Early American settlers were confronted with a huge challenge; dealing with intercultural contact. Although many scholars have focused on the European perspective of this exchange, few of them have looked at the other side; that is, the American Indian perception of European settlers.
Some Native Americans firmly opposed the idea of American settlers residing in their land. One such person was Tecumseh; having experienced personal losses at the hands of the colonists, this tribal warrior wanted American settlers out of Native American land.
To him, Colonists threatened American Indian’s ancestral way of life, so they had to be resisted (Drake 33). Tecumseh, alongside other Native American supporters, felt that American settlers were acting unjustly against them. The colonists had taken land that rightfully belonged to American Indians through forceful means. Although, early settlers tried to cover this up with treaties, it was no secret that the documents had been forced upon them. Consequently, Tecumseh sought to have the treaties revoked in order to restore Native American land. Many tribal members regarded white settlers as a threat to their own survival became most of them wanted to take over their territory. In fact, their perception of land was vastly different from the European perspective.
Members of these tribes believed that land was communally owned, and no one had the right to sell it. Tecumseh argued that if one could sell land, then one might as well sell the air, the sea and many other natural resources. He believed that the loss of land was a great evil to the Native Americans. A lot of his followers held the same views that he did concerning the European Americans. The same sentiments were echoed by Red Jacket when he talked about the entrance of the white settlers in their land.
At first, it seemed like the Europeans had come as guests and were received hospitably by the natives. Their numbers began increasing and they turned against their hosts. Eventually, Indians turned against one another, and they lost a whole lot. Native Americans also blamed European Americans for the loss of their customs. In a speech to his tribesmen, Tecumseh declares: “Where today are the Pequot? Where are the Narragansett, the Mochican, the Pocanet, and other powerful tribes of our people? They have vanished before the avarice and oppression of the white man, as snow before the summer….
Will not the bones of our dead be plowed up, and their graves turned into plowed fields?” (Turner 246) Other American Indians also believed that white settlers threatened the practice of their religion. One such person was Chief Red Jacket. When a white person tried to convert his tribesmen to Christianity, the Chief responded in a very wise way. One can deduce Native American views and accounts of American settlers from the response that he gave. In the speech, Red Jacket criticized the Christians’ one-sided view, by contrasting it to his religion (Drake 101).
He, like other tribesmen, thought that the white man’s religion was primitive because it claimed to have a patent on truth while their native religion was characterized by tolerance and respect for cultural diversity. American Indians also thought that the white man’s religion was hypocritical in nature. They could not understand why white preachers asserted that Christianity was the one true religion, yet so many Europeans deferred on its interpretations. American Indians found certain claims by Christians to be contradictory. For instance, the latter group tried to convince them that their Great Spirit was the one who should be worshipped and those who rejected this way of life would pay for it dearly in their subsequent life. Native Americans could not relate to these premises because there was no proof to illustrate that the god of the Christians was the one true God. They affirmed that all they had to depend on were the words said by the Europeans, who could not be trusted in the first place. They had already lied to the Native Americans several times so it was difficult to determine whether they were telling the truth or not.
They also drew parallels between their own religion and that of the European settlers. White men justified the superiority of their values and religions on the basis of its longevity and the fact that it was handed down to them from their forefathers. American Indians also argued that their religion was also handed down to them from their forefathers, and was not inferior in any way. Indian Americans were highly critical of the Europeans; this was because white men often disguised their misdeeds using noble assertions. Some of them claimed that they had come to seek temporary refuge from oppression in their native land.
However, they eventually turned against their hosts and deprived them off their properties or belongings. This level of pretentiousness is what caused many American Indians to resent the European settlers. Although several explorers often regarded American Indians as savages, a number of them took the time to study their ways of life. They found that locals held strong opinions about them as well. For instance, Mary Rowland claimed that the natives treated her like a slave, but they needed her for her skills. She knitted clothes for the locals and proved to be quite useful to them. These locals saw Europeans as intruders, but would maintain them if they appeared to be valuable.
Other explorers such as John Smith claimed that Indians often safeguarded their own interests. The European settlers were regarded positively, if their motives were found to be acceptable. However, if this was not the case, then the natives would be hostile towards them (Smith 65).
Native Americans opposed European settlers for a number of reasons.
First, white men took their land forcefully. They disguised their evil motives and lied to the locals about their intentions. Furthermore, they undermined the customs, values and lifestyles of the natives. Lastly, they were hypocritical for trying to force their religion upon the Indians.
Drake, Daniel. Lives of celebrated American Indians. Boston: Soden and Co.
, 1843. Print Smith, John. Works 1608-1631 ED. Arber, Edward. Birmingham: The English scholar’s library, 1884. Print Turner III, Frederick. Poetry and oratory: A portable North American Indian Reader.
NY: Pengon, 1978. Print