were pressured into converting to Catholicism by the Spanish. The English brought Protestantism and Puritanism with them to the Northeast. Some had no choice but to convert, mostly for fear of their lives, but still many stayed true to their own beliefs. Cornel Pewewardy states that from the point of view of Native Americans, "there are no real Indians...only tribal people..." (Pewewardy 1), inferring that all natives treat each other with respect. Even though separate tribes may have slightly differing beliefs, they treat each other as one and are tolerant towards one another. What was expected of the Europeans becomes obvious when it is asked, "...why must you obtain by force what you may obtain by love?" (Powhatan). It is clear that upon European arrival, Native Americans anticipated that they would be treated by the strangers as they treated themselves. Powhatan explains the level of integrity and respect his people had for their new friends. Just like the symbol today of a tolerant, freedom-supporting people, the Native Americans were the creators of the modern day American image. They expected the colonizers to be like them, and share respect for differing opinions and beliefs, but the settlers felt that they were stronger than the native Indians, and took advantage of that.
The Europeans' advanced technology allowed them to subjugate the Native Americans easily. They had tools, weapons, and animals that were previously unknown to the native population. The Spanish and English used their advantageous gifts in order to attempt and control the Native Americans. More often than not, it worked. Native Americans were forced into slavery and made to emigrate so that their previous homes could be used as new agricultural land. However the colonists underestimated the Native Americans by a great amount. Rebellions began occurring, battles began popping up between Native Americans and Europeans. Although the natives did not often emerge victorious from these clashes, their behavior and reactions were sensible and just. The stand up for what you believe in and never quit attitude that defines America today was born through these altercations. In a report written about King Philip's war, headed by the son of an Indian chief in New England in 1675, said that the English would "entice and provoke the Indians to the breach thereof" (Randolph), which pushed the Native Americans too far and led them to warfare with their neighbors. All too often would small acts of prejudice force the natives to take a stand against the bullies who mistreated them.
To many, the Native American identity may seem rather tarnished, if existent at all. Native Americans represent a weak people who had had their culture trampled on, their beliefs stripped from them, and were forced from their homes by strangers. However, this is precisely why they are considered Americans. They protected their homes, they fought for their beliefs, and they respected the opinions of others. It is not commonly realized that Native Americans were the ones who created the American spirit as it's known today. The characteristics of Americans now have only the thoughts and actions of the ones who were here first to thank.
Powhatan. "Speech by Powhatan, as Recorded by John Smith, 1609." n.p. n.d. Speech
Randolph, Edward. "Edward Randolph's Report of King Philip's War in New England, 1675." n.p. n.d.
Pewewardy, Cornel. "The Pocahontas Paradox: A Cautionary Tale for Educators." Journal of Navajo Education. 1996/1997. Print.