THE AMERICAN INDIAN When Europeans came to this land, there were many nations already here. On the western coasts were the Kalapooian, Chinookan, and Hokan who fished. The great forests in the east had for years given life to the Mohawks. On the southwest plains, the Sioux, Pawnee, and Cheyenne lived in harmony with their “little brother,” the buffalo. What are now deserts were once the farms and holy lands of the Hopi and the Navaho.
In the South lived the Creek, Pensacola, and Natchez. Today, one can find towns and cities all over the country that are named after Indian tribes. The original Americans were first called “Indians” by Columbus, who sailed west in the hope that he would find India. Indians knew a great deal about their land and felt deeply about it. To them, the land was nit an inanimate mass of soil–it was Mother Earth, the origin of all life. Mother Earth gave them plants to eat, food for the animals that provided meat, and materials with which to make their clothing, shelter, and medicine.
Land was not a form of personal wealth; it belonged to all living things. Indians did not share the new settlers’ way of using land. They did not cut down forests to clear land; they were careful not to overwork the land; they killed only whatever animals they needed for food, clothing, or shelter. Love of the land was a basic part of the Indian’s way of life. The early settlers from Europe tried to put into effect a policy that would respect the rights of the Indians to own their lands.
Land was to be bought from them only when a treaty had been agreed upon with the chief of the tribe. However, the number of new settlers grew so fast, and they pushed westward with such speedy determination, that treaties were of no use. Whole nations were wiped out in the battles that followed. By the end of the nineteenth century, the Indians that survived were made wards of the federal government. Then, int he nineteen twenties, Congress passed a law that granted citizenship to the Indians.
Today, Indians may live were they wash, but many of them live on or near reservations. It is easier there for them to keep their own culture. Attempts had been made to make the Indians give up their native culture, but it is now recognized that cultural differences of the Indians and all people should be respected. The government is making an effort to help Indians gain greater control over programs that involve them. American Indians are achieving their own goals and deciding their own fate.