This week, I attended a talk on the American Revolution, particularly how the Native Americans were impacted during the Colonial Era. The talk was held by Dr. John Hall, who is currently a Lieutenant General in the U.S. Army and an Associate Professor in Military History at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Dr. Hall was also a graduate of the U.S. Military Academy and received his doctorate at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill. We all took a history class, and at one point, learned about the Colonial Era. When learning about this time period, we often learn it from the perspective of a colonist. The colonist settles in a particular area, trades with the Native Americans and other people, lives under British control, and eventually fights for freedom from the British and even taking land from Native Americans. However, many history classes often overlook how the Native Americans viewed, and were impacted by, the Colonial Era.
When I took history classes before attending Siena College, I was never taught the values of Native Americans during the Colonial Era. The only facts I remember learning were that they farmed the Three Sisters (corn, beans, squash), traded with colonists, and were often feuding with colonists toward the beginning, and through the end of the Revolutionary War. What is not taught to us, is that colonists changed the values of the Native Americans upon settling in the Americas. For example, Native Americans were subtenant hunters and trappers, meaning that they only hunted and trapped what they needed to survive. Colonists often hunted and trapped, particularly the beaver, for its pelts which were in high demand back in Europe. In order to better trade with the colonists, Native Americans began to trap beavers at a higher rate than they did in the past.
It was interesting to me that Dr. Hall did not refer to the colonists as trespassers when they first arrived in the Americas. Most history classes during grade school and high school would often state that the colonists invaded Native American lands. Dr. Hall refuted that claim by stating that Native Americans often welcomed the colonists. The colonists had something to offer the Native Americans, something they desperately needed at the time: protection. Different various Native American confederacies, or alliances, would often fight with each other over land disputes and resources. The Iroquois and Algonquin would be a local example.
During the Revolutionary War, the Iroquois tribes would often support the British, even though they traded with both the British and the colonists. The reason for this was because the British would allow the Iroquois to keep their land in the Americas. At the end of the Revolutionary War, Britain ceded the thirteen colonies over to the colonists. Without the protection of the British, the colonists began to force Native Americans off of their land and moved them onto reservations, which were often less arable lands with fewer resources. Along with losing their land, the Iroquois Confederacy was further divided. Many do not realize the impact that colonial development had on Native Americans. However, many historians will tell you about the substantial impact colonization in the Americas had on the Native Americans.