Cross-Cultural Exchange

It’s clear from the early readings of this module that a lot had changed in the landscape and structure of Native American communities prior to their first contact with European explorers or settlers reached North America.[1]  As contact between Europeans and Indians increased, however, the nature of their contact and relationship changed depending on the settler (even potentially the settler’s country of origin), the end desired result, the circumstances of the contact and even which Native American culture they encountered.[2]  Native Americans were a varied and diverse collection of people, social groups, trade arrangements and cultures for centuries prior to the introduction of European people, and different groups reacted to each other in varied ways.[3]

Native American societies had drastically shifted in the centuries prior to the first European settlers in North America due to economic, political or environmental pressures of a combination thereof.[4]  In many ways these pressured seemed to influence or define the manner in which they interacted, allied or fought against the Europeans that they encountered in later centuries, and many Native American cultures experienced periods of intense instability, violence and conflict with other tribes in nearby areas.[5]

The Spanish are the first European contact that many Native American tribes in the south encountered, and these explorers carried with them epidemic diseases that decimated large swaths of Native American population throughout the region, forcing them to abandon villages and homes and establish alliances with other tribes.[6]  While many Europeans, namely French traders, sought exchange relationships with Native tribes, the Spanish used a different tactic, viewing Europeans as superior to the barbarians of the Americas, seeking to control them and demand tribute.[7]

While Native American values were centered on exchange relationships, many European encroachers on the land viewed it as theirs for the taking, despite the centuries-long claim native tribes had on the land in question.[8]  It is this aspect of Native American history that tends to disturb me – the arrogance and superiority of many Europeans to claim a land that was already inhabited by ancient and rich cultures and to claim it as their property, regardless of the fact that it was already occupied, in some cases for hundreds of years.  That being said, however, many settlers carried on peaceful exchange and mutually beneficial relationships with many native tribes, at least for a time.  Had those relationships failed to exist, it’s possible that many English settlers in particular may have not survived the diverse and strange climate that they first found themselves in as they ventured to the new world.

[1] Neal Salisbury, “The Indian’s Old World: Native Americans and the Coming of Europeans,” The William and Mary Quarterly 53, no. 3 (1996): 435-458.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Ibid.

[6] Ibid.

[7] Ibid.

[8] Ibid.

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